This is the third and final part of our interview with Arctic Empire’s Eli Cymet. In our first installment, we discussed some details about their upcoming mobile game Office Attacks, which follows Steve, a new employee who is, as most cubicle slaves are, harassed by coworkers bent on increasing his stress level. It’s a twist on the tower defense genre, where you implement common office supplies to build towers and stave off monsters like “the Bitter Know-it-All,” the “Chatty Cathy,” and the “Smarmy CEO”. In our second installment, Cymet elaborated on the community involvement AE has planned for the game, as well as some lessons learned from their past forays into mobile gaming. Today, look forward to an in-depth analysis on the implications of sentient AI, why mobile gaming is serious business, and how to make the world a happier place.
PG: You mentioned that IRIS was like GLaDOS and HAL. So is she going to end up trying to kill you in the end?
EC: Well, I will say that early on in the game, one of the lines of dialogue that we have is that she introduces herself, she says, “Hi, hey there, Steve, I’m IRIS,” and she tells him what she stands for, of course, because IRIS has to be an acronym, and then she says, “Since you’ve programmed me to help you build these towers, I’ve become artificially intelligent, and I can’t think of a situation where that’s gone horribly horribly wrong. But, moving on…” And then she sort of transitions into the game. So I won’t give away the full details, but other than… actually I can’t really think of one, other than maybe the movie Moon, with Sam Rockwell, which is a great movie, I can’t think of one situation where artificial intelligence becoming sentient has not gone horribly horribly wrong. So she’ll certainly play a part later in the game, and Steve might have to take her offline as opposed to using her to build towers, if it comes down to it, if it comes down to him versus her I think his survival instinct will probably win out.
PG: There’s Bicentennial Man, where they grow old together and fall in love.
EC: Yes, and the thing about Bicentennial Man– this doesn’t have to go in the interview, this is a very important aside for me, because I am embittered by that movie—the thing about Bicentennial Man is that it’s like one of the biggest—have you ever heard of a “shaggy dog” joke?
PG: Uhm… I don’t know…
EC: A “shaggy dog” joke is a genre of joke that goes on for a very long time and then has a punch line that’s either extremely dry, or not a punch line at all. For example, like, “there was a penguin who wanted to visit his family in the West but he lived in Antarctica,” and you tell a whole story, it can vary from person to person, you tell a whole story about how the penguin tries to get there, and you lead up to the punch line where it turns out the penguin didn’t make it and he died. It’s a purposefully dissatisfying joke. Bicentennial Man is like the purposefully dissatisfying joke of movies. Because it’s like two hours and forty minutes, just obscenely long, and then you get to the end and he dies before being declared a human. And the nurse comes over and is like, “Little miss, he didn’t hear,” and she’s like, “He didn’t need to.” If he didn’t need to hear, why did I watch the movie? And that’s my rant on Bicentennial Man. But yes, I agree, Bicentennial Man is another harmless artificial intelligence story.
EC: Have you had that pent up for a while?
PG: Listen, you’re the first person who’s really brought it up in a long time. Because no one has either seen or likes that movie, I think everyone sort of blocks it out. So that’s been in there for a while.
EC: Yeah, there’s that one and AI, but I don’t remember how AI ends.
EC: Yeah, I remember AI being extraordinarily weird.
PG: Yeah, and sad, or something. I don’t know.
EC: Well AI was written and directed by Stanley Kubrick who then died, so Steven Spielberg took over and so the first forty minutes of the movie are the parts of it that Stanley Kubrick made, and then the rest is Steven Spielberg. So it’s got this weird jilted tone where it’s extremely dystopian, sad to start, and then it becomes this inspirational, epic journey. It’s a very weird movie.
PG: Okay, I just have one more question then.
EC: You’re like, “We’ve gotta cut this off now, he doesn’t like Bicentennial Man, we’re done here.”
PG: Yeah, I can’t talk to you anymore. I don’t really have any opinion on Bicentennial Man… Weird romance movie with robots… So what do you want the user’s experience to be like with Office Attacks? What do you want them to take away from it?
EC: That’s a great question, and a very difficult question to answer. I think, ultimately, every user is probably going to look for something different in the game, or for certain at least get something different out of it. And I think that probably encapsulates our feelings the best. Every time we talk about the game, and about the things that we are hoping for in the game, we find that we give different answers. To be clear, we haven’t even hit the tip of the iceberg here at the office of what tower combinations are possible, because of the algorithms and because each tower is modular and has five parts that you can interchange, there are over a hundred-thousand combinations that you can make. So we haven’t even begun to see, not just visually, what the towers could look like. Because every tower attribute has a different thing it will do to the speed, strength, abilities of your tower, maybe it will give your tower the ability to freeze enemies or poison enemies, and so once that’s all been thrown into a big code-based melting pot, we’ll probably have users posting to us, telling us that they did X thing with the tower, or this tower is broken and does way too many things at once and is winning them the entire game, all at once, and we didn’t even know that it could exist. I think, probably, ultimately, that’s my hope—that we have users constantly come to us, whether on forums, or through email, or on the App Store reviews, saying, “I did this, I built this, wow this is so cool.” And maybe what one user is saying is cool, isn’t what another user is saying is cool. That’s the game that does it all, that’s the big hope, everybody says they want each user to have a completely unique experience, but I think what we’ve done with the tower builder system, and with the mini-games, and with the way that each character has unique personalities– it equips the game to really make a run at finally accomplishing that, this idea that every user who plays it will relate to it for a different reason—like the mad scientists of the group, who really love building, or even the collectors—I’m so excited to hear about the first user who claims that they’ve collected every tower part. Because we’re actually not creating, to start, a bestiary of all the tower parts, we’re not doing that until a later update because we want half the fun of the first run of the game to be that users don’t really know what parts are out there and they share with each other.
That to me is the hope. That months down the line, as we’re pushing our first update to add living towers and other cool elements we’re going to talk about later in a couple months, as we add that I really want to still hear about users going, “Well I haven’t even discovered all of X yet, this is exciting to me.” So that’s my probably my hope, that every user, for a very long time, can boot up the game and build something they hadn’t seen before, use a tower in a way they weren’t expecting, get a reaction out of an enemy that makes them laugh. That’s my biggest hope for the game.
PG: I guess I lied, that wasn’t my last question. Because you mentioned the first person to collect all the tower parts, so have you considered implementing achievements?
EC: Yes, there’s definitely achievements. Game Center is one of the better things, in terms of implementing achievements, I mean it’s a very broken system, which could be a whole article unto itself about what needs to be fixed, but for now we’re going with that because it’s very much the proprietary method that a lot of App users go with. There will be a full suite of Game Center achievements that we haven’t necessarily tied to earning all the tower parts, but that’s a good idea, and we will be rewarding users for various milestones and high-score based rewards, and rewards based on meeting new enemies and beating enemies in certain ways, and building types of towers that are unique. So yeah, we’re going to have achievements peppered throughout the game, but what we’ve tried to do with them as well is balance the game in a way that makes it feel pure. Because I think there’s a great struggle with achievements, in implanting them in a way that feels like they are just that: achievements. That if you do something interesting, there are extras that reward you and make you feel like you went the extra mile, versus implementing them in a way that really makes players, those players that are achievement hounds, feel like they’ve got to grind to get them all and implementing purposefully sleazy achievements—I can’t count how many games on the App Store I’ve played these days that have achievements tied directly to using the game’s premium currency. So like, “buy item X,” and that’s an achievement. Or, “buy this amount of premium currency,” that’s an achievement. That’s something we’re steering very far away from, and making achievements related to that element of like, you’ve spent a bunch of time building towers, you’ve met every enemy in the game, you’ve discovered some of the bonus levels that we’re hiding as Easter eggs, now what can you do with these towers and what kinds of high scores can you set or things can you do to really make yourself feel like you’ve gone the extra mile, and you’re the pro player. That’s what we’re trying to do with achievements.
PG: Do you have any last words?
EC: I just think that the App Store has so much potential now, because I think it has cemented itself, clearly, as a platform to be reckoned with. There were days when mobile as scoffed at, and that’s still the case in some respects, compared to console, but it’s impossible to ignore now. The App Store has so many great apps and there are so many apps that it’s hard to get discovered, and I think now is a time where the App Store is at the tip of the iceberg phase, it really has the opportunity to come into its own and take genres that have become staples (endless runner, tower defense, strategy titles) and do things with them that exploit the mobile platform, and exploit the mechanics that maybe console games have been using for years, or that other games have been using for years (strong narrative, customization) and use them in ways we haven’t seen before. I think that’s sort of the final word to me, and we hope that Office Attacks is as well-received as we believe it deserves to be. And, more power to developers to take genres that they’re passionate about to the next level, because I think that’s where the App Store should be headed. Now is really the time to start experimenting with these genres that have really come into their own.
PG: Okay, thank you for talking with us, and we wish you luck with completing the game and getting it out there, and we look forward to hearing more updates and seeing how things go.
EC: Thank you so much for the interview, and we’ll definitely stay in touch regarding the game’s beta and the release of the game.