Origins: Tanya Jessen, Lead Producer on Bulletstorm

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Right. So, what’s the best and worst thing about calling the shots?

At the end of the day–if the game sucks, if the game doesn’t come out on time, if people aren’t in the know as far as what’s going on, or if the quality isn’t there­– that’s my fault as a lead producer. We’re very, very quality-driven at Epic. But, because of my skillset, I can’t be the one who goes in and decides, “ooh, this picture needs to be polished up, let’s go into the graphics editing software.”  What I can do is figure out the areas that where I’ve been noticing that our floor textures in general have been low-res, and decide that we should go in and do another pass. Then I would find the people who could do it and make sure that we had time for that. The worse thing about calling the shots, is that you have to be the umbrella, if stuff starts falling from the sky. You have to be playing the game all the time. You have to be in every meeting.  You have to know what everyone is working on every single day, helping them be focused towards whatever the goal is at that point. And, then if you see something going wrong, being able to actually have enough time to find it and fix it.

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What’s been really nice, before I was ever a lead on a game, I was in the games industry for six or seven years. I had a lot of learning about how the good games are always changing and they’re so creative. I’ve gotten to see the same mistakes get made over and over again. Sometimes, developers can’t avoid making certain mistakes because it’s always new technology that they’re dealing with. You never know. But, what I’ve learned is how to deal with all those different parts of the process. So, that’s the most challenging part of my job. I’ve got to be able to see the problem without actually knowing what might be causing it and find enough time to actually deal with it.

Can you see any of yourself in the game ideas, or in the gameplay mechanics?

Oh, yes. So I’m not going to take credit because this is Adrian’s baby. But, a lot of the core story ideas (which we haven’t talked about yet) came from me, Adrian, and Rick Remender being locked in a room for a week.

So a lot of those ideas, Trischka’s character is very much a product of me because I wanted a strong female character that wasn’t stereotypically hot. But still, obviously had a way about her that implied sexiness. You know, [sarcastically] the fight for boob size was an awesome one. It was probably a week of back and forth, like…

From B to D cup?

It was everything imaginable. It was width. It was the cleavage showing. It was height, from top to bottom. It was the level of bounciness. It was all of that. I’m in Adrian’s office, like, “Adrian, come on. No! Are you crazy? Trishka, she’s our badass. She’s going kick your ass and take no prisoners! She’s sexy because she has the confidence. She doesn’t need to have giant breasts!” Adrian is like, “She’s so hot, she needs to have a giant rack. I love chicks in video games that have giant boobs.” I could see his face was kind of sad. I think we came to a good middle ground. He genuinely wanted what he considers the most beautiful looking woman in the game. What I wanted is a believable, strong, not-stereotypical fighter chick.

So we shouldn’t look for the giant rack to be an unlockable?

Oh my God. I don’t think I could even talk about that as a feature. But there was a discussion.

So you believe that there is a happy medium to be found between producers and developers?

Everything in Bulletstorm is a happy medium. The skillshot system was a big byproduct of the back-and-forth between Adrian and I, because he didn’t want to do something so hardcore. He didn’t want to go too RPG with it. But my two favorite genres are RPGs and Shooters. And I’m like, dude, this is where we’re getting the depth and the gameplay and the strategy. And so we found a really nice middle ground between with just enough RPG elements to keep that strategy there, but not so deep that it turns off your casual gamer. The great thing about Bulletstorm is that we’re going for this very different tone, a very different feeling. And when you’re going for that feeling, it frees you, a little bit, to do things that you may not do otherwise in a game.

What I’ve seen so far is goofier. It’s self-aware.

We don’t want people to come in and see the characters taking it all so it super-seriously, like Gears. It has an amazing story. Great characters. A great world. All that good stuff.  We want you to laugh. We want you to really enjoy the experience. And there are some things you would not do for Gears of War, but something that you would definitely do for Bulletstorm. Here’s an example. We have this awesome collectable; it’s a bottle of booze. When you drink it, it makes your vision double blurry. If you get skillshots while you’re buzzed, you get an Under the Influence bonus.

That’s hilarious.

It is. And so it’s a risk-versus-reward scenario, right? We want players to think, “I can get more points if I drink it.” Or you can just shoot the bottle and not drink it. It’s up to you. You can think, “I can’t see things as well, but I get more points. Or, it’s a collectable and I can just shoot it. I’ll still get credit, but I’ll lose some points.” So it’s constantly doing things like this to make Bulletstorm feel a particular sort of way. I think I just gave you the exclusive on the bottle by the way. [Laughs] Don’t think anyone else knows about that, yet.

Well, thank you.

It’s all part of the job!

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