The Bureau: XCOM Declassified – Creative Director Interview
GF: What kind of research did getting the setting right involve?
MG: We started with the historical fact – trying to figure out what was up with American during the time period. That’s where we got a lot the political tension, and the space race, the cultural issues, and the gender stuff.
We were very interested in how that period presented itself to itself. That’s really what creates the stereotype. The 80s weren’t the 80s as everybody thinks about them, but if you watch Mannequin and Big Trouble in Little China, that’s how the 80s was presenting its skewed version of itself to itself. Remember Wall Street! We watched Dr. Strangelove, and Alfred Hitchcock movies of the period. How was it hyping itself up? The pop version of reality.
On the aesthetics – Mad Men is in vogue right now, and it’s a great show. The advertising of the period is fantastic — great adverts, great styles. The movie posters. The music — personally, I’m a huge fan of the music, and that was a big inspiration. And then the modern interpretations of the time period. Apollo 13.
GF: Was it hard to cast voice actors that could be convincing in the 60′s context?
MG: We actually came up with a concept that I think helped the game. Most of us for the games we’ve worked on, tried to go for the big summer blockbuster — the movie model. It’s gonna be a three-act story, it’s going to follow that. It’s going to go to a crescendo, there’s gonna be some big-ass explosions. The lead character is going to be a crazy leading man, and there’s a crazy leading woman. It’s basically trying to do a presentation in a narrative style that’s would fit in the video game allegory of a two-and-a-half-hour movie.
Early on in our creative process, we realized that this is actually like a mini-series. Twilight Zone, Trek, X-Files, Mad Men. We thought “this gives us more time, we can play with more concepts,” so we started thinking about more concepts. We didn’t need star power — we needed character actors. We needed believable character actors where you’re like “I buy that these are actually real people.” No one’s mugging for the camera. We needed believable characters who you’re going to watch evolve and change over the course of the series.
GF: So what did they need to deliver to get that believability??
MG: A little understatement, in their performance, was the big thing for us. There’s the Michael Bay version of how someone would deliver that dialogue, there’s the Tarantino version of how someone would deliver that dialogue — people don’t talk like that. Tarantino’s awesome — it’s poetry, how people speak [in his movies], but real people don’t actually talk like that.
We were looking for “can they be understated, can they play in the moment, can they do ensemble,” because a lot of our game is the interactions. Now people are superstars, because of it, but the cast of Mad Men — bunch of unknowns, by and large. The cast of the West Wing, bunch of unknowns, other than Martin Sheen, by and large. It was looking for that kind of vibe — you buy that people are in these jobs and not stars.
GF: Focusing on the main character for a second — He’s kind of a jerk.
MG: He’s had a bad life. He prioritizes his job a little too high, and it costs him his family. His family dies in a fire, and he’s not there, because work’s more important to him. He realizes that was a horrible call, too late, and now work is unimportant. He’s not cop-on-the-edge, but he’s made some poor calls, and his star has fallen. Faulke [head of XCOM] is basically giving him another shot, when we meet him. He’s a little rough around the edges, he’s a little unsocialized, when we meet him. But it will pass. “What’s important to him” is an important theme.