Interview: Insomniac Games’ Ted Price on Oculus and Song of the Deep

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2016 is definitely a big year for Insomniac Games with the release of five games including the Ratchet and Clank reboot, Song of the Deep, and three Oculus VR-exclusive titles. It’s no surprise that the company held a special press day where the media could try out a few of these games first hand.

We had a chance to chat with CEO Ted Price and lead game developer Brian Allgeier during the event about the company and most importantly, the games.

Nerd Reactor: For 2016 Insomniac will release five games in the course of the year. How challenging was that for the team?

Ted Price: We’ve had to be very organized with that. Over the years, as we’ve added more and more projects. We’ve had to be more efficient and organized with pre-production, production, and post-production in a way that allows for multiple projects to be done at high quality.

NR: Fans have had a chance to see Song of the Deep in person at a few previous events (PAX East and GDC). How has the feedback been for the game so far?

Ted Price: We’ve been doing a lot of usability testing where we bring in 1 or 2 people to play through a significant portion of the game and talk through their session of the game. When we do a deep-dive like that, it reveals tuning issues or finds areas where people might not understand and fix them. The project is in the phase where we’re applying a lot of polishing and tuning to ensure playability for a broad range of players.

NR: How did the collaboration with GameStop begin?

Ted Price: It started from a conversation between Mark Stanley and me. Mark and I were introduced by a mutual friend in the industry. We weren’t talking about Insomniac at all, but he was talking about where he wanted GameStop to go, and it occurred to me that we had a concept in the works that might go really well with his vision. So I described it and he said, “that sounds really cool.” So after that we put together a presentation and showed it to his team, and what was great was that they understood the personal passion that Brian Hastings, the creative director of the project, and his team really identified with the story as well, about a young girl who goes out and finds her father. So it was a really nice easy introduction as two companies come together, and with a shared philosophy in making games that have similar messages.

NR: Song of the Deep revolves around a child’s imagination about what’s out there, so I was wondering why you geared the game more towards gamers and not let’s say having it for all ages?

Ted Price: We understand that today’s gamer, regardless of age, is sophisticated. I think it’s a misunderstanding that if you make a game that has broad appeal, it has to be dumbed down to “easy.” I look at gamers that I know that are under the age of 10, and they’re awesome, in terms of their mechanical ability, and ability to understand sophisticated puzzles, and I can say the same for gamers over the age of 50. So I’d say gamers get better at games in general. We didn’t want to put out an experience that felt inadequate.

 

NR: When you guys were working on the reboot of Ratchet and Clank for the PlayStation 4, was the concept already there, or were you guys thinking of maybe making a continuation game?

Ted Price: That, I’ll give all the credit to Cani Booth, our executive producer at Sony. She and I were on the phone talking about Ratchet and the franchise in general, and she said, “What if we were to go back to the original game and rethink it,” and that was incredibly appealing to me. When I talked to the others here at Insomniac, they all agreed that that would be the kind of love letter that fans were looking for from a long time from us. We’ve definitely taken Ratchet in different directions over the years, experimenting with multiplayer, etc, and what we’ve found through feedback is that fans enjoy the more traditional adventures. This ended up being the right game at the right time.

NR: Does that open the door for revisiting the original games that exist, or opening up to new adventures using the same concept?

Ted Price: We’ll see. What’s great about Ratchet is that we’ve continued to add characters and weapons, worlds to the universe, and it gives us more creative options. I think with this particular game, the challenge was to bridge the balance between having something that was familiar but then putting enough new elements to keep fans excited and interested in the game. So whatever we would do in the future would probably have to have a similar balance.

NR: Now let’s go into the Oculus, which has to be a huge undertaking. You guys are releasing three titles this year, whereas most other companies still working on one. How did that come about?

Ted Price: It didn’t’ all happen at once. It started from nowhere, but more and more of our team starting thinking about VR and getting excited about the possibilities. Remember, this was a while back, about a year ago. When it made sense for us to start building that expertise in VR, at the beginning, out of nowhere, we discovered a lot of design lessons when it comes to developing for VR, and we wanted to use those lessons for more games. VR, when it comes to design, is a completely different beast. Applying those layout philosophies to other games was appealing here at Insomniac.

The reason Unspoken became a reality was thanks to the demonstrations Oculus had at E3. When I tried the touch controllers at E3 last year, I walked out of that demo saying I can’t believe how fun that demonstration was. I actually went to my team and said we gotta figure out a way to work together with those touch controllers, because this is freaking awesome, and he said yeah. So I started talking to Jason, and it just happened that one of our older concepts involving magic in the modern world involved touched controllers. It was the spark that the concept needed to become a great game. It was prior to the existence of VR and VR controllers. We couldn’t easily see the path between this path of casting magic and a game that would stand out as being unique, but when we used the controllers, we immediately saw how compelling that magic casting game play would be.

NR: Have you thought about working on a PlayStation VR, or sticking to just Oculus for now?

Ted Price: Well we’re not exclusive to Oculus. Both Jason and I have been very clear on that. We are not interested in being locked up developer exclusivity, and we’re not interested in being exclusive to any one platform, because we’re an independent developer, so it’s important for us creatively to be able to reach across multiple platforms. So our focus is to make sure these games rock. But at the same time, as a player and a developer, I want all VR platforms to succeed. I would never count out trying out any of them as a player, and endorsing them as a player, or developing for them as a developer.

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Chris Del Castillo
Chris Del Castillo 2588 posts

Growing up Chris watched a lot of the original Saturday morning cartoons and developed a love for arts and animation. Growing up he tried his hand at animation and eventually script writing, but even more his love of video games, anime and technology grew.