Ted Price calls Insomniac’s Girl With A Stick, “my first significant failure”
You may not have heard of it but Insomniac once had a game codenamed Girl With A Stick. It never came out. Recently I had the chance to talk to CEO and founder Ted Price about why.
Girl Without A Stick
Part 2 of my video interview will be out next week detailing the Ratchet & Clank and PS2 days of the company, but for now here’s an extract where I ask Ted Price about the process of cancelling the game. From identifying what didn’t work and the process of moving on. (You can see part one of the Ted Price interview here.)
Leon: After Spyro, there was Girl With A Stick, which you’ve spoken about before; was it just that it didn’t click? I remember in the Full Moon show you were talking about how it wasn’t really coming together. Did you identify what it was, or was it just one of those things?
Ted Price: There were a couple of problems with Girl With A Stick; first we never figured out the one thing that the game was gonna do better than any other game. It was more that we had this idea of creating a more mature game; moving away from Spyro so we wouldn’t get pigeonholed as “that company that does platformers”. We took a half-step in that more mature direction. We didn’t get all the way there, so we ended up with a concept that, gameplay-wise and art-wise, was in this weird sort of no-man’s land between Spyro and something else. It was unclear who our audience was, but what really killed the game was the fact that we hadn’t been able to prototype gameplay. We had a lot of ideas for story, and backgrounds which we built, and we built characters and we animated them, but getting gameplay up and running was challenging as we were developing our new Playstation 2 engine. When the time came to deliver a game that was fun during our first playable, we couldn’t, because we hadn’t iterated on combat enough. It just wasn’t fun to kill enemies, it wasn’t fun to run around, it wasn’t fun to ride beasts, one of the aspects of the game. We had to admit that it wasn’t working, I had to admit it wasn’t working.
Leon What’s it like to make that call? Earlier you described it as a release, and it was uplifting to put it all behind you, but when you decided to kill it, what’s that like to make as a decision?
Ted Price: At first, I felt that I had failed everybody, because I had been the one pushing this concept for a long time, and I tried different ways to keep people excited about it, to keep our publisher excited about it, but I think in the back of my mind I knew all along that we were gonna have trouble with it. The rest of the company was not excited, no matter what I said, or how clearly I tried to paint the vision for the future, people weren’t buying into it. I was reluctant to make that admission, because that was my first significant failure in the gaming business, or any business. But stepping over that threshold, saying “Hey, OK, I screwed up” was a relief, because it meant that we were free to try something new; to do something better and learn from those mistakes we made on Girl With A Stick.
Leon: What do you think you learned, what was one of the main things you looked at and thought “I’d better look out for that again”?
Ted Price: A lot of things, at the time I think we all acknowledged that we needed to play our strengths better. Our strength at the time was in platformers. So, instead of trying something completely different, we should take something we know well, reiterate on that, and take platformers in a different direction, which is ultimately what we did with Ratchet (and Clank). But also, looking back, going back to what Brian was doing with Spyro, when he was doing the camera controls and making him really fun to play, we missed that on Girl With A Stick. Brian stepped in again with Ratchet, and did exactly the same thing. From the very beginning, Brian focused on making Ratchet fun; fun to run around, fun to make him jump and do flips. That was a second epiphany for all of us, where we realised that fun had to come first in these games.