Bad Day L.A. Interview
By: Bryan Sharp
1) Was it hard pitching the idea for Bad Day LA? And how difficult was it to get the project started?
The pitching process began when the founder of Enlight, Trevor Chan, approached me and asked what ideas for games I had floating around. I pitched him several concepts ranging from destruction simulators to some twisted tale adventures. It wasn’t until we got to the concept of Bad Day LA that Trevor really responded. At that point the idea was nothing more than a few pages of notes that outlined a game “for the masses” that played off “American fear culture” and “current themes in the media and world at large”.
Once a more formal concept was in place I began writing on the game design and game script. From there we started using concept artwork created by art duo Kozyndan (www.kozyndan.com) to guide the team towards building a proof of concept. All of this unfolded over the course of several months. I’d say the process was relatively painless, certainly no more difficult than the genesis of previous projects.
2) The game pokes fun at the current political atmosphere, US and otherwise, and may be seen as controversial. Movies and books have traditionally been used to get controversial ideas across in an entertaining way. Do you see videogames as the next landscape for this type of expression?
Videogames and videogame audiences are maturing. As a result we’re seeing increased demand for more ‘adult’ content, and I don’t mean that in the X-rated sort of way. These days we have visual content that rivals other forms of entertainment media so we can push a more sophisticated message.
3) Bad Day LA deals with the character Anthony Williams and his involvement in the worst day imaginable. Could you talk a little about the gameplay? Is it based on missions or another format?
Three big elements: third-person action, chaos management, and mission solving. Third-person action is pretty ‘standard’. You run around and shoot things. Lots of things blow up. Bodies fly through the air. You grab ammo, you use power-ups. You’ve got a range of standard weapons to select between that range from crowbar to rocket launcher and Molotov cocktails. You can switch between four support characters, each of which has their own special attacks.
The chaos management aspect of the game is probably the most unique element. It’s like a fast-paced version of The Sims—with a shotgun and fire extinguisher as your primary ‘management’ tools. As you move through an environment to complete missions you need to constantly assist NPCs, destroy zombies, and wipe out terrorist. If you fail to do this then the overall mood of the level will go south real fast. When that happens your chances of survival begin to drop significantly. So you balance movement through the level with managing the chaos, putting out burning people, saving people from zombies, and trying not to cause too much collateral damage. The pace is fast, the feedback quite addictive.
The final major layer is mission solving/storytelling. This is what drives you forward through the game and pushes the characters through their story arcs. Missions are always irreverent spoofs of well-known action missions. Saving people is the stated goal, but our heroes tend to kill as many people as they save, so the focus is more on intent than actual survival rate.
4) How important to you is the story in Bad Day La and your other games? Is telling a good story important? How much weight is put on the quality of the writing?
One of my favorite things about playing games these days is the story aspect. I think that what we’re seeing these days in the game industry is the precursor to a whole new story telling medium that will someday eclipse all others, just as film and television eclipsed, radio, print, and theater. Telling a good story is always important, no matter what the medium. Personally, I put a lot of effort into the stories that I write for games. It isn’t harder to write stories for games, but it is different when compared to something like writing a film. The openness of the format is alluring but can also be a trap. As a rule simplicity is often the key to quality.
5) Bad Day LA seems to emphasize fun gameplay. Was this a main goal and, if so, how was it accomplished?
From the beginning of this project my goal has been to produce a videogame ‘for everyone else’. This thought was inspired by many hours playing current games and watching others playing games. A lot of games these days are highly frustrating affairs. This isn’t the case for all people, but it is a reality for many. So from the beginning we decided to do things a little differently. When you die in BDLA you don’t suffer being removed back to the beginning of the level. You start where you died. When it comes to mission objectives we keep them simple and visible. There are no impossible jump puzzles or impossible-to-kill boss characters. The focus is kept on exploring cool environments, interacting in humorous ways with NPCs, and easily mowing down tons and tons of enemies.
6) The art style in Bad Day LA is different than the art in say, Alice. Was this art style your first choice and what you originally envisioned for the game?
The art style only came into the picture once the story and theme had been established. First there was the concept, then there was the main character, then there was his story and all the people, places, and things that flow out of that. As all of this was coming together I began to realize that the art style was going to have to work really hard to communicate that this game was different than your standard action title. The really big challenge is how to sell the concept of a disaster spoof. Simply put, you’ve got people being killed left and right by manmade and natural disasters. How do you couch that in such a way as to allow people to laugh?
The first indicator of the mood of the product that people are going to get is its art style. From across a room they can look at the action on the screen and think, “Hmm, that looks like a cartoon, which should be funny, but that Mexican guy just killed a zombie with a chainsaw…” In this sense I think that something like Southpark is a good example of adult comedy made to look like (and starring) children where you can deal with topics of violence, sexuality, culture, and so on, and it’s OK because it never hits you over the head with overt realism. The reality is in the message more than in the delivery mechanism.
7) Given the current state of videogame ratings (i.e. GTA SA), are you at all concerned that Bad Day LA will be affected because of the game’s content? Would it surprise you if Bad Day LA was slapped with an adult rating? Is there anything in the game, in your mind, worthy of a rating that severe?
It does not seem likely that BDLA will find itself slapped with an AO. There is nothing in the content that even remotely deserves that sort of rating. We have violence, but it is cartoon-style. You aren’t encouraged to harm or kill innocent people (in fact, you’re punished if you do); there’s no nudity or sex. In fact, because the game is parody, you could argue that with some minor adjustments it could get a “T” rating.
Of course, if the folks in Washington have their way every game that doesn’t meet with their backward moral standards could find itself being hit with an AO rating. This whole issue is one that gamers should remain aware of. What’s being talked about these days is nothing short of censorship of an entertainment medium. Gamers need to be vigilant to protect their rights.
8) In a screenshot on the Bad Day LA website there’s a scene of complete automobile carnage on a highway. Vehicles are strewn about and there’s a person draped over the hood of a car. And yet the ‘threat advisory’ scale in the top-right corner remains green for ‘low’. Was this done intentionally as a humorous detail? What purpose does the ‘threat advisory’ scale serve during the game?
The threat advisory relates more to the actions (or inactions) of the player than to the already existing destruction in the world. Once the game begins it is a given that things are ‘bad’. But the player has a choice to make wherever he goes, to do right or to do wrong. There are people in need of help, injured people that need to be rescued, fires to be put out, and zombies and terrorists to be stopped. If the player manages these tasks then the terror alert will stay low. If these things are neglected then the world will quickly be consumed by chaos and the player will suffer.
9) It seems hard to get original ideas across in the videogame industry. Were there compromises you had to make with Bad Day LA to get it made? Are there things you wish you could have included in the game that didn’t pan out?
So far no compromises. The game has gone from concept to computer in a completely unfiltered way. If anything, during development, we’ve added new insanity whenever possible. The great thing about working with publisher/developer Enlight is that they are willing to take risks on innovative, somewhat scary new ideas and they actually have the will to follow through.
10) At this time does Bad Day LA support any type of multiplayer?
Nope, this is a single player only experience. There is a limited ‘coop’ mode with the Xbox version, where the second controller can be used to give limited ‘hint input’ to the support characters.
11) How important is it to make the player think? In Bad Day LA is emphasis put on creativity and out of the box thinking?
To be honest, the game is presented in such a straightforward manner that it doesn’t really require any serious thinking in order to be successful. That’s not to say that you won’t employ a variety of strategies to get through the levels, but things are so ‘soft padded’ that creativity isn’t really required. This is the downside to making a game for the mass market. Whether this decision is the right one or not for pleasing the widest audience remains to be seen. My hope is that even the hard-core gamers who generally want something more challenging will find the humor and insanity of Bad Day LA compelling enough to enjoy playing it.
12) On behalf of Gamershell.com, myself, and our readers, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to answer some questions. I’d like to point our readers to www.baddayla.com and www.americanmcgee.com for more information. Is there anything else you would like to add?
That’s it for me. Thank you for the interview.