Avalanche Studios’ Christofer Sundberg on pacifism, Steampunk and games as platforms

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Just Cause developer Avalanche Studios is an expert developer of open world games, and co-founder and chief creative officer Christofer Sundberg is an open interviewee his open worlds. We caught up to talk about Avalanche’s multiple projects and Sundberg’s plans for the studio.

The Hunter has obviously worked out for you, both in terms of building a community and paying its way. Would you ever consider taking one of your open-world action games that way?
Most definitively. We are moving in that direction with future projects, building them more like platforms that can live over a longer period of time. Developing a game for 40, 60, 80 or 100 million dollars that begins and ends within ten hours doesn’t make sense anymore. We love to see games more as something you live with and where we can keep players in the world for hundreds of hours, exploring, blowing things up, collecting and so forth. With that said, I’m not saying that all our games will lack narrative, but we do want to invite our fans and players into the process of shaping the future of the game, based on their playing style and patterns.

We still can’t discuss all the next-gen stuff you’re doing. When will we be able to talk about it properly?
We are developing for both current and next-gen, but the earliest we’ll be able to talk about it and go into any detail is after the games we are working on are announced. We’re also announcing new, interesting tech development that we do internally, but that is not until later this year.

Do you think it’s worth developers taking advantage of new control methods, like Kinect or Wii U or Oculus Rift, straight away, or waiting for the tech to prove itself?
Absolutely, if the game experience is enhanced. Kinect and PS Move doesn’t have to be be gimmicky. Next-gen development has offered so many possibilities for developers to create awesome stuff with both software and hardware so major props to Sony for opening up that world to us.

Spry Fox’s Road Not Taken is inspired by poetry; Bioshock was inspired by a philosophy (albeit, one that Levine obviously hated). What inspires you?
Action movies and action games, I guess. We’ve never had any ambition to go very deep with our narrative and focused more on explosive fun. It’s entertainment! I have no ambitions to make players cry or have any deeper feelings. A great laugh and a big smile as players pull off a completely over the top stunt is all I can ask for. I can assure you that with our next games there will be plenty of “holy f-ing s-ts” to go around for everyone!

You’ve talked on Twitter about the Star Wars game you almost worked on. Can you tell us any more about it?
I found it fascinating that a little Twitter dialogue between me and Oskar Burman actually generated some ‘news’. Not much to say really. We have been pitching games, discussing games based on our own IP and publishers’ IP for ten years now. This was one of them and it never ended up happening for various reasons.

Can you refuse to answer any questions about Mad Max please?

You’ve been posting some strange pictures on Instagram – and I’m not talking about your meat injection kit. Care to explain?
They were from a steampunk-style game we had in development that we put on ice. I really love that art style, and to combine it with sandbox gameplay is a dream of mine. Fortunately, being an independent developer I can control my own destiny and we’ll make something in that world sooner or later.

You’ve also been playing Sid Meier’s Air Patrol. Do you find it inspirational for your own forthcoming mobile games?
Air Patrol is absolutely fantastic, even though it can be very frustrating from a monetisation standpoint and the campaigns are too short, I really love it. It’s not the type of game Avalanche Studios would develop as we try to get our sandbox, open-world style to translate onto tablets and mobile phones, but it is interesting from a business standpoint. It’s a fascinating question: how quickly do you ask players to pay for your game? I think we have a lot to learn there.

You’re from such a pacifist country, but so many of your games are militaristic. How does that happen?
I wouldn’t call our games militaristic, but they sure are action-packed. Swedes are peaceful people and we’ve downsized our military to the point where it almost doesn’t exist. We need that virtual escape from our everyday lives and get our kicks from some serious action.