Jeff Pobst Answers Your Questions

We get questions every day.

The overwhelmingly most common question we receive is if we would please remove the ban that person received while playing CS:GO.  The answer is always the same.  No, we can’t.

The reason isn’t because we don’t like CS:GO players a lot, and it doesn’t have anything to do with evaluating the explanation on why it must have been a mistake. The reason is that Valve has been operating CS:GO on their own for several years now and we at Hidden Path aren’t involved these days.  If one of us here got mistakenly banned we’d likely be in the same boat as anyone else.  We don’t have any ‘unban’ buttons to press around here.  So, emailing us with a ‘please remove my ban’ request doesn’t really do much for you.  Sorry that we can’t help. You can post on Offical CS:Go Steam Forum.

 

We do also get other questions.

Often they’re about Virtual Reality or Defense Grid, or Brass Tactics or Age of Empires II HD, or about one of other things the team has developed or will be developing.  This week though, one Defense Grid fan – Daniel L. – sent a series of questions almost like a press interview.  We figured we’d do our best to answer his questions, and share the answers with everyone here.

If you have a bunch of questions you want to know, send them our way too.  Maybe we’ll have time to answer them (like we do this week), maybe we won’t.  But we’ll try!

So, now on to Daniel’s questions and our answers:

 

Jim Ward & Ming-Na Wen at the recording session for Defense Grid: Containment in 2012

 

Q: Why was Ming-Na not brought back as Cai for the sequel? I Googled around and couldn’t find a conversation about it.

A: We think you haven’t found anything online about it because we don’t think anyone in the press has ever asked us that question before.  But, we’re happy to share a bit of the ‘going’s on’ when it comes to working with the amazing voice actors that make up the casts of the games we work on and why recurring roles don’t always work out.

Different voice actors have different agents and working with them to secure a deal can vary quite a bit.  We may hear Ike Amadi’s audition for Roliano in Brass Tactics and weep here with joy (Ike is amazing!), but it will be up to his agent and our casting partner to find a mutually agreeable price that we can pay for him to do the voiceover work for a game.

When we work with actors who are part of the SAG and AFTRA unions, there is definitely a minimum amount agreed upon that they can be paid, but depending on their situation, their experience, how in demand they are, the amount of work they have already, the popularity they already have for perhaps being on a major television show or in a popular movie, well, the rate that they’ll be willing to agree to may be much higher than the minimum union “scale” specified.  Also, different agents may also have different styles on how they negotiate with game developers like us since most of their negotiating time can be with other industries who tend to operate in a different way.

Consequently we also have constraints on how much of our development budget can be spent on voice acting, and we try to allocate it wisely such that we have a great cast that fits the creative vision of the product and hopefully also brings something new to the game.

Kari Wahlgren at the recording session for Defense Grid 2 in 2014

 

Often that budget is sufficient for us to work with some amazing professional voice actors to build a great cast in our games.  So far we’ve been fortunate to work with talented professionals such as:  Jennifer Hale, Jim Ward, Kari Wahlgren, Dave Mitchell, Ellen Dubin, Fred Tatasciore, Ellen McLain, Christopher Swindle, Cat Tabor, Dee Bradley Baker, Jock Blaney, and the aforementioned Ike Amadi.

Sometimes, we find that we are able to cast people who are great voice actors, but are also known for their on-camera work too, and they often bring a very unique voice to a part.  We’ve been fortunate to have worked with Aiden Gillen, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Alan Tudyk, Rose McIver, and the aforementioned Ming-Na Wen on our games, too!

Sometimes though, situations change for an actor.  They get a new role on a new show, it puts them more in the spotlight, they’re a bit more well-known, more popular than they were before, and maybe they’ll do similar work again for a similar rate they were paid before, and maybe they won’t.

A lot of it, to be fair to them, has to do with the number of requests they get and how they manage their time.  If they have a lot of requests to do work, and don’t have time to do it all, it makes sense that they raise their rates. Those then who are willing to pay the higher rate will get their time and they end up making the very best use of their time that way.  You can’t blame them at all for the situation.

Alan Tudyk & Jim Ward at the recording session for Defense Grid: Containment in 2012

 

In the case of Ming-Na Wen, she joined the Defense Grid cast in 2012 and did a great job in the Containment expansion pack.  We loved working with her.  By 2014 when it was time to record the dialogue for Defense Grid 2, we reached out to Ming-Na Wen, found out that she had new agents that were different than the folks we had worked with before, found out that her status had changed a bit with a new television show she was about to be on, and unfortunately we weren’t able to find a deal that that would make the reprisal fit in our budget.

We then were introduced to Ellen Dubin who is an exceptional professional voice actor and took what Ming-Na Wen started, and then built her own character from that.  In Defense Grid: Containment, we introduced a bit of a past for Fletcher through this new character General Cai.  In Defense Grid 2, Cai goes through a lot of “mental trauma” (at least for an AI character) and Ellen brought a lot of nuance to her performance as we watch Cai go through that experience.

While storytelling continuity is a desirable trait, sometimes real life gets in the way and you have to go a different direction.  Fortunately, sometimes you also end up with something pretty special anyway.

 

Q: Any plans for an expansion pack like You Monster for DG2? It would be great for GLaDOS to be able to take a second crack at Fletcher after many years of grudge intensifying, but any additional story pack would be great.

 The You Monster expansion pack for Defense Grid came about through interesting circumstances and Valve’s generosity.  In 2011 Valve brought several different indie developers together to see if there might be something the entire group could do together to have fun with the community around the launch of Portal 2.  Hidden Path Entertainment was one of the 9 developers that ended up participating.  After a lot of group discussion around what could be done, Valve allowed the group to have a multi-week story where each of our games was invaded by GLaDOS as she tried to “release” Portal 2 early to the world.  Players would play these games, search for clues, solve puzzles, and then partake of an activity that could release the game up to several days early.

In the time we had, Defense Grid got two new levels.  One level where it was clear that something wasn’t working the way it was supposed to (and the whole level itself was a puzzle clue), and a second level where GLaDOS appears and starts messing with the game rules in her own special way.  We had a blast, players seemed to love it, people purchased each of the indie games during that time to see all the changes going on, and Portal 2 released a few days early.  It seemed like a win for everyone.

Afterwards our team really wanted to keep going.  We had so many ideas of what GLaDOS could be doing to the levels, to the game rules, even to Fletcher, that we couldn’t stop thinking about it.  We approached Valve and asked them if they’d consider allowing us to release a full 8 mission expansion pack along the lines of what we started with the ARG and they said “Yes!” so from that You Monster was born, and the two world collided (outside of the official Portal canon of course – nothing from You Monster actually happened in the world of Portal).

So, could it happen again?  Perhaps.  But the specific confluence of events that brought that into being seemed to make sense for everyone involved at the time.  For us, we wanted to change up some of the rules of Defense Grid for fun and whimsy (for a short time), and for Valve, having GLaDOS appear in another game showed their generosity and also reminded people about what a great game Portal 2 was/is.  I’m not sure either company’s focus is in the same place these days, so I don’t expect that particular confluence to necessarily happen again, but we love talking about new ideas and lots of game development studios talk with each other, so who knows what the future might hold.

 

Q: Graphical question: Was the current Juggernaut in DG2 originally supposed to be the new model for the Rhino? I only ask because it appears to literally be a rhinoceros in armor.

No, we talked with Chad Haley, the artist who created DG2’s updates on each alien and he talked about his goals for the Juggernaut.  He wanted to create a creature that pulled elements from creatures such as elephants and large beasts of burden, and then armored them more fully with plates all over the body.  The Juggernaut was all about being the ultimate tank, while the Rhino instead was all about speed.  It had legs resembling an Ostrich, it was more aerodynamic in style and design.  Everything about the Rhino was about it moving as fast as it possibly could.  We see some of the resemblance you bring up, but that doesn’t appear to have been intentional in the designs.

Q: On a related note, were the Crasher and the Juggernaut always meant to have the same model in the first DG? I realized I was confused about which was which until I checked the alien encyclopedia and found that they were the same animal.

In the first Defense Grid the Crasher came first, and then the idea of a Crasher with a huge shield on it was even more daunting and impressive and that configuration got called the Juggernaut internally, because that was just way too many hit points to overcome.  Eventually the name stuck.  I don’t honestly remember exactly if there was a debate at the time on whether or not the Juggernaut should have a completely different model from a Crasher or not, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that just wasn’t an available option then and we continued with the way the Juggernaut was born: a Crasher with a freakin’ shield on it.

When it came time for DG2, the art team went to town and decided that once and for all, the two models should be different and in fact there should be some other nuanced differences between them – size, speed, health, etc.  Since shields could now be applied to any creature, say for example coming from a Spire, the Juggernaut needed to be stronger, but without relying upon the shield.  And so as more time and effort was able to be put into the Crasher and the Juggernaut, the differences between them grew larger as we moved into the sequel.

 

Q: A little “out there” as a concept, but since the Dota 2 announcer went so well, I wonder if most of those assets could be reused for a Heroes of the Storm announcer pack. There may be some competition issues with Valve on that subject, but it would draw a lot of attention to the game series when people noticed that the two games shared an announcer!

Thanks for asking.  We were really happy that your initial question (5 years ago or so) about “Hey, Fletcher should be a DOTA2 announcer, don’t you think?” (paraphrasing of course) actually led to Fletcher becoming a DOTA2 announcer, which is kinda cool.  It wasn’t our main focus, but we were working a bit with Valve then, and they thought the idea was a good one, and we liked the idea so we tried it out.  Eventually a lot of announcer packs became available for DOTA 2 from the voices from a variety of games and it led to an amazing amount of choice for players (which is always a good thing).

Right now, we don’t have any announcer pack plans, but we’ll listen if that’s something that players really want.  We wouldn’t reuse the lines from before for a new pack I don’t think, but if it was something players wanted, and it was an option that Blizzard gave us, I think we’d be open to the idea.

 

Q: Is there any type of “hidden menu” in DG2? I hit a few keystrokes weirdly and the main menu seemed to change into a blue colored version for just a moment, long enough for me to see it just as I hit a key again and undid it.

Nope, to our knowledge (and to our intent) there isn’t any secret menu in the UI for Defense Grid 2.  We did use a UI package for DG2 called Scaleform that is no longer sold today, but at that time it was one of the main UI packages available for game developers to integrate into their game and be able to do cool animating UI.  Perhaps there is something where your secret keystrokes that only you know were able to confuse the Scaleform code for a moment, but we didn’t create any kind of Easter Eggs in the UI that were designed to be found.  I am sure that would have been discovered long ago if that existed.

 

Q: And lastly, any rumblings about DG3, or is the series wrapped up as Hidden Path moves on to greener pastures?

Ahh, you wish to know if there will be another Defense Grid game.  Not too surprising a question.  That said, there is nothing to report at this time.  We don’t have any plans at the moment for a new chapter in the world of Defense Grid, but one never knows what opportunities may come up.

 

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