Stranglehold is an important new original IP from publisher Midway, a next-gen, Unreal Engine 3 powered title which marks a collaboration with Hong Kong movie legends John Woo and Chow Yun Fat. Gamasutra managed to catch up with Steve Bowler, Animation Designer on Stranglehold, during E3’s final hours, touching on the collaboration, next-gen pipelines, and true procedural physics.
Gamasutra: What was John Woo’s actual involvement?
Steve Bowler: He’s really involved. He’s pretty much directing everything in the game that you see when we demo it out there (on the E3 floor). He’s rewriting our script, the storyboards, he’s going over schematics – basically nothing goes in the game without his approval. He’s more involved than anyone we’ve ever worked with before.
GS: So is he in the office, or working remotely?
SB: We have regular contact with this production company Tiger Hill that’s out in Los Angeles.
GS: Do you have any pipeline bottlenecks because you have to wait for approvals like that?
SB: I think that’s inherent in any project, even when we work in-house between our own studios we have that sort of issue, so it’s just sort of the nature of the business.
GS: Is he also trying to influence the game design side?
SB: Well when we first collaborated, he sort of let us build the game first, then after he saw what we had created, he became very interested in it, and became very involved in the gameplay side too.
GS: I was just curious since he’s not necessarily a game guy.
SB: Well it doesn’t really matter if he’s a game guy, what he brings to the table is a great level of authenticity. What we’ll do is we’ll bring a concept that we think is Woo – and everybody’s got their own idea of what that is – and we’ll present it to him and say “This is a great feature, and this is what we think you do in your films,” and he’ll actually come back and say “that’s really great, but I don’t do it quite like that. This is the way I do it.” And he’ll change it just a little bit, give us just a little different direction on it, and make it very authentically his.
GS: How did the deal with Chow Yun Fat come about? Was it part of the Woo collaboration?
SB: When we first started meeting with John Woo, all we really knew was we wanted to make a game with his name on it, and his involvement. As soon as we started working with John Woo, the next step was we really wanted to get Chow Yun Fat. And as it turned, it was really just happy timing, in that they hadn’t worked together for 10 years, and they’re still great friends, and they wanted to start collaborating again on projects. It just sort of happened – everything kind of fell into place, and now for the first time in 10 years we’ve got John Woo and Chow Yun Fat together again.
GS: Did Chow Yun Fat do any mocap?
SB: Yeah he’s done a little bit, and he’s lending us his voice and his likeness for the role.
GS: Does he play builds as well?
SB: I don’t know if he’s been seeing them or not, but I know we send builds to Tiger Hill, so it’s very possible that he’s been seeing them through that.
GS: And how are you finding it working on next-gen for this? Did you have to staff up a lot?
SB: Well, we certainly have a larger staff than we have on any other project I’ve worked on. We’re finding that the challenges of next-gen are certainly a lot larger than we previously though. But really, next-gen is sort of odd, because it’s not just the idea that it’s bigger and better, everything’s new. You’ve got new hardware, new software, your engine’s brand new, your art procedures are new – I mean you can use a lot of what you knew before, but it’s just a longer ramp up at the beginning.
GS: How far are you going to go with procedural physics?
SB: The procedural physics is actually the benchmark of our game. It’s really a large selling point for us. What we’re selling our massive destruction on is that we’re unscripted massive destruction. You’ll see a lot of other games with massive destruction here at E3, and by and large, a lot of what you’re seeing – at least a lot of what I saw when I walked around the floor – was a lot of decals thrown on the walls, with some particles thrown out, but they’re not actually affecting the wall that they’re hitting.
The majority of the walls that you shoot in our game, tiles actually break apart, chunks shoot out of the wall, and when you shoot our tiles, they break apart in an unscripted fashion. So what we’re trying to do is let you whittle away at the world at your leisure, or just what happens when you’re having a battle. With others, they claim massive destruction, but what happens is an object takes a certain number of hit points, and when it reaches that number, it explodes to its next state. We’re trying to avoid that. We’re going to have some of that, I mean you have to in some sorts of situations.
But we’re really, really, really stressing the fact that our damage model is unscripted, that you can literally write your name by breaking tiles in the wall if you want.
GS: So you’ll be able to shoot something until it breaks apart?
SB: That’s exactly the state it’ll be at, and we’re working on going even beyond that. In the playable demo right now, with the tables for instance, you can shoot the tables, and they’ll break, but if you use the table to cushion one of your dives, you’ll break the table as you go through it. You can shotgun a guy into the table, and what we’re doing is he’ll actually break the table as he goes through it. Everything in the world can damage each other.
Eventually we’re going to try to have the world damaging guys, so that for instance you might wind up shooting a piece of pillar out, and it’ll fall and land on somebody’s head.