John Garvin has worked at Sony Bend for an eternity, shipping titles such as Syphon Filter, Resistance Retribution, and Uncharted: Golden Abyss. But with the release of Days Gone this year, the Oregon-based outfit is arguably undertaking its biggest endeavour yet. We caught up with the veteran writer to chat about the upcoming PlayStation 4 exclusive – but we mostly wanted to determine how the hell he decided on the name Deacon St. John.
Push Square: Congratulations, you’re almost at launch. What’s the mood at the studio like at the moment?
John Garvin: It’s a mix between terror and exhilaration. We’re all pretty excited because we’re going to be shipping 26th April and we cannot wait.
You’re perhaps best known for your more recent handheld games. Talk me through the process of switching to development for the PS4.
Yeah, it was a lot of fun. We rolled off Uncharted: Golden Abyss for the PS Vita which was a launch title, and we really pulled out all of the stops on that. In some ways, it really wasn’t a big change for us because Sony Bend’s always done super ambitious projects; we were pushing the limit on PSP when we did Syphon Filter for that and the same thing with Resistance: Retribution. And for the PS Vita, we just pushed it to the absolute limit. I mean, that was almost the equivalent of a PS3 on a handheld.
So working on Days Gone was continuing that same trend, and we wanted to make the game that we wanted to play. That means that it had to be an open world game and we wanted to push the technology because it had to show off the hardware for the PS4, and so that’s where the horde came from. We thought, “Look, we want to have as many creatures on screen at once.” And then we thought, “Okay, so how do we turn that into a game. How do we make that fun?” And that’s where the E3 2016 demo came from.
Your studio is in a really interesting location I think, it’s not like you’re in California or something. What kind of influence did that have on development?
Well, the biggest one for Days Gone is that what you see is where we live. Most people don’t realise that most of the Pacific Northwest is desert – it’s all on the east side of the Cascade Range, which means it’s high in elevation and formed by ancient volcanism. Over the last million years you have this great terrain formed by lava flow and ravines and river valleys, and it’s all got this unique formation that you just don’t see anywhere else in the world. And we thought, “Okay, how can we turn this environment into a video game, because we’ve never played in anywhere like this before.”
You’re part of Sony Worldwide Studios, do you feel pressure to live up to Naughty Dog and Santa Monica or does it spur you on?
Oh, it’s absolutely spurring us on. Sony first-party is knocking out of the ball park right now; some great titles by great developers. Yeah, we definitely worked really hard to make Days Gone fit with those other titles.
Why bikers? Society has crumbled because of Freakers, so what’s kept these bikers together?
It’s all about characters. We’ve always made character-driven games, and we just wanted a character who had an interesting background that we haven’t seen in video games before. Deacon St. John is a physical guy who can handle himself, but it’s all about the brotherhood, right? It’s about the bond that this culture has, and that’s one of the things that really drew us to it.
Can you remember the moment you decided on the name Deacon St. John?
Y’know, I can’t! I get that question a lot because it does have these sort of religious overtones, and I can tell you that there’s a character in the game who makes fun of him because of it.
We like it!
In terms of symbolism we don’t go there, it’s just one of those things where it’s almost like poetry in a way. I wanted a name that has a good flow to it and is memorable, so naming characters is hard.
This interviewer's Mum is really good at naming things, so if you ever need any help you know who to ask. Moving on, the missions are quite open-ended. How difficult is it designing objectives like that?
It’s a good question, and one of the things we really wanted to do early on in development is to try and figure out a way to create a narrative in an open world. We love open world games, we’ve played all of them, but it’s really tough to follow a story where there are so many distractions. So there’s a couple of things we did: we definitely have more than one storyline going at a time. There’s always a different storyline either starting or ending, and we set it up so that you have choice in which of those storylines you want to follow. Sometimes they’ll converge or separate, but we have this feature called the storylines feature that basically tracks the storyline like a Netflix series.
We are so focused on Days Gone. We’ve been working on this game for six years, so right now I’m consumed with Deacon St. John and he launches 26th April.
Fair enough, thank you so much.
Are you looking forward to Days Gone later this year? Let us know in the comments section below, and remember you can learn more about the game in our hands on preview through here.