Adam Gascoigne on Quantum of Solace
Treyarch and Activision's first stab at a 007 adventure is nearly with us, the ambitious Quantum of Solace offering the best of the new film, as well as swathes of Casino Royale. Expectations are high, not least within Activision, who clearly have lofty hopes for their big-name IP. Having played the game, we sat down with with Adam Gascoigne, co-design director on Quantum of Solace.
Adam Gascoigne, thanks for speaking with us, I see you've been busy. Two-and-a-half years is it?
Two-and-a-half years, yes, and we're pretty much at submission now. Actually, I think the discs have already gone to Microsoft and Sony for approval, so we're pretty much there.
Looking at the films - the new direction with Daniel Craig - does the gritty, more realistic style make for a better or worse Bond game?
It makes for a better game, but this is specifically because it is more focussed. It gives us something to use as a reference, when we get lost, it helps us decide what to do next. I'll give you an example: we have a melee combat system in our game; its fairly simple and straightforward, but in most games that have a melee combat system the hero will do back-flips, flying-windmill punches; outrageous moves. Well, from the movie we have so many references from fights, specific moves that are very realistic and gritty, that we can recreate those. So, rather than going off into this outlandish world of super-hero stunts, we get to go realistic... so we're lucky to have such a specific reference source.
You use the Call of Duty 4 game engine. What have you added to this well-established technology?
I think the most important thing is the cover system. This basically means you can have what's called a persistent character, this means the Bond model, that you're controlling, is always in the world. Sometimes you're in the first-person perspective, sometimes the third, that is new to the engine. We also have a brand new AI system that was built by a team of AI programmers from the ground up. Again, this is something Call of Duty 4 doesn't have. That game used scripted AI, so it told enemies exactly what to do. We don't do that. We give the enemy options, to go to different places, and there's been a lot. The Call of Duty 4 engine was finished two years ago, so there's been a lot of improvements to the texture mapping, the quality of the characters - all the things where two years of work would take the engine to the next level. That's where we're at.
The multiplayer is great fun; what has using the CoD4 engine allowed you to do here?
Well, we're doing an economy and a class system. Actually, the class system came from a game we originally worked on - Call of Duty 3 - now unfortunately it wasn't noticed as much, because Call of Duty 4 was of course such a great game. But we use that class system, that was moved onto Call of Duty 4. So we used that aspect... but, the most important thing is the weapons. They have a very specific feel to them which comes from Call of Duty 4. It has tweaks, it's more appropriate. The weapons are of course different from Call of Duty 4. The biggest influence, then, is the weapons, the fact that there's such a good selection here - and the load-out at the beginning of course.
What's the split, in terms of in-game story, between Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace?
Its a little less than 50-50. A little more Casino Royale stuff... actually, we begin at the end of Casino Royale, where Quantum of Solace starts, then we go into that story, then we do a flash-back to more Casino Royale stuff. Then we go to the end of the Quantum of Solace story. Its close to being down the middle... but there's slightly more Casino Royale. The reason for that is that we had some new content, officially, you would say its based in the Casino Royale world - but no one will have seen it before. It's brand new.
Do you wrap up where Quantum of Solace wraps-up... within the game?
It's hard to tell because they changed the ending of the movie, so we had to change the ending of our game more than once, but I believe we do. There are a couple of little story threads where we change things, so, we actually added to them. A couple we wrap-up at the end. The general story? Yes, we finish that the same as the movie, but there are a couple of added bits that you'll see in the game too.
So... the next Bond game you make won't be 50-50 as this is?
No. This was a really good opportunity for us to really make a lot of content, we just didn't want to throw out Casino Royale, we really wanted to make a game for that actually, because its such a great movie. So, we wanted to make sure that we cover both movies... so, the next one we do, assuming its a film, will probably just be that movie.
Its been quite a while since Activision acquired the 007 license. Do you think we'll have to wait two-and-a-half years for the next game?
I don't know what they have planned. I mean, someone was telling me earlier that they read Activision was planning new releases, I know that it won't be us doing it - Treyarch - I assume we're going to work on the next one in two years, and I know our team are ramping-up as if we are. We want it. If the game sells well; the reviews go well; and if people like it, then I think we should get it. I know that we're prepared to take this forward, and I know we've designed the game in such a way that we can keep working on it. We want this to be like Call of Duty, like Halo... a really good game to start with that just gets better and better. That's what we want to do with this project. So, whether get there or not, I think depends on sales and reviews.
What's the mix of gameplay in Quantum of Solace? The mix between story and action... is there a puzzle element?
There are some minor puzzle elements. We had a lot at the beginning. We took, most of it, not all of it, there's some there, but we took most of it out, because we wanted to not be another licensed movie game. We could have put in everything from the film, just made an interactive copy, regardless of quality. But what we do is make '90% decisions'. 90% decisions are when you make a choice based on whether its better than 90%, or greater. Everything in the game is open to this. So, we took out driving - we had it in the game, we developed it - we had loads of puzzles, too, but we took it all out because we thought this isn't a 90% game. So, we're absolutely focussed on this.
With regard to espionage, this is actually an in-game choice. You can either choose to play stealthily, sneaking up on players, throwing them over balconies, or you can go in all guns blazing. Its a combat heavy gamer - mostly a shooter.
What are the differences between the platforms?
The PS3 and the Xbox 360 are identical, apart from a couple of tiny differences... you know, the frame-rates are the same, the content is exactly the same. We also have a DS game, this will be different. There's also a PS2 and PC game. I believe the PC game is different. We're not developing that. Our partners Beanox are developing that in Canada, now we work closely with them, they're a great team. I think there will be some changes, but I'm not sure what they are. The next-gen console versions are the same.
Was there anything you wanted to put in the game that the IP holders wouldn't allow?
No... I don't think there was actually!
What was there number one requirement?
I think their fear was that we would try to create a Bond universe; because we're new and fresh and excited, and would ignore the 46 years they've spent perfecting that universe. We didn't do that. The relationship wasn't difficult... we knew they knew Bond better than we did, we excepted that, and we just said "would Bond do this, or that" along the way. So, there was nothing to take out. They offered us some ideas along the way, but they were only content ideas. They loved it. They let us play the game makers and they helped create the universe.
What does the interactive medium allow you to do that a film does not?
Well, I think it gets you closer to being the character - definitely - you walk out of the movie dreaming that you're Bond, while you enter the game being Bond. Also, I mean, I'm a child of the movies, I love the movies, right now I think its more about... playing the game is more of an activity, you're more immersed. Its not as relaxing as watching a movie. It depends what you want to get out of it, the two mediums are getting a lot closer. So, one of the things I noted with a guy earlier - is that as the mediums get closer, we're trying hard to develop content that appeals to both movie fans and gamers. One of the ways we do that is by having the user control their experience. One of the ways we do that is through story... if you're not interested, then you can just skip it. You'll still understand the game - there are 30 second intros to levels - but if you want the full experience you can sit there and watch the videos. So, we kind of let you choose. Also, you can collect cellphones in the game which contain back story and data... if you're interested you can pick up that stuff.
Do you have any DLC plans?
I don't know for sure, I can't be 100%, I would be very surprised if we don't. I believe we'll do a map pack for the multiplayer... I doubt if there's any singleplayer DLC, but that could change too.
Have you shown the game to any of the actors from the film?
Yes, they've all seen it!
What did they think?
They really liked it. Daniel Craig's probably seen it more than anyone, and he wasn't signed-on until he played the game. So, that proves he likes it, because he could have said no! As for the others, Judie Dench hasn't played it... all the others have had the controller in their hands.
Everyone from the films is in the game?
Oh yes, I think we get almost everyone. We certainly have all the leads. Everyone apart from a few minors - all the big names, that's for sure.
Thanks for your time, Adam.