Interview: John Gibson (Tripwire Interactive)

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John Gibson, President and Co-owner/Co-founder of Tripwire Interactive. Credit: www.tripwireinteractive.com

I have always been a fan of co-op gameplay in video games, and when I first heard that Killing Floor 2 was coming to PlayStation 4, I jumped for joy. I was ecstatic when it finally launched in mid-November, after following the game for over a year-and-a-half.
Upon playing the game for the first time, I noticed an abundance of Christian Metal music. Crowder’s Run Devil Run, from his album American Prodigal, was used for the game’s official launch trailer. I recently had the chance to speak with John Gibson, president and co-founder/co-owner of Tripwire Interactive, who also happens to be a committed Christian, about the studio’s history.
Gibson shed some light on his approach to game development, how certain music genres and musicians were selected for the game, and the challenges of creating a game for a universal audience while staying true to one’s faith.

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Q. With Killing Floor 1 originally starting out as a mod, how did Tripwire Interactive, as a studio, come about?
Tripwire Interactive actually started from a mod team, as well. Back in 2003, a group of us were working on a mod called Red Orchestra, and EPIC Games and NVidia announced a contest called Make Something Unreal. The idea was that if you made the best Unreal Tournament 2003 mod then you would win the contest. It was called the $1,000,000 Make Something Unreal Contest. [Laughs] And, no, we didn’t win $1 million. The prize was actually two Unreal Engine Licenses worth $1 million and about $50,000 in cash. Long story short, about 1,000 teams from all over the world entered the competition, including many prominent game studios, because they wanted to win that $1 million license. The contest lasted for a year-and-a-half and, in January of 2005, we won the Make Something Unreal contest. With that license, we were able to become a commercial company and we created a retail version of Red Orchestra called Red Orchesta: Ostfront.
That’s how we got our start. The core team members of the Red Orchestra mod team founded the company and then, over time, brought more and more members on board and eventually hired more people until we became the company we are today with 55 employees.
Q. How has your faith impacted your game design? Do you try to incorporate religion or religious themes, even in the most subtle ways, in your games?
Very early on, my faith didn’t have a whole lot of impact. Certainly, with Red Orchestra, it didn’t have a lot of impact. With Killing Floor, as we moved out of a war game into a sci-fi game, there was one scenario where, at one point in the mod, there was one of the female monsters that was completely naked. I think, for me, I wanted to cover that up a little bit. It wasn’t until we shipped Red Orchestra 2–and I’ve been a Christian since I was a teenager–but it wasn’t until we shipped Red Orchestra 2 that I really started embracing my faith. I really started to say “Hey, I don’t want to just call myself a Christian. I want to live it.” That really started to then impact my game design and development.
It started with Rising Storm. I really wanted to keep the language toned down. You know, within the studio there are people of various beliefs and where we got to with that is keeping it PG-13. Also, with Rising Storm, I helped write the script for the U.S. soldiers and I made one of the characters a Christian. But I didn’t want him to be represented in a hokey way. You know, sometimes in film and television when you see these kinds of characters they are always crazy, twisted, fundamentalists. I wanted them to be treated like a real person. I wanted to write a character that wasn’t over the top but whose faith was part of who he was. At the beginning of the battle, the commander gives a speech to rally the team. I remember giving that character a speech, and I can’t remember what verse it was, but it was paraphrasing a verse from Psalms. That was kind of exciting for me to be able to incorporate that into the character.
reverend-albertsReally, it went to the next level in Killing Floor 2, which may surprise a lot of people with it being such a violent game, such a gory game [laughs] that there is any kind of, you know, Christian behind the studio that created the game. Really, for me, when it comes to violence I don’t think I would really want to make a realistic game set in a real scenario where you’re the bad guy. I would never make a Grand Theft Autotype game. But if you look back through the history of the Bible, there is a lot of violence in there. I definitely think I wouldn’t want very young people playing Killing Floor 2. Killing Floor, though, is kind of this fight against the evil monster hordes, and I think that’s OK.
I really wanted a PG-13 level of language in the game. We took that further in KF2 and really paid attention to how we portrayed our female characters. For our female characters, and part of this comes from my faith and from having two teenage daughters and seeing how media impacts them, I wanted the female characters to not be overly sexual. I wanted female characters that females would want to play as and not characters that male players would want to look at. I want to be very careful about body image for our players. I don’t want to feed into the media’s idea that only females who look a certain way are attractive. I am really careful about how we depict those body types in the game.
Another thing that was really important to me was having no blasphemy in the game. That has been a challenge to explain to writers that don’t share my faith. It’s a little bit more than not saying g&%d#$n. I also wanted to make sure that there were no sexually derogatory remarks in the game’s dialogue. At the end of the day, though, the game still appeals to a very broad audience.
I actually helped write the script for the Reverend Alberts character because, again, I wanted the Christian characters to be more realistic. He is a little jokey, but I didn’t want him to be this stereotypical “mad priest.” I also did some research on the Anglican Church, because I am not Anglican or British, but the character is since he is from the UK. He is actually voiced by a well-known actor, Dwight Schultz, who also played Mad Dog Murdoc from the original 1980’s A-Team TV show. He was really fun to work with.
Q. As one of the few Christian owners of a major game company how do you find the right balance between catering to both the secular and religious audiences?
It is challenging. I get a lot of flack from a certain segment of the fanbase for speaking out on body image and what I feel is a decent portrayal of women in video games. But, really, it can be a challenge because the political and social environment right now is not friendly to Christians. That can be a challenge, not so much because of fans, but because of other developers in the industry. Christians get a pretty bad rap right now. You hear things like, “We hate everyone, etc.” Which is obviously not true. But it can make for some tenuous relationships sometimes.
As far as making games, I haven’t really run into the issue much. We make games that a broad audience would enjoy–including what I would guess is a largely secular audience. The real question for me is: “Is it entertaining? Is it good?” If you make entertainment that is good, then people will enjoy it. I saw a movie recently that was about Desmond Doss. Hacksaw Ridge was very well-reviewed and is really a story about a soldier, but also a man’s faith. I think it is so well-reviewed because the story of the character was presented well and its just a really good movie. Most people might not know this but with Hacksaw Ridge–I read an article about this–Desmond Doss didn’t want a lot of foul language included if they ever made a movie about his life. It is like the only war movie ever without the f-word in it. As long as you make good entertainment, I don’t think it is really an issue.
Q. One of the things that intrigued me most about this game and inspired my desire for this interview was the fact that a Crowder song was chosen for the launch trailer; and there is a Christian Metal band, Demon Hunter, who has many songs that play within the game. Were there any issues in getting these bands to license out their music for the game? What factors played into the decision to include these songs?
Before I started making games, I played in Christian metal bands. A lot of the guys in these bands I actually knew personally, not Crowder, but Living Sacrifice. And I had contacts within Demon Hunter. Really, I just wanted to include music that would fit the game. I was looking for a certain style of music that was very chunky, very heavy, but not super heavy all the time. I went demon-hunterthrough my iPod and never really set out to have a lot of Christian bands on the soundtrack but I just wanted that specific style of music. When I started talking to record labels and started speaking with Solid State Records and Capitol Records, I was able to get a very reasonable price to license the music. Some artists were well out of our price range. That really helped with Solid State, as they were very open to working with us.
Having been a former musician in a Christian metal band, I was excited to be able to share some really great music with the world that people may not have heard otherwise. I was very excited about that. We actually got Rocky Gray, who was the drummer for Evanescence and the guitarist for Living Sacrifice. He wrote some original music for the game. Living Sacrifice and Demon Hunter also wrote some original songs for the game. I actually got Living Sacrifice to re-record one of their best songs because we needed it without vocals. Not all of the soundtrack includes Christian artists. Probably about 70% of the soundtrack is actually by a guy who’s group is named Zynthetic–a guy named Dan Nassick. He actually did most of the soundtrack for Killing Floor, and so we wanted to bring him back for Killing Floor 2. He is also the voice of the Patriarch boss in both games. We also have some music in the game that my old band wrote.
It was interesting with Crowder, because, for that final trailer, we talked about it in the studio, and we really wanted to throw people a curve ball. We wanted to do something different than what we had done with every other trailer for the game. We were actually inspired by a guy who did a fan trailer called “Gunslinger Tribute.” My kids were listening to Crowder, and I was like, “Hey, do you have anything like this?” So I brought it to the office and everyone liked the “Run Devil Run” song. So we were like, “Let’s use that.” Crowder’s people were fine with it. I was a little worried about that, actually, because I didn’t know if Crowder would be open to it, but he was.

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Q. With Killing Floor 2, specifically, the game is still in early access on steam and is still receiving regular updates. Since it just recently launched on PS4, can console players expect regular content updates day-and-date with PC players, or will consoles receive updates a few months later?
The plan is to keep parity between both platforms. We are working on our first free content update to release early next year, and it should launch on both platforms around the same time, if not the same day. It can get a little tricky to schedule, but nobody is gonna get ahead of or behind the other. From the tech side, we structured it from the beginning to do it that way. We don’t feel like either platform should get the short end of the stick.
Q. Are there currently any plans for new monsters or bosses?
That is something we are looking at. A lot of people have talked about there only being two bosses, which is, you know, one more than Killing Floor, and two more than Left 4 Dead had. [Laughs] We were glad to be able to launch with two bosses because it is double what we had in the first game, but we are definitely looking at additional bosses, modes, new weapons, new maps, and all kinds of other stuff.
One thing we are looking at, especially for PS4 players, is this long support that we give our games with lots of free content. We did our last content update for the first Killing Floor five years after it launched. Console players aren’t used to that kind of support. They are used to being nickeled and dimed with map packs for $20 dollars or season passes for content that they may not want. We are a business and we do need to make money, but we don’t want to charge people for things that they need to play the game and to enjoy playing with their friends. If we made an entire expansion that was almost like a new game, then we might charge for it, but if we are just adding new maps or weapons, then we don’t wanna charge for that. Our micro-transactions that are in the game are strictly for cosmetics and things that aren’t going to affect the balance of the game. This is how we fund the free updates. We like players to be able to just jump in and have fun.
Q. With similar games, like DOOM, having map and level creators, is there a chance these features could come to the console version of the game?
A Map Editor is in Killing Floor 2, but maps must be created on PC. It is the same Unreal Editor that we used to create the game. Having a modding background, we completely support the modding community. In fact, three of the maps that shipped on PS4 were community mod maps. Infernal Realms, Hostile Grounds, and Containment Station were all created by the community. This is actually a plug for the mod community, but both of those guys actually work for Tripwire now because their stuff was so good we hired one and contracted the other. It is definitely a good way to get into the industry. We will continue to do this for future content as well. Anything created by the community that makes its way into the game on PC will eventually make its way to PS4 as well. Almost all of the items that come from loot crates and drops in the game were also made by the community.

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Q. What games are you playing at the moment and have any of these titles inspired you or given you ideas about things you might like to experiment with in future Tripwire Interactive projects?
I was kicking it old school the past few weeks and I played through the original Dead Space for the first time. As I played, I could actually see the influence that Dead Space had on Killing Floor, even though Killing Floor came out beforehand. A lot of people playing on console think that the game is similar to Left 4 Dead after playing it the first time, but they don’t realize that the game was actually out on PC about three years before Left 4 Dead. Killing Floor was inspired by Dead Space to a degree, even though it came out before Dead Space. It was also inspired by zombie movies and by old-school 90’s FPS games like DOOM.
It has been interesting for me to see the resurgence of DOOM this year because it is reminiscent of what Killing Floor has been doing with fast, brutal combat and a heavy metal-focused soundtrack. We didn’t just want to emulate what had already been done in the 90’s, but we wanted to take that same spirit and move it into a new generation of games with more modern graphics and an advanced gore system, more advanced weapons, and improved AI. If you look at other horde mode shooters, I groan a little bit when we get compared to other games. Most of those games are about getting from Point A to Point B. Killing Floor is more of a defensive game, more like Aliens. Like, “Let’s weld up this door. Control the flow of the enemies. Kill everything that comes through this door.” It is kind of that Aliens aesthetic.
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Geeks Under Grace would like to thank John Gibson for participating in this interview. To learn more about John, Tripwire Interactive, and the games he and his studios make, check out the links below:

Follow John on Twitter

Check out Tripwire Interactive

Like Tripwire Interactive on Facebook

Read our Killing Floor 2 review

 

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Damien Chambers

Before I became a Geek Under Grace I was a student of Journalism and have always aspired to write for a gaming and geek culture publication. I am truly blessed to have found an outlet to reach not only thousands of fans, but those who may not have yet found Christ. My favorite genre of games is third-person/sandbox games. I like the freedom that they allow both in gameplay and in scale and they just seem less bland and limited than more linear titles. I still have a soft spot for RPG games but I now enjoy JRPGs far less than I did as a child because they are still basically the exact same as they always were, with a few exceptions of course. I also enjoy playing more tactical third-person multiplayer shooters or first-person shooters that try to shake things up. I absolutely hate games based on WWII or Vietnam as those settings and those types of gameplay have been done to death. Though I am not opposed to a future Assassin's Creed title being set during one of these wars. I also typically tend to stay away from MOBA's as they are notorious for abusive, and generally unsavory online communities. My favorite game of all time is Chrono Trigger, which ironically enough is a JRPG but its one that I consider untouchable in quality. The runner-up for my favorite game of all time would be Star Fox 64.

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