Interview

Craig Allen, Legendary

Spark CEO discusses new FPS

With mythologically-inspired FPS Legendary due out in October, we talk shop with Spark Unlimited CEO Craig Allen, to find out where he has taken this new opus, and why he thinks this ambitious title can succeed where previous release Turning Point failed.

I think it is fair to say that reviews for Turning Point were mixed, what did Spark Unlimited learn from that release that will aid Legendary?

Turning Point and Legendary were both in production at the same time with separate teams so while there was certainly experiences that one team had – particularly with the platform submission process – that could be shared with the other, for the most part they were on completely separate paths. Craig Allen, Legendary

Also, much of that project was shaped by the demands of our partner and when you have a disagreement in strategy but one is paying the bills – at the end of the day we had to respect that Codemasters wanted a certain kind of game and it was their call as to when it was ready to be released.

Overall it was a very disappointing experience as I think we had a strong concept, some terrific elements – but because of the production schedule we did not have the ability to refine the game or react to any consumer testing.

Therefore, probably the biggest lessons learned are:

Time. Great games come out of strong iteration and because of the complexity with next-generation game development we have to allow much more time for post production – at least six months in order for proper lighting, play balancing and to react to consumer testing. If we had been able to give Turning Point such post-production time no question it would have resulted in a much better game. Craig Allen, Legendary

Less is More. Turning Point unfortunately had an epic concept without an epic budget and having a smaller game with a more refined experience would have better served all involved as well as our audience.

Where did the mythological premise behind Legendary come from?

One of the things we try to create at Spark Unlimited are games that have an opportunity to offer exciting, unique gameplay situations while keeping at their core an idea or concept that is relevant to the world in which we live.

With Legendary that core idea is this conflict between the world of man and the forces of nature (as embodied in the creatures of Mythology) and how we as a species have this need to change things and set events in motion before we really understand the consequence of our actions. Craig Allen, Legendary

The atomic bomb, as a more obvious example, was tested before everyone was in agreement that its use wouldn’t necessarily lead to the end of the world. But because our need at the time was great, we take the risk and push the button.

The Large Hadron Collider (which in theory could lead to the creation of a mini-black hole), nano-technology, genetic alteration – we take comfort in our ability to shape and play with our world until nature answers back with things like Global Warming or Hurricane Katrina, and we are humbled by forces still outside our control.

So in essence, The Box in Legendary – or Pandora’s Box – becomes a symbol of this unleashing of forces you cannot control.

As far as the tone of the game, the team wanted a feeling along the lines of Aliens (as opposed to Alien, which is more of a survivor-horror experience) in that they wanted to create a realistic military conflict with the extraordinary feeling that the movie captured so well. Craig Allen, Legendary

Jurassic Park was also talked about as it was a world of fantastic creatures but they were all extremely believable. They wanted predators instead of monsters. So creating technology that supported the surface damage states that reveal muscle under the skin was important for conveying that these were flesh and blood animals not fantasy monsters.

The first twenty minutes of War of the Worlds and Independence Day were also referenced by the team as we wanted strive for realistic epic impact as our modern world is changed forever – in our case by the return of these mythological creatures.

What is your favorite beast we'll be battling in Legendary?

The Griffons are awesome but the Werewolves are my personal favorite as they have so much versatility and surprising attack behaviors. In most FPS games the action is all in front of you and generally on more or less a horizontal plane of action. Craig Allen, Legendary

However, with the werewolves, the team wanted a creature that could move on any surface and use the environment as intelligently as the player – which meant they not only had to build a system for all surface navigation but for tagging objects as destructible, throwable, and burnable.

Further, to make the creatures even more believable, they added rage and damage states to reinforce their predator like behavior and intelligence. Because of this you’ll actually be able to see changes in the attack priorities of the creatures based on how you’re engaging them and what they have to use in their environment. They actually adjust strategy from at first using long range attacks by seeking out objects they can throw, to a kind of run and slash, to an all out mall attack when they’re completely enraged.

It makes for a very unpredictable and versatile opponent with many more abilities than a military based move from cover-to-cover human enemy and a really unique play experience as the threat can quickly come from any direction. Craig Allen, Legendary

How long is the single-player game?

Of course it depends on how experienced the player is with FPS games – but probably somewhere between twelve and fifteen hours on average.

What locales will we be fighting in? Can we expect vast landscapes to match the mighty beasts?

The goal with the game was to make something that felt like a really fun big action summer blockbuster that you played. So having a variety of locations and destroying a number of recognizable landmarks became a natural part of the creative equation.

New York was chosen as the starting location because the city is such a global icon of our modern world as well as being a great setting to showcase the dramatic change to our world as all these creatures of myth return.

Being in Times Square as it’s overrun by werewolves, firedrakes, Black Order soldiers and Naris all chaotically engaged in combat while a five story high Golem walks around crushing the city we hope will be a memorable highlight. As the game continues, we added London and a few other parts of England both to provide a contrasting ‘old world’ landscape as well as drive some creepy game moments that feel like a classic 50s horror movie.

How will the game's narrative be interwoven with the gameplay?

The team has certainly developed a rich world, strong characters, and narrative progression that unfolds through selected cinematic and in-game sequences – but the focus was on delivering the core action experience.

It’s one of the reasons we worked with Mark Waid to create an original graphic novel that will be on sale with the game to give folks who are more interested in going deeper with the characters and story a place to find that material.

Does Legendary mark the beginning of a new series; and are you planning any DLC post-launch?

We certainly have a plan for where we want to go from here – but whether or not we’ll be able to create more Legendary games will come down to how successful we are with this one.

Any multiplayer plans afoot?

We do have a multiplayer experience in Legendary but didn’t think gamers needed more Deathmatch or Team Deathmatch modes, so we put our energies into bringing the Werewolf into multiplayer game as a third combat element. We’ve always focused on the creatures being the key element in the game and so to have their AI systems running during team play became our goal.

As a result, you won’t win a Legendary Multiplayer match just by killing the other team – you’ll have to deal with the creatures as a chaotic enemy that is against both sides. This turned out to be quite a hard thing to do but it stays true to the core ideas of encountering creatures in our world and delivering a three-way combat dynamic that offers a really unique gameplay experience.

Do you worry about releasing another entry in the hugely competitive first-person shooter genre, during the already manic festive season?

Of course – but it is a manic season for a reason! No question the competition is always a concern – Dead Space, Resistence 2, Gears 2 – they should all be strong titles, but I think we have taken a unique approach with our game experience and content so hopefully the game can stand on its own as something different than what the other games have to offer.

We’re also coming into the market a bit before the rush in early October so hopefully folks will find us before the really big marketing budgets kick-in.

Are there any differences between the game's platforms?

There’s always some small differences as each platform has its own unique strengths and limitations – but the overall experience will be the same.

Lastly, what element of Legendary are you most proud of?

In terms of the gameplay experience, to create the three-way combat with the werewolves was really challenging for the team and provided a big wow moment (followed quickly by a bigger sigh of relief) when it finally came together!

But as far as the project itself – this is a game that would not exist without the talent, dedication and commitment of an extraordinary team of people. It’s not an easy road being an independent game studio these days and there were times when the project was carried purely by the faith of the team. In fact, if it wasn’t for Harry Miller, Mike Wilson, Time Hess, Steve Escalante, Richard Iggo and the Gamecock guys starting their business and wanting to support developers and original projects like Legendary we wouldn’t have made it!

So in the end I am most proud to be able to see this project completed and have an association with these passionate and talented people who are dedicated to making cool games.

Thanks for your time, Craig.

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