Saints Row 3, InSane and Devil's Third: Danny Bilson on THQ's future
17th Feb 2011 | 09:45
2011 is the year that, to use his own phrasing, we all find out if "Danny Bilson is full of sh*t or not".
THQ's VP of core games has regularly shown a lot of admirable excitement for his team's upcoming products - the sort of we're simply not used to seeing from guys who report into the Boardroom.
But is Bilson's joy-filled rhetoric merely hyperbolic - or can 'new' THQ (and its curvaceous logo) really improve the average quality level of the company's output?
We sat down with the man himself to discuss upcoming games including this year's Saints Row 3 - as well as future prospects Devil's Third and Guillermo Del Toro's InSane. Although more tight-lipped than usual, it wasn't long before Bilson's natural sprightliness came to the fore...
You recently announced a new logo. Why now? What perceptions about the old THQ did you want to leave in the past?
That's easy. Why now? Now is our first introduction to New THQ - which I've been talking about and we've been working on for years. It's all about the games. What you saw [at our event in January] was five really good games, and what you'll see at E3 is even more really good games All of us, my whole team - marketing, PR, product development - they've all sent me emails about how excited they were to kick this off.
The proof's in the pudding, right? It's when you guys get your hands on the games. But we believe that this is a massive uplift in the quality bar at THQ, and in the consistency of quality. They've popped a good one now and again over the years, right? But again, there was a lot of stuff that maybe wasn't so good that hung under that old logo.
Even I as a gamer before I came to THQ would see that on the box and wonder. We had to get rid of that handicap. I don't want to say any disparaging things, because no matter how bad a game is, there's always someone who's had to sleep under their desk to ship it, you know?
We just wanted to make a statement that says: "We are new, we are different, let's change the damn logo." When I got here three years ago, Brian Farrell said: "Hey, I hate that damn logo, I want to change it." But nobody ever did anything about it. Now, with the timing - I believe we have at least one epic game every quarter, plus a lot of other good stuff - it's absolutely the time to get it going.
I'm just going to run through some titles you haven't talked about in a while to get an update on them...
I'll do what I can. I'll say what I can before she [points at PR rep] kicks me.
The big one is Saint's Row 3. Why haven't we seen it yet, and just how good is it looking?
A secret weapon isn't a secret weapon if I blow the secret... It's not going to be that much longer that you have to wait. Secret weapon. That's enough. Look, all I get is: "Don't talk about Saint's Row!" So that's enough.
I'm going to ask one more on that. Shut it down as quick as you like.
Red Dead Redemption owned the open world space last year. Now there's L.A Noire and your own Red Faction. Is there room for Saint's Row 3 to breathe - even if a new GTA gets announced?
Absolutely. If it's coming, it's more unique than it's ever been before. It differentiates itself much more from Rockstar's stuff than it ever has before. Look, I'm going to be so happy to talk about it when they let me. Let's just be patient.
InSane is a game you've announced really, really early. You're working with Guillermo Del Toro. Although on the one hand that's a mouth-watering prospect, it could be construed as a stunt - getting a big Hollywood player in...
[Laughs] You should ask him that question. Here's what he would say: "I do not want to be one of those film-makers who puts my name on something and doesn't do the work." He's a hardcore gamer, he's passionate about bringing some new thrills to gaming, he's completely engaged with myself, Paul DeMeo - head of our writing team at THQ - and the guys at Volition who are making the game.
He's already been out there for a few days. We just got through the fiction flow of the game just before [Christmas]. He was in every meeting, he sat there all day long kicking stuff around. He's funny as hell, a huge fans of games; he's just like the rest of us. He's not going anywhere.
Is he a great game director? Hopefully we have the skills to filter his talent into that. He will learn tonnes [on this game], and then on the second InSane he'll be even more opinionated because he'll know more things to poke at. It's a Guillermo Del Toro game for sure.
The teaser trailer was quite a frightening bit of footage. Is that the direction you're going in? Will it be filled with scares?
Um, yeah, but it's got a tremendous action bent to it. It's not a survival horror game, it's an action adventure game. It's a horrific adventure. It's got tremendous action, that's all I say. Tremendous action.
A quick chat about 'Mr Assassin's Creed' Patrice Désilets. We haven't heard a great deal since you announced that you'd signed him...
Because he's on a non-compete from Ubisoft until June 11.
What does having him on board allow you to that THQ wasn't capable of before?
I'm a big believer that great talent makes great games - same thing with movies. You can't process creativity, you just can't. You can't follow a manual and get a great game. So he's proven to us, to me, probably to your self, that he can make an unbelievable gaming experience. And I'm fortunate enough to have him creating his next unbelievable gaming experience for us. Now the truth is, I don't know what that game will be.
The contract says he can't work on it until June 11. So whatever he's doing on his own or with his team - there are four of them - I have no idea. But I have tremendous faith in what he's built before and what he'll build in the future. On June 11, he'll show up for work in Montreal and he'll start building out his game and building out his team. Probably, we'll start talking about it on, I would guess.. if I know me, June 12 [laughs].
Itagaki is also on board...
That's an external studio working with us and the core team. They're at Relic right now working with the technology, really the visual technology , which they're adapting to Devil's Third.
I can see you're slightly concerned about saying too much about these titles, but to be fair, he's called Devil's Third "the greatest game that's ever been made". How's it shaping up?
The stuff you've seen gameplay-wise is all captured from multiplayer. So it's a third-person action game with incredible kinetics, incredible movement, incredible tuning.
That stuff's all built already, how the players act and interact - he's a master of that. I know the fiction inside and out because I've participated with [Valhalla], but it's completely driven by him. It's going to have a really unique multiplayer component to it - and its going to be [puts on mystical voice] the greatest game ever made [laughs].
Itagaki's never been known to hold back on the self-praise...
I love him. You know, he's incredibly smart. He has a public persona, but he's a very serious worker. A hard worker and very, very serious. Like most great game developers, he's genuinely determined to make the greatest game ever made. All I want is a great game. I believe that's what he's going to do - and I'm giving him all the time and resource he needs for his art. He's a great talent.
You know, it's like, how can you monitor "is Bilson full of sh*t or not". Well, I can't make these games. I just have to hire and support these guys who have made great gaming experiences before and help them get to their best.