Factor 5’s Julian Eggebrecht delves into the world of Lair
“…in the end, it is all about game play.”
Lair was first seen, in the form of a trailer, back at E3 2006. It was such an eye-popping visceral presentation that the title was immediately put on the list of “must have.” Sure, it is more flight sim than fantasy role-playing title, but in a lot of ways, Factor 5 has melded those two genres together to create a fantasy world torn by war in which riding a dragon as a member of an elite sky guard team is a dominating factor.
A couple of weeks ago, just a few months shy of the projected release date for the title, Sony held a little event in San Rafael to show off the title to media members.
Factor 5’s Julian Eggebrecht was on hand (one of the co-founders of the company and the executive producer on the title) for the presentation and to speak with members of the media in one-on-one interview sessions. GamingPolo was able to sit down and have a chat with Julian about this triple-A action title.
GP: Players will be flying dragons and fighting with dragons. The mesh, to incorporate flight dynamics and combat capabilities, must have been pretty intense, and then you exponentially put those elements into several dragons, on screen, at the same time. How big was that challenge?
Julian: The biggest challenge for us was … in our previous games we always worked with craft, from the Star Wars saga, and one of the main things, which they don’t do, is have any animation on them. So our biggest challenge was to get the dragons with all of their limbs, especially since they are multi-limbed creatures which are also flying, to behave right and to feel right, to feel heavy on the one hand, but nimble on the other hand. So it was a huge effort.
And the amount of dragons which are on screen, which is what the PS3 makes possible, animating at the same time, as well as creatures and humans – that absolutely would not have been possible without the PS3 architecture.
GP: What about the aerodynamics of the dragons themselves. You had to balance wing span, the scope of body mass and come up with an entirely new model for this dynamic.
Julian: We were very much inspired by bats. When you study animal behavior, bats are quite efficient in terms of wing usage. And one of the things we needed were relatively shallow wings, which were not as wide as bird wings because when you look at the camera angle behind the player, to give you a good view of the action, the wing shouldn’t extend too much, it shouldn’t cover up too much. So we were going back and forth and touching it up to the point where it was barely still believable that the beast could fly, and most likely would fly, but where it also would work the camera. Because in the end, it is all about game play.
And it was very tough. Right away we said we had to figure out how they don’t look goofy, don’t make compromises. But on the other hand, also make it believable because if we fail on the dragon side of believability the whole game will fail.
GP: How did you go about the process of creating the dragon’s set of animations, and determining what worked and what wouldn’t work?
Julian: It’s all about the transitions and being clever about the transitions. The gameplay systems provide a certain point where we do have breaks in camera motion. And whenever the camera is actually moving into a new position that is actually a nice way to cheat into an animation which normally would not flow perfectly into each other, which was one of the advantages. We actually have to cheat, especially during the killing moves were you see the very elaborate animations of the dragons, but also for some of the physical attacks.
GP: It would have been very easy to not have a rotatable camera in this game, but yet you seem so confident in the rendering of the game, that you do allow players to pan around with the camera and see it all rendered out on in real time. To be able to have so much rendered at once, did that tax the PS3 system?
Julian: It is a taxing problem for any system. The PS3 is probably the only system that has enough power to actually make it – at that scale – possible. Our games, on every single console generation, have been trying to do just that – to broaden that scale and to widen the range between the far out and the minutia detailed things. With Lair we’ve come such a long way and it is such a huge step up from last generation. Without the PS3 doing so much dynamically, as the camera zooms in and out, I don’t think that would have been possible.
GP: It would have been easy to create a storyline in this game that was a subordinate to the combat systems. Yet you seem to have tried to texture in and layer a complex storyline. During the presentation, I got the impression that players may find themselves wondering just which is the right side in the war …
Julian: (laughs) Without giving away too much, during the game your perceptions will completely change. And that was the kicker for me when we created this story. We were at this place where we knew we wanted to go dark. Because dark and an interesting storyline means you look at the atrocities of war, you play out the atrocities of war but you need to come to the point where you face the morale side of things and the ethical side of things. And quite frankly, a straight military story, just going and attacking the other side, we wouldn’t have wanted to do. Games are at the point where if the stories can’t engage us a little bit more, we shouldn’t be doing this.
GP: How many hours of gameplay do you anticipate this game will have?
Julian: It depends on how good you are as a player. Some missions you might get on the first go and some you may take 10 go’s and it will last much, much longer. We are saying, in general, 12 hours, and that is without a lot of the replay value.
GP: Some developers, when creating a game of such scope, have a lot of back-story material. How much of the total script that was created for this game was used and is there enough material to serve as a foundation for a sequel or even prequel?
Julian: There is a complete pre-story and there is actually an aftermath. What becomes, relatively quickly, clear is that although there is a war raging in the world, both sides are kind of doomed anyway because the natural phenomenon of the volcanoes erupting and making the land uninhabitable will, sooner or later, catch all of them. So from there we have a starting point for potential sequels. We also had to cut a couple of levels, which were pre-production, and they actually correlate to some sub-plots. Altogether we had to cut two sub-plots, which is one of the things when we talk about potentials for downloadable content later on, which we are considering right now, putting back into the story.
GP: What is your favorite aspect of this game? When did you know that the vision of the team had been realized?
Julian: There were two key markers. The first was when the seamless sky to ground started working. The other was when the physical attack systems for the dragons came together. The shooting part we had down, because we had been doing it for so many years, but the physical part was tough.
When they clicked for the first time, it was ‘wow, we’ve got something fresh and new here.’
Check out our LAIR Preview