Thursday, November 02, 2006

Ted price: Resistance:Fall of Man.

Now that we’re starting to get our hands on the PS3 launch titles in a little more depth, personal favourites are emerging. I’ve got friends who are all over Ridge Racer 7 like a rash; others are intrigued by MotorStorm’s ace physics and combative gameplay. It’s a good sign, I guess, that people are finding their own titles to fixate on rather than everyone pointing at one single launch title as being the pick of the bunch - or worse again, everyone sounding a universal “meh” sound and being uninterested by the lot. For me, though, the title to watch is Resistance: Fall of Man - a first person shooter which I initially wrote off as being a cynical attempt to make a World War 2 game by the numbers look interesting by adding aliens, but which looks more and more like a genuinely brilliant game every time I see it.

Today, then, I’m having a quick chat with Ted Price - the head of Insomniac Games, the company making Resistance. You might know them as the developers of Ratchet & Clank, and Finally, we leave Price with a question about the locations in the game - which takes in action from cities including York, Manchester, Grimsby (yes, Grimsby - “it had a great fish cannery,” Price explains cryptically), Nottingham and London, plus quite possibly a few more. “We actually went over to England - one of our artists went over and took a lot of photographs of all the places that we built,” Price explains.although Resistance is gritty and unrelenting, depicting an alternate history where real British towns and cities are under the control of a nasty extra-terrestial force in the late 1940s, you can still feel the influence of Ratchet in the game’s weapons. The team has really cut loose with the PS3’s physics capability, giving us a host of really interesting weapons we’ve never seen in a game before - many of which, Price claims, couldn’t have been done at all on the PS2, because they rely so heavily on working out the physics of hundreds of individual bullets, spikes or particles.

That being said - isn’t Price worried that most people will just dismiss the game as yet another WW2 shooter, which is exactly what I did when I first saw it? Apparently not.

"The fact that we set it in Great Britain is a big clue for people that this is not a World War II game,” he explains, “because in World War II, there wasn’t a lot of fighting in Great Britain! Secondly, the Chimera have a greater and greater influence on the environment as you move through the game - and even though we’ve shown some settings that are more terrestrial, there are plenty of Chimeran structures that set it apart from any other first person shooter out there, especially those that are World War II shooters".

"Finally," Price continues, "we make a big point in the story to emphasise the difference between this time period and previous time periods - in particular, with the technology that we present. You’ll notice that we have VTOLs [Vertical Take Off and Landing aircraft] flying around - that’s the standard mode of transportation in this world. Those didn’t exist in our world until the 1990s perhaps, the 1980s? That freedom of creating very different technology was one of the great aspects of working with this alternate history - and I think that as people play the game, they’re going to feel that it’s a very different setting".

One of the interesting things about Resistance, from a gamers point of view, is that it doesn’t look like a launch title - which in general are games that are a bit rough and ready, with graphics that don’t take advantage of the hardware, not much in the way of content and loads of bugs. By contrast, Resistance is a really polished game - the kind of thing you expect to see a year after a console launches, not the day it comes out. So did Sony play favourites and give Insomniac access to hardware before all the other studios, or something?

Not necessarily," Price says, "but we worked closely with Sony at the very beginning to understand what the architecture was going to be all about. We participated in that early aspect of development, before we even had dev stations. As a result, we were able to get ready for when those dev stations came - so as soon as we got the dev stations, we jumped on it, and we had our levels up and running very quickly. We began building assets long before we got PlayStation 3 development stations".

He pauses and thinks for a second. "The other thing to keep in mind," he says, "is that we’ve been on PlayStation hardware now for over ten years, and I think our team of engineers is used to how Sony develops hardware. Even though the Cell and the PlayStation 3 are very, very different from PlayStation 2 and PlayStation, there’s a certain design sensibility that you get in terms of working with the hardware. Sony, for example, their hardware allows you to get very close to the metal - and our guys are used to working at a very low level and really squeezing a lot of power out of these machines. So, they were probably more ready because of our experience on the previous Sony platforms than had we not worked on PSone and PS2".

Aside from the singleplayer campaign, Resistance also has extensive multiplayer support - both four-way split-screen, and online play for up to 40 players. Online games are hosted on servers provided by Sony, and Price claims that the team has experimented with 40 player matches involving gamers from locations as far afield as the United States, Spain and Japan, with near-perfect gameplay experienced between those countries. The game also has a built in buddy list, support for clans with up to 200 members, and the ability to form temporary parties who join a match as a group, thus simplifying the process of getting all your pals into the same game. However, disappointingly, it won’t hook into the main buddy list of the PlayStation 3 - instead you’ll need to build your own buddy list which is specific to the game. Price wouldn’t be drawn on whether this will be fixed by a future update to the game, but he made a point of saying that the buddy lists are separate "currently", and said that "it is definitely possible to update the game via online" - so perhaps there’s hope on that front.

Finally, we leave Price with a question about the locations in the game - which takes in action from cities including York, Manchester, Grimsby (yes, Grimsby - "it had a great fish cannery," Price explains cryptically), Nottingham and London, plus quite possibly a few more. "We actually went over to England - one of our artists went over and took a lot of photographs of all the places that we built," Price explains.

"We also used maps of the era. For instance, if you go into Manchester, you’ll notice that the Manchester cathedral is there, the bridge leading to the cathedral is there… It was all based on real maps of the areas. Also, London is in the game, but it’s very different because it has a lot of the older structures that we believe would have existed had World War II never occurred in real life. So, it does look different to what you see today - it’s not quite as modern, simply because it never had a chance to be modernised".

All of which, as a Londoner, just leaves me all the more keen to see the game in its final form. When all’s said and done about the hardware, PS3 will - like any console - live or die on the strength of its games; and Resistance is definitely one to watch to get a feel for what developers are starting to accomplish on the hardware.


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