John Garvin: Only Through Resistance will We Find Retribution

A comics interview article by: Alex Rodrik
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with long time game creator John Garvin and discuss his latest project Resistance: Retribution. Retribution is the third installment in the Resistance franchise and will be released for the PSP this month. It includes an interoperability mode where one can play the game on their PS3 and a load of new game mechanics and features. I had the opportunity to play a bit of the game during our interview and it looks great!

Alex Rodrik: Hi John, so what can you tell our readers about the new interoperability control?

John Garvin: Well, ok, what we did was, since we’re working in a franchise that was born on the PS3 and we’re doing a handheld version of it and we knew that Resistance 2 was coming out for Christmas in 2008 and we really wanted a way to tie directly into that game so that if you bought Resistance 2 and you’ve got this big giant counsel game it’d give you a reason to buy the PSP game, number one, but also -- you know, just give the player who likes the game and likes the story something else they can do so…

You played around a little and you played enough to see that there’s a real difference in gameplay between playing with the dual analog and playing on the PSP which only has the one nub. So we really played with that a little bit and said ok, if we can make two completely different games here, and you know, your impression was that it was built for the PSP, but the dual shock format would provide for a different experience. So, it’s not just about the controller change, it’s also about the fact that you regen health versus having to find health capsules, and the fact that you can breathe underwater if your infected so that you can swim into areas that you can’t get to otherwise. You know, we put in these little gameplay hooks just to change it up a little bit.

AR: Who’s our new protagonist?

JG: Our new protagonist is a character we created named James Grayson. Nathan Hale is the star of Resistance 1 and 2 and you know, in our storyline, Grayson fought in the same outfit that Hale did in R1, so they’re both part of the British marines. Hale was a part of an American contingent that was sent over and Grayson is a little bit younger than Hale. What happens with Grayson is, he find his brother, his brother was and RAF pilot who got shot down behind chimera lines and had disappeared and Grayson hadn’t heard from him in weeks. And to give you the comic book tie-in, we’re telling the story of James Grayson and Johnny Grayson in this comic that’s being published by Wildstorm over the next couple of months. But the backstory is: Grayson had a falling out with his brother, they weren’t great friends, they hadn’t talked to each other for awhile and Grayson finds his brother in a conversion center. So, in Resistance 1, human beings are being infected by these small crab-like creatures called Crawlers and then the infected just lays on the ground comatose until a carrier which is like this giant floating squid comes by, collects them and takes them to a conversion center where they’re actually operated on and turned into hybrids which are like the shock troops for the chimera. That’s kind of where our story starts.

James Grayson’s brother ends up in a conversion center and Grayson finds him there and has to kill him because according to military protocol: if you find somebody who’s been infected, they’re going to turn into a chimera, you can’t stop it, so you have to kill them before they become the enemy. So that’s where our story starts. It’s this horrible moment where Grayson finds his brother and then has to put a bullet in his head and that starts him on this path of retribution and that’s kind of where the title comes from, that’s also really the theme of the whole game. It’s -- how does a man overcome the horrors of war to get to the point where he can participate in them again for the betterment of humanity and that’s kind of one of the bigger things we wanted to explore in the game.

AR: What made you choose to run with an entirely new character as opposed to running with a side story for Nathan Hale?

JG: Well, really…creative selfishness. [Laughs] Because I like creating characters, you know I’ve worked on the Syphon Filter franchise since Syphon 1, so I’ve been creating characters for 10 years and I really like telling stories and, you know, I didn’t want to impinge on anything that Insomniac was doing with Resistance 2 or Resistance 3 and you know I want to tell a story, it’s their game, it’s their universe, I want to tell a story in that universe. I couldn’t really do much with Nathan Hale because they’re doing Nathan Hale’s stories, so I had to create a new character in order to tell a really compelling story.

AR: What’s exactly is the chronology of this game? Does it take place during either of the two games already released?

JG: There’s a little bit of crossover at the beginning of our game. We’re really a game that bridges R1 and R2. So, R1 ends and then our game begins just days later. So, like I said, James Grayson fought alongside Nathan Hale in a few of the battles that happened during R1, but then as soon as that game ends, that’s where our game really begins and we tell the story not just of what happens to James Grayson after the fall of the London tower but we also tell the story of what happened in Europe before the invasion of England even begins. So, that’s one of the backstory things we’ve taken from R1. Like, hey, the chimeras swept out of Russia in the 1930s, swept across Europe -- what happened to all those people? And that’s one of the things we wanted to discover in our game.

AR: How’d you get involved with the project and what drew you to it?

JG: Well, like I said, we’d been doing Syphon Filter for a long time and our producers not only produce our games but also produce Insomniac. We’re a first party studio -- Insomniac is second party which means that they develop exclusively for the Playstation and, you know, we were looking around for something new to do and we really wanted to do something that would fit our studio because we do third person action games -- third person shooters, and we had all played R1 and we thought “hey, this is a pretty good game,” it had a rich universe with a lot of possibilities. And that’s what we were looking for. It was something we could develop that was already established without having to create a brand new IP for ourselves, so…that’s why we latched on to Resistance; we liked the story, we liked the universe, we liked the mechanics. And that’s what really drew us to the project. We already had a third person engine in place, so we knew we could take a new IP like Resistance and, you know, we had to make a lot of changes to it because we don’t have -- you'll notice if you’re ever playing Syphon Filter you’ll notice there’s not a lot of aliens that attack, it’s mostly terrorists, so just the whole concept of fighting mechanical and sort of quasi-animal aliens was a pretty big challenge for us and that really drew us to it. We wanted something that would allow us to expand our repertoire of what we do as gamers and designers and writers, and the Resistance universe allows us to do that.

AR: Other than the more obvious, why’d you choose to explore this story on the PSP as opposed to on the PS3?

JG: Well mostly because of the obvious, but seriously, we’re PSP developers. So we’re a small Studio. To develop a PS3 game takes a team, I would say, the minimum of 80 people to 150 and it takes a lot of time. And we’ve been resisting making that change so far because we’re a team of about 35 guys, you know, maybe 40 with our temp employees. But we want to keep a very small team. Creatively, we know each other really well and we work together really well. We’ve been trying to avoid growing into a Studio that’s a couple hundred people where it becomes more anonymous. So we’ve really been looking for projects that allow us to stay on the handheld and this allowed us to do that.

AR: So were you a gamer before you got involved with the business or is this something you just sort of fell into?

JG: So, kinda like my life story? [Laughs] So a long, long time ago -- nah, I’m really old so I’ve been doing gaming for a long time. You know, I was old enough to play the very first arcade games that came out so I’ve been playing games for a long time. I bought an Atari 800 back in 1982 and the first thing I did was program an Ultima clone. Ultima was one the first RPG games that came out back on handheld computers where you had 16k of memory. So I’ve been doing it for a long time and I’ve been working on computer games professionally for 20 years and Syphon Filter for the last 10 years, and Resistance for the last 2 years. It’s been a really nice change. Trying to make a big budget, large scale, huge shooter work on the handheld has been quite a challenge and it’s been fun.

AR: Now, normally when I interview writers, I always ask them about who, if any, character in -- well in your case the game -- would you say you speak through as a writer?

JG: You know, that’s a really good question; let me give you a rambling answer. So, ah, here’s a good story for you. I did all the writing for the rendered movies and a lot of the writing for the in-game stuff and I worked with a co-writer as well. I end up writing a lot of stuff that gets cut because I tend to overwrite and a lot of my stuff makes it in because I’m the Director and I have final say… [Laughs] …it’s good to be the King. Anyway, so I had written a lot of lines for Parker. Parker is this character from R1, she’s a military person -- she's the narrator for the entire game. What drew me to Parker in the first place is that she is this omniscient third person narrator who is talking about events in the past tense as if they were in the present tense. So, as a writer, I find that really interesting because it makes her a very powerful omniscient voice while at the same time not taking away the immediacy of what’s currently happening; and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a narrator device like her. It’s kind of like when you’re watching “Titanic”, you know, you have the old woman who’s talking about things that happened when she was younger, or it could be like in “Amadeus” when Salieri is narrating things that happened -- she's like a Salieri.

So I tried to write these lines for her where she could become poetic because she was a pretty good actress and I had written lines like “blood moving through a vast steel embryo,” and she would read these lines and then she would say “Oh, this is very Dickensian” and she didn’t mean it as a complement because I would write these huge run-on sentences where she would go on for like 3 minutes without ever taking a breath. But that’s what Parker was. She was this narrator who spoke eloquently about horrible things. So, I think, as a character I was drawn to Parker because she was so matter of fact and yet at the same time eloquent and at the same time this sort of omniscient narrator, so I found her a very interesting character. I wrote things just for her so she could have things to say. And the average player -- they’re going to play through this game and they’re not going to recognize any of that, they’re gonna be like “alright, so what’s going on? Craps blowin’ up -- that’s awesome!” But she’s speaking about it in a way as if it were Shakespearean -- which I really like.

AR: So to give our readers a little insight on you personally, how did you get into videogame direction?

JG: Well I started out -- my very first job, believe it or not, I was actually working on my Doctorate in Shakespeare at the University of Oregon, and I was broke and I was tired of being broke cause, you know, I had a mountain of student debt and I realized that I wasn’t going to make any money as a professor. So I saw an ad in the paper for this small company called Dynamics in Eugene, Oregon and they were a pretty big publisher in the ‘80s and ‘90s. I don’t know if you remember them, but they did these games called Red Baron. They were probably the biggest maker of flight sims in the ‘90s and they also did these weird little graphic adventures like Heart of China -- they worked with Sierra on the King’s Quest series, so that’s how I got in and they had this ad in the paper and they needed people to come in and create -- we’re talking back in the ‘90s -- so EGA art.

Do you know what EGA art is? Well, video cards in 1990 only supported 16 colors. In 1992 they came out with VGA cards which support 256 colors. So what an artist had to do was take a drawn painting and they would scan it in -- take a painting which had millions of colors and they would literally go in and replace every pixel on the screen so that it was within a 16 color palate. Now, with good EGA cards you could choose which 16 colors you wanted but you were still limited to 16 colors -- period. So I spent two years doing that. And that’s how I broke in because, you know, you had to be an artist because you had to be able to see something and visualize how it would work in 16 colors. So that’s what artists did in the early ‘90s. Over the next 15 years I just sort of worked my way up from that. I could write a little bit since I had a background in literature and that’s how I got into Directing because I could conceptualize and create my own ideas and then I could write scripts and turn that creatively into something that Producers could visualize and that’s how I kind of became what I am now.

AR: Well thanks for taking the time to sit down with me and talk Resistance. The game looks great and all the best.

JG: Thanks Alex, it was my pleasure.

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