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PS3 Attitude

Monday, 22 September 2008

Hydrophobia sequel revealed - Blade Interview Part 1

When our friends over at ThreeSpeech posted their three part exposé on next year's survival-on-a-ship adventure Hydrophobia we here at PS3 Attitude were eager to see if the game's creators were prepared to divulge any more details.

Luckily for us all, Rob Hewson and Pete Jones, game designer and Managing Director respectively at Blade Interactive, were more than happy to take the time and talk with us. During the two part interview we cover such diverse topics as advances in real-time fluid dynamics, suicidal adversaries and the current position of strong female characters in gaming.

They even exclusively reveal the location of the sequel!

For those of you who haven't checked the ThreeSpeech interview (which we heartily recommend), here's the short version: It's the mid 21st century and things are not looking too good for mother earth. The oceans have risen and the remaining dry land, overcome by the Great Population Flood, can not support mankind which results in global chaos.

Salvation for the wealthy comes in the form of the Queen of the World (which we've already revealed), a massive floating sea-city where things are also about to take a turn for the worse when the ship experiences a terrorist attack perpetrated by the Malthusians. Named after English economist Thomas Robert Malthus (who predicted the whole population meltdown crisis 350 years prior to these cataclysmic events) the marauding eco-militants espouse a different methodology: "Save the world, kill yourself."

Thrown into the watery mix is Kate Wilson, one of the Queen's security officers who must now not only escape from the sinking vessel but uncover the secrets of the microcosmic pseudo-society all the while battling again her own fear of water.

On to the interview:

PS3 Attitude: During the Three Speech interview you candidly discuss how the tech came first which, in turn, drove the narrative. The story deals with some heavy issues such as climate change, terrorism and the fate of humanity; all quite deep and cinematic in tone. Was the decision to involve respected scriptwriters and directors to create a formidable story that is worthy of the advances in technology something that was key to the project?

The advances alone in water physics would pique most people’s interest in the game but Blade Interactive seems to be really pushing the boat out here (pun unintended) in terms of narrative quality.

Pete Jones: Yes, absolutely. We don't believe in doing things by halves, we set out to make a truly great game, not a glorified tech demo.

We are very serious about the message being portrayed. Overpopulation & scarcity of resources is going to be the hot issue of the 21st century – we’re already seeing this happen.

We also wanted to make our terrorists real; to stand for something, not just to be game cannon fodder. It’s about treating gamers as intelligent, well informed people. If they check online they will see that Malthus was indeed real and that these people are fighting what they believe to be a very real war. That is a mean feat to pull off without upsetting any political, ethnic or religious groupings out there. I suppose it boils down to creating a world that feels real, not just a story.

Rob Hewson: The HydroEngine technology is truly astounding, and allows for an incredibly unique and dynamic gameplay experience, and we wanted this feeling of uniqueness to echo through the entire experience.

Hydrophobia has its own heart and soul, when you pick up the game we want you to get the feeling of discovering a brand new universe, not fighting yet another improbable alien invasion, or facing off against the Nazis yet again... we want you to think wow, this is a world I'd never imagined before, and we want you to feel that it's relevant to the world we live in today.

[PS3A]: The game takes place in the mid 21st century where, over a few short decades, our world has seen a dramatic rise in water levels. Considering the futuristic setting, can we expect to see associative advances in in-game technology? We know Kate can manipulate controls on the ship with her MAVI engineering tool but will weapon and other gadgetry progressions over the fifty years or so also feature - or has the decline of civilisation stymied such advancements?

[RH]: As you say, the world has been engulfed by the Great Population Flood, and inevitably that has a negative effect on technological advancement in general. Of course things have developed, the Five Founding Fathers of the Queen of the World are all examples of big corporations who have prospered while the rest of the world drowns, so there is development but it is unbalanced.

We discussed this very early on. We all felt that the future shouldn’t be a brave new world of gleaming technology where even your toaster is intelligent, that’s actually the easy thing to do, but it doesn’t feel real.

It comes back to this issue of relevance and tangibility again, we want you to buy into this world and invest your belief in it. So we focused on what the up and coming technologies were and how they were predicted to develop over the next few decades. We then factored in the effects of the Great Population Flood, global warming, civilisation collapsing under its own weight. The result is a world that has many different layers and nuances, and feels like a credible future projection of the world we live in today.

[PS3A]: The cover system is quite dynamic due to the very nature of how the objects providing this cover are moving on a body of water. How difficult was this to implement and what other cover systems have you studied? Should we expect a Gears of War and Uncharted type of delivery or is this something on a whole new level?

[RH] : We've certainly studied the standard bearers out there, to see where they worked, and where they didn't. We've developed beyond the boundaries that exist in these games and really pushed for a seamless and immediate feel. We're lucky enough to have some incredibly talented individuals who meticulously pour over every detail, and some exceptional technology to develop with.

Floating cover gives you a platform to shoot from in the water, but you can also duck your head beneath the surface to hide from Malthusians as you float down stream... of course Kate can't hold her breath forever.

As you suggest the floating cover system was a different beast altogether. We are using an excellent procedural animation system and that really helps the situation because there are so many different kinds of floating cover, and Kate has to be incredibly agile in the water around floating cover. With the water being completely dynamic, a traditional animation system would not have given us the scope and flexibility to achieve what we have done.

[PS3A]: The Queen of the World is pretty massive in scale and suggests Kate will have more than enough to do on the super-ship during the course of the game. Will we however get to see any of the other bastions of humanity? Do we get to witness the full extent of the global catastrophe?

[RH] : The Queen of the World is not only vast, it's also extremely varied socially and culturally. The workers who prop up the infrastructure live on the lower decks in rather poor conditions, and the wealthy individuals live in luxury penthouses in the buildings which tower above the deck.

So you've got this beautiful social hierarchy which you can literally see evolve from bottom to top in the ships structure, with the foundations of the Five Founding Fathers piercing through every layer and stretching into the sky above.

When you are down in the neon-lit slums christened Proleville by the inhabitants, you begin to realise that the propaganda presenting the Queen of the World as a triumphant reserve for the super-wealthy isn't the full story.

The influence of the global population flood is evident at every level, from the elitism of the rich and influential at the top, to the tolerance of terrible conditions that the poor endure in favour of living in the utter chaos of the outside world, to the blind eye turned to the gang culture in Proleville.

The Queen is deeply controversial; a reactionary consequence of the worldwide chaos, and ultimately it’s this sense of extremity of reaction that provides the richest perspective on the tragedy the world has endured.

[PJ] : As for the rest of the world out there, the player doesn’t see it directly in this game; the QOTW is the player's universe - the ship is around 2km long and about a kilometre wide.

Actually the sequel to the game is set in a drowned Boston – that’s an exclusive by the way - (New York has had more of its fair share of fictional and real disasters over time) so we do have plans for an expansion of the Hydrophobia world.

[PS3A]: Considering the ethos of the Neo-Malthusians is “Save the world, kill yourself” how does this ethical code manifest in the A.I. of the enemies Kate encounters? Can such a nihilistic attitude be seen in their attack strategies? i.e.: Are the Neo-Malthusians precarious and somewhat indifferent to the own safety?

[RH]: Great question. We absolutely wanted to imprint the Malthusians beliefs in their behaviour, particularly because they are so extreme. They want to ensure they wipe out as many people as possible, this is there general attitude, but they are logical about it too – the longer they stay alive the more people they can kill. However if they are on the back foot, say the rest of their squad has been wiped out, they may resort to a form of kamikaze to finish the job honourably.

In a different situation, say a squad of Malthusians is out numbered and falling back, the squad leader may issue an honour call for a kind of mass kamikaze. The higher ranking members of the Malthusian hierarchy are viewed differently however, these are the scholars of the new order in the world the Malthusians want to create, so they will be protected at all costs.

[PJ] : The main thing is that the Malthusians place absolutely no value on human life – even their own. Some of the leaders however may not respect the value of other people’s lives but do recognise their own through this delusion of grandeur they have built up.

So there you have it. Bostonians, prepare to have your wetsuits ready.

Check back tomorrow when the interview concludes with talk of underwater breathing, how Kate's phobia manifests as gameplay and the future of the tech behind the game. We'll also reveal some exclusive artwork of four other characters from the universe of Hydrophobia.

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