Ingmar: A few years back, Westwood's co-founder Louis Castle stated that the original source code and assets were lost, making a re-release or a remastered HD version impossible. It's quite a shame that players don't have a chance to buy some sort of digital version of this game.
David: Yeah, that does make me sad. A bunch of us have talked about that over the years. I left Westwood before they were shut down, and acquired, so I don't know exactly the sequence of events. I imagine somewhere on a stack of old CDs there's a bunch of source code. As far as I know, nobody from the team or the studio knows where it is, and I've heard Louis say that before, and I've heard a few of our other team members say, “oh, darn it! That's a shame!” I mean, nowadays with things like Steam, it would be lovely to see that game re-released, but it looks like it's not to be.
Ingmar: That's also a pity as I think – apart from some visual aspects – the game has aged very well.
David (left) at Westwood with Blade Runner's lead programmer Michael Legg
David: Thanks! The interesting thing about that is that if we did have the code for it, and somebody were able to do a remaster, you could crank up the technology for the character models. It actually supported a much higher resolution, and a higher fidelity look. With today's computers, you could pretty easily crank that tech up to take the original source assets, which were much more detailed, and really make the characters look as if they fit into the scenes a lot better. I think that would be something that would be great to see in a remaster as, really, the only limits at the time were that we were trying to make it meet minimum specs, and run that technology. So that would be interesting, but, oh well... (laughs)
Ingmar: I went to a presentation of Quantic Dream's upcoming game Detroit: Become Human last year, and this might be completely coincidental, but what I saw strongly reminded me of your Blade Runner game. Not just in terms of the setting and the atmosphere, but also in terms of some of the design ideas in there. Whether that was coincidence or not, can you think of any games that picked up on elements Westwood Studios tried out in Blade Runner?
David: Boy, I don't want to say that we were influential because I don't know that we were particularly influential. You mentioned Quantic Dream; I think I have seen some things in the stuff that they're trying to do that at least farms the same ground. A game that, I think, kind of tried to approach the same space we did, and I'd argue that did it significantly better than we did, was the first Deus Ex game. By using a shooter, and kind of focusing their gameplay around that, they were able to do some stuff that we weren't really able to that made that game work very well, and of course they've had enormous success. I do think they farm that same territory of players' actions having legit consequences. That's certainly something that we're seeing a lot in open-world games today, and it has become kind of an industry staple now, but, you know, I think we hardly started that; Deus Ex was far more influential on that space than we were. But I'm glad to see that continuing; whenever in a game the players feel like their actions have legit consequences, that's always a win, no matter what genre you're in.
Ingmar: This actually reminds me of another thing I really liked about Blade Runner. Many games literally make you shoot hundreds or thousands of people. Blade Runner, on the other hand, was one of the few games that made me feel bad, and to a certain extent guilty, whenever I shot someone.
Though McCoy carries a gun, it is rarely (if ever) actually a requirement to kill anyone
David: (laughs) That's good to hear! That was partly the intent. I believe, if I remember right, you could get through the game without shooting anyone.
Ingmar: I don't remember that path, but that's very well possible. Perhaps I just should have tried not to shoot at people. (both laugh)
David: I think there was a path; it was at least something we tried to do anyway.
Ingmar: Blade Runner had a strong emphasis on storytelling. What recent and/or current games have impressed you because of their methods of storytelling?
David: Hmm... there's a lot of games that do pretty interesting stuff with storytelling in totally different ways. INSIDE, if you played that, does some very good stuff with just environmental kind of platforming mechanics in a very tight, confined space. On the other end of the spectrum, I think that The Witcher 3 and a few RPGs have really shown that you can do some pretty sophisticated stories within traditional game structures, and give the players some freedom of action, and find some clever ways to do that even within a giant RPG. I think that people are knocking it out of the park these days. I mean, every year I'm amazed at what the industry comes up with; it's always something new and fresh, and it's exciting to see what people are doing.
Ingmar: And there's a lot of stuff out there.
David: There is a lot of stuff out there! It's definitely a wonderful time to be a gamer; you're never short of anything to play, and my backlog grows all the time.
Ingmar: After having worked on Blade Runner, if you could choose another popular franchise – whether it's based on a movie, a TV show, or a series of books – and turn it into a game, what franchise, and what type of game would it be?
David: Oh, wow! Huh, that's interesting! I'm a big fan of Iain Banks' Culture novels. I think it would be interesting to play around with a sort of sweeping sci-fi space opera epic in that kind of space. In terms of genre, I'm not quite sure what you could do with it. I think that a lot of people might say, “let's make a giant Mass Effect-styled RPG out of it,” but it might be interesting to do something a little quieter, and explore a story-based game in the corner of that universe. But, boy, that's a very open-ended question. There are lots of games I still want to make! (both laugh)
Ingmar: You have worked on many well-known games throughout the years. Which ones – Blade Runner aside – are you especially proud of?
Never mind retiring replicants, Orcs Must Die!
David: In my recent history – and this is funny because it's completely the opposite of Blade Runner; it's not story-based at all, other than a very light story we added in – but I was really, really happy with the work on the first Orcs Must Die! game. It was just kind of a fun little third-person tower defense game. We had a very tight design on that, it was a fun project to work on, it went very quickly and efficiently, and we made a very satisfying game at the end of it, so I was very happy with it.
Ingmar: As the end of our interview draws close, please give us an idea of your current activities.
David: I have actually not been a designer for a few years; I've moved into production. I'm working at a company called Playful now. Playful is based in McKinney, Texas. I've been a producer on an Early Access game for the last couple of years called Creativerse. It's an open-world voxel game, sort of in the Minecraft space. We just came out of Early Access a little while ago, and the studio also has a couple of other projects in development. It's a good time to be in games still! (laughs)
Ingmar: I really can't let you go without hearing your thoughts on the new Blade Runner movie coming out in October.
David: (laughs) I think it looks pretty amazing. I'm glad they didn't try to farm the space that was walked by the book sequels, which I was not so much a fan of. There were a couple of book sequels that were not quite in the right vein in my opinion. I felt like the trailer maybe gave away a little too much, but we'll see where they'll go with it. I'm certainly excited to go to the theatre, get a big bunch of popcorn, and watch it!
Ingmar: David, thank you very much for your time. It has been a pleasure to discuss all-things-Blade Runner with you!
David: Absolutely! The pleasure is all mine, thank you very much, sir!
|Worldwide||November 1 1997||Westwood Studios|