Continuing from Friday’s introduction to Hydrophobia we catch up with Keith Stuart for the first part of his interview with one of Blade Interactive’s MDs Pete Jones, and game designer Rob Hewson.
To find out more about the project (due out in April 2009), ThreeSpeech spoke to Pete Jones and Hydrophobia designer, Rob Hewson.
The obvious question - how has Blade moved from snooker sims to a water-filled action adventure?
Pete Jones: Our first approach was technology. We constructed a new game creation system from scratch called InfiniteWorlds. It’s not merely an editor – it’s a new way of building games where we produce our environments mathematically and texture them procedurally, which has three important implications:
1. The principal creators of the game are games designers not artists
2. The number of people necessary to create a the game is much smaller than industry norms
3. The memory footprint is tiny
Our next line of approach was to recruit the best in the industry for the task. We have programmers from Splinter Cell and Rainbow 6 Vegas, and artists who have worked on Fable 2 and Assassins Creed.
We’ve also taken a different approach to creating the narrative universe of Hydrophobia. We have movie directors, professional authors and scriptwriters onboard and we have given them a new suite of tools built in to InfiniteWorlds.
We have a movie style editing suite for the game events called the Sequencer and an advanced scripting tool called the Graphical Scripter.
Dialogue can be drafted and re-written within InfiniteWorlds, then the system outputs the final script for voice actors to record at the end of the process – helping us to really raise the bar in terms of videogame dialogue.
Can you tell us a little bit about where the idea came from? Did you develop the water physics engine first or was it the game concept?
Pete Jones: HydroEngine came first, our R & D Director Huw Lloyd and his team developed the fluid dynamics system based on a set of bespoke (and incredibly complicated) equations that Huw developed following his Astrophysics PhD thesis on fluid behaviour in galaxy formation.
Most people are describing the game as a player vs. environment experience - would you say this was correct? How does this manifest itself in actual gameplay terms?
Rob Hewson: Player versus environment is certainly a large part of the experience, the wonderful thing about water is that it is constantly affecting every area of the environment, so you get incredible amounts of emergent behaviour. The player constantly has to adapt to the environment and react quickly because doors, walls and windows are going to cave in differently each time according to the distribution of water.
One minute you can be shooting from cover in a dry room, the next minute a misplaced grenade has caused a great torrent of water to flow into scene of the battle and the player has to grab onto “floating cover” – objects floating in the water that the player can shoot from.
The player can affect the environment too; a simple example is shooting out a window to release a torrent of water and wipe out an enemy, or using Kate’s MAVI engineering tool to analyse water pressure and remotely control doors to manipulate the flow. As the game goes on the player will gain a greater ability to affect the water in a very direct way and turn it against the Malthusians.
Will there be puzzles that involve the manipulation of water? Can you explain any?
Rob Hewson: One of the liberating things about HydroEngine for the design team is that it allows multiple solutions to a particular problem, because it’s such a dynamic force. This has allowed us to hand over to the player and say, “how do you want to solve this?” to give a real feeling of agency when you pick up the control pad.
The puzzle aspects of the game focus on the relationship of water with other items and elements. Water can be used to extinguish fire which is blocking your path, or it can be used to transport fire in the form of burning oil on the surface.
If you’re looking down on an area with some Malthusians in it and there is an electrified cable that has come loose, you can kill them all by leading water into the area, but now if you want to go down there you’ve got to find some way to drain it again.
Water can be used to destroy barriers while you cling on to scenery, you can create custom floating explosive or surveillance devices and use the water to transport them.
There are always alternatives, and always surprises when you try the same strategy twice.
Is there a timed element to the action - I guess if the craft is sinking, areas will become uninhabitable as the game progresses - is this the case?
Rob Hewson: At the start of the game Kate is in the wrong place at the wrong time; down in the lower decks as the Malthusians are setting off explosives to flood the ship, so you’re always operating on the crest of the wave as it were.
Sometimes there will be a timed element to the play, and sometimes the player themselves are controlling the rate of flooding. There will be areas that can be returned to later as submerged sections, but a lot of the time things are getting utterly destroyed as you fight your way through.
Pete Jones: The nice thing about the game is that it has its own built in timer. The ship is sinking. Go anywhere you like but at the end of the day be quick!
Come back tomorrow for the second part of the interview…