PS3 Attitude

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PS3 Attitude

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Hydrophobia exclusive artwork revealed - Blade Interactive Interview Part II

Welcome back to the second part of PS3 Attitude's interview with Blade Interactive. In the first part we talked with Rob Hewson and Pete Jones about the setting and story of Hydrophobia. In part two we discuss game mechanics, what it's like developing on the PS3 and the future of Blade Interactive's new development tools/toys: InfiniteWorlds and the much extolled HydroEngine. Finally, we share some exclusive artwork of never before seen characters from the Hydrophobia universe - with a couple of new screenshots from the latest build of the game thrown in for good measure.

[PS3 Attiude]: One would expect that the use of a breathing apparatus would add an extra dimension to the game when certain areas become flooded. Will players have the ability to revisit previous locations that are now submerged to explore and interact with in a different way?

Rob Hewson: Yes, and sometimes the change is much more immediate. You can fight through an area one time and there might be a foot of water flowing around and effecting the environment, another person might play through the same area and blow out walls or windows causing a great deal of water to flow into the scene, meaning perhaps the gameplay switches to floating cover. Another player might shoot fuel barrels which let even more water into the scene but also spawn floating fuel fires which are carried around with the flow and find they need to resort to underwater action.

[PS3A]: An aquaphobic in a drowned world has got to be the epitome of bad luck. How does Kate’s hydrophobia manifest in the game? Does it affect her actions and do we, as players, need to manage her fears in order to progress in the game? Or does she just suck it up and get on with things with the phobia acting more as a plot device rather than a game mechanic?

[RH]: A movie is primarily told in images, with Hydrophobia we wanted the story to be told primarily through interactions. The phobia system begins as a game mechanic where, for example, Kate's survivors instinct kicks in when she is in extreme danger of drowning and highlights possibilities for escape. That mechanic is portrayed with a particular aesthetic and in the particular context of Kate's dark side to reveal a deeper narrative thread.

As that thread is explored and pushes Kate's character arc forward it feeds back into the development of Kate's abilities and releases a greater power. So yes it is a plot device, and yes it is a game mechanic. The two are intertwined and evolve symbiotically.

[PS3A]: Kate joins a long list of strong female gaming protagonists. With her titular phobia and reluctant hero persona however she does appear to be somewhat more subtle and grounded than some of her fellow fairer sex counterparts. Was there a particular reason why you chose a woman for the lead character?

[RH]: But do we really have a long list of strong female characters, or do we just have a list of unlikely action heroes with impossible figures? We approached our main character in the same way we did for the setting as a whole. We didn't want another space marine, soldier or back-flipping wonder woman; we've got plenty of those already.

We wanted to create a character who is multi-dimensional, reluctant, flawed... somebody you could truly empathise with. Kate grew into the character she is over the course of countless hours of conversations and debates. As you know she has evolved visually several times, that’s a cosmetic reflection of the way we allowed her to grow around the game, to the point where we can't imagine Hydrophobia starring anybody other than Kate ... she has become almost real to us and we hope she will be for player as well.

[PJ]: And then there’s the dreads. We wanted Kate to have a unique look. When, as she will do, she graces the cover of the specialist press we want her to be immediately recognisable.

There is one interesting footnote to this. We have made Kate’s sexual preferences somewhat ambiguous and although we never intended this directly, some lesbian gaming sites have been speculating as to whether Kate is in fact a “baby dyke” – their words not mine you understand.

[PS3A]: As PS3 Attitude is obviously focused on delivering news specific about the PS3, can you comment on any PS3-centric aspects of the game’s development? With the game also coming out on the 360 how has developing on the two different architectures impacted development? How would you describe your experience with the PS3 so far?

[RH]: PS3 is a different beast, the key is not to think you can just do things the same old way and expect to get the performance you need. From a designer's point of view we don't notice any difference, InfiniteWorlds is platform agnostic, so we can all be editing the same level simultaneously while play testing it on completely different platforms.

The tech team has had to develop specific solutions to take maximum advantage of the PS3s abilities, but that all goes on behind the scenes. At the end of the day I can have a PS3 on my desk playing the same game as the guy opposite me who has a 360. I make a change, he immediately sees it update on his screen, that's why we love InfiniteWorlds.

[PS3A]: From watching the tech demo the HydroEngine is obviously an impressive and powerful piece of software. With studios like EA announcing plans to licence the engines behind their games (i.e. Dead Space) is this a direction Blade Interactive would be interested in? Are there any plans to licence HydroEngine as a middleware component or will it stay strictly in-house?

[PJ]: We're keeping our options open. Clearly we'd like to get Hydrophobia out there first, but after that making the technology available to others would be a benefit to the whole industry, so it's definitely an option.

[PS3A]: Can you comment any more on your new InfiniteWorlds development suite? Will all future games developed by Blade Interactive utilise this new tool and will it also be kept in-house?

[RH]: InfiniteWorlds is phenomenal. Real-time, in-game, on platform editing where multiple users can be working in the same area at the same time. Now we've got InfiniteWorlds we'll never go back. In the early days we looked at other engines and editors, and they fell far short of our aspirations for Hydrophobia, so we built our own and approached it from a completely new angle.

The great thing about using our own tools is that we get to design them around our needs, it puts us in control and allows us to push things which we couldn't otherwise do if we were licesning someone else's technology.

[PJ]: The importance of IW cannot be understated. It has changed the way we make games, moving the creation of the game environment from the artists to the designers (where it should be!) and boosting productivity by an order of magnitude in the process.

IW has one further trick up its sleeve. It creates a game that looks better than anything that’s out there, but gives it an impossibly small memory footprint allowing for the very real possibility of digital distribution – watch this space.

And yes, in the future we also see IW licensed out as middleware.

[PS3A]: Time for the obligatory questions we ask all studios. Will there by any DLC for Hydrophobia? What about Home and trophy support?

[PJ]: Hydrophobia will be released episodically, trophy support – absolutely.

Released episodically, Boston as the setting for Hydrophobia 2 and new character reveals. We don't know what we've done to deserve all these exclusives but we promise to keep doing ... whatever it is we're doing.

Check out the below for an exclusive look at concept art of some of the game's characters: the regal Benedict (one of the Five Founding Fathers?), the androgynous Charlotte, the "Oldman", an irascible Kurt Cisco and, of course, our heroine, Kate Wilson. And is that her left hand glowing? A portent to the nascent powers Rob hints at above perhaps?

We'd like to thank Pete and Rob for taking the time to talk with us about Hydrophobia. Planned for a release in the Spring of next year, we've pencilled in another chat closer to the release date so expect an update some time in March/April 2009.

By the way, Rob also revealed what the population of the Queen of the World is. First person to guess correctly in the comments section (it's a nice round number) wins a prize*.

*Note: prize may be the standard PS3 Attitude virtual cake award.

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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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Monday, 15 September 2008

Hydrophobia's Queen of the World Revealed

Last week our friends over at Three Speech ran a comprehensive three part piece with Blade Interactive where Game Designer Rob Hewson and Managing Director Pete Jones spoke openly about their upcoming global-warming inspired "survival-on-a-sinking-ship" actioner, Hydrophobia.

Eager to find out more, we contacted Blade Interactive with a salvo of investigatory questions from how protagonist Kate Wilson's aquaphobia will manifest in terms of gameplay to just how suicidal Kate's adversaries will be. Considering their ethos of “Save the world, kill yourself" we're guessing self-preservation is not high on their list.

Check back later this week for answers to the above queries (and more) in the official interview but to tide you over (no pun intended), Rob was magnanimous enough to answer one of our inquiries straight off the bat: So, just what does the Queen of the World, the game's setting and a ship that is 1.5km in length and half a kilometre wide, look like?

Well, behold ...

Click for Titantic proportions.

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