JS: Tell us about the Metroid inspiration. How did the original pitch come about?
IV: In pitching game ideas to potential publishing partners, or upstream within an organization, the trend has been to try to reduce the concept to a log-line or elevator pitch. I've got mixed feelings about this; on one hand I appreciate the simplicity and effectiveness of messaging and communicating a vision to the development team and to senior executives who likely don't play games anymore. On the other hand, we're game makers, not movie producers, and so it's not as simple as combining two elements to create a log line, such as "Die Hard on a bus!"? (the pitch for the movie Speed). Our experiences are interactive and ultimately depend on the relationship between the player and the character on screen.
What I am saying is that a "playable" has to be the cost of entry now, not a pitch. The best way I can support this is asking you to imagine this exercise: go in to a modern console publisher now with this pitch:
"It's about two plumbers from Brooklyn who travel through plumbing to weird worlds and eat mushrooms to give them special powers and abilities."
I had put my career at Radical Entertainment on the line by insisting we go ahead with a Beavis and Butthead game (for the Genesis). Nobody understood the license at the time, and even MTV was thinking shooter/platform. The President of Radical said if this thing went over-budget or schedule he'd fire me. Senior management then had no time for "action" games really; it was all about taking on EA Sports.
I mapped out a design that was essentially an RPG, and even though I'm a Nintendo fan-boy at heart, thought that the perception of the Sega Genesis as a slightly "older" platform was the way to go. The game was a hit, and went on to be a very successful franchise for Viacom New Media.
My favorite games have always been Nintendo softs, and Super Metroid for the SNES was at the time, for me, a perfect combination of adventure, shooting and platform. I learned a tremendous amount about level building, expanding maps and reward vs. challenge from extensively playing that game, and finding common Nintendo design elements with The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.
So, leveraging the success of Beavis and Butthead, and supported by technical demonstrations of a strong in-house 3D engine, I came up with the idea of trying to make a Metroid experience on PlayStation and pitched it successfully to Viacom New Media as "Super Metroid in 3D!"?
Working with some great people, including most of the folks who went on to form Relic and build (the PC RTS) Homeworld, we were able to get a development deal to create an original IP for PlayStation. That's quite something, and I'm proud of that to this day.
As for goals, we wanted originally to get Æon Flux, and applied the same design goals that shaped The Divide to that license. I had in mind the same thing that Core ultimately achieved with Tomb Raider; a hot female character moving through a space, viewed from behind. However, that license deal never worked out. It's unfortunate, because we would have been the first hot chick in 3D action-adventure game.
I'd like to note as well that the original name for The Divide was Rift. I still prefer the original name, and the whole thing around the name The Divide came from marketing. It was never a game about kidnapping and revenge, but that's what some of the marketing materials suggested: "They kidnapped your partner, now it's payback time."
JS: There was a PSOne and PC version, and I've heard rumours of a Sega Saturn version. Is this true?
IV: No, there was never a Sega Saturn version.
JS: Tell us about some of the difficulties involved with The Divide.
IV: Viacom New Media, the publisher, went under the day the game was to ship. That's about as difficult as it gets.
I covered some of that in my long answer to the first question, but one of the main difficulties was pushing internally for development tools to be made. You have to understand that these were relatively early days in game development, and little adoption of software engineering best-practices were made. Hard-coding, all-nighters, transitioning from assembly to C++ and other concerns were standard operating procedure at the time.
It's weird to say this now, but a level-editor and camera tools were seen as luxuries. Why would a producer need these things? What was fortunate was I was able to lay out the value of having a design and production team work on the qualitative experience of the game without having to get programmers to stop what they were doing, enter in variables or new geometry, and rebuild the game. Once they saw that the evil producers and lame artists weren't bugging them anymore, they were happy to bang out some "tools" for us.
There were some brilliant people on that team: the late Martin Sykes built a 3D editor to my specifications called the New World Orderer. He and many others on the team went on to form Black Box. Jack Yee programmed a camera tool that we developed over time for Jackie Chan and had features that 6 years later, found there way into SSX Tricky and STILL felt ground-breaking. Aaron Kambietz, who went on to found Relic Entertainment with others, was the lead artist. His character design work, storyboards etc were outstanding, and he continues to this day to be a world-class concept artist.
There are others I'm forgetting for sure, but considering how under-funded we were, and how Radical executives were focused on making sports games, the people on that team seemed to thrive on the challenges we faced.
JS: Was anything planned but had to be cut from the final version?
IV: We had such an aggressive schedule, limited budget, new technology etc. that there was no cutting room floor. There's only one Easter Egg I had time to place, and that is a hidden room with a monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey in it, and the music changes to Stauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra".
JS: The music was very ambient, can you tell us anything about its creation?
IV: The music is something I'm particularly happy with. The theme for the opening CG movie was written and performed by Barry Taylor, a Vancouver punk rock legend.
We also pioneered (internally at least) with programmers/composers Paul Wilkinson, Marc Baril and Paul Ruskay a way to add geometry to the world-builder that linked to sound, and to actually create an interactive soundscape. This meant that sounds got louder as you approached something, and quieter as you moved away. Not a big deal now, but at the time it was pretty innovative stuff.
JS: Did you have plans/ideas for a sequel if the first one sold well enough?
IV: One always hopes that something is successful enough to spawn sequels or builds a franchise. Certainly amortizing all the tools and technology across multiple iterations makes business sense. Much of what was learned and developed went into a Jackie Chan game, but that game is a different story.
JS: Is there anything you were displeased about in the final version?
IV: Displeased? Only that I wish I had more time with the completed authoring tools to play the game through and tune it, and for the programmers to have had some more time to do nothing but work on the frame-rate. Only insiders or hardcore fans will really understand the following, but it was a huge impact on frame-rate, and it always bothered me that some initial reviews were critical of this.
The PSOne did not have a Z-buffer, and in fact was only a 3x3 transformation. This meant that you had to use A LOT of polygons to prevent floors from clipping and to sort things in front or behind each other. We had to use the Painter's Algorithm, or priority fill, which is a simple solution to visibility in 3D graphics, but still processor-intensive in those days. The beauty of a 4x4 transformation, like the N64, and a hardware Z-buffer, is that you can use one polygon and stretch it way out, and objects sort properly. The optimizations in the Sony library were such that a polygon would stop drawing itself once camera frustum reached the center-point of the polygon. This meant that any long geometry would simply disappear. So, you had to make polygons that were small enough to stay in view, and this added SO much processing over-head. And of course, you had to have a look-up table that determined which polygon goes in front of the other. That ate up CPU cycles of course.
JS: PSOne games are being rereleased on the PS3 via download on the PlayStation Network. Who owns the rights to The Divide and would be able to make a decision on re-releasing it?
IV: That is a good question. I reckon they're with Viacom or MTV Games somehow.
JS: Please feel to add anything else.
IV: First of all, thank you for your interest in The Divide: Enemies Within. It's one of those titles that was a bit ahead of itself I'm afraid, but I appreciate that there are people like yourself out there now that can see what we were trying to achieve in context to the time and state of the art.