By John Szczepaniak, March 2012
Interview with Richard Ham, creator of the Syphon Filter series
In late 2011, for a magazine article I was not credited for, I interviewed Richard Ham. He is currently head of Splash Damage, the creators of Brink, and was formerly involved with big titles such as Fable 2. He was also the man behind the creation of the Syphon Filter series.
JS: Was the release of Metal Gear Solid and subsequent explosion in popularity of the stealth genre part of the motivation for Syphon Filter’s creation? Were you personally a fan of the original MGS?
RH: Actually, we were developing Syphon Filter before we’d ever heard of MGS. If I recall correctly, we came out about four months or so after them. It’s hard to say that I was a fan of the first game. I very much respected it, and was amazed by it. But mostly I was incredibly jealous of it, since it was such a huge leap forward on so many levels. Let’s just say it gave me stealth envy!
JS: SF differentiates itself quite nicely from MGS, with a bit more of a run-n-gun feel to it. To what degree was your team conscious of MGS during SF’s development? Was it considered direct competition?
RH: We were VERY aware of MGS. I still remember the first E3 where they did one of those big screen presentations, and our jaws just hit the floor. There was obviously no way we could compete in terms of presentation, but fortunately for us, stealth was only one part of Syphon Filter, and we did it very differently. But what was worse was that there were so many coincidences between them and us. They had a helicopter boss fight, and so did we. They had a “big dude with a chain gun” boss fight, and so did we (we later changed that to a “big dude with a flame thrower” because of MGS, and actually it made the game better, so that was actually cool). They even had a Chinese female character who gave guidance on the radio, and so did we! There’s was named Mei Ling, and ours was Mei Xing (again, a total coincidence, but we changed her name to Lian Xing in the end, to try somewhat to avoid comparison).
So it was a really crazy time, and we were really worried, because they had a team three times the size of ours, and it certainly made us work harder to make SF as good as it possibly could be. In the end, we were different enough that when we came out four months later, everyone recognized that Syphon was something unique and not an “MGS clone”, and SF was hugely successful, so I guess I should thank Kojima and crew for pushing us to make our game better!
JS: For MGS4 (2008) the Konami team played a lot of western developed games, to get a better understanding of western design philosophies and control schemes. Did you play MGS4 at all, and do you feel they maybe took some inspiration from the SF series?
RH: Actually I never got around to playing MGS4 because it came out while I was crunching to ship Fable 2. I really should check it out because I’m sure it’s full of cool and sometimes insane ideas as always. As for whether anyone at Konami ever played Syphon Filter, I’d love to know that myself!