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.