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Interview: Clive Barker Talks About Undying
Title Interview: Clive Barker Talks About Undying
Description Interview by Tom Chick from gamecenter.com, December 14, 2000
Sent by burt
Clive Barker looks much younger than you'd expect. He has a close-cropped goatee and mustache. He's wearing a pair of small hoop earrings, leather pants, and yellow tinted sunglasses. He looks like a game designer. When he opens his mouth, it is obvious he is well-read, articulate, and passionate. He speaks with something halfway between an imperious English slur and a growl. He doesn't so much answer a question as launch into a desultory speech that eventually lands in the vicinity of your question. Interviewing Barker is calling in verbal artillery on yourself: ideas rain down around you and you have no way of knowing where they're going to hit or when they're going to stop.

Barker was at DreamWorks Interactive on Tuesday to promote Clive Barker's Undying, a horror-themed first-person shooter due next year from DreamWorks and Electronic Arts. (Check out our preview of the game.) We had a chance to talk with Barker about the game. Ours was his fifth interview in 90 minutes. "What question have you been asked the most so far?" I begin.

"'Is that real leather?'" he replies without missing a beat, fingering his pants. Barker laughs raucously.

That F------ Tune

When asked what made him decide to work on a game, he says he used to have no interest in games. "My brother worked for a long time with Psygnosis over in England. He would show me stuff and I would think, 'That's kind of interesting.' But nothing ever really caught my attention. But I'm a storyteller and I like to tell stories and I like to find new ways to tell stories....Any place where...the recipient of a narrative can be taken from one place to another and changed--which is my loose definition of what a story does--the change is the important part. You can't be in the same state at the end as you were at the beginning.


"Games by and large don't do that. Games don't even aim to change you. It's not even part of their basic thinking. They mark time. This became apparent to me. My husband has a daughter who is 11 and she plays Super Mario Bros. all the time and that f------ tune which just goes round and round and round. All weekend she stays with us; it begins on Friday night and it ends on Sunday night. To me that is indicative, it symbolizes the problem. Round and round and round it goes nowhere. It doesn't ever stop. The numbers may change, the mountain may get steeper, the thing that's chasing you may get bigger, but it's all that f------ tune. And that's not story. That's breathing. That's barely staying alive. Story gets to your gut.

"I'm not saying Undying is going to be William Faulkner. But I am saying we are having a really honest crack at trying to get the story built into the gameplay. And we haven't solved every problem, but we're doing damn well, I think. I think you'll be more engaged by the narrative elements than perhaps you would have been in another game."


A Cowboy Has Pointed a Gun at the Camera

"Given the problem that games are so often just a matter of marking time, why would you want to get involved with such a medium?" I ask.

"Well, for one thing," he says, "I'm dealing with a bunch of much, much smarter cookies than some of the other people I've had initial meetings with. It became very apparent very quickly that these were people who wanted to change the rules. It's not a lost cause. Gaming is where movies were in 1930. No one's made Intolerance yet. No one's made Birth of a Nation. But it'll get made. And maybe we'll make it. I think you have to go on the basis that this is a merely fledgling form. Even though the technology is incredibly sophisticated already, what has been done with the technology is not sophisticated. What has happened so far is, in keeping with the movie analogy, you've shot some trains coming into the station and a cowboy has pointed a gun at the camera, and I think that's about it. I think we've got a long way to go. Now we have to concentrate on the heart. I want it to be something that moves people.

"That's not what's happening in games right now. What's happening is that f------ tune is going round and round and the hills are getting steeper. We need to hold on to the essential qualities in games, which are excitement and the challenge of solving the puzzles. And, yes, violence, no question. All the essential elements. I'm not saying we throw those out. What I'm saying is we weave those into something which has some emotional heart. Something where you care a little bit. And that means to me we need to take more time with the characters."

Someone I Want to Sleep With

"You have to make the hero someone I want to sleep with. I told them, 'Do not come back until you've made the hero like that.' That is my description of the successful hero. And, lo and behold, there he was, an erectile vision. We did a wonderful design on this show," Barker says. He doesn't even catch the slip that he called Undying a "show." Perhaps it was intentional.

He continues, "We made characters sexier. We made characters more available, particularly the lead character. If you look at Count Wolfram Magnus, who was the original hero, and then Patrick Galloway, it's chalk and cheese. The thing about Patrick is that he's human. He's not a caricature. He looks at you with human eyes and he says, 'You are going to inhabit my skin. Take care of it.'"

Barker talks about how far comics have come as an example of the changes he wants to see in gaming. He says they've matured as a form of storytelling, but they haven't lost their essential qualities. "Sure, you've got people in funny costumes with funny names and big cod pieces, but you've also got characters and people you care about. Neil [Gaiman] has made me cry reading comics. That's what we need to make this f------ thing do," he says, gesturing at the monitor in front of him. "We need to get to a place where somebody takes a breath and sheds a tear. You know?"


More Orphans and Dogs

He starts comparing computer games to authors and comes around to Charles Dickens. "You can say Dickens is sentimental. Sure. Orphans, dogs. Absolutely. Nothing wrong with that. I would like to see more orphans and dogs in games. I would like to see more going for the heartstrings. I would like to see more going for genuine horror. I don't mean the casual horror of monsters with a lot of teeth. I mean stuff that induces a kind of dread in you. Before the next five years are out, I will create The Exorcist for this darn thing if it kills me. I'll create something where you have to turn it off because it's just too f------ much."

When asked what the themes are in Undying, the story beyond the mere plot, Barker takes a breath and after a brief moment three things come to him: "Family. Betrayal. The connectedness of evil." He says, "In a book called Weaveworld, I had a poet and I started to write poems for him. And I wrote a four-line poem, [about] which a guy who dealt with abuse in families wrote to me and said, 'Can I have permission to turn this into a poster so that we can put it in all our health places?' The four lines were, 'The pestilence of families/Is not congenital disease/But feet that follow where the foot/That has preceded it is put.' In other words, it ain't syphilis which is the problem, it's following daddy. Part of the monstrousness of this game is being drawn into this family and being obliged to follow footstep after footstep into the dark regions. Now you get choices, but I can guarantee that no choice you make will be any more comfortable than the other. I think we pretty much sealed all the possible escape routes to happiness."

© Tom Chick, www.gamecenter.com 2000

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