Interview With Paul Caporicci, CEO of Precursor Games
We began by exchanging pleasantries and talking about our common Ontario connection. I grew up in Toronto, and both Precursor Games and Silicon Knights are located in Hamilton, one of the suburbs of Toronto. Paul told me that although Precursor currently has staff from Silicon Knights, they hope to also get talent from the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) and Niagara Falls.
NE: What made you decide specifically to release on Wii U over other consoles?
Paul: There are so many great Nintendo fans that we’ve had experience with and we just thought that the Wii U would be a great opportunity for this kind of game. And along with Nintendo’s eshop, that works perfectly with what we’re trying to do with this game episodically, through digital distribution.
NE: Yeah, the eShop’s been a pretty big success so far…
Paul: Yeah, it has.
NE: So, how come the PC got added for release over other consoles?
Paul: Well, this is just how we’re starting out at the beginning of the campaign, but because we’re using CryEngine 3, it supports lots of platforms. So if there’s enough support for other platforms, we’ll look to support them as well.
NE: So, the initial releases are intended for Wii U and PC but if you manage to hit stretch goals you’d consider other platforms?
Paul: Yeah, absolutely. We want to get this project out to as many people as possible so they get to experience Shadow of the Eternals.
NE: Well, a lot of developers have given negative feedback in regards to Wii U being a more like a current-gen platform. How has it fared so far with CryEngine 3 as you have been working with it? You seem to be pushing out some pretty looking graphics so far…
Paul: Yeah, CryEngine 3 fully supports Wii U and it’s been a great system to work with so far. And in regards to Shadow of the Eternals, beautiful visuals are just one part of the experience. There are many different pieces that all come together for this experience and the Wii U handles that complete package very well. So, we’ve had no problems so far and we’re not at all concerned about what the Wii U can handle.
NE: Speaking of many different parts to an experience, the Wii U has a lot of unique features and functionality of its own, such as the GamePad. Are you looking to take advantage of that?
Paul: Absolutely. There are all sorts of interesting things we can’t wait to do with its unique properties.
NE: Moving on to the overall development, Eternal Darkness wasn’t a commercial phenomenon but in terms of how the fans received, it built up up a rabid fanbase that have been clamoring for this game for a long time. Why do you think this type of game went over so well with the fans?
Paul: What we’re trying to with Shadow of the Eternals is very unique and it’s not something that a lot of games are doing. We’re trying to take psychological horror aspects to an action adventure game. And the whole narrative of playing multiple characters throughout time and the whole overarching storyline that goes through it, is something that I believe is very unique.
NE: Do you think Shadow of the Eternals will be more of a commercial success than Eternal Darkness? Especially now that many years after its release, people have already heard about Eternal Darkness…
Paul: We hope that by releasing it on as many platforms as we can and working as a community while developing it we can get more and more exposure and make this a product that has a very wide audience.
NE: With 12 episodes planned for the first season, how long will it take to release the entirety of game according to what you have in mind?
Paul: Some of the stuff kind of depends on how long each episode will take, but we’re generally trying to release the whole thing over multiple years, in certain chunks of each episode at a time.
NE: Is there the possibility of having more episodes than the first 12 as it goes on?
Paul: Yeah, 12 episodes is only the first season. We’ll base it on the community’s feedback, if they want to see more.
NE: I saw you had a graphic with spaces for 20 characters with only several actually being shown at the moment.
Paul: One thing that we’re doing that is really unique for this game– well, to take a step back, you are a detective and you’re interrogating two different people telling you two different versions of the same story. And we’re really exploring with a different bunch of uniqe storytelling techiniques. So sometimes different characters are each telling a different story according to the character’s point of view. Sometimes a character’s point of view might be biased as opposed to what actually happened.
NE: So what really makes this game different than other games is the narrative and storytelling that you will be experimenting with?
Paul: Yeah, especially from exploring how there are two sides of every story, and then there is real truth. So after speaking with both characters you’ll start wondering, what really did happen over here?
NE: Does that play in with the whole “perception of reality” that you’ve mentioned in the description for the campaign?
Paul: That’s in fact one of the key pillars of the game. So you’ll see it playing into the insanity effects, and it plays into each characters storyline, as in fact this isn’t a traditional video game storyline, but a character’s subjective experience of what took place. So, you as the gamer will constantly be asking yourself what is real and is what is not real. And hopefully, that will be a theme that we will try to continue to build upon.
NE: I remember in the first game you could also sometimes explore the same location multiple times, getting a different look of the same scene with different characters and in different timelines. Will that kind of a thing make a return?
Paul: We have a number of locations like that, and I think that’s another very unique concept, where you can go back to the same location at different points in time and see how it’s changed and seeing how the events of what happened has fluctuated over time
NE: The vibe I’m getting is of a massive “historical fiction” novel that weaves a narrative through multiple eras in time and multiple points of view. It’s almost like you’re blending a psychological horror video game with an epic novel. Not something you see often in games…
Paul: That’s actually why we see episodic as being really good for this project. Each episode is its own self-containing story but there’s also an over-arching story that will unite the entire season. And although you’ll enjoy each story for itself, you’ll only get the full picture once it’s all released.
NE: In another thought within this same idea, there seems to be an evolutionary aspect to the storytelling in the game, that is somewhat of a new experiment, but that same unique quality even plays into the way you’re attempting to fund the project, through avoiding the publishers who may veto your creative risks, and going straight to the fans.
Paul: With Precursor games, a big thing for us is collaboration- internally and externally. So, with crowd-funding we get to work directly with the fans who are contributing to the game, and that’s why we made The Order of the Unseen, which is a special area in our forum, where they get to contribute to content on the game- make suggestions about the game design, or storytelling, or music. And we can give them suggestions about what we’ve been thinking, and then we can work together to make the best game possible.
NE: So if there’s something after the first episode or two that the fans feel should be changed, like the battle system or something similar to that, the game could actually evolve over time with multiple episodes?
Paul: And that’s another advantage of episodic gameplay is that the iteration time is much quicker. So we can see right away what the fans think, and if we need to fix something, then that change can be worked upon right away to make sure the fans are happy with the final outcome. As opposed to the traditional model where we we’d work for two to three years on a game and then we’d have to wait until we hear back, and then work another 2-3 years on a sequel with those changes made. This is why we love the idea of episodic content.
NE: Is there the possibility of a sequel?
Paul: To Shadow of the Eternals?
NE: Yeah, like as a continuation of the franchise once you’re done with the vision you’ve had for this specific game?
Paul: Oh definitely. We think that this whole project is unique and different in that there is a whole universe that can be explored in many different ways, because it takes place over many many thousands of years in history.
NE: Denis Dyack originally had that close guidance and mentoring from Shigeru Miyamoto and Satoru Iwata, but once he was on his own again, it seemed like he felt hampered down by the publishers and he thirsted for creative freedom to realize his own vision. In a way, with Shadow of the Eternals, it’s a bit indie. Although what we’re seeing looks very professional and it’s being made by people will lots of experience in the industry, but in terms of creative risk, I assume Denis Dyack works best with an indie kind of a model and framework.
Paul: Yeah, when I hired him, Denis was my first choice for this creative position and he’s really excelling in being allowed to focus just on the creative aspects of the game, and interacting with the community. I don’t want to speak too much for him, but he thinks it is incredibly rewarding and he’s really happy with it.
NE: How are the responsibilities of leadership divided up between you, Shawn, and Denis?
Paul: Denis is chief creative officer, so he’s responsible for all the creative aspects. Shawn Jackson is the chief operating officer so he’s responsible for making sure the project stays on course. And myself, as the CEO, it’s my responsibility to keep the whole team aligned, and making sure we are all heading towards the same goal.
NE: So you tie everything together?
Paul: Yeah, I try to play that role in finding the best talent we can, and then make sure we are all pushing towards that same goal.
NE: Let’s go back to the insanity effects, how much of a part will it play? In the first game it was a bit of a hook or cool side feature. Will it play an even larger role this time?
Paul: Yes. Questioning reality is one of the pillars of the game, and we want to explore it in an expanded way, not just with specific insanity effects. So the insanity effects won’t just be an effect rather integrating seamlessly with this feeling of “is this real”? “What is real” will become a central way to how you experience the entire game.
NE: Will the newer technology and Wii U’s unique characteristics like the GamePad create the opportunity for some cool insanity effects?
Paul: In multiple platforms in general we’re planning on making some specific features and effects for the PC and some specific features for the Wii U. So the different technologies will give us a lot of opportunities that weren’t there before.
NE: Can you give us a hint, or a sneak-peek at one of the cool insanity effects? Can we get a taste of something? Feel free to say no. I can understand that it might take away the surprise of when they actually happen.
Paul: Hehe, yeah, I’d rather not spoil any of them just right now. They’re pretty much in their early stages anyways.
NE: Will there be any differences between the PC and Wii U versions?
Paul: Nothing too specific. Other than differences in insanity effects, the main objective is to get the same experience out to as many people as possible on as many platforms as possible.
NE: What themes or gameplay will Shadow of the Eternals share with Eternal Darkness as the spiritual successor?
Paul: They’re both action-adventure games, so there will once again be combat and exploiration, but the most unique charactersitics is how the psychological horror and storyline integrates into the whole experience.
NE: Have you decided how the magic will be handled in the game? One of our readers wanted to know if you will once gain have to stand still when you cast a spell, which makes you vulnerable to enemy attacks?
Paul: Well, we’re very excited with what the newer technology and more powerful hardware will allows us to do with magic and combat. When I played the original game, I thought what was really unique about standing still to cast spells was the way it played into the risk-reward of casting a spell. It wasn’t just about pressing a button and making it happen. You really needed to consider the amount of time it required to cast a spell, which made it more startegic and added a bit to the fear of your enemies getting closer while you tried to quickly cast a spell. I thought that was a really cool thing in Eternal Darkness.
NE: Will you be able to target specific limbs in battle again?
Paul: We’re aiming to make the battle tactical, so we’re definitely experimenting with that again and looking for other ways to make the combat very strategic and tactical.
NE: Will there be any tie-ins with the original Eternal Darkness, whether with the Roivis family or the general mythology?
Paul: Well, currently, it’s a different universe but you never know what will happen in the future.
NE: How about multiple endings? In the original game there were multiple endings, and even one ultimate ending. Is there a plan yet for how you want to handle that?
Paul: I think player agency is a really cool idea to play with and that’s something we’re definitely looking to explore for Shadow of the Eternals.
NE: That’s a real feat, having all these different episodes, with many different timelines, and you want to tie them all together, including whatever possible endings you have in mind,
Paul: It’s not too bad, because each episode is telling its part of a larger storyline, but it does weave its way throughout all the episodes, so it is somewhat of a challenge.