Perfect Dark Zero
18th Nov 2005 | 16:19
Not long to go now - just two Fridays hence and you'll get your hands on Microsoft's Xbox 360 and have a chance to bask the charms of Perfect Dark Zero's Miss Joanna Dark, the flagship 360 launch shooter and prequel to the spiritual successor of Rare's classic GoldenEye.
A lot's riding on the success of Perfect Dark Zero and so eager were Microsoft to place Ms Dark in your hands they apparently took the huge gamble of sending the game to be manufactured, even before it has passed the company's rigorous certification process.
PDZ has been nearly five whole years in the making since its inception and our old friends at OXM.co.uk recently caught up with two guys who've been with Joanna since the very beginning - Rare's Chris Tilston, Lead Designer and Project Lead, and Dale Murchie, single-player designer and storywriter. If anyone can fill you in on Ms Dark's latest escapades, these are the boys, so take it way Chris and Dale.
Rare has a very strong heritage in console FPS, and you could say that you guys invented the console FPS with GoldenEye. What is it about Perfect Dark Zero that takes that to the next level?
Chris Tilston: We think there are a number of different elements in Perfect Dark Zero that improve on what we've done before. Certainly, we've been able to make the game accessible to everybody, something that couldn't be said of the last Perfect Dark game. We've got a very unique help system that cuts in whenever the player gets stuck, so people who wouldn't normally play this type of game can get into it.
We've also introduced a few new moves into the FPS formula. We've got a cover move where you can protect yourself and still attack, and a roll move that can get you out of trouble quickly. We've also got around 26 weapons, all of which have very imaginative secondaries. That's something that really takes the gameplay sideways, because they allow the player to be a lot more tactical than just shooting everything.
Could you give us an introduction to the storyline of PDZ?
Dale Murchie: Perfect Dark Zero is an origin story. It's like the Spider-Man movie, it goes right back to how Joanna got involved with the Carrington Institute. We've brought back a couple of characters from Perfect Dark, so if you've played the game before there'll be some familiar names. But if you've never played the game before we explain what the Carrington Institute is, who dataDyne are, and what they're up to.
Speaking of the original, what do you hope real hardcore PD fans will enjoy about Perfect Dark Zero?
Chris Tilston: All of it! There's definitely plenty in there for the hardcore fan. We've got lots of neat hooks into the original game that you won't notice if you never played the original game, but they tie together certain pieces of the story very well.
Dale Murchie: Oh yeah, there are lots of little things hidden away for the hardcore! Characters will say things in passing, or you'll notice things that link in to the original game. It's all very planned out - we've got a big story timeline and a huge story bible that maps out where everything is and where it's going. That also all ties into the exclusive comic book that's coming and Greg Rukba's novel. Put it all together and you've got the deepest Perfect Dark experience ever.
Chris Tilston: We've also got the Xbox Live scoreboards and leaderboards for the single-player levels, so the really hardcore Perfect Dark fans will be competing against each other to get the highest scores in the world.
Tell us a little about the development history of PDZ...
Chris Tilston: Well, PDZ started on GameCube about 300 years ago... We had a very small team, two programmers, me and Dale on design, and then maybe five or six others. It was basically prototyping, finding out where we could go and how we could get there. We soon came to the realisation that the GameCube wasn't going to be online and then the whole Microsoft thing happened. So we went through a bit of a redesign on the multiplayer and online side. About two years ago we got to 50 players online on Xbox, but the graphics just couldn't handle it.
Then the Xbox 360 came along. It's just allowed us to do lots of players online and given us the opportunity to polish everything else. The co-op game is a good example. It's not just, 'quick, let's run and kill that guy and not really work together', we've really worked hard to ensure there are things you have to do together. The co-op game is actually a very different experience to the single-player game, and that's thanks to the Xbox 360. I wouldn't say they're two separate games, but there's definitely an evolution in the co-op mode.
Were there other areas of the game you were able to improve thanks to the additional power of the Xbox 360?
Dale Murchie: We were already pushing pretty hard on what the Xbox could do. As soon as we transferred to the Xbox we managed to slow it down instantly because we wanted to throw everything in there. So when we moved to Xbox 360 it was great because we could finally get everything in there that we always wanted. It's so much more powerful.
How do you think people will actually react to the Xbox 360?
Dale Murchie: I think the main thing is to see it moving, to get the pad in your hands and actually see it moving in front of you. It's got a very cinematic look to it that no-one's ever seen in a videogames console before because of all the visual effects.
Chris Tilston: And the animation is amazing, you don't get that in a static picture. You don't get the feedback from the controls, you don't get the sound. It all comes together to something really special that people haven't seen before. We haven't put many PDZ movies out - we're usually pretty secretive about our games - so people haven't really seen what PDZ can do. That's going to change soon, though!
PDZ introduces two new moves we're not used to seeing in an FPS: Taking cover and combat rolling, both of which switch the viewpoint to a third-person perspective. Why did you introduce these and how do they work?
Chris Tilston: We wanted to enhance the stealth aspect, really. In games like GoldenEye you're always ducking out around corners, and we thought that was an opportunity to offer a new gameplay feature that made it easier and more fun. Plus, the game is about Joanna Dark, but if you stick to a first-person perspective you never see her. We didn't want to bring the game into a total third-person view because the shooting works better in first-person perspective. So we experimented with a few things and found that using a third-person perspective for the cover move worked well.
The cover move was specifically designed for multiplayer, but you can use it in the single-player game too. We needed a move that was fast, that you could get into and get out of really quickly, and for that we needed to use a third-person perspective. We could have done a clumsy FPS for leaning around corners if we were only using it in the single-player game, but for multiplayer it works better to move into third-person.
Dale Murchie: As for the roll, we were watching all these supposedly serious online FPS games like Call of Duty and we'd see all these players doing these beautiful tactical movements - and then there'd be one guy bouncing around in the background. It just looks stupid and breaks the reality of the game. We wanted to implement that kind of dodging, that quick evasion, but we wanted to keep it playable and make it look cool. The combat roll is our way of doing that. It breaks the auto-lock of other players and lets you dodge bullets really well. Plus, you get to see the character again. We spent a lot of time working on the transition between first and third-person perspective with both the combat roll and taking cover so that they didn't become disorientating. We did have a first-person roll in there at one point...
You mentioned seeing Joanna more, and she certainly looks different. She's certainly younger, but what kind of changes have you made to the character and why?
Dale Murchie: Yes, she's younger, so that was a big part of the redesign. She's not part of the Institute yet, and we wanted to show that. When Wil Overton, Joanna's designer, started to revisit her image he wanted to add lots of distinctive elements so that she'd be more memorable. That's why she's got the star tattoo, the blonde streak in her hair, the distinctive choppy outline to her hairstyle. It's all so we can put her in any type of outfit and she stays distinctly Jo.
Some of the levels we've seen are pretty huge in scale. Is that something you wanted to concentrate on?
Chris Tilston: Well, yes, but for us the gameplay is always paramount. When we're designing the game we're absolutely focused on the gameplay, and we leave it to the artists to focus on making the visual side impressive. We often find that we're so into making the gameplay work that we suddenly look back and the artists have made everything look amazing, really embellished everything.
Dale Murchie: We get inspired by a lot of films, sitting there watching them and thinking 'I want to play that, how can I work that into the game?' We've got a rooftop sequence that's inspired by The Matrix, and it looks extremely impressive.
Let's talk about multiplayer. What are your hopes and expectations for it?
Chris Tilston: That people play it, have fun, and keep playing it. That's all I want. Seriously, there are no obstructions. It's completely customisable. If people have fun setting up custom servers with all rocket launchers or all swords, that's up to them. If they have fun we've done our job. We have no expectations about it becoming a professional gamers' game or whatever.
Tell us a little more about the co-op modes...
Chris Tilston: In the single-player game certain levels are fully designed for co-op. We've got a rooftop level where one player is up on the roofs protecting the second player down on the streets, for instance. Other levels put the players together but there are always things in that level that both players must do together - one can't just hang back and let the other do the work. We've also redesigned the respawn procedure. If one player dies the other player has to find them to bring them back to life. That encourages players to stick together and not just go off and do their own thing.
It must have been quite a challenge to work the co-op stuff into the single-player game?
Chris Tilston: It was worse than that! The Agent difficulty level is there for everyone to play. You don't have to be particularly stealthy and it's fairly easy. As you go up the difficulty levels we unlock new objectives and things you have to do. Your old tactics won't work any more. Now, with co-op we don't just have to tie in each level, but also variations in each difficulty level on each level. Combining those three difficulty levels and the co-op mode into one big pie took a lot of work.
Any other new gadgets you could tell us about?
Dale Murchie: The cool thing about the gadgets is that you don't just go up to something and press a button. We've worked in little games that you have to complete. The great thing about that is that it puts you under pressure when there's a guard coming back and you're trying to access a locked door. They're used in the multiplayer too.
Chris Tilston: Yes. Essentially there are three main stock gadgets you can use in all the levels. Depending on which one you take on, you open up different routes. One is puzzle-based. One is based on tactile feedback from the rumble. They let the player approach the game in different ways, but they'll really show up when people try to get the high scores for the online rankings.
So what's in the future for Perfect Dark? What's next, Perfect Dark One?
Dale Murchie: What's next? Joanna goes on holiday so we can do some quiet 'research'. Please! And yeah, we started with Perfect Dark and we've just done Perfect Dark Zero, so where do we go next?
Chris Tilston: Perfect Dark Minus One? That's the logical next step.
Dale Murchie: No, let's shoot forward. I think there are a lot of things we can do next. Take a lot of things we've got in this game and take them further. Keep that variety and increase the sheer differences in the things you can do. The good thing is that because we've been able to tell the origin story everyone now knows who Jo is, so we can send her off around the world on all new adventures.
This interview first appeared on our sister website OXM.co.uk, online home of the Official Xbox 360 Magazine. Head on over for further PDZ goodness from Rare's dynamic duo. If you want to know more about Rare's other Xbox 360 launch title, the estimable Kameo: Elements of Power, Rare's George Andreas fills us in on some of the key details on the development of the flagship fantasy morph-a-thon.