I was given the opportunity to interview Asher Einhorn the man responsible for enemy design in Disney Infinity: Guardians of the Galaxy and the mission designer and scripter in Disney Infinity: Pirates of the Caribbean.
Without delay , lets dive head first into the interview and see what Asher can share with us.
Asher: Pretty interesting. They own so many IP's! It was really crazy being able to hear about upcoming news from everything from Marvel to Pixar. Being able to see things like the Inside-Out trailer before it was released was very cool.
On Pirates we got access to this huge database of Pirates of the Caribbean lore. It's like a private wiki just for Disney with back-stories and character bios. And on Guardians we did a lot of research into that franchise before that property was really very well known to the world. It was fun to see something big being brewed before it went public.
D.I. itself is an insanely huge company, so there are downsides too. Sometimes it's very hard to get the concepts you need. Especially on Guardians. It was such a secret project - often we had to make something look like a concept from the film, but it wasn't always possible to actually get the concepts! Because of the angle of the shot we saw, our Dark Astor doesn't have the right shaped tail, and I was a bit worried our Necrocraft were going to be flying backwards! We had no idea the wings would be so mobile either.
Game Rampage: If you could collaborate with any company or studio, who would it be?
Asher: Well there are of course the obvious choices - Valve, Naughty Dog. But to choose a smaller studio I think Supergiant or UsTwo - they both make absolutely gorgeous games. One of, if not the main pull for me to want to play a game is the way it looks. Funny I guess because that's the part I don't do! But for me design is in large part about making the game fun enough and compelling enough so that you want to be in that world, among all of the incredible environment and character art.
Transistor and Monument Valley are just gorgeous games. I like slow paced things where I can take a break between action and just look at the view.
Asher: Basically - Zelda. The missions are essentially broken down into two types: Open world missions and linear missions. In actual fact it's more complicated than this, but I like this distinction. So the open world ones can almost be thought of as side missions. They're harder to make consistently fun because they're usually pretty simple and the flow is much more down to the player - you don't know the route they'll take so you can't prepare any set-pieces for them, but you get a great sense of exploration.
The other type is the linear missions which are heavily tied to the level design. These were the islands and were inspired by Zelda's dungeons - much more linear than the open world sections in those games. Having this mix give you a really nice mix of directed action and little distractions. Different play styles for different moods.
The open world stuff is really the hardest to get right - the main challenge being that a year's dev cycle just isn't enough time to create unique content for every one of these missions to be unique. The Witcher 3 does this kind of thing so well, but of course, they work on those games for years!
Game Rampage: If you could give one piece advice to newcomers to the game industry, what would it be?
Asher: Be bold. Don't be shy. No one can read your mind and see you want to be a designer, or that you want to work on this or that. Tell your lead where you want to be going. If you see a cool part of the game being discussed by designers, tell them you want to be involved. Ask people if you can sit in on things you're interested in and so on. They can always say no - it doesn't hurt to ask.
Take this with a pinch of salt though - you've been hired to do a job. I wanted to be a designer from day 1 at my studio, but I was a programmer, so I let people know I was 'interested' in design and gradually ramped that up until I felt I'd paid my dues. Then a year later, I told the studio directors I wanted to move over for good. Honestly it's a hard thing to get right, I think I managed to do it remarkably quickly. I was very lucky.
Asher: The ones that didn't get made! Ha! We were only then coming up to speed with those systems and it wasn't possible to learn them and try to do things that were drastically new. I would have liked to have done something more cartoony, more simple and readable like enemies in old platformers like Jak and Daxter.
I was quite proud of the Elite though - it had this nice cycle where it would go from being very defensive and long range, throwing shields over friendly units to suddenly running at you and being very aggressive. And the Necrocraft AI was fantastic - they were physically driven so every time you shot one down it would crash in a different way, but I didn't do that.
Game Rampage: Who is your favorite hero from the Guardians of the Galaxy universe?
Asher: I actually quite like this character from the comics who's called Qasar. It's hinted she might be in the films in the future. Basically she's this powerful hero but she doesn't have that self-sacrificing hero's mentality. She tries to save the people she loves instead of the masses, and she's severely punished for it!
I think I find it interesting how the writers have invented this character that for once isn't like the typical hero, and then bury her for it! It's pretty harsh actually, she's a good guy who makes all the wrong choices and suffers a horrible fate. It's sort of ridiculous.
I wasn't a comic book fan at all before the project actually, but two weeks in and I'd read everything that there was. I've tried to read other stuff since but it makes you realise GoG is actually quite good. The new comic is terrible though.
Asher: No current plans but it's a small industry and Disney are very big indeed! More and more studio around the world are signing up to make parts of Infinity, so it's entirely possible.
Game Rampage: Could you give us a sneak peek on any new projects you've been working on?
Asher: Unfortunately I'm under NDA right now, but I will update you as soon as I can. That's a frustrating thing about being a game dev! You're working on all this cool stuff and you just want to talk about it! But you can't. Your best bet as a gamer is to find a studio's local pub and go and listen to drunk devs talk too loudly about what they're making!
Game Rampage: What is your most memorable experience when working on Disney Infinity?
Asher: We created this prototype which was all about traps - using the environment to kill your enemies, but they could use them too. We got kids in to test it out an they spent the entire day tricking each other and fighting. They were laughing so loudly the entire studio was smiling. Unfortunately that didn't make it into the game. So it's simultaneously my favorite thing and my biggest regret.
That's something we tried to promote a lot - the payers being able to do funny things to each other. Repeatedly knocking another programmer into the water as he was trying to replicate a coop bug was also highly amusing.
Thanks again for the interview Asher! For more updates on Asher's work you can follow him on Twitter.
We really enjoyed this interview, if you're a game designer and wish to share your experience feel free to contact us at Gamerampagenews@gmail.com.