Interview: Chris Peck (OuterLight)

An interview I conducted with the CEO of OuterLight, who created The Ship. It’s actually one of my favourite interviews even aside from the fact that I was the interviewer, mainly for the frankness and indeed the quality of the answers Chris gave. Seriously, it’s some good reading.
Original Article Here

Chris Peck

This week, we’ve mostly been creeping around various corridors, bludgeoning our opponents with golf clubs, frying pans and even mannequin arms while at the same time attempting to do our regular things like eat sleep and drink to the setting of several fantastic cruise liners…

The rest of the time, we’ve been playing The Ship by Edinburgh based developers OuterLight, which offers a similar experience only without the messy splashback to clean up afterwards. 😉 The game has received a fairly warm reception from gamers and reviewers (including a very respectable 87% from us here at The Mad Gamer) since it’s release on STEAM last month, and is gearing up for a retail release in the next few weeks.

So of course, after being careful to evade security, concealing our notepads in our Top Hats and ensuring our conversation need was kept topped up, we manged to grab Chris Peck, Managing Director of OuterLight for an interview before Mr X found us to throw us overboard to tell us some more about “The Ship”.

The Mad Gamer: How did the idea for style of gameplay offered by The Ship come about?

Chris Peck: Well, early in the history of the company we were discussing ideas for games, and we had a few front runners, The Ship was one of them. After we struggled to get a publisher for one of our other ideas (partly because it was a military based game, of which there are many out there, we had trouble convincing them of its originality, or that it would compete with the others), we turned back to The Ship as the idea we liked the most. One strength it had was its uniqueness. In terms of gameplay, multiplayer FPSs can be broken down to Deathmatch (play alone against everyone else), or Teamplay (play with a team versus another team). Deathmatch was the start, and teamplay I would say has been the evolution for those tired of Deathmatch. I think teamplay adds layers to what is otherwise a pretty simplistic game (kill or be killed). I think when you see a lot of FPSs you can quickly put them into one category or the other, and despite differences in style or setting, the basic mechanics, and therefore the experience when playing the game is pretty much the same. As a gamer, I am always looking for what’s next in gaming. I don’t want to buy a game which is just like another game (unless it is a classic for its genre), as I feel like I have been there & done that, I want games which offer something new, often addressing issues with current games, or offering new twists on existing mechanics, or adding new features (such as the addition of vehicles into FPS games with games like Battlefield & COD UO).
The Ship offers something new, in that it isn’t Deathmatch or teamplay, its one vs. one, within a FPS environment. However, The Ship is far more than that. Like CounterStrike, it offers considerable layers on top of the usual gameplay. In the same way that counterstrike pushed teamplay, objectives, buying weapons, and being dead & out of a round, we have pushed our own new gameplay features, such as the hunter & hunted kill loop, costume changes, the security system, needs, inventories, and the MFK table.

Outer Deck

A slightly different way to answer this question is to do with the creative process. When I first chatted about the idea for The Ship with friends, we had an amazing conversation, where the ideas just kept on coming. For each problem there was a solution, and for each solution some new gameplay emerged. The Ship had so much potential, we figured as a small company it would be something we could start relatively small, and then keep on adding ideas. For this release we left out things like the dating game (which hooks into the costume changes (looking good for a date), locations (bars, nightclubs, saunas, restaurants, all good locations for a date), and items (we wanted to have more gift items, such as clothes, rings, flowers, chocolates)), the mini-games (playable game on board which also take care of the entertainment need), the role of guard (as well as multiple other roles, such as bodyguard, hitman, private eye, undercover cop), the casino (we want a full functioning casino on board), and then a ton of gameplay details, such as slide traps, pushing overboard, poisoning food, and so on. I think that’s one of the things that makes The Ship so exciting to develop, it’s got so much potential. Hopefully we can make it like GTA, in the sense that the original GTA was top down and far removed from the current awesome 3d iterations. It’s taken time for them to achieve what they probably always wanted or imagined for the game. In the same way, I expect us to go on to make The Ship 2 and 3, and I hope that one day we will be looking at the game that we always wanted to make.

TMG: How have gamers seemed to have received The Ship and its style of gameplay?

CP: I think the reaction has been mixed. It’s very hard to tell to be honest. I’d estimate that 70-90% of the people who have played it liked it. We have had some issues post release which have affected peoples perception of the game, it’s amazing how bugs can distract people from the game & make them think less of it, especially the more obvious bugs. However, despite the bugs, most people have seen the potential for the game. One of the nicest reactions has been from people who don’t tend to either play FPSs or Online games, who have been tempted into those arenas by The Ship. I think that our low price, and our attempting to do something different, has meant many people have forgiven us for some of our bugs, giving us credit for trying something new. I know that we will go on to keep improving the game, which I hope will repay the faith of all those who have purchased the game, and stuck with it despite some of its teething problems.

TMG: What made you decide to attempt something which is so radically different from the “norm” of FPSs?

CP: Well, I have kinda covered this already, but maybe I will say it better this time. It’s a mix of financial, publisher, creative, gameplay, and other reasons. One factor was the fear that if we did something less original then someone else would beat us to it, and as a small company, the fear was that a big company would do the same idea but better. We rightly figured there was almost no chance of someone else making The Ship! Our military FPS seemed like such an obvious idea to us, that we figured about 5 other companies would be doing it. It’s somewhat ironic that after all this time, with the idea being so obvious, nobody has done it yet!!

TMG: The Ship probably doesn’t offer the easiest style of gameplay to get used to (for people, say used to Deathmatch) -why do you think gamers will embrace The Ship?

CP: I think that its originality and difference to other FPSs is both a strength and a weakness of The Ship. For some gamers who expect a hardcore gun fest, they are going to be disappointed. However, for those wanting a change of style and pace, they should be pleased with their experience. As a huge fan of FPSs from the early days of Doom and Castle Wolfenstein, where the whole gameplay was strafe & spray, I have watched their development and progression to more complex styles of gameplay (CounterStrike being a good example of that). I found that I got tired of blasting away at enemies, so CounterStrike with its realistic weapon damage, hit locations, weapons, and round based system offered a great change of style and pace. It may sound daft, but I figured there were plenty of other fans of the FPS genre, who, like me, would be looking for a change. I think that for those people tired of blasting away, or looking for a break from that before going back to it, The Ship is ideal. I also think one strength of The Ship is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, there is comedy layered within it. I think it’s a rare FPS that makes a gamer laugh when they are killed. Usually it’s banging the mouse of the table, and screaming at the screen that you shot them first, accusing them of cheating, wall hacking, aim botting, etc.

TMG: Probably the most common form of Multiplayer play styles is the Deathmatch, why do you think this is so popular?

CP: Well, I am not sure if it is the most popular form of multiplayer play, as I think team games, and other modes have become just as popular, however, if it is the most popular, then I would guess it’s because of its accessibility. You can join in a Deathmatch for a few minutes, get some kills, and then leave. There are no complex rules, just shoot anything that moves. With such simple rules, it’s accessible to everyone. However, I feel that’s also it’s weakness – it’s too repetitive: spawn in, kill someone, kill someone else, then die, respawn, etc. It’s also pretty brutal for a non-hardcore gamer, as you tend to spawn in, then die, respawn, die, etc. Personally I like games which require tactics and strategy, and a bit of thought, although a bit of mindless fun is always a good thing too!

Mr X

TMG: Do you feel that there is a decline in the original gameplay ideas, or do you think there will always be room for innovation?

CP: Well, looking back to the ‘good old days’ of loading games with cassette decks (Dear God, did we really do that?!!), I think it seems that games were more creative in the past. I think to some extent the limits in technology, and the freedom from defined genres (FPS didn’t even exist back then), forced or allowed people to think more creatively. To some extent the improved technology, with its increasing ability to show ‘realistic’ game worlds, has driven gaming into more realistic games, which is in itself limiting. However, there are still some blinding original games, especially from Japan. Vib Ribbon (dancing a rabbit along a wireframe line?!), or Katamari Damacy (the one where you are a ball rolling around collecting things) are good examples. And then there is the technology, with things like the Wii. I think in the west we have become more hooked on realism, while in Japan they seem to be taking the right kind of drugs, or whatever it is that makes them think outside of the box. It’s ironic, as Japan has been slated for “regimented thinking” while the west was touted as the home of “creative thinking”. I think this may come down to publishers, in the sense that western publishers seem a lot less keen to innovate. I can sum this up with what a major publisher said at a conference recently “we don’t know what a good game is, we don’t even know what a game is” followed by “if someone came to us with the most original idea ever, we’d say, that’s great, now go work on some licenses for us”. They also said they didn’t believe in taking risks, they felt it was best to let someone else take the risks and create the new genres, their plan was to only go for proven genres or ideas. For the worst of the publishers, it seems like a no win situation; they don’t want new ideas, because you can’t prove it will sell millions of copies, however, if you try to pitch an idea just like another game, they will ask you what makes it unique. I find some of this quite pathetic, as you feel like you will end up pitching Call of Duty, what makes it unique, um, it’s an all female version where all the soldiers are women – or something crap! I also find that their lack of ability to visualize a game is pretty piss poor. If you want to sell an original idea to a publisher, you had better be prepared to make the whole game, as sadly they lack the vision to visualize from a design doc, or early prototype. Personally, I’d rather they mixed safe bets with riskier titles, as I feel there is a real risk of the games industry stagnating, and without original ideas (as opposed to movie tie-ins and sequels), what will get the next generation of gamers excited? I also think there seems to be a feeling that the big money genres have been bagged, for instance with EAs almost total domination of sports, and that the publishers seem to think there’s nothing new to exploit (other than maybe the elusive female gamer market). I think games like The Sims kick established ideas in the head, and show there is always room for new ideas, and ones which can make big bucks, as well as making gamers happy.

As someone who has left an existing developer and gone & started a new company, sadly, I’d have to recommend that nobody follow in my footsteps. Had we known at the start just how hard it was going to be, I don’t think we would have bothered (ignorance is bliss). It’s very tough to raise the money to fund the company, and publishers just aren’t prepared to take the risk on a new start company. If you want to get the game made, you have to make it yourself, which means funding it yourself. While we raised over £1,000,000, which seems kind of impressive, it’s a drop in the ocean by modern game budget standards. We wasted so much time courting publishers, who always wanted to see just one more level, character, or bit of gameplay before they decided. If we had signed a deal which mean they funded the development, I shudder to think how pitiful our return per unit sold would have been. I’d guess on a £30 title, we’d see around £2-£3 per copy sold, assuming the publisher didn’t refuse to accept a milestone, and therefore refuse to pay for it, and therefore mean you couldn’t pay the wages and go out of business (I can think of at least three companies in Scotland who suffered this fate). Game development is tough enough in it’s own right, without the stress of getting funding, finding publishers, finding staff, and so on. We are waiting to see how it goes with our current publisher, Mindscape, who have had the courage to sign the product, and we hope that next time we have an original title to pitch other publishers out there will be more willing to listen. Hopefully The Ship has given us the track record we needed, so that they will no longer perceive us as a start up company. Considering we are self funded and this is our first project, I think we have done remarkably well, especially with the review scores.

We wanted to ask more, but at this point the last thing we remember was the sinister shadow of Mr X creeping up behind us and pulling a bag over our heads. We woke up the next morning ashore in a lifeboat with an empty syringe by our feet…

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One Response to Interview: Chris Peck (OuterLight)

  1. Gabriel says:

    The story of how the idea of the ship came about told by Chris is a load of rubbish
    the idea originally was based on the Assassin game killer but unlike killer the participants where to be restricted to a ship
    this was because the original guys who proposed the idea had played the game killer when younger and one of the guys was in the navy and wanted to see a game based on a ship so combined the two

    the idea was originally dismissed in the meeting that was held in a pub in Edinburgh
    as being to difficult to map and texture a ship interior

    some months later Chris told the guys that had proposed the idea that they where going to do the game but that`s the last credit
    they ever got

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