Shadows of the Damned: Exclusive Interview with Massimo Guarini, Director, Grasshopper Manufacture

Posted By | On 26th, Apr. 2011

Shadows of the Damned, officially abbreviated as Damned or DMD, is an upcoming 2011 video game developed by Grasshopper Manufacture and published by Electronic Arts for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 video game consoles. The game follows the story of Garcia Hotspur, a demon hunter who goes to Hell to battle its evils in order to save his true love.

We recently had the chance to chat with Massimo Guarini, Director at Grasshopper Manufacture and talk about what gamers can expect from the upcoming action game.

GB: Mr. Mikami’s games have been known to be psychological thrillers, while Mr. Suda’s have been known to be more of all-out action. How do you plan to merge these two kinds of gameplay styles, and what all ideas do you have in mind for such a strange marriage?

Massimo: I believe that merging two different and strongly characterized visions into something new comes essentially to the sensibility of the individual. I never really had a plan for that, I never thought in terms of “what should I do in order to make this mix happen”. Of course I know very well Suda-san’s and Mikami-san’s games, and my own sensibility probably allowed me to just follow my instinct and get myself immersed in this particular creative mood. Not patching together two different styles, but rather going with the flow and allowing ideas to be naturally born and generate rich contrasts. And for me, that’s the beauty of SotD: a game with a realistic setting, dark atmosphere and high production values, which at the same time is completely insane and totally irreverent in terms of contents and gameplay.

I also think the secret of the success of this strange marriage was taking a different approach to creation. I kept saying to myself “don’t take yourself too seriously. You’re just making a game and you should have fun, so other people can have fun too!” This way of thinking allowed me to absorb and mix Suda-san’s style and Mikami-san’s gameplay advice into something representative of both personalities but original at the same time. The result of this mix has been so weird and fresh that sometimes they both burst out in laughter during their build reviews. Sometimes instead they just threw the pad in my face. A valid statement for SotD would be what Jim Jarmusch said, quoting Jean-Luc Godard: “It’s not where you take things from — it’s where you take them to.”

GB: Do you think it will be difficult for you to match up to your legacy? Grasshopper has given the world some great games, like Flower, Sun and Rain, and No More Heroes. Does the studios past successes daunt you?

Massimo: No, I wouldn’t say the studio past successes are daunting me. I would rather say they are inspiring me.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Suda-san’s unorthodox creative approach and working with him has been extremely easy and natural for me because we share the same passion for new crazy ideas and humor. Rather than competing with previous GhM titles, I feel more like I am contributing to creating new titles with the same strong Grasshopper feeling but adding also new nuances and flavors coming personally from me.  SotD is exactly the kind of game I’ve wanted to create for many years, in terms of being over the top and different from the mass. I have to admit though that working with Mikami-san has been initially a slightly intimidating experience. But that would be matching up a different legacy, wouldn’t it?

GB: We recently saw the trailer, and it was spooky, to say the least. But it looked very confusing, which is both good or for bad. What we want to know is- what exactly is SOTD? Is it survival horror? Is it action? Is it a thriller? Is it a shooter? Or is a cross between tons of genres?

Massimo: Isn’t this sort of confusion kind of exciting? Well definitely not for our friends at EA, but I’m sure you can understand where I’m coming from. SOTD is an Action / Shooter game, better described as a “psychological action thriller”. I have to admit there has been confusion at early stages of production as everyone was expecting a fully fledged survival horror, especially considering MIkami-san’s involvement. However SOTD is now solidly defined as an Action game. The good news is that, in spite of this, you’ll still be questioning yourself when playing the game. There are so many different influences, nuances and events in the game that the player will literally feel like experiencing a real road trip through hell. You just don’t know what to expect at any given moment in the game. Fear, humor, darkness, light, blood, sex, grotesque, romance, action, psychology. Who said hell is only made of fire and suffering?

GB: The trailer showed a lot of interesting aspects of what could potentially be the main storyline. Seemingly, the game revolves around one man’s girlfriend, and how he tries to… rescue her from the depths of hell? Do you think the genre’s clichés will bring your game down, like Dante’s Inferno?

Massimo: I absolutely don’t think so. Genre’s clichés are good. Those clichés are what we had fun playing with. Some clichés help the story to be easily understood and framed by everyone, regardless of sex, age and interests.I am not the type of director obsessed by an incredibly complicated storyline just for the sake of making the game looking more intriguing. Even in movies, simple, easy to understand storylines have proven to be always successful. It’s not what you tell, ultimately, but how you tell it. This is even truer in games, where players actually interact and live in first person the emotions. We start from that simple cliché taking inspiration from B movies typical of the 80’s and strive to tell this story in a completely original and personal way.

You’ll soon forget about the cliché once you start playing the game, because of the universe, the mood, the sounds, the interaction… you’ll forget about it because of the unique way the story is told.
Moreover, I have a great respect for players’ imagination. One of the things I personally don’t like about recent AAA games is how they tend to spoon-feed the player both emotionally and from a storytelling point of view. There is a sort of obsessive trend in trying to explain every single aspect of the game universe, fearing the player wouldn’t understand or miss something.This approach not only ruins inevitably part of the mood and mystery of the interactive experience, but might even result offensive to some players. Of course I want the story to be accessible and enjoyable, but at the same time want to let players’ imagination running wild and filling up the missing pieces here and there.

That’s ultimately what a player will remember about the game: his own emotions and elaborations, not what the game tells him through a text box.

GB: From the few gameplay scenes we saw in the recently released trailer, SOTD looked to borrow shooting elements from many famous games, like the over-the-shoulder view from Resident Evil. How are you making sure this game doesn’t turn out to be just another title with a “bad attitude” and derivative gameplay? Are you introducing some crazy new ideas to the mix?

Massimo: SOTD features definitely crazy new ideas, while relying at the same time on proven shooting mechanics. From a shooting mechanics point of view SOTD improves basically the excellent mechanics as found in Resident Evil 4, allowing now the player to move while aiming and shooting. Also the introduction of melee moves, faster disengagement actions and hilarious combos and special kills, adds a unique layer to the game loop. Other gameplay elements might surely be considered derivative, and that’s not necessarily a bad point for me, but I can assure you nobody, and I say nobody, up to this point has ever considered SOTD “just another title”. We’ve put so much passion and fresh elements in the game that I couldn’t even believe somebody with an honest mind could even say that. If you hear so, well let us know because it means we failed at something, and we need to learn from our mistakes.

GB: The new trailer also showed us some crazy, over-the-top weapons. Is that a theme the game will concentrate on? What can we expect from SOTD in this department?

Massimo: Weapons in SOTD are not just part of the core gameplay, but are also a very important part of the main character’s growth in the game, as you can get new ones and upgrade every single aspect of their functionality.You’ll end up having closer ties with your weapons than you might initially think. Once again, this is not a normal shooter, and as such also weapons went through a crazy treatment, unique to SOTD. You can expect your gun talking to you, helping you out or just throwing dirty jokes, you can expect a machine gun with 20 barrels shooting teeth, you can expect playing bowling with a giant skull-shaped grenade launcher, you can expect having a “Big Boner” all of a sudden in your hands, shooting bones. We’re in the demons world, after all!

GB: Is there anything else you want to tell our readers about the game?

Massimo: First of all I’d like to thank everybody for their interest in SOTD. Your support means a lot to us and makes us want to experiment even more and take more creative risks.  Without your support, we could not take those risks and you would end up playing “just another title”. On a more personal note, keep an open mind and be curious in life! And have fun with SOTD!

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