The characters in Spec Ops: The Line start off as your average-looking video game protagonists. They're people the player finds it easy to get behind. But as the story unfolds they become more and more morally ambiguous...
Well, we knew that we wanted the story to be morally grey from the beginning and we knew we wanted the moral choices in the game to be not the kind of choices that people are used to in this medium. You know, hit A for good, B for bad. There's one scene in the game that involves... well... I think I'm in spoiler territory here. Let's just say it's pretty graphic. We had the whole thing plotted and the majority of it was written, but we felt that there was a moment missing from it. We felt that... and I'm really sorry I'm about to use this turn of phrase because it does sound horribly cheesy... no one had crossed a line yet.
Interview's over! I'm leaving!
(Laughs) I know! It's horrible! Believe me, I'm dying inside as a writer because there's got to be a better way of putting that, right?
What we were trying to do is change things up on the player. We want them to be in this position where they're going 'okay, I know this game. I know these characters'. Even though, we've been tugging the rug under their feet by inches for a while, there are scenes where we pull it right out from under them. The intention is to leave the players in the same mental state as the characters. They don't know where they are anymore. They don't know what rules they're supposed to be following. Anything could happen.
Given the agency of the game they're playing, they don't really have a choice. The player's actions caused something to happen, but it was always meant to be. The way we work around it is to have the impact hit them like... it's like one of those horrific things that just happen to you. Suddenly you're life is one way and suddenly it's not and there's really nothing you can do about it except try to keep going. Some people don't. Some people break down and stop, but most people try to deal with it.
Doesn't that run counter to the agency of a shooter? The natural mind-set of players who are playing a shooter is: you see something, you shoot it. You sound like you're trying to make players connect a bit more than usual...
That's it! That's exactly it! That's what it's meant to be. I mean, there are a lot of action-focused sections where it's 'kill or be killed'. But we put a lot of situations in front of the player where they're faced with choices and in those choices, the player has a rough idea of what may or may not happen, but they don't fully know what the consequences of their actions will be. Up until that point, yeah, it's just a game, but after that point, the hope is that the player will be considering the story and their own emotions a little deeper and looking at why the characters are acting the way they are.
So far in testing - and in previews like you've been in - people are connecting and they have questions and this is very heartening for me. It means we've reached a level. We'll only be able to see once the game's out whether we've really pulled it off.