Ingmar: The game has loads of different endings. Is there one ending that – for you as the co-writer – feels like the "right" one?
David: Boy, that's a tough question! I think we tried very hard – as much as we could with the tech limitations at the time – to make all the endings feel right for the player's choices. You know, we were definitely straining against the limits of both game design theory, and the engine's limitations, and what we could actually do. I'm glad we pushed for that, but I think other games since then have tried to explore that space, and, frankly, have done it better than we could do it at the time. But that was definitely something we tried to do, and when I pursue it as a writer, I try not to think about what the right ending is, but what was the player's journey like, where did he end up, and why did he end up there. Having said that, I can't really give you a favorite from me.
Ingmar: I asked this question in part because not too long ago I played a recent game which has two different endings. I don't want to spoil that game, so I'm not saying its name, but in that case it seemed clear that the developers wanted players to experience one particular ending, and that one felt perfectly right. The other ending, which was a lot more unlikely for players to see, didn't seem too fleshed-out.
David: Yeah, I think that I’ve played some games like that. This wasn't true of Blade Runner really, but a lot of games have pushed that with a good and an evil track, and often the evil track feels like an afterthought or isn't the primary one that the developers work on. I think a lot of RPGs fall into that trap a little bit, and at that point I start to ask myself, well, why do they bother to do the multiple-endings thing at all if that's the approach they take? I mean, that said, even in Blade Runner there were certainly some endings that felt more fleshed-out than others. If you went into the game and you were approaching it with "shoot everything in sight," I suspect your ending was probably not as satisfying as some of the other options you might have encountered.
Ingmar: You mentioned limitations earlier. What other obstacles come to mind when you look back on the production of Blade Runner?
Character integration was one of the bigger technological challenges for the Blade Runner team
David: It was definitely a challenging project at times. You can imagine with the character tech we had that there was certainly a lot of problems trying to get the characters to look good, and we never really hit that right. I think if there's a flaw that you can see in the game, it's that the slice model technology we were using for the characters doesn't really hold up to the scenes around them. That's certainly really noticable today; that's the area where the game has aged not particularly well.
Just the sheer quantity of art, and the pipeline for that, and the number of artists that had to work on all those scenes, and try to get them right, and not only get them right, but playable... that was certainly a challenge!
I think there's always a little bit of pressure to how much is this an interactive movie vs. a game, and that was certainly a struggle that I struggled with a lot. There were a couple of efforts fairly late in the project that we undertook to try to get a little more gameplay in there, and I think some of them worked less well than others. The Voight-Kampff nod that we had in the game, that came in very late, and was not used as frequently or as well as I hoped it would be. So, you know, we certainly hit some challenges along the way, but we did manage to pull it all together at the end.
Ingmar: I could mention lots of things I particularly liked about the game. One aspect is the real-time element. How much of a struggle was it for you as a designer to have this feature in the game?
David: It definitely wasn't easy. Partly because the game wasn't a shooter, and a lot of people who played adventure games at the time weren't quite used to that mode of play. I don't think the game would have worked if every part of the game had felt like you're pressured or in a rush as you are in a shooter. But I think having these few brief cinematic moments was kind of true to the movie. You know, there's a lot of times in the movie where Deckard is kind of exploring and investigating, and taking his time, and then there are these bursts of action. It felt true to the movie to have these moments in the game, and it felt true to the kind of game we wanted to make. It didn't seem to make sense to us to have the player completely be in control of all the action; that didn't feel like Blade Runner to us. That's why we pushed to get these things in.
Ingmar: What other elements of the game are you particularly proud of, and what could have worked better from your point of view?
David believes the ESPER image sequences are one of the game's best features, if a little underused
David: I'm certainly super-happy with ESPER – the photograph investigation sections of the game. I think the way that worked was great. Actually, I wish we could have done even more of that, but we had at least two or three really good scenes there that you could actually find a lot of little things in. I think that was very reminiscent of the movie, and at the same time we really used it to its fullest potential, and I'm super proud of that.
I was, at the end of day, really happy with the script overall. I think it was kind of tough to fold in a few of the stories, and I think that if I have some disappointments, it's probably that the back-third of the game – leading up to the conclusion – has a little bit of content in there that feels like filler to me. Some of the stuff in the sewers didn't quite capture some of the strengths of the first couple acts of the game. But I think it ends fairly strongly, and overall it's a game that I'm really proud of. I'm still friends with a lot of the guys that worked on it, and it was a great experience.
Ingmar: The game sold more than a million copies, which was a lot at the time. Unfortunately, though, you never got to do a second game. Have there been ideas, nevertheless, about what a second game could have been like?
David: You know, we had started to kick around some concepts of that. It was a long development process, and one that was definitely fairly intense, and I think the team was ready for a break after that. We did kick around some ideas, but the Blade Runner Partnership at the time didn't want to pursue another one, and neither did the studio. I think, frankly, a lot of the team wanted to move on to some other stuff too. I think it would have been hard to pick up where the first one ended, because we didn't know how it ended for an individual player. The trouble with sequels for games with multiple endings is that you have to pick a canon ending, and I think that would not have been great. I guess, in retrospect, I'm pretty happy it was a one-off as I think we did justice to the movie, and the world, and I hope that people think of it that way.Continued on the next page...