What is Truth? An Interview With the Writers of Get Even

Get Even is out today, and unless you’ve already had some time with the game, I’ll wager you still know absolutely nothing about it.

During the game’s launch party last month, I got to chat with the writers, wanting to know more about the ideas behind it all, and hoping to get to grips with Get Even‘s mysteries.

My conversation was with Iain Sharkey and Stephen Long, the writers behind Get Even. They’re most famous for their work on Derren Brown’s TV shows among others. I tried to get into their heads and uncover the mystery they ‘ve written, hoping to get a feel for Get Even‘s story without ruining any of the plot. This interview even has a cameo from Olivier Derivere, the composer of the game’s brilliant soundtrack.

I have cut out much of my nonsense but you can listen to the full audio by clicking here. You can also read the full transcript below.

Robert Gammon: In Get Even, is reality and truth the same thing? There is a lot of talk about uncertainty and reality but truth doesn’t seem to be talked about?

Stephen Long: Great question. I have sort of an answer to this, which is no. They [reality and truth] are quite conflicting things I would say. Your journey through the game is a quest for truth, but what you’re presented with is a version of reality. And you have to kind of make your way through that reality to figure out the truth. So this marketing phrase of “what is real?”, you could substitute with “what is true”, I suppose – but that doesn’t sound quite as impressive.

Gammon: Maybe it’s about looking at the truth of yourself, not the reality of yourself?

Iain Sharkey: Reality is a totally subjective thing that we make up ourselves.

Gammon: Couldn’t you say the same about truth?

Sharkey: Ooh, I think you can say the same thing about some truths, but there are some fundamental truths that are fine.

Long: For me, I categorise the difference between truth and reality as truth being objective – but then you get into the whole thing that it has to be observed to be true, so who is the observer and so on. But for the purpose of our definitions for Get Even, truth is what we, the writers, have declared to be true, and the reality is what you, the player, is presented with. And I think that you as the player works through the realities you are presented with in order to undercover the truth we have decided on as writers.

Sharkey: Good answer to a good question!

Gammon: I am studying some work on the difference between knowledge and understanding, with knowledge being isolated fact and understanding being full comprehension. A lot of this seems to be happening in Get Even. You mentioned that we’ll ‘know’ everything at the beginning, but won’t fully know it until the end of the game. That feels like understanding to me; having a narrative to fully comprehend this world. I am putting this idea [of the mystery of Get Even] in my own terms.

Long: I think what you have hit on is our toolkit when we wrote it. We can have a player know as many things as we want them to, but we can’t have them understand as much as we want them to. We really need to control what they understand.

Sharkey: I think giving the things they know and keeping them away from understanding creates the mystery. You can have knowledge, but if they don’t understand it, then there is still a sense of mystery to it. The moment you do understand it from a story point of view, all the factors at the end of a story that make sense in hindsight is what keeps the mystery going. That is what keeps you wanting. You want that understanding as a player, as a reader or watcher of a film. That’s what you look for. It’s Bruce Willis at the end of Sixth Sense.

I know all these things that I have seen throughout the film. I used to work in a cinema when that came out, little side story. When I was tearing tickets I used to say under my breath “Bruce Willis is dead, Bruce Willis is Dead”.

Gammon: I have never actually seen that.

Sharkey: Oh god, have I just ruined The Sixth Sense for you?

Gammon: No! It’s one of those things where everyone goes, “oh everyone knows The Sixth Sense” – so it’s been ruined for as long as I was old enough to understand movie twists.

Sharkey: But if we talk about knowledge and understanding, you have the knowledge all the way through the film of the things you’ve seen. But only when the writers give you everything you need to understand, that is the fundamentals of the story.

Long: The understanding is the carrot on the stick, isn’t it? The thing that drives you through so many TV shows and films and the correct genre of story. It withholds this understanding until the last moment.

Gammon: Moving to something slightly less conceptual. I know that you have these choices that you make in the Get Even that aren’t necessarily spelled out as choices. Is there any chance that if you make the “wrong” choices, you won’t fully understand the game?

Sharkey: You will understand everything.

Gammon: Even if you choose to… say, kill every person with information about the game?

Long: I think that is a really difficult one for us to answer actually… if the question is “will you have a full comprehension of the impact of your decisions by the end of the game?”, then… I don’t think we’ll answer that.

Sharkey: What I can say though, is that there’s a really great feature in the game  that will help you with this – which you saw in the demonstration; the dark room element. Obviously you have got your main protagonist that you are playing as, Cole Black, who we didn’t come up with the name of. That we inherited.

Gammon: Are you trying to spell that out, trying to disinherit it?

Sharkey: No, no! It is absolutely fine! He works under a codename, an alias. But he is travelling back in time, or back into his memories. There’s an area called ‘the dark room’ – any clues that you pick up throughout the level will be in this sort of digital filing cabinet in his mind. You’ll see them appear on the walls. One little thing there is if you find all the items of evidence in each level, you get a little Easter egg that gives you a little bit more story. So if you ask me the question, ‘are you going to understand the consequences of your actions by the end of it’, I can’t answer that. But I can say the more time you put into finding clues, and stuff like that, the more story you get given. And there are certain elements, one of them especially, which will make sense of the most nonsensical part of the game.

Long: Oh yeah, right!

Gammon: That is so infuriating as an answer! What is worse is when you [Stephen] just said “yeah, okay!” to rub it in.

Long: Yes, that’s true! But that is always the challenge though, isn’t it? Getting the exposition in a way that feels natural, without it feeling like too much of an information dump. So there is a lot of work we did on the game in terms of the logic of the world and the way the technology works, and how everybody interacts and is related to one another. I think some of it filters through, but not a lot of that is on the nose clear.

Olivier Deriviere (Get Even‘s composer): [Jokingly] No, no they are not the writers, they are just script doctors! They just wrote things down don’t trust anything from them.

[Some background here: Olivier, the composer, had been referred to as ‘sound technician’ by Stephen and Iain in a couple of videos.]

Still annoyed since the PR videos?

Deriviere: Of course. I am on a vigilante-

Sharkey: We used to be friends.

Deriviere: Yes, we used to. [Noticing the recorder] Oh sorry.

Gammon: No, the more the merrier. I am happy to have you join.

Deriviere: No, no it is their momentum, you know. Then they are back to their shitty place… but they have the internet, so it’s good.

Long: We get locked back up in our cupboard.

Sharkey: Back to our shed-bedsit to have a Pot Noodle shared between the two of us.

Deriviere: I will leave you.

Gammon: You can see that just from that – hopefully that wasn’t serious! – that you have a good relationship with the composer, more than I have seen in a development team before. Has that cohesiveness found itself into the final product?

Sharkey: I hope it has. Things are very eclectic. There are a lot of different elements to it that are laying into the whole. But I am pretty sure that every single person working on Get Even got their hands dirty. As you can see, we got in the sound booth – our voices are in the game as well. And I think that comes from every single person being such a passionate gamer. Not only that but because the sound design, and composing, was so important and the writing was so important that they feed each other.

As it is such a surreal project as well, it felt like the correct thing to do, to have constant daily contact with Olivier. He was the third writer almost because the sound tells its own story. It’s the same with the Farm [the game’s developers, Farm 51]. Everyone gelled as we were all trying to create something we are desperately proud of. I think that’s it, we all got our hands dirty. Does that make sense?

Long: Absolutely! I think that when it’s a small team, it always helps that everyone knows each other. You have more of a singular vision together in a smaller team than in a bigger team. But I think we are really lucky that we –

Sharkey: – Like each other!

Long: Yeah, that we like each other!

Gammon: Have you played Get Even and did you fully understand your own story?

Long: Not fully.

Sharkey: We have played lots of it in bits. And I am really looking forward to have a full playthrough. I think we understand it? We think we know what’s real?

Gammon: Just to be clear, these are the writers of the game that are hoping that they understand the game.

Sharkey: Yes, we understand!

Long: We agonised over making it make sense. We were sure.

Sharkey: We created the truth that you have to find through your knowledge, Gammon! Come on, we understand it. We are the truth creators!