Yeah, that was an obvious question that I had while listening to you talk. Coming to melee, were you going to have a focus on interiors and not just a wide open world?
SvdM: Yeah, the answer, like Jeff said, is yes. Obviously, we need to look for ways to really bring those mechanics to the forefront, so you need these environments where you can sort of control the weaponry that the user has at that time; so that makes sense. We've done that through a lot of custom interior areas that really enhance the action, bringing the environments into the core of the combat really heavily and just play to the strengths of the game.
MS: A movie that really influenced us right from the very beginning was the Tony Jaa film The Protector. While not necessarily a Hong Kong movie, there's a fight sequence there which is basically one long, continuous fight sequence which included a lot of environmental interaction, fighting against multiple enemies, and even a little bit of free-running; that has always been the blueprint for our fight sequences.
We knew from the beginning that we really needed to have these in tiers, but, in addition to that, we also ensure that all of our core mechanics work in the open world as well.
So, even though we might not have the same level of interaction or weaponry on the street that we do in a very detailed fight interior, there's a lot of sandbox elements such as interacting with cars, walls, tables, and phone booths; just different kinds of interactions that you can get into on the street. They give it a much different style of gameplay while retaining that same seamless control.
JO: Just a thought on that Protector sequence that Mike mentioned from the Tony Jaa film: If you haven't seen that, one of the amazing things about that sequence is that it is one continuous shot. Tony Jaa enters this room, and over the course of I think five or six minutes, goes up this very long spiral staircase and takes out 50 guys or 40 guys or something like that; it's all one shot, one very beautifully choreographed shot.
He uses not just punches and kicks, but, as Mike says, the environment -- he puts guys over railings, he puts guys into televisions, he uses vases and stuff and knocks guys out. As Mike says, that was sort of a blueprint for us because it got us excited about using these interiors and this open world style of gameplay to give the player the freedom in those interiors to feel like a martial arts action hero.
Something you talked about is directing the experience and giving the player sometimes linear and sometimes less linear; what do you think about pacing in an open world game? You don't know where someone's going to fall off the critical path or mess around. Does trying to control the pacing matter, and, if so, how?
SvdM: Controlling the pacing is probably one of the most difficult things to do, because people come to the game potentially with two different mindsets: They might play a bit of the story and go, "I just want to screw around now." Then you've kind of lost the drama and tension at the point they started to engage in the game in a different manner.
I think the fact that we've stuck with a linear story, which picks up from where you've left off when you tackle the next piece, is sufficient in terms of bringing you back in where you left off so there is some continuation there; you understand where you're at from an emotional standpoint. But when we need to get you from one scene to the next because it's absolutely pivotal, we can do that. We can just say, sequentially, this is the thing you have to do next -- or just force it to happen.
Now, there's a balancing act in not doing that too often but giving the player the freedom to engage with the game, but that is both the beauty and the curse of the open world game, right? You want to give people the freedom, but you also want to give them the opportunity to experience something tightly crafted that takes them on an emotional roller coaster narrative-wise. "It's not easy" is the answer!
JO: One of the biggest things that we did was, right from the get-go, to really design out core game flow, the world, and our narrative together and have each of those elements feed off each other.
While we do have a linear narrative, we've really taken a lot of our core start and end points of our scripted missions and analyzed those areas and the routes that we think that players will take and finely crafted a lot of our secondary and ambient encounters around those. We've actually even made our own version of Google Maps where we look at all of the content in the game, and by using this program we can actually go in and really scrutinize the different routes and play-styles that players will use.
Obviously, user testing takes a big role in it, as well. As we're currently in the final stages of the project, we're moving beyond paper and moving beyond that level of analysis and really just watching what gamers are doing and how they're playing the game. It's actually really interesting just to see how different people progress through the game. Some people will obviously experiment a lot more than others; some people will plow through the storyline. We're actually quite satisfied that even people who really want to go and get to the next cutscene or get to the next key story change are still dabbling and playing with a lot of the secondary content.
I think one of the things that we've tried to do throughout this project is ensure that we have a really strong voice cast for all of our essential characters. There are, I think, well over two dozen main characters, as Stephen said, even though we were inspired by The Departed from a tonal point of view, we wanted to craft something more like an HBO series so that there are a large number of actors in there, some of them very well-known -- I'm sure that Square will release more names over the next few months.
In playing the game and in the user tests, I think people enjoy having dialogue with those kind of characters, and they enjoy interacting with those characters in the main missions and, as Mike said earlier, in the open world. I think that's another reason why the game is, in the testing we're doing, fun for people; they get to interact with these characters and hear from these actors.