Exploring GreedFall – Interview With Spiders CEO Jehanne Rousseau

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Yesterday I wrote about GreedFall, the upcoming RPG by Spiders, developers of Of Orcs & Men, Bound By Flame and The Technomancer. In it, I covered the fact that while it was a hands-off preview, it was clear that a huge amount has been improved from the developer's previous titles. Particularly so when it comes to the aesthetic quality of the game. In general, though, the game came across as being of a much higher quality.

There was another thing that struck me though. In the preview I also made another observation regarding spiders and their titles:

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There was a passion that was visible even through the negatives, one that was made even clearer when I spoke to the CEO and lead writer of Spiders, Jehanne Rousseau, about their upcoming title GreedFall.

While written words can't really reflect the tone of a conversation, this is the conversation between myself and Jehanne Rousseau. As a reminder, GreedFall is coming out this year on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

Chris Wray: Hi there, great to meet you. If you wouldn't mind, would you introduce yourself and say what your role is within Spiders?

Jehanne Rousseau: I'm Jehanne Rousseau. I'm the CEO of Spiders and also the lead writer of the company.

Chris: So, I've actually played every Spiders game starting with Of Orcs and Men, is GreedFall the culmination of your previous titles, building from them?

Jehanne: The game systems have some links and connections to our previous games. It's probably more connected to our systems of Technomancer. There are some factions, but more of them. There is the same type of interactive dialogue where your choices are very important. There are also different ways to solve the quests, this is something that was important to us. The combat system, though, is very different from the one Of Orcs and Men - I think you've seen it?

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Chris: I have.

Jehanne: We have also changed some things compared to Technomancer on the combat aspect. We wanted to create a completely different universe - I think you have seen it in the presentation?

Chris: Completely different to your previous few titles, certainly.

Jehanne: To be honest, after two years of Mars we wanted something new and fresh. I really enjoy Mars - it is a universe I created also, I'm in love with it, but it is a bit uh...

Chris: I think it's likely there's only so much you can do with something that is, by nature, red. It is called the red planet. Maybe just saying something like "Let's have a little Green!"

Jehanne: [laughs] Exactly! The team was asking for trees and grass and different types of clothes and architecture too. So okay, RPG's - Fantasy, why not? But I'm a little bored by Elves & Dwarves, the usual Tolkien setting. I love it, but there are already plenty of games using that, isn't there?

Chris: Very true, they are in abundance. So you looked elsewhere?

Jehanne: We wanted to have a game with a lot of exploration, a lot of natural environments and different types of architecture. So why not the 17th century, because it's really the moment in history where exploration was important. We could use that as a setting, it would be interesting to have this fantasy with 17th-century connection, even if it's not historical at all. We're not historians, and we're not pretending to be but it's interesting, the architecture is different and it's something that's not that common. Maybe we could do that?

Chris: So what did you start with when working on GreedFall?

Jehanne: We worked first on the nations of the continent, created the different factions and thought a lot about the natives. We want them to not be related to one country or another. We didn't want it to be "Oh, okay - it's America".

Chris: So to make them unique to themselves rather than easily linked to something else?

Jehanne: Yeah, and fantasy. We wanted to have magic and creatures so we mixed plenty of different influences to reach these unique characters. We worked with a linguist to create them a language, so they're talking in their own language. It was very funny - the linguist is living in Singapore and is a very interesting and funny guy. When we had to record these lines with the actors he was on Skype and teaching them how to pronounce this strange language, it was a very funny and unique experience creating this world.

Chris: It certainly sounds it, fun but a large amount of work, especially from the look of the size of the game.

Jehanne: GreedFall is the biggest game we've made until now. Not only because of the size of the levels, they are big of course, but also because it was created from scratch in less than three years a completely new universe with a language, different people and different factions. It was really a lot of work but it was also very exciting.

Chris: What comes to mind, especially when you say this is the largest, that your previous titles could be quite segmented as you move from one area to the next. From what I've been shown, this is a considerably more open world?

Jehanne: So it's not a completely open world. So the first city, Sérène, is the city with the tutorial and when you leave at the end of the tutorial, you won't be able to come back.

Chris: Ahh, I understand. And on the continent you go to?

Jehanne: The island is cut into different big levels. It's not a completely open world like, for example, The Witcher 3. But, the areas are huge and you can decide any time to travel through the island to explore. You're not limited. The only thing that can stop you is a level of the creatures you will meet, we didn't want to have level scaling so you can face monsters, say "oh my god" and run back.

Chris: [laughs] Excellent, so you can essentially go up to it and perish! That or run away crying.

Jehanne: We want this universe to be based on exploration, so it's important to allow the player to explore the island and try to visit everywhere. You will probably be stopped after a while by the creatures and why not?

Chris: Very true. Creatures wouldn't suddenly increase in strength around you and it gives you the challenge to work towards. So looking at something I noticed, in particular, is a large improvement in the physics and aesthetical quality, from the visuals, animations and more. I know that you have used your own engine in previous titles...

Jehanne: This is still our engine.

Chris: This is I imagine an upgrade on your previous Spiders engine?

Jehanne: Yes, this is an upgrade on our engine. It's our own tools and engine and we created some specific tools to handle the development of this game to allow, for example, nice dialogues. In our previous games, except in cutscenes, the camera was far away when we were in dialogues. Here, for GreedFall, we have some nice cameras during dialogues. The animation was also improved a lot and of course rendering, but rendering is improving for each game.

Yeah, we worked a lot on the engine for this game. Really, to allow us to develop what we wanted to show to the players. As we had a little more time to develop the game than previously, it was also easier to spend some time on the tools and trying to...

Chris: To help give the foundation to build the game from?

Jehanne: Exactly. Of course, it's not as sharp and incredible than what CD Projekt could do but they are more than 200...

Chris: Oh, of course, there's a huge difference and you don't need to compare.

Jehanne: We're 35 in our team, with 40 at the moment working on the game. We are developing this because we love the type of game. There aren't that many studios doing this type of games today. I mean, even BioWare have stopped doing it and I'm very sad because it's what I like to play the most.

Chris: So it is very much a passion project?

Jehanne: Yes! I love playing them. I think that's it, we're always trying to make generous games. There are probably some mistakes but we want to give as much as we can to our players. We want to allow them to experience a new universe, new stories, to craft their equipment, to switch weapons and to fight some strange and weird creatures and not only the usual giant spiders and giant rats [laughs]. You know, bring something new and fresh.

Chris: [laughs] So not the usual tactic of look at the next animal that could be a pet and make it bigger!

Jehanne: [laughs] We've tried to bring something different. So, it's not just because I'm writing the story but I think we have something strong. We really want the story of GreedFall to be reactive to all of the choices. It was very complicated to make something as reactive but I think the result is interesting and I hope that you'll like it.

Chris: Will this reactivity allow players to change the story and maybe even the world in GreedFall?

Jehanne: Well in fact by playing, all the small choices you can make will change things. For example, the way you solve the quest to free your cousin will change the reaction of your cousin and your reputation with the bandits.

It's a very small quest from the tutorial so it's limited but all of the quests are like that. Sometimes you will have a first small consequence but then, hours later, you will have a consequence that is far bigger. Some factions can disappear based on the choices you make and some companions can die or leave the group. There are a lot of changes that depend on the different choices you make during the story. There are also multiple endings but of course, they are just a conclusion. We want the choices to be genuine and your story in the game could be completely different from another player.

Chris: They sound very sweeping, to say the least. Will they be displayed or obvious at all.

Jehanne: We're not going to give obvious information like "Beware: this is a good choice". It's dialogue and logic in some ways. If you're using diplomacy and the help of your companion to convince someone, then they'll become more friendly than if fighting them. It just makes sense and these are the types of consequence we want to use and want the experience to feel smooth.

It's funny because we had some testers playing GreedFall - they knew nothing about the game - and in the end, they made completely different choices and had different experiences. When they talked together it was like "I had a romance with this character" with the other saying "What!? He was dead in my game!". It was great because they had their own story and they were so happy to have crafted their own story in a way.

Chris: So GreedFall could be a very emergent, or at least a branching experience?

Jehanne: I hope so. That's what we've tried to build with the game.

Chris: Building on from the presentation, the outposts that feature in the game and your mention of factions. Is there a larger scale conflict, a war between the factions and is this linked to you mentioning a faction can disappear?

Jehanne: Some factions are fighting together. You begin the game as part of the congregation of merchants. They are mostly neutral with everyone. They're merchants, they're trying to sell their stuff to everyone. This can change based on your choices. So you will be able to side with some factions, you will have to make some decisions that will influence the future of all these different factions, both from the old continent as well as the natives of the new continent.

You will probably also have to choose which faction and philosophy you want to support. This will all give an impact on the factions and an impact of the world itself.

At this point we'd been talking about 18 minutes in a 15-minute slot and was asked to wrap up, having eaten into the next person's time.

Chris: Looks like I've held onto you for too long [laughs]. Thank you for your time and I'm looking forward to playing GreedFall.

Jehanne: [laughs] Sorry about that. Thank you.

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