Illinois-headquartered veteran independent developer High Voltage Software (Harvey Birdman: Attorney At law, Hunter: The Reckoning
) is taking a bet on the Wii with its upcoming game The Conduit
Two bets, actually -- that the system's hardware is capable of significantly more than most developers have done with it, and that its broad audience contains a market for a hardcore-slanted first-person shooter.
seems to be progressing well on the first front, based on gameplay demos and videos released by High Voltage, but the team will have to wait until the game's planned early 2009 release to see if it succeeds on the second.
Gamasutra sat down with creative director Matt Corso to chat about The Conduit
. Expanding on a previous Gamasutra interview excerpt
, Corso discussed the impetus that led to High Voltage choosing this route, some of the ways the team has had to treat the Wii hardware to get the results it needs, the company's relationship with Nintendo and its talks with publishers, and design considerations made with respect to the FPS genre.
What led you guys to start this project, and what was your overall philosophy was behind it?
Matt Corso: The reason High Voltage decided to develop a first-person shooter for the Wii is that it seems no developer was really pushing the system, and we wanted to take advantage of the hardware and show that the Wii was capable of doing much more than what people were actually doing on it.
Also, we felt that there really weren't enough hardcore first-person shooter-style games available on the system, and the system is so perfect for that style of game. So we really saw an opportunity to take advantage of something and make something very special for the system. That's why we chose to go with The Conduit.
How long has it been in development?
MC: The Conduit has been in development since last October. Right now, the team size is somewhere around 30 people.
And you're basically content complete at this point? Are you in alpha yet?
MC: We're near the alpha/beta stage. It's an internal project, so that's a bit loose right now. We are content complete, however. Now, we're getting more into our focus testing phase.
This is the point where we're giving players a hands-on experience with The Conduit
, and from there, we're making decisions about how much more additional content, or polish and focus, we need to put into our levels to make sure they really shine.
So far, we've done focus testing with several people. A while back, we did a focus test with about 20 different people of different age groups, and we found that some things were working really well for some folks and they really liked certain aspects of the game, and we also found out that we were missing a few categories. That really helped us out, and we've taken that information and are now working on fixing and polishing, and focusing on developing a very quality experience for the Wii.
You seem to be tackling the system in two main areas it doesn't see much envelope-pushing in, one being this style of game, and the other being the graphical capabilities. Would you say you're trying to prove something, as far as what the Wii's capable of doing?
MC: Yeah, absolutely. The Wii is a really cool game system, and it's worthy of better games than it's getting right now. I mean, there are some great games out there for the system right now, but it just seems like there's such an opportunity to do so much more with it.
Considering it's such a popular system right now, it just doesn't make sense to not focus on making really quality games. As far as the graphics are concerned, from what you've seen of our demo, you realize that the system can display some really quality videos. Right now, the bar has been so low, it was easy to exceed that bar at first, and now we feel like we're going way beyond that point.
But it makes sense. The Wii is very strong, and it's going to have a lot of staying power, and it will be here for a long time to come. So we as a studio see no reason why we shouldn't take advantage and try to develop the best experience possible for the Wii.
Did you start out experimenting with the system before you had a full design for the game worked out? I've seen some of the videos you've released, and it seems like you focused on tech pretty early.
MC: Right. Early on, we knew that we wanted to create the engine to have all these great bells and whistles, so we created our technology demo. That may be what you saw online -- it's a Roman bath house. It shows off our water effects, our heat distortion effects, and our bump mapping effects.
That was our R&D phase where we didn't know for sure if we were going to make The Conduit
, per se, but we knew that we wanted to do something with the system, so that was the time when we were just polishing and trying to add all the cool functionality so that we could make a good game down the road. So yes, we did have our R&D phase.
Why do you think most teams haven't gone a similar route? Is there some aspect of the hardware that is either unintuitive or difficult, beyond just having less horsepower than the other systems?
MC: Definitely that's more of a question for our technology folks back at the studio, but I would say that with systems like the Xbox 360 and PS3, you can use pixel shaders to deliver the great visual effects. With the Wii, things are a bit different, so we had to do a lot more under-the-hood optimizations to enable the system to do what it could do.
And then, even from the art content creation perspective, the system is a real balancing act, because you do have more limited texture space and whatnot, so you need to keep playing with your textures and your geometry resolutions and your lighting schemes to really bring out the visual style. It's not as easy as building your models in Zbrush, mapping to your low-res cage, and then just turning on the cool lights and you're ready to go.
There were a lot of lighting configurations that we were trying just to get to the point right now where it looks so great and it really pops out the normals. If you look at some of the early screenshots that we released, they look good and the normals were in fact there, but we really hadn't brought out the richness of the detail in the models.
It seems like every month we have a new breakthrough, and now with some recent breakthroughs, we're really able to make the graphics sizzle. And we only expect that to continue from now until the end of development, so when the consumer actually buys the game, hopefully, in our minds, we'd like it to look even better than what we're showing today.
And the team is really on board with improvements. It's definitely a labor of love for High Voltage, so they just continue to work and polish. Reworking doesn't really seem to be an issue. In fact, from a manager perspective, it's almost more difficult to get them to not
rework things, because they're really on fire right now, and they really want to see this game do well.
Publisher And Platform Holder Relations
Have your tech team members corresponded with Nintendo at all with hardware and development questions?
MC: Yes, absolutely. We've been in close contact with Nintendo, and they've been helping us along the way. We had a meeting with Nintendo today, and we got even more assistance.
Nintendo's been really great to work with and very forthcoming and gracious with their information. So far the relationship has been really great. We really appreciate the support from Nintendo. Thank you, Nintendo. So yes, to answer your question.
Have you been speaking with publishers as well?
MC: I haven't been speaking with them as much as [chief creative officer] Eric Nofsinger has, and Kerry Ganofsky, our CEO. But as a studio, yes, we have been speaking with publishers on a pretty regular basis, and so far, so good.
I don't think it's a matter of if we'll get a publisher. I think it's a matter of when we'll get a publisher, and who is exactly the right publishing partner for High Voltage.
On the design side, the Wii is, at first glance, well-suited to first-person aiming, but there are also difficulties in terms of being overly jerky or spastic in many shooters on the system. How are you addressing that?
MC: It's just a lot of working to refine the control system so that we don't get the jerkiness. Some of the comments we've heard from folks who've actually played The Conduit
hands-on is that it does feel smooth and responsive. That is something we'll continue to work on, especially as we go into the polish phase, where we can refine our collision geometry to make sure the character moves and interacts well with the world.
The goal is to have The Conduit
feel very silky-smooth, and then of course we'll have a lot of fine-tuning we can do to the game's control system so that it can feel even better and even more to your liking. We definitely want players to be able to play The Conduit
their own way, and set up the control configurations to the way that suits their playstyle the best.
So hopefully, when all is said and done, the game should have a very smooth framerate and play very smoothly as well.
I noticed that you pretty conservatively restrict the Y-axis when aiming. Could you speak a little on that?
MC: We did restrict the Y-aiming. There's a limit to how far up you can look and how far down. We really wanted to focus on moving forward, and the action on the battlefield. We do want to have a vertical gameplay.
You can jump up onto higher locations so that you can get a vantage point and shoot down on your enemies. But of course, we didn't want to take that so far that we would end up with the spinning axis issues that you get with some of the other first-person shooters, particularly on the Wii.
Especially where for new players to the system, it may be difficult for them to control the game because you are using the Wii Remote, you are pointing at the screen, and you do have that sort of direct interface with your targets. It could be very easy for you to have the "barf cam" and be spinning in a circle. That's why we restricted that.
Did that impact level design at all?
MC: It did. There are not very many extremely vertical levels in The Conduit
. They're very horizontal, for the most part, with some vertical built in. I don't know that it was a matter that it restricted the gameplay. I think it was just more of a decision early on to keep things on the straight-and-level.
On a more structural level, stepping back to the Wii-specific aspects, as a game, how would you describe The Conduit?
MC: As a game, I personally feel the most comfortable describing The Conduit
as a straightforward action shooter. We play a lot of first-person shooters, of course, and we're big fans of games like Halo
and even Half-Life
. We like the types of games that just give you the tools and the abilities you need to get out there and have fun on the battlefield.
With The Conduit
, we're trying to stay away from a lot of extra, ancillary gameplay features, and we wanted to be the type of gaming experience where you can hook in and really enjoy yourself and have a really fun, exciting experience with the game, and then progress through a few levels, enjoy yourself, and turn it off when you're wrapped up. And then of course you can go online and play with your friends.
So you're supporting online networking of some kind?
MC: Absolutely. We will have online network support. That's the goal right now. I'm sort of reluctant to say how many players. We do have a benchmark. It is fairly high right now, but it's still something we're hammering out.
We do have The Conduit
running multiplayer right now, and it's a lot of fun to play. It will feature all the weapons, including ASE-based gameplay, the ASE being our All-Seeing Eye device that lets the player see alien objects that are hidden beyond the alien cloaking veil. We'll be working that into our multiplayer functionality to make it a much cooler, richer multiplayer gameplay experience.
really is on a good track right now. The team is really interested in bringing quality to gamers everywhere. The hands-on focus tests have conclusively showed us that it's a fun game to play and people are really enjoying it right now.
It looks great, it feels great, it's going to be an exciting action experience for the Wii, and it's going to be very exciting when it's all done. I think it's definitely something that players should not miss when it's released.