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A life broken, redeemed by a teenage dream for a new sort of game

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"I wasn't happy and I don't think they were happy with me at the end of the day."

David Goldfarb is lounging in the chair across from me in a Vegas casino bar, relaxed, seemingly happy as we discuss his exit from game development studios DICE and Overkill.

"I wanted things to be a certain way and they wanted them to be another way," he said. "And I don't want a boss. That's the thing. You get older and you're like ... ‘Why? Why?'"

Goldfarb, 44, has had plenty of time to mull this over. His nearly 20-year history with game development hit AAA when he joined Guerrilla Games in 2005 to help make Killzone 2. Then it was on to DICE in 2007 to work on Mirror's Edge, Battlefield: Bad Company, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and then Battlefield 3. Finally, in 2012, he left DICE to join Overkill Software where he helped create Payday 2.

After almost two years at Overkill, Goldfarb decided to move on, empowered by the idea of creating his own studio that would allow him the sort of creative freedom he never had at other people's studios.

Create

Goldfarb didn't take a break from creating after leaving Overkill.

He optioned a script for a TV show in Sweden (He describes it as a near-future technological ghost story. "Kinda of Ghost in the Machine-ish, something like that.")

"Then I did some writing stuff," he said. "I did a comic with Dan. I started to do some pitches with Dan Panosian, the awesome X-Men comic book artist. Maybe that goes somewhere, who knows?

"I want to do all of the stuff that I want to do and I couldn't have done it if I was at anywhere, so it's been wonderful just from that perspective."

And that was a huge aspect behind his decision to leave and his general unhappiness at those other people's studios.

"It didn't matter how good it was there," he said. "I wanted to make my own stuff. And ultimately, I don't want to make other people's games. I'm just done. I'm too old for that. I want to make my things.

bad company 2

"I loved Bad Company 2, but it wasn't mine. So ultimately, I'm a very selfish person."

That realization that time was catching up to Goldfarb came, in part, because he has children (two daughters) and had some personal revelations."

"My life went through a series of revolutions. I got divorced. After Battlefield 3 my life kind of broke," he said. "And I'm really happy it broke the way it did because it's much better now. I'm with the right person. I think everyone is happier, but man it was not an easy stretch.

"When I was changing my life, because that was what I was doing, being at that studio felt like it wasn't good for me."

Goldfarb is quick to point out that he loved the people at DICE and Overkill, but going through so many changes in his life, changing things, made him realize that he had to leave the studio.

"I've been fortunate in that I've already kind of done a lot of what I set out to do, by accident almost," he said. "But there is a lot of other stuff I want to do."

Among those is a deep desire to create the game he wants to make, not someone else's game.

"That is something that really continues to be a motivator for me," he said.

The Outsiders

"It's me and Ben Cousins," Goldfarb said, "and two other guys who I can't name. That's the core team."

Announced last week, The Outsiders is a very small studio formed just a few months ago in Stockholm.

Goldfarb said he hopes it's a studio that allows him to make the games that matter to him and which will help him find ways to support the genres that he believes are compelling.

"I'm always interested in saying, 'This has been done this way. What if we did it this way,'" he said. "Usually, the 'what if' part of it is something that has value for me personally."

There was a glimpse of that way of thinking in Bad Company 2, Goldfarb said, but not to the extent he wanted.

The Outsiders' first game will be a role-playing game, something Goldfarb has never really done before. Though he said he has been working with RPG-like systems for the last few years in games like Payday 2, which has a robust skill system.

Having spent quite a bit of his career creating games that luxuriate in typical power fantasies, like first-person military shooters, Goldfarb says the games that he wants to make now won't do that.

"I'm interested in not giving people power fantasies in the way they're accustomed to," he said. "I mean everyone says like, 'I want to deliver an emotional experience.' I'm not actually saying that.

this_war_of_mine_cover

"I'm saying that I think the spectrum of things you can do in games ... I think there are games that I would like to see, like This War of Mine is a great example."

He said he's always wanted to make a game using a first-person shooter engine where you are a photojournalist.

"I think there are a lot of things like that where conventionally people would say, 'Why would you want to do that? It would be fucking depressing.' Yeah, maybe."

But indies have been able to prove that there is a market for these cool games, he said.

"I think for me, if I'm not making something that makes me feel like I feel when I'm writing, by doing the thing that matters, then I'm not making the game I want to make," Goldfarb said. "And that never been the case. I've never been making the game that addresses any of the fucked up things I feel.

"I haven't had the opportunity to do a lot of complicated things, to make games about things that may be interesting because they don't sell, or your inside a studio, there are plenty of reasons."

One reason that seems to be less of an obstacle is a disinterested publisher.

"The market has splintered far enough where you can get enough games that cover a much wider bandwidth," he said. "One of the functions of the market being so big now is that people are looking for spaces to expand into. You used to have to go to a publisher and the publisher and would say, ‘Well ...'

"Now that the market has changed so much, people are capable of making games they want to make without a publisher at all. Steam and Greenlight have had a major impact on that. If you only had publisher access today we wouldn't be in the same position."

The game game

There's a game we play, reporter and developer, when talking about a still unannounced, still unsigned game coming from an untested studio.

The developer wants to get some sense of what they are working on across to the reader. The reporter wants it all. Or to put it another way, the developer wants to walk the reporter to the edge of the cliff; the reporter wants the developer to jump off.

Goldfarb doesn't take the leap, but he certainly skirts the edge when talking about The Outsiders' new game.

The new creation will be a role-playing game set against the backdrop of a low-fantasy setting, he tells me, a concept he's been thinking about since he was 18 but only started seriously working on in the past half year.

It will be a game steeped in the tradition of fiction from the likes of Robert E. Howard, Gene Wolfe, Jack Vance, Lynn Cooper. The sorts of writers who brought us Conan the Barbarian and Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.

"I wanted to find a way to do something that no one had really done before," he tells me. "That's what I can't tell you."

outsiders crop

We both laugh, then I push a bit harder.

While Goldfarb, a man who loves to write, will be writing the story, it won't be a traditional game tale.

"I'm writing the story but it's not going to be ... the story is the gameplay," he said. "I want to have people do the things I love, like when you play XCOM and your favorite guy dies when this fucking alien comes around the corner and shoots him. You remember all the things that lead up to that and all of the things he did for you.

"That's way more valuable then any story I could make up. I've accepted that as a writer. I'm focusing on putting you in a context that is memorable and let you go from there."

The game will likely be on multiple platforms and not be a huge game, nor a tiny one.

"It will definitely be the most challenging game I've ever made," he said, "but that's why I want to make it."