Considering Stevivor sat down with Ready at Dawn’s Dana Jan and Garret Foster on the day that The Order: 1886‘s entire campaign was published on YouTube, it was hard not to discuss how internet expectation and marketing plays a part in a title’s release.
“When you’ve been making games as long as we have – I’ve been doing this now for fifteen years or something like that – and especially if you’ve a high-profile product, you have to learn to develop a thick skin,” Jan, Game Director on The Order: 1886, said. “We want to take criticism that’s constructive and try to make the game better so everyone benefits from it. You have to take everything with a grain of salt.”
Critics and fans alike have seemingly polarised views on The Order: 1886. Some talk about how gorgeous the game looks. Others criticise its alleged length. Some still praise it for what Ready at Dawn calls its ‘directed experience’ while another group says the game is too linear.
Stevivor’s first preview of The Order: 1886 wasn’t too kind itself. “The Order has a lot of potential, but the demo I played just didn’t show it off; perhaps it still has a long way to go,” Leo wrote after E3 2014. “In any case, I’m concerned about what is supposed to be one of the big PS4 exclusives of the future.”
Granted, when previewing a second time — and playing a section with stealth and bullet time mechanics rather than just linear, cover-based shooting — Leo’s toned changed. “I can pinpoint the exact moment my anticipation for The Order: 1886 went from ‘meh’ to ‘damn it I need this game in my life right now.’ It was the second I reached the end of the latest preview I’d had the privilege of playing,” Leo gushed. “It was abrupt and unexpected and it made me audibly go ‘awwww.’ I wanted more and I wanted it then and there.”
“A lot of that was just that it was two different parts of the game, to be honest,” Technology Director Garret Foster said of Leo’s change in tone. “When we got the initial feedback from E3 that was negative in some cases, it really didn’t change our course too much. We knew that what we were making was good, ‘cause we were playing internally. We felt pretty confident with where we were going with it.
“People probably didn’t have the context that was necessary with the first preview to get them immersed into what was going on. A lot of the game mechanics present now really weren’t applied yet.”
“Over the course of the production of a game, you hit multiple milestones in terms of polishing your mechanics and getting things polished up,” Jan added. “Clearly the first E3 demo was much, much earlier. As we’ve been showing the game later and later, you’re able to show the care and attention we’ve been putting into gameplay.”
“It’s the nature of the beast; Sony wanted something to show and we wanted to put stuff out there. We’ve done a lot of work since any preview; it just gets better.”
Said nature of the beast is a rather tough balancing act, according to Jan.
“One of the things that’s interesting is that we’ve gone through this cycle throughout development — trying to fit in informational marketing as part of the schedule. Of figuring out what we can show the public to get them excited. Obviously, that comes with a cost; you’re going to be taking parts of the game and showing them to people. Then, when they play the game, people have already seen those things; maybe not hands-on, but they’re still seeing it,” Jan said. “We want to get people excited for our game, but we also need to safeguard it. When you buy it, we don’t want you to feel like you’ve seen and played it all already.
“The things we haven’t shown; the characters you don’t know about; the twists and turns in the plot you won’t see coming – the game moments that we haven’t shown because they’re too cool and we wanted to protect you from them so you can play them in your living room with your surround sound on… we’ve done that because we want you to sit there and say ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe this is The Order.’
Part of that presentation does come from that notion of the directed experience.
“A directed experience is one of the terms we’ve used when trying to get people to set their expectations,” Jan asserted. “We’ve made a lot of choices throughout the game: when it opens up so you can explore and traverse up things, and when we hunker down so there’s a very clear way that you should play something.”
“It’s something we intentionally chose; how much we opened up or restricted things so that each moment that you’ve playing in feels the best. So you’re not confused. So it’s not awkward,” Jan continued. “We’ve made it – as well as we possibly can – to make it feel like the game is working for you.”
Again, Jan admitted it’s hard to exactly illustrate that in the game’s marketing. “It’s a mixed bag; we’ve shown some open things and some closed things,” he said. “We’re not trying to mislead and have people think this is Grand Theft Auto or something.”
In the end, Jan wants The Order: 1886 to be about its players.
“It was really important for us to fight back and say, ‘we know you [Sony] want to keep showing people bigger and better stuff, and we’ll do that as best we can, but there are some things that are off the table.’
“We couldn’t show those things because we really wanted people to experience those first-hand in the game. I’m really looking forward to people’s reactions of those types of things in the game.”
Jan won’t have to wait long, as The Order: 1886 will be available this Friday, 20 February, on PS4.
Image (top): Gameplanet.com.au