Spec Ops: The Line: An Interview With Senior Designer Shawn Frison


Last week Senior Designer at Yager Development Shawn Frison visited our shores to talk about all things Spec Ops: The Line (for some of our early thoughts, check out our preview). Naturally then, we decided to sit him down and chat about his biggest fears, the current landscape of military shooters and just how much a developer actually pays attention to review scores. Enjoy!

In a nutshell how would you best describe Spec Ops: The Line?

I guess I would say it’s a military shooter that takes a little bit more of a serious and really dark and mature look on what war is and what it can do to not necessarily everyone, but certain kinds of people that have to experience these horrific events. And it takes place in this really fantastic, crazy version of Dubai where it has been wiped out by these giant sand storms, so it’s got a few interesting things going on there.

What is the one feature you’re most proud of?

I would say its story. I mean I think it’s just something where just in terms of how we deal with the themes of war and how it can change people, is something I haven’t really seen another game do and I think it’s really impactful.

By the same token what was your biggest fear?

I guess people would see… it’s obviously a pretty violent game and then people wouldn’t fully appreciate that we’re doing that for reasons of having a certain area of impact and would get the wrong end of things and think it’s one of these games that are gory for the sake of being gory, or shock value, and that wasn’t the intent.

The man in question - Shawn Frison.

There are obviously lots of military shooters within the gaming landscape now. What made your team at Yager want to compete in this market and what kinds of conversations do you have internally to try and break away from the mould?

Obviously there’s always that desire to get involved in that because there are so many and because it’s so successful (laughs). But more than anything it was that when we looked at this, you know we’re big fans of military games but more than that we’re big fans of military movies and military literature. And the really big difference, actually one difference that kind of comes out in the way that people talk about just the name of the genre. People talk about military games but not like they talk about like war movies and I think that’s an important distinction. That games tend to be about cool military toys and kind of glorifying… you know it’s not really glorying war but glorifying the cool stuff that you do when you enter these conflicts.

And then when you look at a war movie for instance it’s very different. Yeah they might have some interesting technology, they might have some cool hardware, but that’s not the focus. It’s more about the human cost of it, about the people going through it. And it just seemed like it was one of these things where there was a huge opportunity to do something that had those same kinds of themes and those same kinds of ways of looking at telling a story through the eyes of a military character. And that when you do it in an interactive medium you can do some stuff you can’t do in literature and you can’t do in movies, so it seemed like a great opportunity to do that.

A lot of these military titles also draw criticism for being borderline racist and ‘Pro American.’ How much of that stigma was in your mind when developing Spec Ops?

It’s kind of a funny thing because in this game you actually end up mostly shooting other Americans. I think anyone that was accusing us of that particular sin may not have played long enough into the game to see that. But you know it’s one of these things where it’s not like we chose that particular enemy or way of things turning out only for that reason, but it was something we were always conscious of. We were always very conscious of what other military games were doing and we didn’t want this to be a game of ‘Oh the heroic American guys come in and shoot a bunch of Arabs in this Middle Eastern country.’ It just wasn’t the kind of story we wanted to tell and it also wasn’t as interesting to us because its already been done a lot of times by other people so we wanted to give a kind of fresh take on it. In fact we kind of opened the game making it look as if it’s going down that road and then quickly changing direction, which we tried to do that a few times with the characters and how they change and the enemies and how they change and to just kind of set up people’s expectations and then pull it out from under them so hopefully they get a little bit of a pleasant surprise there.

Were there larger reasons to go darker?

You know a lot of it was kind of what I was saying about war movies and war literature that really seemed to us where there was something interesting that hadn’t been done before that really would be compelling and have real emotional impact.

Nope, we don't know what's happening here either.

With reviews of Spec Ops having hit the net, what’s the one most overriding emotion and how much attention do you actually pay to critical opinions?

You know it’s sort of nervousness and excitement. But for me honestly I try not to get too surrounded and too wrapped up in it. I mean I’ve definitely been reading them a little bit, but typically what I tend to do is look at a representative sample. So I look at the very very bottom ones to see what the people that hate what I work on think and then the top to see what the people that love it think of, and then a little bit of a mix in the middle. But yeah I don’t know, I try not to get too emotionally wrapped up in it to be honest. It’s one of those things where, if you get bad reviews then you can drive yourself crazy and it doesn’t really any good. Sometimes there’s some stuff you can learn from them, but usually if people have criticism’s its stuff you already were aware of. And then on the flip side if people really love something then all that can lead to is a swelled head. It’s good to get appreciation but I try not to let it affect me too much.

In one sentence why should people go out and buy Spec Ops: The Line

Because it’s fucking awesome (laughs). No, honestly because I think it’s something they haven’t played before and I think it’s one of these things where it’s a more serious treatment of what a military shooter can be and I think it’s something that’s missing from games right now, is something that simultaneously can be a pretty mainstream experience . It’s not like we’re doing some crazy artsy stuff. It’s still a shooter, it’s still something that people can get their hands on, but at the same time it has a little more depth to it.

Do you think the other, more ‘bro’ shooters need to grow up then?

You know I just think it’s different games for different moods and different people. I mean I really enjoy those games sometimes. But sometimes you want something else. You know it’s like with food; sometimes you’re in the mood for something, sometimes you’re not. And I’m actually really happy seeing the games industry yeah growing up a bit, but I hope also there’s the shallower stuff too because I want to have as much variety as possible.

Spec Ops: The Line is out now for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.

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