Uzis, swords and... curves! - (First Part)
Interview with Ritual about Heavy Metal F.A.K.K. 2, the new, incredible third person shooter that takes place in the Heavy Metal Universe.
The people that answered our questions are:
Robert Atkins - Art Director Co-founder
Zak Belica - Sound and Music
Levelord - Levelord
Darrin Hart - Lead Animator
Berenger Fish - Level designer
Jim Dosè- Senior Programmer Co-founder
Mark Dochtermann - Lead Programmer Co-founder
Nextgame.it: Could you briefly present Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K. 2 from your point of view (no press releases-like presentations, please ;) ), for the very few people that don't know it yet?
Zak Belica: Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K. 2 is a 3rd person action-adventure game utilizing the very latest in technology and gameplay. The player is Julie, the heroine from the movie Heavy Metal FAKK2, and takes place 30 years after the movie timeframe. The game will feature wicked audio, a modern and complex soundtrack, and cool voice actors. It will definitely live up to the "Heavy Metal" name and legend.
Robert Atkins: (short story) In Heavy Metal, you play as the character Julie (aka F.A.K.K.2). It is 30 years later after lord Tyler came and with one massive attack nearly wiped out the Eden colony. After chasing Tyler down and killing him, Julie came back to Eden and rebuilt her home. Things are finally getting back to normal, when the bad mofo name Gith just happens apon the planet.
Gith is this godlike leader of this dark disturbing planetship named Raum. For eons Gith has been searching the universe for the "Universal God", because he believes that if he finds god and eats his heart that he will become a real god and then he will be able to birth a new universe in his image.
The people of Eden for years have known that their planet's water is the secret to their long life, however, they have no clue that the source of this water is really the mummified remains of a god-like creature on Eden. As Gith gets closer to Eden, he fills the power of this creature, he has found his "Universal god". Only thing in his way is Julie.
Nextgame.it: Your new game will be based upon the Heavy Metal movies, although it won't be a tie-in of neither the first film or of the soon to be released new one. So, what temporal collocation have the facts of the game? They happen before, during or after the facts of the movies? And how is the game connected with the movies?
Robert Atkins: The Heavy Metal magazine started over 20 years ago and has been a leader in fantasy based illustrated story. Artist and writers from all over the world contribute to each issue, which is full of beautifully illustrated stories with the trademarked twisted slant that has made Heavy Metal infamous. (With that said, I dig the magazine because of the scantily clad babes with big-ass weapons.) In 1981, the now cult classic Heavy Metal film, brought us a ground breaking approach to animation and now almost 10 years later, Kevin Eastman has given this property new life with his Heavy Metal : 2000 film.
The Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K.2 game that we are creating is based around the universe that Eastman has brought to life. Ritual has been given total freedom, with that, we took a different approach, and our story is more or less the sequel to the new film.
Even thou the game takes place 30 years after the movie ends, we are totally tie-in to the new film with our marketing efforts. Julie is the star of the film and game.
Nextgame.it: How did you have the idea to develop a game based on the Heavy Metal Universe? Has somebody asked you to develop it, or it was your own decisions (so you went and acquired all the rights to use the Heavy Metal Universe)?
Levelord: Ciao a tutti gli nostri amici italiani dal Levelord! The answer to this question is easy... ...it's bloody Heavy Metal, isn't it! We jumped on the chance to work on this game. Some of us, well me at least, are old enough to remember when National Lampoon brought that silly little magazine over from France in the 1970s. There it was... ...a sci-fi/fantasy magazine that wasn't afraid to show some nudity and soft porn. As a budding adolescent, I became an instant fan ;) It is not only an honor to work on a Heavy Metal project, with all the side benefits of correlating with Kevin Eastman and Julie Strain, ...the Heavy Metal Universe offers an incredible backdrop in which we can do just about anything we want. We are, unfortunately, restricted with the nudity and sex because of the Puritan American attitude towards these topics, but otherwise we have complete freedom to do some weird and wacky stuff.
Nextgame.it: What could you tell us about the plot of the game? How much will it be important in the game?
Zak Belica: Plot, as it should, will serve to develop the gameplay during the course of the player's travels. Simpler gameplay will occur at the beginning of the game, and will develop into more difficult and complex situations as the game develops. We're definitely going for a balance between action and puzzles, often times combining the two.
Robert Atkins: With any Heavy Metal property, beautiful graphics are expected, but it's the twisted and unexpected stories are what keep the audiences attention. The game falls inline with that way of thinking.
We started development by approaching the game much like a screenwriter does. We laid the entire story out, with dialog, in screenplay format. With this as the foundation, we started to add the game components around the story. The game locations, scenes, all aspects were built from the story. We are finding that this is a very healthy way of designing games, it's in total contrast to most action games which retro fit a story after the game is complete. When playing the difference will become obvious and welcomed.
Nextgame.it: Heavy Metal F.A.K.K. 2 features a female main character. This is something that is becoming very common, and particularly in 3rd person perspective games. What are in your opinion the real reasons behind this choice?
Darrin Hart: Well, if you think about that for a moment it would seem that a female's shape is much more attractive in motion than a male's figure (speaking from a male's point of view). Personally, I would rather watch a nice female backside than male backside. For Heavy Metal F.A.K.K. 2 we based the character on a REAL person not the other way around. Julie Strain is the star of Heavy Metal 2000 and it was a natural choice to go with her character in our game. If it had been a male character that was the main character in the movie, then it would have been likely that he would have been our lead character in F.A.K.K. 2.
As far as the industry trend to put in females as lead characters I can't say exactly why a lot of games have females as lead characters. Maybe it's a natural step in game evolution that watching a female in action sells a few more games and attracts a much wider age group. Or maybe it's an erotic point, fantasizing about having control over a well-built female. I can't say for sure why, I can only guess why other game companies put female leads in products.
Nextgame.it: We know that you have licensed the Quake III engine. Why did you choose this engine (developed mainly for first person perspective) to develop a game like Heavy Metal F.A.K.K. 2 which is mainly in third person? Ok, we know that the good old Quake II engine has already been used with success for this type of game (Heretic II is the best example), but why didn't you decided to develop a proprietary engine?
Jim Dose': At the time we started working on Heavy Metal, we didn't have an engine ready to go. Developing a graphics engine is a pretty big undertaking and we know from experience that developing a game without an engine in place is pretty risky. You have most of the team either idle or working on assets that may or may not end up in the final game. Ideally you have a small team of people working on technology for your next game 3-6 months before you finish your previous game.
We chose Quake III for two reasons. The first reason is that it was the most visually advanced engine available, although that wasn't our main goal in licensing an engine. Secondly, after making two other products with previous incarnations of the Quake engine, we were pretty familiar with the architecture. This was very important because we wanted to get the game up and running quickly. It meant that our own code assets would be easily ported to the engine and the learning curve for our artists and level designers wouldn't be very steep. In hindsight I'd say we made the best decision. The Quake engine is incredibly flexible and easy to expand upon.
Nextgame.it: At the same time, however, we know that you made many modifications to the Quake III engine. Could you tell us which are the most important and explain their effects? Which ones do directly derive from your previous work on Sin?
Jim Dose': We have added a lot of new features and brought a lot with us from Sin. Our scripting engine allows the level designers a lot of control over how the AI behaves and how objects interact with each other and the player. Our model system, Tiki, gives the artists a lot of control over the look of any character and gives us the ability to sync lots of effects to our animations. Both of these came from Sin and have proven to be incredibly valuable tools.
Some of the new features include our incredibly flexible particle system called Ghost, which works hand-in-hand with Tiki to allow our artists to create some incredible special effects for our weapons. Our skeletal model system allows us to do tons more animations for our characters and also does cool things like crossblending animations, which makes switching between different animations look as smooth as silk. The list goes on, but after a while it's mainly interesting to game developers.
Nextgame.it: Heavy Metal F.A.K.K. 2 has many levels with very open environments, which seems very... (excuse me the pun) heavy. So, how much have you optimized the engine to support them without any loss of performance? Which will be the minimum requirements to play the game? And, finally, are you planning any enhancement purposely studied to take advantage of the GeForce's T&L engines?
Jim Dose': There are two things that we did to allow for more open environments. One is a buzz-word and the other is an old trick. We support LOD (level of detail, definitely a buzz-word) on our models, which means that the model reduce in detail as they get farther away. The other thing (the old trick) is a far clipping plane, which cuts away polygons that are too far away. It's used a lot in landscape engines, but hardly ever in first person engines for some reason. Ultimately, though, we're still limited by what your CPU and graphics card can handle.
Our system requirements are PII 266/Celeron/K6-2 400 or higher with 64 Mb RAM, Second generation video card (not voodoo 1, not Rendition V2200 etc, not ATI Rage, etc.), and about 250 Mb disk space.
We are talking to NVIDIA right now about doing something special for the NV-10, NV-15 and up. We haven't decided how much we'll be taking advantage of them yet.
Nextgame.it: The main "visible" features of the Quake III engine are curved surfaces and mirrors. How much are they used in Heavy Metal F.A.K.K.'s levels? Are they only "ornamental" or have they intrisinc importance for the game? In clearer words: Without them, would F.A.K.K 2 be the same, in your opinion?
Levelord: We could certainly make FAKK2 as Heavy Metalish as we want without these Quake attributes. However, part of the Heavy Metal motif involves certain 'body-related' features that are indeed best rendered with curved surfaces ;) I can't describe any of these details, but we have embedded some of the notable features of the Heavy Metal Universe within the levels themselves. We may not be able to freely place barely clad fems in the game, but we level designers can make some very suggestive geometry. I am looking forward to the day that I get emails saying "Dude Levelord! I was tooling around your cave level when I looked down and noticed a clump of rocks that look just like a huge
I haven't done much with mirrored surfaces yet and probably won't. We had those way back in Duke Nukem ;) We are using a lot of the cool, cool "shaders", as they are called. These are a new type of surface that can do some crazy stuff like reflection, animations, and movement. They are actually like multi-surfaces and they can be assigned mathematical functions and relations. They definitely make the levels "look" Heavy Metal-esque!
Berenger Fish: Curves are a handy feature. But they are not necessary for the game. Any object created with a curve can be done with brushes. The only difference would be the ease of creating the item. They also texture a bit differently which can be an advantage. But sometimes I replace curves with brushes which gives me more precise control.
Nextgame.it: What can you tell us about the audio? We heard that you are going to create an incredible audio experience for Heavy Metal F.A.K.K. 2. What API did you choose for 3D positional audio in the game (A3D 3.0, EAX)? And what about the "sound track"? Have you contacted famous singers or bands for the music of the game?
Zak Belica: We're aiming to make FAKK2 cutting edge both in terms of technology and content. We're using a combination of MILES sound libraries and custom sound code to create an audio experience that takes advantage of all existing 3D positional audio engines. But technology is just a beginning point, and I'm using it to create a music and sound environment worthy of motion picture standards. The coolest tool I have to implement this vision is a visual speaker/music/reverb trigger tool, where I can fly around a level and place sounds, place music mood changes, and set reverb types all in real time. It's so cool it could be a game in and of itself. This tool also frees up the Level Designers to only work on the sound stuff they want to- I can implement all the other audio.
As for the Soundtrack, we've been in talks with several bands, but things are still up in the air. I know that the music I'm making for the game is both modern and faithful to the original HM movie soundtrack, which still echoes as a kick-butt soundtrack today. We'll be putting up some MP3s soon for everyone to check out.
Nextgame.it: In Heavy Metal F.A.K.K. 2 the player will be able to use multiple weapons thanks to your multi-handed combat system. How could you technically realize it? Was it difficult? Are you satisfied with it?
Darrin Hart: About it being difficult? I believe that if an idea isn't somewhat difficult then it stands a chance of not being a NEW or an ORIGINAL idea. What we have with the multiple arm combat has never been done before, that I know of. Especially the way we are approaching it, with an Uzi in one hand mowing down a citter to her left side while a Firesword in the other is slashing at another critter to her right. All that combined with a skeletal animation system controlling a solid mesh that has parts like armor or other weapons that can be turned on or off depending on what you have in your inventory. It's quite exciting to be involved in this unique idea. What's going to put people over the top will be her ability to have finishing moves after a combo has been successfully completed and your water (Health) is full enough to pull off the finishing move. The finishing moves (the concept anyway) will give the player a heightened sense of achievement when snuffing out a bad guy, and some of the creatures in F.A.K.K. 2 are some REALLY bad dudes. Beau Anderson is just amazing when he builds these creatures, when you run into one of his creations you WILL remember them. That is if you survive the encounter.
Right now, the entire concept of multiple weapons hasn't been fully implemented yet. There are other parts that coincide with the multiple weapon use such as combos and finishing moves that will finish out the multiple weapon idea. What we do have in place and working currently is really cool, once the other parts are in you will have an experience that has to be seen to be believed.
(End of the first part).