Eurogamer: Another key theme of your session is the difference between making a game with four people and with 400. What was the most jarring thing to overcome going from a big environment to a tiny startup?
Sean Murray: I know indies talk about this a bit and they say, "Working in a small team and what it means," and that sort of thing, but nothing - nothing - prepares you for it. To go from this massive, quite corporate machine to being in a room where you can't move without touching another person because there's four of you and you're working back to back, Bad Boys style. The amount of collaboration that happens from that...
But going back to our no-design-document, you couldn't have that with 400 people, but you can have it with four, and you can all be on basically the same page and understand the game and know it. What that means is that all of you can input into it. If you had 400 people trying to input into one game it would be a hairy mess, as everyone would disagree about what they liked, but for us, we like the same kind of things, weird though that sounds.
It should be like that. Someone I always think about is id Software - somehow I always got the feeling they were into the same things, that they would like the same types of music. You felt even John Carmack listened to Nine Inch Nails. He was probably introduced to it by John Romero or whatever, but you got that feeling.
Eurogamer: And I guess when you're working in that close proximity you can iterate the game really quickly as well.
Sean Murray: Absolutely. That's really important. Something we're going to show in the talk is how a level gets made - the process that goes through - because we're all going to be there. I'm going to be talking because I always get lumbered with that kind of thing. Grant [Duncan] is going to be playing the game, which he hates the idea of.
Eurogamer: You do keep torturing that guy.
Sean Murray: We hate to admit this, but he is actually the best Joe Danger player of the four of us. It's horrible. There's competition among us, but we know it at this stage. I have to admit that. So we're going to make him play really difficult levels in front of an audience, because I think that's what he deserves.
Eurogamer: I understand the only playtesting you did was at the Eurogamer Expo, PAX and GDC. So two questions about that. The first is, how come nobody at any of those shows noticed you had a 10-second white screen when you first loaded the game?
Sean Murray: Hahaha, you bastard!
Eurogamer: I'm just kidding. But going for playtesting with the public - was that chiefly down to resources or was that some sort of grand philosophical choice of master developers?
Sean Murray: I'll put it this way - we didn't realise at first how variable it was going to be. Before we came to the Expo we were just like, "I hope it doesn't crash. I hope the game isn't terrible." That kind of stuff. But then you actually see people playing it, you watch them playing it, and it's that classic thing you hear all the really good studios talking about, like Valve, Nintendo and Bungie, where they just watch people playing the game and they sit there for hours watching them, and they go through that horror.
We've all played games that are bad, right? And you think, "How did they not realise that X is not a logical button for that to be on? How can you go through two years of development and not notice that?" And the reason is that when you're in a huge studio, often you don't get that opportunity. Like the guy doing the controls doesn't get to see anyone playing the game. When I was on Burnout I never actually got to see anyone play Burnout, even though it sold millions of copies, because we wouldn't go to E3 or whatever - me as a coder wouldn't go, somebody else would.
So now we have that opportunity and it's amazing. We totally value it. With the Expo we spent four days solid just watching people play all day, and you see hundreds of people play, and if something's wrong they will all find that it's wrong, and you can't argue with that. The first guy who does it, you're like, "Naaah, you've got that wrong, you're rubbish," but after 300 people it's like, "I think we should change this level."
It got to the stage where in the evenings we would go back to our hotel rooms and make some changes, then bring in a new build every day, and that's huge. It totally changed our game. It changed the way we did... like, our tutorials were really annoying until the Expo when I saw people play through them.