Open World Stealth Action from
by Louis Bedigian
“We are really taking the whole thriller and juicing it up Bruckheimer-style and allowing people to do everything they would want to do if they were a larger-than-life Saboteur.”
Every console generation has its defining moments. In 2008, Pandemic – the makers Mercenaries, Full Spectrum Warrior, and Destroy All Humans! – will have theirs. While this year’s release schedule will be led by sequels to existing franchises, 2008 will see the launch of a new, genre-defining stealth action game: Saboteur.
Set in World War II but is vehemently not a World War II game, Saboteur is
being called an open world stealth action game. “We’re not storming the beaches
of Normandy,” said Director Trey Watkins. “This isn’t about the beating the
Nazis. The game is about a guy and his personal story that happens to be set in
World War II.”
The main character, Sean, is caught in a very bad situation. He witnesses the murder of close friends or relatives (exactly who they are is unknown). A few very specific Nazis were responsible for their deaths and that's where this story begins. Sean goes on a mission to avenge their deaths.
“That’s really what the game is about,” Trey continues. “It’s set against the background of World War II, and it so happens that the bad guys are Nazis. [But] much as the way people don’t think of Indiana Jones as a World War II movie, this isn’t a World War II game.”
Phil Hong, Producer of Saboteur, sees this game as an opportunity to give World War II fans “something they haven’t seen” before. “As well as those who have been turned off by the genre – we have an opportunity to create a really interesting and unique visual style,” he says.
A Kodak Moment
The contrasting colors and black and white emphasis have been embraced by Hollywood. It was only a matter of time before the game industry jumped on board. “We were mulling over the idea of this game mechanic called Will To Fight, a visual representation of the Nazi occupation,” Phil commented, noting the color scheme of Sin City. “The low Will To Fight is the black and white world, and the high Will To Fight is the color world. The technical and artistic challenge of being able to deliver a black and white game was something we weren’t totally sure on.
“We [had seen] Sin City, which was so cool and so stylistic, and was something we felt would really push us away from being a World War II game and into something unique and new and next-gen. That really got us going. We went out of our way to prove that on screen. That required a lot more than de-saturation of the assets. If you just de-saturate the assets, you end up with something that looks like The Outer Limits. But what we ended up with, then exploring, was lighting, shadows, and modifying it. We got to our look pretty early on in production and that made people [sign on] to the idea.”
Trey Watkins, speaking about the high and low changes of Will To Fight: “As
the player goes about the missions, things visibly change. The color will come
back in real-time. The skies will open up, the blue sky will return, and the
clouds will recede. It’s very powerful. And you can see both effects
side-by-side. You could be standing in a high Will To Fight area and see, a few
blocks away, a Nazi-controlled area that’s black and white. It’s all depressed
down there. It’s very interesting to be able to have these two things right next
to each other. It allows for a very simple visual reference to the player to
tell where to go to free more of the area where their next objective may be.”
Sharing the Love
BioWare, the developer best known for Jade Empire, Baluder’s Gate, and Knights of the Old Republic, joined forces with Pandemic in 2005. Although the two studios have yet to announce a joint production (Phil describes their relationship as “peer review”), the partnership has been very beneficial.
“Some of the technologies that they are applying toward [Mass Effect] we’ve been studying very closely,” Trey announces. “They are very good at telling stories, and we’ve been learning from them on that front. Clearly we have a great deal of experience on the consoles on multiple platforms and that’s something they’re learning from us. It’s a really amazing opportunity for both companies to learn from the other and share each of our ideas on how to attack these next-generation consoles. They are far more complicated than the previous generation. They each provide their own set of challenges.”
On that note, Trey spoke about the vast requirements of producing an open world game for a next-gen console.
“[Saboteur] is really big,” he says. “It’s taking more resources than any of our [previous] games. Although I wouldn’t suggest that Mercenaries 2 isn’t also a big game. Making open world games for next-gen consoles is extraordinarily difficult and is requiring a huge amount of resources. It’s kind of hard to weigh the difference between what it takes to make Mercenaries 2 and what it takes to make Saboteur.
“There is another component of the development that makes this huge, which is the fact that the team of ours consists of people from the Mercenaries team, the Star Wars Battlefront team, and the Full Spectrum Warrior team.”
“Linking two styles of games – making an action stealth game in an open world – felt like a good play for finding a sweet spot in the market.”—Trey Watkins
Trey Watkins: “[Sean is] an up-close-and-personal kind of guy. This is much more of a knockdown, drag-out bar fight than anything else. You’re not going to see roundhouse kicks. He’s going to pull up his fist, grab the guy by the neck, you’ll see punches thrown and kicks to the groin – all sorts of dirty street fighting that you might expect out of an Irish brawler.
Phil Hong: “It’s also important to note how the Nazis see you in this game. They’re just occupiers, so it’s not a hot zone where their intent is to open up gunfire and kill anybody. When you first engage them, their first response is, ‘Hold on, let me take him.’ They’re going to play with you a little bit and just try to detain you. They do this to kind of keep themselves busy in this occupied world. But as the situation escalates and you’ve taken down a few [of their men], they say, ‘Enough already, shoot him!’ And then it turns into gunplay.”
Regarding the sabotage aspect of the
game, Trey says that you will do everything from stopping a Nazi weapons train
to “assassinating a Nazi leader at a rally to a fistfight on top of the Eiffel
Tower with one of the bad guys.” He says that you can expect there to be several
high-action moments in the finished product. “We are really taking the whole
thriller and juicing it up Bruckheimer-style and allowing people to do
everything they would want to do if they were a larger-than-life Saboteur.“
Notes of Worthiness
Trey Watkins on Saboteur’s vehicle selection: “If you can see it, you can get into it. You’re going to see tanks and get into those. You can get into every car on the street, and motorcycles, bicycles, airplanes…”
Phil Hong on the Suspicion system: “There is an overall gameplay mechanic called Suspicion, which is basically how Nazis perceive you in the world. You can do things in the world that will raise their suspicion of you. Fighting raises it, and gunplay obviously triggers it.”
Trey adds, “We’re not in the business of doing a dead body maintenance stealth system. We want the stealth to feel fast. Since it is an open world game it’s important that the player has the room to move and not be frustrated by slower gameplay.”
Saboteur has not been confirmed for any specific game console. However, Pandemic is promoting the game to both PlayStation and Xbox-specific publications, all but confirming that the game is indeed PS3- and Xbox 360-bound.
Control details are to be announced. At press time they were still being tweaked.
Phil is a really big fan of jazz music. He wants to incorporate a traditional sound with modernization for the soundtrack. We are told that the current feel of the score is very bebop, jazz, big band, and swing sound… A very traditional sound for Europe in the 1940s, but with a sort of modernization. In other words, classical sounds being performed by modern acts