The Hero Factory • Page 4

From the archive: Conversations with Chris Metzen, Blizzard's head writer.

Man versus world

Ultimately, however, the heroic theme in Blizzard's games is a question of taste and education - and personality. Blizzard's corporate culture outwardly emphasises the team over the individual, but inwardly reveres its chief creatives. Metzen wields more influence over the feel of Blizzard games than almost anyone else. So where does he, personally, come from?

"I'm a weird creature," he says, although it's a common enough story. "My first love is comic books, and I imprinted on these big, giant comic book universes that are about superheroes. And they're all totally heroic. Whatever the problem is, there's always this innate contract with the viewer or reader or fan that good's going to come back. It's about the fight, it's about selflessness and heroism. And I think those things are so ingrained in me since I was a little kid, it's maybe impossible for me to get out of those pants. I don't much want to. I like those kinds of stories."

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Diablo 3: 'This one's been built from the ground up to be what I hope is a thunderous expression of the franchise. At last.'

It wasn't always the way. When Metzen started work at Blizzard he was more angsty. "The kid I was, working on the first Diablo, I must have been 23, an angry young kid. A lot of those ideas that went into the DNA of the world, you're cathartically exorcising whatever bulls**t you're feeling at that phase of your life."

But there was, and remains, a common thread: enormous worlds. Huge conflicts. Epic canvases. Casts of thousands. Big storytelling. Although Blizzard's name has become inextricably linked with this kind of cosmic ambition, a mellowing Metzen wants to get more personal.

"As a younger man, it was an exercise in clever, right? I wanted to build big, giant worlds, I wanted to hook ideas that no-one else was thinking about, or more to the point, spin ideas that we've all grown up with in ways that no-one had spun before.

"At this phase of my life I find myself - and maybe this is totally normal for 38 years old - I'm far less fascinated with these big, grinding worlds and their levels of complexity. I want to get a lot more personal... I just want to be part of projects that have soul and resonance and are not the same old video game bulls**t."

He even hints that Kerrigan and Raynor's story in Heart of the Swarm - a story of a good man struggling with his demons while trying to save a girl from the darkness within her - draws from his own experience. "Let's just say that there's some continuity between my life these past many years and what this story is. And in some way, cathartically, I've been working out my own demons."

"I wonder sometimes that we feel a little weighted down by these big, giant movements, and couldn't we be doing things simpler?"

But you'll never find Metzen, or by extension Blizzard, making a wordless two-hander like Ico, or a psychological drama like Heavy Rain. The stories may get personal, but they still have to be about heroes. And for its manufacturing processes to work, the hero factory needs the stakes to be high and the canvas to be big.

Metzen comes back to his love of Marvel and DC superhero comics, as well as role-playing games, as a kid. "I just love big settings that are engines for infinite stories that are personal," he says. "So as an artist, how funny, these are the types of things I just want to build.

"Maybe sometimes it's been suggested that my instinct is... that I'm reaching too far for what the gameplay can actually facilitate. But I feel compelled, and it seems to me that my creative cohorts around here are on the same bucket.

"It's kinda funny, we had this discussion lately. You play something like Portal or Portal 2, where the gameplay is just so genius and the storyline, the ambient story and even the directed dialogue is, I guess you would say, minimalist? But it leaves a very satisfying taste. Sometimes that's used as the other polarity of really excellent storytelling in games. I wonder sometimes that we feel a little weighted down by these big, giant movements, and couldn't we be doing things simpler?

"But this is all I know."

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