Christopher Brookmyre’s Bedlam – Interview

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Christopher Brookmyre’s Bedlam is now out on PC, Xbox One and PS4. You can read Andy’s review of it here, but Sean has keenly followed the game’s progress over the past year and enjoyed his time with the game and its concept. He also a massive book nerd, so we got him to chat with the author of the book and the game, Christopher Brookmyre and ask him a few questions.

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Sean Cleaver: So how did this novel turn in to a game, and how did you decide to change the protagonist’s dynamic in both forms, book and game?

Christopher Brookmyre: A lot of it was assisted by the fact it was conceived of as one thing, when I was writing the novel I’d already written the outline for the game. So I was picturing a first person perspective, which is what you do when you’re writing a novel. You genuinely are picturing how the world looks to one character at a time. But when it came to adapting it for the game, it’s all about the dialogue at that point, because you can only describe so much. Obviously the level designers bring that to life so it was all about telling the story through the things characters were going to overhear and I think it’s quite satisfying to the player instead of them being held up and forced to watch a CGI cutscene, no matter how impressive the CGI cutscene is, you still feel like this is the bit where you’re no longer interacting with the game. You’re just watching something. I think it’s far more satisfying to the player if they are overhearing things. And not everything they overhear is necessarily relevant. I think that’s sometimes the trick, to give texture and detail to the dialogue to create characters but really kind of drip feed the clues as to what’s going on. The fun part with that was creating a character like Heather (Athena) and making her vulnerable and yet confident in herself at times. So it was a great vehicle for creative swearing, very, very well brought to life by Kirsty Strain.

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SC: That’s another interesting dynamic as you’ve got some of the cast of comedy show Burnistoun to voice the characters in the game, adding this very Scottish nuance to the vocal performances. How did that come about and how did you decide to change the lead character from the book in Ross Baker, to Athena in the game?

CB: I suppose the first stage was having decided to have a new protagonist. Having quite early on in the development we discussed how we didn’t want you to play as Ross Baker because I think if you’re playing as a character who’s story has already been told effectively, I think that kind of takes you out of it a wee bit, you like to think it’s you doing it. The point of reference we had very early on was how exciting it was when you played Half Life’s Opposing Force expansion pack when you occasional catch a glimpse of Gordon Freeman who you played as before but you see that he’s still out there. And we thought that would be exciting for anyone who read the book to be in the same universe as the book and that Ross Baker would be in there too and you’d be trying to catch up to him. We thought it would be better if you felt like you were telling your own story. And I didn’t want to just create a whole new character, because I thought that would essentially be creating Ross Baker with a different name, so that’s why I thought I’d make it a woman and that will give me as a writer a whole new impetuous. The novel and the game is an affectionate pastiche of tropes and conventions of video games. So to make it from a female point of view gave it a whole new dimension for me. So I wrote it all out and I had great fun with it but at that point, I didn’t know who was going to play the character.

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I’d done some stuff on stage with Rob Florence. he was creating a section of the Glasgow film festival and he did a video game event with guests on stage, and we talked about the game. And every so often he’d get in touch and ask how it was going and how it was developing. It was one of those lightbulb moments and I thought “why don’t I ask him if he wants to do the voice?” And then when I thought about that, I thought what about Kirsty Strain? The thing that struck me was that these were people that did Sketch Comedy and in that you have to create many different characters. So I thought they’d be ideal for doing Bedlam because they might have to voice a few characters. As it happened they didn’t so much. Kirsty does a few other voices in there, but when you’ve got characters that you’re going to hear a lot of, you don’t want them to do too many voices.

We had a fantastic time doing it because it was one long day in a studio in Glasgow. Kirsty wasn’t quite as well versed in gaming so I would sometimes have to explain what it was that her character was reacting to or why she was saying it in the way she was saying it, but she just brought such qualities of vulnerability and charm to it that she nailed her lines. And in the afternoon that day when Robert was in we absolutely battered through that recording, and he at one point stopped me and said “are you not going to give me any direction?”, but because he’s so well versed in games culture he knew exactly what he was doing with every line, he was nailing every line first time. But that was a fantastic experience for me and almost every other voice in the game apart from those two is me, because we obviously didn’t have the budget for a massive cast. One of the god like voices you hear at some point in the Real Time Strategy world in the story is voiced by Harvey Summers who did the music and sound design for the game. But almost everyone else is me with various clever sound effects so it doesn’t all sound like me.

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SC: Of course the biggest thing in this is that you’re a gamer, so what kind of games are you playing now?

CB: The whole project was like a big love letter to games down the years. I can’t lay claim to being such a big gamer now in recent years, I know it sounds terribly grown up but I’ve just been so busy doing various novels and actually working on the game and everything that goes with it. But my son’s a big gamer so most of my gaming is done vicariously over his shoulder. Which means I do stay up to date with what’s going on but I don’t get to play as much. But I was hugely involved in the early, what I regard as pioneering, days of online gaming culture in the UK. I played in clans for Quake 2 and Quake 3. I’ve written about it quite a bit and what really appealed to me as a project was that I could really just write about the things I love. That’s something I’ve tried to do with lots of my books, is write something I’m passionate about.

I’m getting to see it but my son has his PC in the same room as mine. So I see what he’s playing but I’m really not getting to play much at all these days. Every so often there will be a gap in the schedule so I get to play something. So I played Alien Isolation, or cupboard simulator as I started to think of it, and that was terrifying. I think my glory days are brought out in the novel. Anyone who knows games will be able to see there’s a point at which whoever wrote this has ceased to evolve. Which is why there is very much an emphasis on the late 90s and early 2000s shooters in there. But I’m fascinated by what I do see and how much more sophisticated the games are able to get, and in that I suppose I’m talking about open-world games and RPGs. What amuses me about the FPS, as Bedlam is very much about the evolution of the FPS and it’s evolved in a lot of ways but there’s a lot of ways that it hasn’t evolved at all. I mean the gameplay dynamic of Doom is still in there and whatever FPS comes out next.

SC: So now you’ve seen it all brought to virtual life, what’s your favourite level in the game?

CB: Oh!, Well… I played a lot of the early levels far more because of how the early access structure allowed me to go through them. But for me the one I like the most is the Planetfire, the second of the Planetfire levels was kind of up in the clouds, because I like if anything for me it sums up what we were trying to do with the game, it’s that you’re in this quite modern looking, quite comparatively polished in terms of the graphics, and I loved the level design but most importantly, you’re being strafed by a sort of voxellated, pixellated 3D version of a 2D arcade game Defender type ship. So that to me is what we were trying to do, it’s as if something escaped from one game in to another. So being strafed by this Defender 2D thing whilst running around in a far more futuristic looking shooter, that I think there’s something quite elegant about that level so I really kind of like it.

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[author]

Battleborn – Interview with Randy Varnell

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Back at Gamescom, Sean got to check out Battleborn, the new first person shooter from Gearbox that marries elements of online play and the MOBA character style with their unique design and vision. He was recently invited to check out how the game has moved along since then and also got a chance to sit down with Randy Varnell, the  Creative Director of Battleborn, and talk about the game.

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Sean Cleaver: I played this at Gamescom and at this stage it feels like it has a lot more of its own identity. At Gamescom it was good but it still felt like it was Borderlands. Since then, we’ve had the videos of the 25 characters, it’s moved on and it feels like it’s become its own thing now. Does that feel the same developing it as well?

Randy Varnell: Yeah I think so. I started this right on the heels of Borderlands 2, I was one of the six that rolled right on to this project and very early prototypes were using Maya and little miniature Axtons as the dwarf. We did that for some reason, but we prototyped a lot, we had some similarities in gameplay like the action skills. So we did some things and had some rapid changes to the engine, just to try and prove out the concept. There was a time we were even using psycho midgets instead of robots for the minions. There was a point where it really started to deviate and it takes so long for us as developers, we use proxy models and prototypes for so long, and then all of sudden you’ve got enough characters and enough art in.

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Honestly, it was Wrath that did it for me. The very first time we had a full on melee character implemented in to the game. He was our first and the one where experimented a lot of different ways. How do you make melee work in a first person game? How do you balance it, and balance it against ranged players? He was our character that we learned on and he got in at one point with almost a Zelda-esque melee combos. Almost like Zelda and a fighting game rhythm combat and it started to really satisfy us.

It took a while and you guys are now beginning to see it. I mean we were competitive for so long so when layered a campaign back on top of it, we got some really cool and weird characters to fill out the roster. Marketing has its own plans and wanted to emphasize campaign for all the right reasons, it’s one of the things that is unique about our game. I’m glad that you can finally see enough parts that it’s something new and expanded from Borderlands.

Three years we’ve had this and it’s been playable for tow. August/September 2012 was right around the time Borderlands launched. By the time that it did I’d already been working with this for two or three months so we were already putting the first touches on. I think we had a playable rough prototype as early as October/November 2012. I mean it was really rough, and it was pretty quick. It took six months for us to be comfortable with the game and then another for the big art stuff to come in. We were still working on other games at Gearbox, Borderlands DLC, and other things.

About February or March 2013 we had enough to do a Gearbox wide play test, with some folks at 2K and this was the first time that we knew we had a game. There’s been some changes since then but, it’s been a while.

SC: One of the things being Creative Director and coming from Borderlands in to this. I think a lot of people are interested in how the brain goes to the screen, from the writing and everything how it gets from the brain to what you see. What kind of processes happen?

RV: Well there’s a lot o different ways and, to give you a bit of an overview, those first few months Randy Pitchford was very instrumental. He sat down and helped us with the overall game vision. He helped come up with the concept of the fiction. The whole “last star” idea, it’s not been done a lot in sci-fi. That’s an extreme epic and that was a big moment, deciding that we wanted to express our characters through factions and taking some inspirations. We always loved what Game of Thrones did. There’s always fighting but sometimes people need to ally together and we wanted that kind of vehicle.

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When you get the art and start working on the character, I mean very early on it was gameplay first. We knew we wanted a melee guy, we wanted a ranged guy and we wanted a support. We started with those first. Thorne, Wrath and Miko and to an degree Montana was one of our early characters too. We called him the big guy, but was also playing with his size. In a first person game size makes a huge difference so when you have a big guy like Montana you balance him differently than you do a little scrawny character like Origi, who is tiny and thin and jumping about so much that he’s really hard to hit. So you have to do things with the speed, the health and the hitboxes to get through all of that.

Then you get to the art and go through a process of what we want the game to look like. We have our art director, Scott Kester who was one of the guys who was very intrumental for the Borderlands franchise. He came on for Borderlands 1 and was one of the guys that helped that visual style change of Borderlands, if you remember earlier the earlier screenshots from that game. So this is, I think his first full project as art director and honestly, I love Scott so much.

We said “This is a big vibrant sci-fi colorful game, what do you want to do?” so in that case I gave Scott an open ring and said “do something.” So he got a couple of concept artists and they went through a process of doing this and trying that and make the big art sheets and bring them all together. He started some stylistic treatments and some environment concepts and very early on he developed the language, he said “I’m going for Pixar meets Anime.” He wants that clean line kind of smooth rendered Pixar character, almost like the 3D model, but also the edginess and the maturity of anime. It still needed an edge to it, it’s not a kids game. I mean a lot of people are going to be able to play, but anime has that great maturity, it has a certain style elements that really exaggerate character features. And when he got the first few models, the first one we hated, the second one we loved. And then we started with the concept artists and started to go wide and explore.

One of the things I think is reflected in the art and playing the game is the tone, I suppose you’d call it a trademark Gearbox tone of “We’re not being completely serious, take it with some humor,” you know with things like Butt tactics which is one of the character’s videos.

You know quite early on with the heavy stakes of the last star in the entire universe, we were contemplating what the sky looked like. Well it’s black, there’s no stars. We actually contemplated for several months right at the beginning trying to be a bit more serious and dynamic, thinking this was going to be our sci-fi franchise. And I think it was Oscar Mike, our standard assault soldier who was originally named Chuck Abrahams. It was also the name of the developer who was making the character so it was weird and when someone suggested that, because he was a caricature of a soldier we should just call him Oscar Mike, like the military language for “On Mission,” it changed. And then he was the first VO test for the game and our writer Aaron Linney came in and started playing with that and writing, he’d have some dumb lines like “I’m going to air strike a pizza party” or something. And when he explained that he’s not really a caricature, he’s just very earnest. It became “Airstrikes are bad ass” and everything he said is in that tone of voice and acted in that way and we said “that’s really funny, oh we’re going to make a funny game again aren’t we?”

And then you get Montana and you start to go there and then you just go from there. I think it’s a great thing for us, we don’t get too dire or two serious on topic. I think we come out somewhere between Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Who, in the way that our tone and our humor works in there and it’s quite a unique place.

SC: What would you like to see really come out of the game between now and the February release date?

RV: I’ve worked on several big games now and one of the things that’s the most important thing is polish. You know I think you’re already feeling some of the promise on content. People are playing five or six or seven games and they’re not even able to play all of the fifteen characters we have on display today. So that’s not even a quarter of what we’re revealing that’s been played today. But polish is the thing that really goes from making it a pretty good game to a great game. And that’s a lot of things, like really telegraphing that you’ve been hit, adding that hit feedback, the messages, the sound and so on. And with having so many characters and being able to go back and see that it’s there really makes a difference between “that was pretty good” and “this experience was amazing.” There are times where we’ve got the effects and colour, we’ve got a who was an artist on The Iron Giant and that kind of Don Blume 2D animation style who came in and sat with our effects team and took the 2D hand drawn effects and mapped them on to 3D objects like the explosions and again, that’s another touch of stylistic effect and art on that.

And then we’ve loved it so much but there are times were there’s so much colour and you can’t see what’s going on so you have to expand and pull back, expand and pull back, and polish is all of those things, and those touches. And I think more than anything else it’s about having the time to go back and tune and polish and balance. We need to create the content and get it out there and make it as cool and satisfying as what you’ve seen tonight and I think the polish is what’s going to make it a really awesome game.

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[author]

Minecraft Story Mode – Interview

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Last week, we got to play the Minecraft Story Mode with Laura Perusco, the Creative Communication Manager from Telltale Games. You can read our review of the game here shortly.

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Sean Cleaver – Minecraft story mode, it’s lots of fun. It’s been worked on for quite a while. When did you first get the project germinating, how did it come about?

Laura Perusco – It basically came from, you know how we’re doing Tales from the Borderlands? Well that came first and we were already working on a video game that’s set in the world of another video game. We started thinking about what else we can do this with. A whole bunch of people in the office play Minecraft or have kids that play Minecraft, and that’s something that doesn’t have a story. People were just creating their own stories in that world. So we had the idea of reaching out to Mojang and floating the idea of doing a game. This was way back before Microsoft brought them out so our contract is with Mojang.

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SC – Minecraft is a very precise visual style because of what it is. But you’ve also managed to find a cinematic style out of this. There’s a lot of YouTube videos that have done these small animations. You seem to have created almost a movie out of it.

LP –  That’s pretty much what we do. We do playable stories, so our games are often thought of as playable movies or playable TV shows. Just the aesthetic of the world of Minecraft is very unique in and of itself. So we actually built a lot of the environments in Minecraft first and exported them to our engine, so it would absolutely, unequivocally Minecraft. Then we added a little bit to make it look more cinematic like depth of focus and changes and stuff like that but it’s all Minecraft. Absolutely.

SC – You’ve got your main characters, a band of four if you will, it’s a very traditional…

LP – And the pig.

SC – And the pig. I’ll get on to the pig now. The pet pig, Reuben. This year seems to be the year of the Dog for video games, every game has a dog and everybody loves them. You’ve gone with the pig and he seems to be much more charming than any dog that I’ve seen this year so far in a game.

LP – Reuben is my favourite character I actually had new business cards with him on. I think something that’s really cool about Reuben is that no one ever thinks of eating dogs in video games and that’s a new dynamic that comes up because pigs in Minecraft are always thought of as food. So it has that interesting dynamic.

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SC – I don’t think I’ve ever though about having a pet pig in Minecraft. I don’t I ever use them for food either but there you go. I quite like the idea with the story building on, a bit like what Minecraft really is, the convention scene. Creating Minecraft fandom within Minecraft itself with Ender Con and the Order of the Stone. What drew you to create that story out of it? Was there a lot of going around, looking at Minecraft, looking at the world, looking at the real life interactions with Minecraft? And are there plans for any more?

LP – The community around Minecraft is so important. That’s the reason for its huge popularity. There are so many videos online and people creating their own stuff. That’s what Minecraft is, it’s about creating things and sharing them. So we knew that was a huge part of the licence.  I actually went to Minecon in London to show the trailer and that was fantastic.

There’s so much love around this game that we wanted to put something like that in there. You might have noticed but the people who come on stage to introduce Gabriel at Endercon are Lydia and Owen, their director of communications. They voiced the characters too. But the thing about the characters in this game is they don’t know they’re in Minecraft. They don’t have any meta awareness or some other real world. As for more? We hope people play it and people enjoy it but beyond that, anything can happen.

Minecraft: Story Mode by Telltale games is available now on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3, PS4, PC and Mac.

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[author]

Mortal Kombat X – Interview with Hans Lo

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The last time I saw and played Mortal Kombat X was back in August at Gamescom. Then we had a great little sneak peek and play with new character Cassie Cage, the daughter of Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade. Last week, more was announced as the story mode revealed multiple characters in a story set 25 years after the events of 2011’s Mortal Kombat. We sent Sean down to London to chat with Hans Lo, Senior Producer of the series form NetherRealm Studios, and asked why they’ve decided to leap in to the future…

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I think it was part of the creative freedom [of the series]. It was part of discussion within the group, everyone was talking about next-gen hardware, next-gen this, next-gen that, and it kind of stuck in our head: “Next-Gen… Next-Gen…” So we started making up next-gen characters and obviously if we do that we have to ask how far in the future do we want to go? A few years? A lot of years? A hundred years? So we kind of played around with that, tried to figure out what would be the most compelling story around that idea. In the end we said 25 years, you’ve got a bunch of young kids who think they know everything and have the out-to-conquer-the-world mentality. But it’s not so far out in the future that the original warriors aren’t going to be these decrepit old guys saying “Back in may day we used to do an uppercut”, we didn’t want any of that. So it seemed the best way, the easiest way to keep the iconic characters around whilst introducing new characters.

With the new generation and new characters, are you hoping that a lot of people that haven’t played the game for a while that now have these newer consoles will look at this and go “oooh I used to like that!”

I think that’s always a plus. We do have classic characters for the hardcore fans who really like those characters, but at the same time we wanted to do something fresh and new and that’s something we always do. Looking back, what have we done in the past, what works with mobile, what can we build upon, what can we improve upon. So adding a new set of characters seemed like the right thing to do, bring a bit of fresh air to the story.

But of course they keep their roots in the previous iterations of the story. Are the characters move sets of dictated by their backgrounds?

They’re influenced; they’re not to the point where they’re completely cloned. It’s not “I’ve seen Johnny Cage do this and it’s exactly the same move” it’s more like it’s themed and flavoured. But at the same time they’re going that have their own unique moves. It’s not going to be a literal – half the move sets for Cassie come from Johnny and the other from Sonya. It’s more like there’s two or three here that are reminiscent but the move set is wholly unique to her. We definitely want to make each character stand out. Creating characters that have personalities of their own and have moves that match with those personalities.

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Moving on to the game, everything’s there that the hardcore MK fans like, from new executions, new locations, etc. How do you bring the new stuff in to the game and the story so it compliments each other?

Obviously the characters is part of it and some of the environments are introduced in the story. But then at the same time we’ve done a couple of stories now in our games and one of the thing’s we’ve learned is that chapters based on characters seem to work really well. One is that it gives you a chance to learn about the characters back story and it gives you world experience with who they are, where they come from and what their personalities are like. The second it also gives you a chance to play characters that you normally wouldn’t have picked on your own. It exposes you to the different characters and different abilities those characters have. What we’ve also done this time around is add the interactive cinematic experience which means as you’re playing through the game, watching the story, there’s going to be times where you’ll have to get involved, act and guide the story and personalise it a bit to how you want to play the game.

When playing through the first chapter I caught on too late and missed a few buttons, but it didn’t ruin my gameplay or reset me to an earlier point. The game leads you in the same point in the story so the cinematic interactivity didn’t impact the result. I asked why?

We don’t want to penalize you for missing these things either but if you want to go back and play again and say “ok so I’m going to fail this one but pass this one just to see how it plays out.

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The characters in Mortal Kombat X will have three different styles of play. Before a match you can select what kind of style you want  to play, whether you’re a blockbuster move kind of person, a movement blocker, and so on. The game adapts the style and moves to how you play based on your choice. Is this just for the single player vs modes against the AI/People and online or is there more?

You’ll be exposed to some of it in the story. It’s not going to be a situation where you get to a fight and you can choose what you want because it fits best. But outside of the story you’ll be able to choose what best fits you, against the computer or friends. At that point you can decide which variation is best for you, that’ll match your style of play.

This year sees the introduction of the Living Towers. The towers, formerly the challenge tower, will update regularly as to what matches are available on either an hourly, daily or weekly basis. So you’re doing these challenge themed events that will be different each time randomised and planned. Why have you decided to invigorate that area of the game?

Well this is the evolution of our challenge tower that you’ve seen in the previous games. That was a very big tower, very long and while we got a lot of great feedback from people enjoying it, we found out a lot of people couldn’t make it all the way through, some people found it was a little intimidating. So we thought maybe we’d do these smaller towers and to keep them fresh we’ll make them living towers so they update with challenges from time to time like the hourly ones will be very quick easy challenges, the daily ones will be a little longer and take a little more work and the weekly event ones will be more difficult. No one is required to do these but if they want to they can and if they want to come back a little later there’ll be a new challenge for them.

The biggest thing, with mobile coming as well, is the faction system. The games kind of interweave the impact on each other. Tell us a little bit how you decided to make that interconnectivity part of Mortal Kombat X.

Well we wanted to make it more social and that’s kind of what the driving force behind the whole faction idea was. The idea of being part of a group. Because people like to be part of a group, contributing to part of it. So that’s the attitude we had when creating the factions. You can contribute however you want to contribute. If you want to play mobile and achieve points that way. If you want to play online matches, you can achieve points that way. If you want to play offline on console, you can achieve points that way. Contribute how you want, play how you want. The fact that mobile opens up more combat that you can play anywhere, anytime, you’re no longer restricted to “Oh I’ve got to be home at four so I can play the game” but more “… I’ve got some time to kill.” Take out your mobile device, kick back and play. It’s all tied to your WB Play ID so as long as you’re using the same ID on whatever device, the points will all add to your faction.

And you’ll be able unlock characters and bonuses on both the console and mobile versions of the game this way?

You’ll get these challenges that pop up from time to time and you’ll unlock the character if you complete them. It’s a way to keep rewarding the players and engage them.

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[author]

Interview – War For The Overworld

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War For The Overworld is a new isometric, real time dungeon strategy game by Subterranean Games. A Kickstarter funded project, the game may seem like a very familiar one but this group of super fans are working to make a new game that is better than the one that drew them towards the project in the first place. Sean spoke with Josh Bishop, the CEO and Creative Director of Subterranean Games in Shoreditch, London to find out more.

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How hard is it going to be for people not to call it Dungeon Keeper HD? You’ve got a lot of inspiration from a lot previous games that are very good and you seem to have brought that well in to this game. How have you come about that?

To be perfectly honest, that’s what we set out to do. We started as a group of fans of Dungeon Keeper on a Dungeon Keeper fan site and there hadn’t been a Dungeon Keeper game released in 10 or so years when we first wanted to do this. We liked it so we thought let’s do this.

[It's hard to tell if it's a dungeon or a night club. They're the same thing though... Right?]

[It’s hard to tell if it’s a dungeon or a night club. They’re the same thing though… Right?]

A lot of people say things like “holes in the market” but there hasn’t really been any dungeon games or building games in this vein for a while. That must have been quite an attractive proposition for the community when you started your Kickstarter and getting everything together.

Kickstarter certainly has seen a big surge in games like this. In the past two or three years there’s been a lot in those genres that hasn’t really existed for the past ten years and suddenly it’s all come back. Which is cool because we love those games. So we’re happy.

And you’re managing to do it on a PC platform rather than having to bastardise it for any kind of mobile platform or anything else. Which must be quite good as a programmer.

Yes. It is nice. PC first always. PC, Mac and Linux.

How did you go in to the design process for this because obviously you had a pretty good inspirational template?

We’ve all been playing Dungeon Keeper for a very long time. We know what we like about it and what we don’t like about it. We’ve played plenty of other games that are similar to it, other God games and other RTS games. So for the longest time we’ve thought” Dungeon Keeper would be so much better if… this.” And that’s where we started. We use that as our ground work and we went through and anything we felt could be improved upon, we improved upon it. We didn’t start somewhere else, we started there and we didn’t want to change things for the sake of changing things. We wanted to improve.

It’s going to be very hard for people to disassociate the two games as they are very similar, despite the time difference, but this is a very different that’s almost an homage. You’ve got Richard Ridings for the voice narrator, you’ve got the stylistic choices in the way the game operates and in the humour… How difficult was it for you to separate and create your game?

It wasn’t too difficult. We wanted to build on the gameplay that had been laid out. We weren’t really looking to copy from a stylistic standpoint, legally and because it’s dated. From an artistic standpoint we started with the gameplay and followed from there from the ground up. So the visuals more than anything is where we differentiate at face value. The deeper you go, there are quite a few mechanical differences like the tech tree.

[Excuse me, Dungeon Master, but I didn't order the "Flaming Prince"]

[Excuse me, Dungeon Master, but I didn’t order the “Flaming Prince”]

A lot of God games can give you those kind of options on a plate, so the tech tree allows more strategy to be involved.

That’s because we wanted it to work in multiplayer. Traditionally God games aren’t multiplayer things so it’s kind of ok to just give people everything in a sandbox. But we wanted to bring that RTS angle in to it so there’s some sort of strategic choice and so it can work in multiplayer.

Quick fire questions. Favourite Minion:

The Chunder

Favourite room:

The Arena, that’s pretty cool. The Crypt also looks pretty cool.

I just saw The Archive and that looked cool. Especially close up when you’ve possessed someone, looking at the book and the writing on it. How much attention to detail do you pay to the little quirks and humours touches that people may not necessarily notice?

Quite a lot, the thing with this over other RTS and other top down games, is that they don’t have a first person view. We do. So we have to design everything from a birds eye and a first person perspective. We’ve had to keep things relatively efficient so the character models aren’t as high poly as you might see in other things but we scale that quite a lot. But the texture are made at a high resolution so if your PC can handle that then you can go and look at how cool it is. We did have a play with an Oculous Rift just to try it. It isn’t in the game and isn’t supported, but it did look really nice when we played around with it.

So when you’re in your remote offices, what do you do to get to your inner evil designing mode? Do you put on some thrash metal and sacrifice goats at an alter?

We all have cats on spinning chairs so we can turn around with crazy laughter.

[In the Tavern you'll find your minions getting hilariously drunk, talking about the time they were extras in Labyrinth.]

[In the Tavern you’ll find your minions getting hilariously drunk, talking about the time they were extras in Labyrinth.]

You have to have a sense of humour to work on a game like this though, right?

I guess it’s different from person to person. I know our writer can zone out for days before he comes back. Sometimes people communicate a lot, it’s quite a varied bunch of people we have. I don’t know if there are any teams that operate entirely remotely that are our size. There’s 15 of us from Australia, Hong Kong, Russia, to Europe and the US, all the way around the world.

So that goes to show that there is a worldwide desire and demand for games like these?

Especially in Germany. Germany is such a huge market for this type of game.

Where do you see yourself post-release with the game, as you’re all community based so you know what kind of things the community would expect?

There’s a couple of things we’re already planning. Firstly there’s the early adopter bonus so anyone who buys it in the first month of release will get the first DLC for free. We’re doing that as an alternative to pre-order bonuses as we still want people to buy the game early and at full price but we don’t want people to commit to it without seeing a review or whatever. And we don’t want to feel like there’s content being held back for people who don’t pre-order the game. We’re hoping that’ll be out in June but we aren’t great with deadlines. The second is the flex goal content. So during the Kickstarter campaign we had our milestones and for every one after our main goals, we were going to allow our backers to vote on what content they wanted. That vote is still going so we’ll see what content will be next.

[divider]

War For The Overworld is due to be released on April 2nd 2015 for PC, Mac and Linux.

[author]

LEGO Batman 3 Beyond Gotham – Interview with Matt Ellison

lb3inft

On this day of DC Universe fun, we got a second interview in as many months with TT Games about LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham. This time, Sean got some extended time to sit down with producer Matt Ellison from TT Games to talk about all the new things we’ve seen.

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We’ve just seen a lovely demo of the game, including London looking spectacularly small, Paris looking spectacularly small and Pisa looking very straight. What inspired you to go away from America and in to Europe with these levels?

It was always designed to be Europe actually. We do have Gotham as well so that’s American-ish. But it was an opportunity to show different things and different sights. It was really cool to be able to put London in there because we’re a UK developer and it was something we really wanted to do. Obviously Paris is very iconic and Piza with the leaning tower is very iconic and some of the other sites. It’s all things that are very cool that people recognise from a very young age.

As you say it allows you to have fun with those landscapes, like the Battersea Power Station having a load of toxic waste in it.

Yeah, stuff like that and the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, it’s very cool to be able to show these things that people recognise because it gives you a different attachment to it.

lb3p2 You’ve got a very extensive character and sub-character list. As there’s so many, how have you managed to nail down which ones you wanted to do?

There are a few different things that go in to how we come up with the list that we ended up with. The first thing is the story, so the story governs which characters are going to be front and centre. Then we have the LEGO side of things. LEGO make their playsets and we always try to include all of the playset characters in to the game so if someone sees it in the game they can buy the toys. Then there are the ones we wanted to include. Some of the most famous ones, some of the more obscure ones, some of the more colourful ones, quirky ones and then we talk to DC to find out what’s coming up, who’s big right now, who should we be including. And they send us all the reference for the character outfits so that we can make sure they’re accurate and representative of what they should be. On this game more than any other we’ve been listening to the public. Throughout the game development cycle, we’ve been asking what characters people wanted to see and a couple of those have been added fairly late to the roster, but there’s so many people asking for them, we’ve kind of snuck them in.

There are so many different suit and sub character options across all the characters, how do you limit yourselves to stopping getting an OP character.

Five of the characters have 8 suits; Joker, Lex, Batman Robin and Cyborg have those eight suits you can cycle in between. But they have all these different mechanics and visuals and the visual representation of what you have to do in the puzzles remains consistent. So there are different characters you’ll have access to who’ll be able to do different things and as you unlock them, you’ll notice which abilities you’ve got and what you’ll be able to work through. It’s traditional with the LEGO games so people should know what they need and when with the characters and we’ll give them as many abilities as we possibly can. But they are all accurate as to what powers they can do and what they should have.

It’s quite a good position for the DC Universe especially with 3 TV shows based off it and as you announced at the weekend, the Arrow DLC pack is coming too based on the TV show with Stephen Amell.

It’s an amazing opportunity to be able to include this kind of add on content, which is totally outside of the game. But there is a way in which we can do something on it, so we can have a level, we can have these characters and find a way to include them into this and be part of this experience. Arrow was announced at the weekend and there’s The Dark Knight/Man Of Steel and you don’t normally get those kinds of opportunities – no one has done a Nolan Batman game before. So that’s the first time that’ll be able to be seen and we’ve been very lucky that we’ve been able to get the chance to do it.

You’ve been lucky as well to use different things from different studios and franchises, including the soundtrack, from Danny Elfman to John Williams. It must be quite good to have that freedom?

The Danny Elfman music we’ve used on previous LEGO Batman’s as well and it’s sort of tied to our Batman now, it’s part of his identity. But, as you hear that, it’s great that we have the relationship with that and it’s good that people are starting to relate it to our Batman. The John Williams theme from Superman is a must from LEGO Batman 2, that was fantastic and we had to include that again. Being able to add that to Wonder Woman as well is quite cool and again it’s something that people remember, especially that older audience we have. The younger kids probably aren’t going to know that so it’ll be something that the parents will recognise and be able to educate them a little bit about the history behind it. lb3p6

There’s a lot of artistic freedom with the game because you’ve gone outside of the confines of Gotham. How do you approach the new world that’s not as obvious on the page of the comics? 

It is slightly different. We knew we wanted to make this game when we were doing LEGO Batman 2 so at the end of it we teased it by having Braniac say that he’s located the Green Lantern’s power ring. So we knew that we wanted to go in that direction. The Lantern worlds have so much stuff in them, the planets are so unique all with different vibes to them, lots of different enemies to encounter – visually they all look very different which works very well in a LEGO game having all these different colours and all the Lantern Rings, it was quite effective to replicate visually. So it’s just a great opportunity to be able to explore the wider reaches of it all. You’ve got the Watch town and the Hall of Justice as well so there’s lots of places for people to enjoy.

You’re all big fans of the DC Universe in the studio, what’s been your favourite parts?

I like the characterisation of some of the characters we have in this game. Solomon Grundy is probably my favourite addition of the new ones. The way he’s animated is just fantastic, walking around like he’s a zombie – he’s very funny. Just being able to include more of these characters I think is the best thing because we’ve got 3 times the characters we had in LEGO Batman 2, there’s just so many of them in there. Like Polka Dot Man, Condiment King, they seem so random but in a LEGO game they just add to the humour and add to the fun of it.

With the voice acting talent you’ve got Troy Baker back as Batman so you’ve got quite the talent behind the characters as well. 

LEGO Batman 2 was the first LEGO game to have voice acting in it, we brought Troy Baker back for this because he’s fantastic, it’s a bit of a no brainer. The voice acting is something we’re really pushing so we want to make it as good as it can possibly be. So there’s much more script, we’ve got Josh Keaton doing Green Lantern, Scott Porter doing Aqua Man and even Adam West doing voice overs for the game, it all adds to the authenticity of the game and adds to the weight behind it when you’ve got guys that really know what they’re doing.

Especially with Adam West it must be good for his amazing alliterative, totally tantalising dialogue that he’s got going on during this. And his era is replicated even down to the comic book “Kapow!” phrases and noises from the 60s Batman.

The 60s stuff is brilliant and is by far the most in depth bonus level we’ve ever done. That was really something we went all out on. Again it is just an amazing opportunity and was always on the wish list to try and do. So to suddenly have it happen is just fantastic for us because it’s the origins of Batman from the mainstream platforms. And it’s just fantastic having him voice it, having those “Kapow!’s”, having the Batusi dance… It all adds to it and people who know that Batman will love it and even those who don’t, it will still be bright and colourful and brilliant for them to enjoy.

lb3p5 The game is coming out in November, how much do you think you’ve left out from what you wanted to put in?

I don’t think there’s anything possibly left out. By far this game got bigger and bigger and bigger the more we got in to it. The original concept of what this game was and where we ended up is far bigger than what it was originally going to be. Because these opportunities present themselves as you’re going through it. You know you think “wouldn’t it be great to add this” and you just do it. It just builds and builds and builds and we’re so pleased we’ve got a massive game at the end of it.

I want to ask about Batcow, because that is very, very, very, very niche. So, why Batcow?

I believe the story goes: One of the designers said “We should put Batcow in the game.” And everyone said, “Who’s Batcow?” and then he showed a comic that had Batcow in and Batcow got put in to the game. I think it is almost that simple but it is a genuine thing that exists and it’s part of the humour that we have in LEGO games that we can do things that are obscure, chuck these things and widen the scope of the DC Universe in this game and it’s a very funny thing to be able to do. We’ve got lots of obscure characters in there but there are all the ones that people expect as well.

I’m guessing many other characters came about the same way.

Well, sometimes. We’ve got Manchester Black in this game because he has Manchester in his name and apparently comes from Manchester. So it varies and some of them DC said “these would be cool to include” and others people have been asking for them and we like to give people what they want. There are more than 150 characters in the DC Universe but the ones we’ve got we’re happy to have in this game.

Well if you used them all, you wouldn’t have a LEGO Batman 4.

[Laughs] Yeah, I dread to think where we can there.

[divider]

LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham will be available on November 14th for Xboxb 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, PC and WiiU

[author]

Project Cars interview with Andy Tudor

pcintft

Project Cars is the new offering from Slightly Mad Studios. Sean got to sit down and chat with Creative Director Andy Tudor about the game at EGX.

[divider]

Project Cars is a very big, graphically awesome simulation. Simulation is the key word here I suppose compared to everything else that’s out there.

Yeah, I think the word simulation or simulator kind of gives people the impression that it’s hard, or difficult and challenging. But actually, all it means is simulating real life so it’s accurate, realistic. But compared to the competition there is out there, we said from day one planting our flag in the sand, we were going to be a competitor for Forza and Gran Tourismo. Compared to the other guys that are in that arcade space. So if you’re looking for that Forza/Gran Tourismo kind of game with a bunch of features that have never been in those games but have been on the PC sims, just not on console, the Project Cars is just that.

I’m a child of the Geoff Crammond years so I love the… I say simulation aspect but I probably mean the more technical tweaking aspects of it. And there’s a lot of things in Project Cars in driving that you won’t normally feel in other games because of those options. Just tell us a little bit of how you managed to recreate that experience so realistically especially on tracks like Brands Hatch.

pcint1

With Brands Hatch we used a laser scan. So we have the mathematical data of it, we know the elevation changes and all that stuff. Next the track team go out there and take gigabytes of data so we know visually what its like. The third thing is getting the guys out there to try it out themselves. So if you were watching a race at Brands Hatch on TV, you would see the cars flying around the track and they’d look perfectly smooth. Get in there, get in to a Formula Brands/Formula 4 kind of car, and go down the main pit straight, the engine the right behind you 6 inches away from your head, the car is screaming, the wing mirrors are vibrating so much and you’re making all these micro little movements. When you’re braking the car is trying to get away from you and you’re hearing the tinkle of gravel, tarmac and bits of rubber underneath the car… That kind of stuff you never see on TV or hear about it in a press briefing afterwards from the drivers, you don’t see it in the grandstand. You only get to experience that when you’re doing it yourself. That’s the key to it. The mathematical data is there, there visual data is there but the emotional bit is the thing that we bring to the table.

You’ve had a lot of input from racing drivers across different disciplines. How’s their involvement in the game helped?

It’s kind of come full circle. Usually when you hear about racing drivers giving their input in to games it’s usually at the end where there’s marketing pushes. But we’ve had those guys from day one so it’s a different angle. Ben Collins, the former Top Gear Stig, we hired because he doesn’t like racing games so he’d give us completely honest feedback. Nicholas Hamilton (brother of Formala One world champion Lewis Hamilton) has been playing sim racing games on PC for years. So he gives valuable insight on the expectations of that community, what the games get wrong and how Project Cars can do it right. Ollie Webb is a test driver for BAC Mono. He’s a European Le Mans driver so he’s driven 75% of the tracks in our game as well. So he can give us incredible insight on the car on a one to one basis and give us a direct comparison and he can say “oh I was just at Monza and they’ve changed the rumble strips.”. So much so [is the games realism from driver input] that real drivers are using it for training for the real thing. It was completely out of the blue that Rene Rast, a German GT driver, showed up on YouTube with a video of him driving Project Cars on the Le Mans track and was within one tenth of his real life lap time. He was using it because the game is so accurate that when he’d go to do the real thing, he’d have the sense of training you can’t get on a multi million pound Formula One simulator.

I noticed racing on Brands Hatch, something that most racing games don’t achieve is how thin the start finish straight is and how claustrophobic it feels.

Brands has got great elevation. Your eyes have a certain field of view. In games you have a different field of view. So you need to do things to make sure you get the same as you get in real life. [At Brands] You can’t see the peak of the hill from the cockpit. So it’s little things like that .

There’s been a lot of feedback from the manufacturers. Who have you had involved?

pcint3

We’re an independent developer but we’ve been doing games for 10 years so we have a relationship with a lot of manufacturers and a lot of track licencees as well. So there are certain cases, those guys are coming to us saying “We loved what you did in Shift 2 or GT-R and we’ve heard you’re doing something new, we’d love to have our cars in the game.” They’ve been absolutely great. The cars are 1:1 recreations, we get CAD data, the technical data, the lap-time information, plug it in to our engine. The guys make the cars from million of photo references from the manufacturers. We make sure the liveries are all painted effectively. We make sure the paint schemes are all perfect as well. We make sure all the interiors are done; every car has a full cockpit with functional dashboard as well. And then we have to give it back to the manufacturers so that they can approve it. So they have to be accurate. Graphics wise, we have got to the point where we can make everything photo real. The next generation consoles are quite capable of achieving photo realisim with glass and metal which makes up about 95% of a car. So they are a 1:1 recreation.

Racing games create massive communities, people who share their set-ups, form clubs and clans. There’s already quite a big community and interest around Project Cars. 

Absolutely and it’s always in our intention to not be hypocritical and support our community after launch. Which is why we have the Driver Network. Your profile is your licence and your stats, showing your what you need to improve. Your favorite cars and tracks, tracking your reputation online, how much you cause yellow flags, etc. The other big area is sharing. Steam has the screenshot gallery, you can stream by twitch, you’ve got the Xbox One Upload studio, you’ve got the share button on PS4, and YouTube. If you go to our Driver Network Flikr pages and YouTube playlist, we’re showcasing all the best bits from the community. Some people live on different time zones and even if you aren’t, the chances of you being online at the same time as a friend is a lot slimmer than before. With Project Cars you can do time trials against each other by downloading the ghost of a friend or anyone on the leader board. So you can see how people get those amazing time. And finally you have the Driver Network Community events. These are regularly scheduled events happening all the time, and everyone loves bragging rights.

pcint2

What has the feedback from players and the community been like so far?

Honestly if it was terrible, I’d tell you. But it’s been really good. There’s so much feedback from people who are playing and what they want. Graphically it looks great, gameplay is great. We’ve got a FAQ’s on our page but everyone wants to know about what cars are coming, what tracks, Oculus Rift support, wanting to set up their driver clubs and clans. So it’s been great but we are an independent studio and it’s taken a long time. Project Cars is ambitious but it’s worked. The PS4 version is already there and Xbox One version will be 1080p and 60fps at launch. We’ve always been honest about getting there and we have.

[divider]

Project Cars will be available on PC, Xbox One and PS4 on November 18th US and November 21st in the EU, with SteamOS and WiiU versions to follow in 2015.

[author]