Propaganda Games was formed three years ago by a group of former Electronic Arts staffers. Within months, it was acquired by Buena Vista Games, now Disney Interactive Studios. In an interview with the Georgia Straight at Propaganda’s Vancouver offices, general manager and vice president Josh Holmes said the company had been working on an original concept for a third-person action game, but scrapped it when it won the right to develop the new Turok video game for Touchstone, a Disney brand.
The first Turok game—1997’s Turok: Dinosaur Hunter for the Nintendo 64—was one of the earliest first-person shooters produced for console gaming systems. Turok first appeared in a 1954 comic book in a story by Gaylord DuBois, who was known for writing outdoor-adventure comics about such characters as Tarzan, Roy Rogers, and Sergeant Preston of the Yukon. Turok changed over the years, depending on who was using him and for what purpose, but one thing has remained constant: Turok is a Native American.
“Reimagining is in vogue in entertainment today,” game director Joel Manners told the Straight. He cited Batman Begins and Battlestar Galactica as good examples of how characters have been reinvented. “There are really good stories that need to be retold in a way that is relevant to today,” Manners said. “There’s nothing irrelevant about dinosaurs,” which feature prominently in the new Turok game.
The development team was acutely aware that its protagonist was aboriginal. “It means a lot,” admitted Manners, “and it doesn’t mean anything.” The game, he explained, doesn’t make a point about heritage; it makes a point about heroism. In an effort to avoid clichés and stereotypes, Manners said, they simply treated the characters and the story with respect. “When you justify a character because of their heritage,” he said, “you have to be cautious.
“The fact that Turok is of one heritage or another is not important,” Manners continued. “He’s a hero. The heroism that he is displaying comes from his heritage, but it’s something anyone is capable of.”
Manners said the development group talked about other game genres in early meetings, but never seriously considered them. “The first-person perspective lends an intimacy. Having dinosaurs coming at you is central to the feeling of terror. It’s not as scary when you see creatures jumping on someone else.”
Propaganda, which increased its staff as it developed Turok, now employs about 150 people. Holmes said that in recent months, they’ve been organizing the company into two teams, and they’re already in preproduction on their next two titles, one of which is an action role-playing game. “We’d like to get to a point where we’ve got two games in production and one in concept,” he said. Propaganda won’t get much bigger than 200 employees, though, an optimal size for the studio, according to Holmes.