What that you've written in the past do you think has influenced this the most?
Well I've worked on everything from Family Guy to the Bioshock franchise, XCOM, Mafia, Civ, pretty much everything in the 2K lineup at some point in time. Family Guy was my first game, seven long years ago, and I haven't brought that up ever since then, but it's kind of funny now when you say "Family Guy and Spec Ops, look how I've grown!"
I don't know that anything that I've written before has necessarily—I try that everything I write, my goal is if everything I write is better than the last thing I wrote, if I'm continuing to grow as a writer, then I feel like I've succeeded. I would say more personal life experience for this game in particular has been the most inspirational and of driving it forward. Every game has a long process. I know for me personally, living over in Germany for so many years, being far away from family and friends—not that I don't have friends on the dev team that are my best friends now—but life happens. Life doesn't just stop for the duration of the development time.
And when you're so far away from the city and in a country with a language that you don't really speak and you have this sense of isolation and not really knowing if the outcome of all your work is going to pay off, it's an incredibly, if you break it down, it's an incredibly personal story. And I think it's an incredibly personal story for anyone who's ever been in a long-term creative endeavor. You have to cut off from your life so much, and you don't know how it's going to pay off in the end, if it's going to work out. You don't know if you're going to be successful in your mission. You can only move forward and keep going.
You want to say that every game development was a good time. I think most of them are not. I think most of them are bad times. But at the end they were worthwhile times. You make something that you can stand beside and say, "Yeah, that was a really shitty however-many-years, but I can hold this. This is real. This is something I can stand proudly beside and say I was there when that was made. With all of these other guys, we came together and at one point in time we made this." You look back on all the pain and suffering that you got and had to go through to get there, and sometimes it was worth it, sometimes it's not.
With Spec Ops, absolutely worth it. I would go through it again. I say that now because it's over, but I think I would. I think I would go through it again.
Where does the subtitle "The Line" come in?
Oh gosh. "The Line" means a lot of different things, but I think it's the line between the man that you are and the soldier that you choose to be. It's the line between order and chaos; what you consider moral and what you consider necessary. I've said it a few times here: for me, I think it's the line between expectation and reality. Because that's really, I think, ultimately the largest theme in the game. Who do we think we are versus who we actually are? So the line is—it feels cheesy to say the line is whatever you need it to be, but it really is. There is ultimately, in life, there's one or another. The line is that gray area in the middle which really most of us tend to actually inhabit.
It's interesting, because most subtitles are like "Retribution" or "Revengeance" or "Execution." "The Line" is a writer's subtitle, for sure.
We joke about the sequel. Spec Ops: The Liner or The Lined or The Lineder—that's a horrible world. It's true, we wanted to go for something a bit more interesting. Something that makes you wonder, "What is this?" Because the thing is, with Spec Ops you see, "Okay, military, I got that. And we did. For a little bit, we want people to come in feeling, "I know this game. I know these characters. I understand where I'm at. I know the story here." And then the line is the part where we get to pull the line out from underneath you and they realize they actually don't know what's going on here and they don't know what we're going to do and what's going to happen next and that this is something they weren't prepared for. Expectation versus reality.
It's interesting. It's an interesting, admittedly, a bit experimental in trying to do something like that, because it's hard to sell a game when you want people to be a little confused in the beginning about what exactly it is. You don't just want to tell people, "Oh, it's just really messed up the whole way through. Buy it!" Because it's not the experience [we want them to have]. We want them to have an emotional journey. It's not just about making you feel bad, it's about making you think. It's difficult that way.