In my review of Fear Effect 2, I noted that this is a game that could have easily appealed to women gamers (who make up close to half the game playing population according to IDSA) due to the strong and believable relationship between Hana and Rain. With a little tweaking (possibly less cleavage, tone down the lesbo action, etc.) this could have easily been the Thelma & Louise of videogames. Was this something you considered, and how do you feel about potentially alienating women gamers?
I don’t think I was thinking about Thelma & Louise when I created Hana and Rain. I think it was closer to Xena and Gabrielle instead. Regardless, the relationship between Hana and Rain was not my main focus when I wrote the story for Retro Helix. I think it just got blown out of proportion due to the ads and the media coverage. I find it funny how everyone made such a big deal out of the alleged lesbianism within the game. Once and for all, let me set the record straight. "HANA IS NOT A LESBIAN!" She likes men... and she likes women. Who she chooses to go to bed with at the end of the day IS NOT A BIG DEAL! We are living in the 21st century, this kind of thing happens all the time! Get over it people!! The only reason I wanted Hana to have a female companion this time around is because it gives me the ability to create an extremely interesting love triangle further down the road.
Ah, interesting. Can you give us any more details on the love triangle?
What I find really strange is that, so far, all the comments and concerns I’ve heard about alienating women gamers come from male reviewers. Shelby at Moxxi.com (a site hosted exclusive by female gamers) gave Retro Helix a 4.5 out of 5. She said, and I quote: "There is a real quality to this series that I hope will make its way to the gamers out there who are looking for something that doesn't insult their intelligence." Now, I am not saying she is right or she represents the majority of female gamers’ opinions. All I’m saying is that so far, her’s is the only female gamer voice that I’ve heard publicly, and it seemed like she enjoyed the game based on her in-depth review. When I created the story for Retro Helix, I really wasn’t thinking about making this a game for male or female players. All I wanted to do is to create an engaging story and a fun experience for anyone interested. Sometimes I wonder if the content of the game is actually alienating female gamer or is the hype from the press that is doing the alienating for us.
By the way, my wife is also the lead character artist in Retro Helix and the original Fear Effect. After the production designer came up with the basic concept of each character, she was responsible for creating the look and applying the anime textures for all the 3-D models in the entire game. She had complete freedom to create the ideal Hana and Rain in anime form. So, in many ways, Hana and Rain are the perfect women from a woman’s point of view (again, not that my wife’s point of view represents all women’s point of view).
Speaking of "alienating" women, what’s up with bug-like contraption that was straddling Rain? I’ve heard the scene described anywhere from rape to mechanical cunnilingus. It’s obvious that the scene was left intentionally ambiguous. Set the record straight. What’s the story behind that sexually charged scene?
Again, if I’m not mistaken, those descriptions are mostly from male gamers and reviewers. It would be very interesting for me to hear from the female gamers or reviewers point of view regarding that scene. To set the record straight, the story behind that scene is whatever you wanted it to be. This is precisely one of those "messages" in the game that I wanted people to talk about and form their own opinion. My personal takes on that scene? Well, it’s... personal!
Let’s talk about "adult gaming." First, what are your thoughts on the current ESRB rating system, and do you think Fear Effect 2 was rated fairly?
Yes, Retro Helix was rated fairly. It is a game meant for mature audiences only, therefore it deserved the "M" rating. However, in my humble opinion, any rating system whether good or bad, is just a bunch of words on pieces of paper. Unfortunately, at this day and age, even the best, most arduous rating system in the world is not going to prevent unsuitable material from reaching minors. Any child can get on a computer that is linked to the Internet and potentially gain access to an infinite amount of undesirable material. It is my belief that simply banning access to any material deemed unsuitable for children is not the answer. Having a proper rating system for games or any other medium is a good start. Ultimately, parents need to
Do you take into consideration or pander to society’s perception of videogames when creating them or does artistic vision come first above all else?
I think it should be pretty obvious by now what my answer to that question would be. Artistic vision must come first above all else!
Is there a broader future for "mature" videogames that goes beyond sex and violence, or are videogames doomed to become a narrow niche sub-culture targeted at adolescent male teens like comic books?
(Laughing out loud) There are still some good comic books out there... I’m 37 years old, and I still read them... occasionally. The entire Superman: Kingdom Come series by Mark Waid and Alex Ross of DC comics had both an extremely intelligent, engaging story and exquisite artwork. Wait... sorry! They’re not comic books, they are "graphic novels!"
No doubt. No doubt. That was just a generalization on my part. I happen to be a huge fan myself. I think the Golgo 13, Battle Angel Alita (Gunmu), and Gon mangas are just brilliant pieces of storytelling and art. But regardless of what you and I think, comics in the United States don’t have a broad appeal and have been overly stigmatized and commercialized (as noted in M. Night Shyamalan’s film Unbreakable). Could videogames fall into the same trap and is there hope?
Wow... your Japanese comic book knowledge is indeed impressive! Based on your comment, I can see that you are a man of substance and good taste! (Smiles)
I truly believe (and God, please don’t let it be otherwise) that there is a much broader and brighter future for "mature" videogames that goes beyond sex and violence. With the advent of PlayStation2 and the Xbox, these mature home entertainment systems (or DVD players) will certainly help blur the gaps between videogames and traditional forms of entertainment. I consider MGS2 a mature game that is not about sex and violence. In my opinion, it has great production values and a tremendously broad entertainment appeal. One day, some kid is going to play that game on the PS2, then daddy is going to walk by and ended up watching, and he’ll say "Hey, that’s cool, can I try it?" The rest will be "interactive entertainment" history. As we speak, there are many adults (both male and female) out there that are religiously playing online games such as EverQuest and Ultima Online. They will be the first to tell you that they are not playing some childish videogame but a mature interactive experience.
By the way, is that what you think of Retro Helix, Chi? Just sex and violence?
No. Personally, I feel there’s much more going on with Retro Helix. I wasn’t trying to peg Retro Helix with my earlier question. It was again, a generalization on most of today’s "mature" titles. When we say "mature" videogames, you don’t think about a serious drama or complex relationships. It usually means blood and guts or lots of jiggling female body parts. Do you agree? What do you think?
Well, it is most unfortunate, but I would have to agree with you a 100 percent in that sense. I think in many ways, game developers in general are to be blamed for that. It is hard not to think of "mature" games that way because so far, they are all about "blood and guts or lots of jiggling female body parts." However, I do believe that once someone sets the new standard of what "mature" games should be, the rest will usually follow. So hopefully, with the new machines and new medium, more developers will cease the opportunity and take a chance to creating a different kind of mature gaming experience.
At GameCritics.com, we all feel that both Fear Effect games are of incredible craftsmanship and are easily comparable to some of the industry’s most popular franchises. Yet neither Stan Liu or Kronos Digital have achieved the same kind of notoriety as some of today’s top developers like Shinji Mikami with Resident Evil and Hideo Kojima with Metal Gear Solid. Why isn’t anyone at Kronos Digital connected similarly with the Fear Effect series? Do you guys feel like the Rodney Dangerfields of the business?
Man, now that you’ve put it that way, I feel like I need to dig a hole in the ground and stick my head in it! I liked the awesome comment in the beginning of this question about how Fear Effect rocks and all. Can we just focus on that and omit the no respect part? (Laughs)
All joking aside, I am just glad that people and our publisher were willing to give the original Fear Effect a chance! After all, it was a strange and unusual concept. I still clearly remember the initial pitch of Fear Effect to then Eidos’ CEO Charles Cornwall. After what I thought was a flawless presentation, Charles turned to me, looked me straight in the eyes and said, "Just exactly how much of this is only cool in your head, Stan?" To actually have the players like the Fear Effect series and get all these great reviews at the same time is truly more recognition than I ever hoped for. Both Fear Effect and Retro Helix were not released in Japan. So we are missing a huge portion of market saturation.
WHAT? Fear Effect was never released in Japan. Why?
There were many reasons, and I would rather not get into it.
Kronos is also a small developer compared to the big guys. We don’t have the luxury of a marketing department to push our products and our staff to the public. On top of that, we are still living up to the "Trilogy of Terror" wrap. As far as we have grown as a game developer, Retro Helix still has its faults and is far from being that perfect game. Until that grand moment, I guess I’ll just have to find that hole that I dug and hide my head in it. (Smiles) Meanwhile, can you please do me a huge personal favor and ask Brad not to bring up the "T.O.T." in his next review of our upcoming game? Tell him I’m willing to pay for his silence. (Laughs)
Similarly on the whole "getting no respect" issue, "cel-shading" techniques in games are now all the rage. Was Fear Effect one of the first, if not THE first console game to use the style? Who should get credit for coming up with it?
Somehow, my self-esteem is dwindling will each new question. (Laughs) I really don’t think Fear Effect is the first console game to use cel shading. Many classic 2-D games had cel-shaded characters. However, the two people most directly responsible for creating the cel-shaded characters for our game would be John Platten, the director for the original Fear Effect. He came up with the concept. Then Joan Igawa, the lead character artist, came up with the final look for all the characters in the game.
When all is said and done, how would you like the history of videogames to remember Fear Effect and Kronos Digital?
I know how we would like not to be remembered – "The Trilogy of Terror!" (Sorry Brad, I’ll get over it someday) Seriously, I would like history to remember the Fear Effect series as the first true "interactive movie" that didn’t suck and Kronos to be the one developer dumb and naive enough to even take on the attempt in the first place.
What’s next on the agenda for Kronos Digital? Do you plan to continue the Fear Effect series? Any projects slated for release on any of the next-generation systems like Xbox, PS2, or GameCube?
We are currently working on two titles for the next-generation systems. I don’t know. Do people really want to endure another one of our Fear Effect games with all the sex and violence?
I for one would certainly love to play more. As I indicated in my review for Retro Helix, there’s nothing wrong with sex and violence if its done right. Hopefully Kronos and Retro Helix will prove to be guiding light for genuinely "mature" videogames of the future. Can you give us any more details about the two next-generation titles in-development? Is Kronos planning anything special for this year’s E3?
Contractually, I’m not allowed to elaborate on the projects we are currently working on. However, you know what they say about being careful what you wish for, you just might get another one of these mature games. Personally, I would also like to explore the online multiplayer experience for the console market. I think it would be a fun project to do because it is the kind of game I like to play myself.
E3 is going to be pretty quiet for us this year. It is too early for us to show our progress with the games we are working on. However, there are some other exciting things going on. We may have an announcement by E3 if all goes well.
Are there any closing thoughts you would like to share with our readers regarding Fear Effect 2?
First of all, I would like to thank GameCritics.com for this enjoyable interview. Retro Helix is our second attempt at creating a fun and unique experience for adult gamers. I felt that we have managed to improve upon the original experience; yet, there are still plenty of issues left to be resolved in regards to gameplay and content. My personal goal is to create the ultimate, perfect mature game for all the grown up gamers out there regardless of genders. The only way that I can achieve this goal is to get constant direct feedback from the intended audience. We have set up a "Feedback" link on our Web page at http://www.kronosdigital.com/ for just this occasion. I welcome any constructive criticism and look forward to any response from all you mature gamers out there. Your voices will be heard. Finally, I would like to thank all the fans of Fear Effect out there for their support.
Special thanks to Stan Liu, Kronos Digital and Eidos Interactive.