The Drowning Interview With Ben Cousins
Ever since its release a couple of weeks ago, The Drowning has demonstrated that a first-person shooter can be done right on the mobile front, as you can see from our review. A lot of effort went into the game, from its unique touch-screen gameplay to fantastic visuals.
We caught up with Ben Cousins, general manager of DeNA's Scattered Entertainment Studio, to get more insight on the game's development, from how it looks to its novel approach with gameplay.
First, what motivated you to move from the Battlefield franchise to working on your own thing for mobile?
I'm passionate about digital games and free-to-play. I'm working on my tenth free-to-play game right now and I've been working primarily on digital games for seven years. At EA, the majority of annual revenue is still coming from traditional packaged goods titles, which meant I was always playing second fiddle to those types of games. I wanted to move to a company that was about the same size as EA but fully focused on digitally delivered free-to-play games. DeNA fit the bill perfectly.
How did the forming of Scattered Entertainment come about?
I'd always wanted to work with Senta Jakobsen, who was at DICE at the same time as me. She was the first key hire, and together we brought the rest of the team on board, mostly from other companies we've worked at like Sony, Crytek and EA.
With The Drowning, you introduced a completely different concept for control, with touch-based movement rather than the traditional d-pad set-up. What prompted this?
We did some market research in 2011 that told us there was massive interest from gamers in playing a high-end FPS game on tablets and smartphones. The problem was that when they tried these games, none of them liked the virtual stick controls. We decided that if we were going to start working in this genre on mobile, we needed to come up with an alternative option for those people.
Do you think first-person shooters are more complicated using a d-pad on mobile devices?
While I've played a lot of shooters on mobile, I hate virtual stick controls. They remind me of when earlier cinema aped the theatre with curtain calls and wooden sets. Our gesture control alternative is much more comfortable, accurate and intuitive. I believe in the future that most FPS games on touchscreens will be controlled by gesture-based systems.
Some people are wondering why you'd use two fingers to shoot enemies, rather than just tapping them. Were you just looking to add challenge to it? More accuracy?
We obviously tried a single tap as our first choice in prototyping, but we found two problems with it. Firstly, your finger obscures the contact point, meaning you don't get to see that juicy bullet impact. Secondly, it's a bit too easy to hit your target for a skill-based game like The Drowning. By having a two-finger tap, players are forced to use more hand-eye-coordination to find that perfect shot, and they also get all the pleasure of seeing the bullet impact the monster.
How were you able to produce such amazing visuals for The Drowning? It does resemble a console-like experience in many ways.
There are three important factors with The Drowning's visuals. The first is that we are using Unity, which means very fast iteration times on content that allow the artists more freedom to tweak their models, textures and lighting. Secondly, we were smart with the types of levels we built - focusing on smaller environments with dominant vistas and skyboxes that are easier to render. Thirdly, we hired an amazing team to develop the game, which includes people that have created code and artwork for gorgeous games like Battlefield 3, Mirror's Edge, Far Cry and Crysis.
Why wasn't multiplayer a part of The Drowning? Would it have made things too complicated?
The Drowning has an asynchronous event-driven co-op mode called Beast Hunt, where the entire community of players co-operate together to hunt and take down large, rare and powerful enemies in the game world. This mode has proven very popular since we started running it about a week ago. You can win prizes, form short-term alliances with strangers and it's really fun.
As for synchronous multiplayer of the type you see in console games like Halo, we decided to focus on the modes we did because of the way people use mobile devices - often on the move and typically for short periods of time. We don't think a very large portion of the people who play FPS games on tablets and smartphones would play a full multiplayer mode.
What's next for the team at Scattered? A sequel, perhaps? A new kind of first-person shooter?
Currently, we are all very hard at work on the next update for The Drowning. Specifically experimenting with some new single-player game modes based on feedback from the game since we launched it.
Download The Drowning: iOS