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With his lightly starched blue blazer and silk tie, it's pretty obvious that Nick Earl has a pretty substantial position at Electronic Arts. And, in fact, he does, acting as both Vice President and General Manager. In a crowded conference room that ran out of seating long ago, Earl is speaking of the potential for The Godfather, EA's upcoming mobster game, obviously based on the book and movie.
"There's a real potential here to make this franchise popular with the younger generation," he said, emphasizing that the game is not necessarily aimed at someone with an appreciation of the film.
"We didn't want to be in awe of the content [of the original film]," he continued. The Godfather, the game that is, takes place during the events of the first movie. However, rather than forcing the player to live through the exact plot, the game expands on the events that take place in the film, with the player in control of a new character somehow tied into the Corteleone family.
"We let the player play their own game," said Phil Campbell, Creative Director of the game. "You can shoot people, intimidate them, choke them... we leave it up to the player. Sometimes you really should keep a character alive, they keep their own secrets and could be useful later."
EA's The Godfather.
EA is calling the environment of The Godfather a "living world," in that your entire environment is (apparently) affected by the decisions you make in-game. "You can go around shooting everyone if you want," Campbell added, "but the cops are going to come after you. You have to live with a lot of the consequences of the real world."
They've also developed an analogue control system they dub the "black hand," which is used for punching, threatening, and choking people on the streets. It took over a year to build this control scheme, and both Campbell and Earl seem proud of it.
They brought clips, of course. The first clip was actual footage of Robert Duvall recording his dialogue for the game. They showed a side-by-side comparison of his recorded scene and an original scene from the movie, which were exactly the same, except Duvall sounds a lot hoarser these days.
This was followed up with a few shots of Marlon Brando's face, overdubbed by stringy "this person is dead now" music. They played a long quote about videogames that Brandon said during the recording, which ended with, "[in games], it's the audience that's doing the acting."
Finally, they showed the game's attract mode, consisting mostly of a montage of men in fedoras wandering the streets with jerky, unnatural movements. There were also lots of shots of men being shot in the head with a variety of weapons, but we're unsure if any of these shots were of actual gameplay.
Next, as part of this extended game showcase, Grant Collier, Chief Executive Officer of Infinity Ward, was on-hand to show the upcoming sequel to Call of Duty, temporarily and fittingly referred to for the sake of the panel as Sequel to Call of Duty. Unlike the previous game, which used a heavily modified version of the Quake engine, Sequel to Call of Duty was built entirely from scratch.
"We wanted to make this a much more robust game," Collier said. "We decided that if we're working with next-gen hardware, we have to make our own engine. There's just so much we want to do that's beyond the abilities of the Quake engine."
Infinity is focusing heavily on pre-production for the sequel, going as far as to take research trips to France and North Africa for the sake of getting locations right. There's a certain image, Collier says, of what we think a French village should look like, when in reality - as learned in their trip - these images aren't often accurate.
Collier insists that World War II games are around to stay. "They've been around as long as computers have," he said. "We're still seeing World War II movies. Those aren't going away anytime soon, so neither are the games."
Collier gave a very impressive live gameplay demo of a North Africa campaign from the game. His player looks around a vast desert landscape from the back of a jeep, which is following one of the unit's tanks. Suddenly a plane trails smoke over his head, crashing somewhere to the left. A bomb comes out of nowhere and destroys the tank they were following. The player and his crew make it into town, jump out with guns immediately drawn, and the real game begins. He dodges enemies, finds strategic hiding places, and pops them off with a level of skill employing all the mastery one might expect out of someone who has spent every day of the last eighteen months with this game. At one point he calls in an air raid, and we see tanker ships exploding delightfully. It was very loud, and very cool.
And finally, Michel Ancel came to represent Peter Jackson's King Kong, a game that the Beyond Good & Evil designer insists is more than just a game with a movie license.
"It's more than a license," he says, "it's a collaboration." Ancel has been working closely with movie director Peter Jackson to make sure that both the movie and the game, scheduled for simultaneous release, are completely faithful to each other.
Ubisoft's King Kong adaption
Ancel and Jackson got along famously. "When I met him, he said he'd just finished Beyond Good & Evil. He plays a lot of games so, really, our early talks were just a couple of gamers talking about games."
Early on, Jackson had a vision of a game where the player takes on the roles of both Ann Darrow and King Kong in alternating scenes. Ancel took the idea and ran with it, creating a unique dynamic between the two scenarios. When playing as Darrow, the human, the player is basically playing a first-person shooter. This confined view, in the face of certain circumstances, is meant to make the player feel small, hopeless, and maybe a little frustrated. Then, during the Kong segments, the player has control of a fifty-foot-tall and very agile monster, in third person view, with all that that entails.
Again we were given a live demo, of the Xbox version, though Ancel's skills were not quite on par with Collier's. The game begins with Darrow imprisoned in a tribal camp, unable to do anything but look around. Eventually her colleagues save her, and they make a break for it, avoiding attacks from the tribesmen. Darrow picks up a spear and throws it in one fluid motion. Eventually they escape into a hidden, confined space, alone... except for the dinosaur that comes out of nowhere!
The foe in question? A gigantic T-rex. We don't get to see the scale of Kong himself on the screen, but the T-rex is a good indication of the sense of scale that might offer. After an exciting escape scene, fruitlessly firing bullets at the beast, the scene ends. Ancel says that at this point, we would control Kong, though we did not get to see this.
Overall, this showcase seemed to show an interesting and alternate way to see games up-close in the developer track of the conference. As for the titles, The Sequel to Call of Duty should have a proper name and release date announced soon for the PC. The Godfather will be released closely to the Xbox 360 launch, and as of this writing is playable on the E3 show floor. King Kong has been announced for just about every platform in the world, and will launch with the movie on December 14.