14th Dec 2009 | 11:51
A few weeks ago we travelled to Moscow to go hands-on with THQ's post-apocalyptic shooter, Metro 2033.
You can read our Metro 2033 preview for thoughts on the game, and what follows is our lengthy chat with THQ's Dean Sharp and 4A Games' Andrew Prokhoror.
Has Metro 2033 changed direction over the course of the project? It was announced, all went quiet and now its back... what's changed?
Dean Sharpe: Well THQ's involvement has been for about two years, so I can't really say what happened before that. I think before that it was more of pre-production and certainly the stuff that was seen at Leipzig, that was all just pre-production, the design wasn't set, they didn't have a publisher... Since THQ's been involved, it hasn't changed that much.
Before Metro 2033 went into production, were you playing with the idea of other formats or genres other than a first-person shooter?
Andrew Prokhoror: No.
What's been the most challenging part of bringing the novel to game?
Andrew Prokhoror: Well the key points of the novel are in the game, but because it's impossible to copy the book directly to the game, it's even harder than making a movie of a book. That's why we were given the freedom, to make our vision of the book by the author and he's very comfortable and satisfied by that. He understood that with such a philosophical book with such philosophical ideas it's very difficult to convey the ideas in a game.
So we've tried to add the philosophical elements as much as possible, but not so much to spoil the impressions of players who want a shooter. There are some elements of RPG, but nevertheless at its heart it's a shooter game.
Post-modern apocalyptic shooters are quite a crowded genre. What's going to make Metro 2033 stand out?
Dean Sharpe: There are other ones? [Laughter]
From my perspective I think the story is the biggest difference. Generally, I don't think - aside from a few titles - the stories in videogames are pretty weak to say the least and more often than not, the stories are written for the game as opposed to trying to adapt a game from a book.
Especially with Metro, Prof read the original story, because it was released online and was like 'I'd like to adapt this into a game'. Then talked to Author Dmitry Glukhovsky and said, "If we can change a couple of things, we could really make a good game out of this." Part of the book is now actually different because of that.
Andrew Prokhoror: It's hard to say that, for example, if I would say to my team, 'okay the last five, I don't know how much XXXX gives but let's change this with this and it's natural post-apocalyptic game.
I would like to recreate the game and people would believe that if it would have happened in the real world it will be like that. So it was the goal. So all features secondary. So creating a general realism, it didn't start with game we have unique selling point, marketing don't like it, so approach was from a different side. From real world and all features which could help us create the atmosphere, interesting gameplay.
Some of your team worked on S.T.A.L.K.E.R. how different is it approaching a linear gameplay experience?
Andrew Prokhoror: Yeah different, we decided we're fed up with [open world] replayability and let's just concentrate on making a good cinematic game. It was interesting for us.
Dean Sharpe: From my perspective when you're making an open world game, it's a very difficult to control the overall gameplay experience, because you have no way of knowing what the player will do. The more linear you are, the greater control you have over the overall experience and with us trying to tell the story it was critical to really control what the player was seeing and what he was experiencing to be able to tell the story effectively.
What was your process for taking the nuances of the book and making them work in an FPS context?
Dean Sharpe: It's very difficult to take a very cerebral philosophical book and apply that - even more so - to a game.
Andrew Prokhoror: Okay philosophical part of the game, all background story and NPC environment are creating the - guys it will be difficult to convey this in English so forgive me.
Dean Sharpe: The key points of the story were the easy parts. You just take those key points of the story and you're still trying to tell the story. You bring in the characters and the world that then fleshes out the story keeping the idea of the book. Then and I know this from working with them, the philosophical, cerebral and I even throw in mystical parts of the book are just strategically placed throughout the game.
And I know some players won't get them, I know there's parts that maybe they won't get, but I think that if you're the type of person that's looking for that type of stuff, you're going to find them.
So it's been balanced to suit both types of player?
Andrew Prokhoror: My hero has never seen a sky, so when he first sees the sky, the voice actor in the game started [putting too much emotion into it] saying "Ooooh sky". I said who is this talking is it supposed to be me? But in first hour he saves the life of a small child and takes him on his back and the child said, "What is this? Wow!"
Dean Sharpe: At the beginning with the postcards, maybe you don't pick up on it, but many people will.
Did you consider having a voiced character?
Dean Sharpe: We did, we did, but getting into the discussion on why we didn't go for a voiced character would be far too long a conversation but we just decided it wasn't the right way to go.
Andrew Prokhoror: Some people like it, but player plays the game not a specific character.
Dean Sharpe: For me, I argued against having a specific voice. In a movie I always hate it when they have the person thinking to themselves. To me that's just a cheap way out of figuring some other way to tell the story.
How do you handle the story elements and choices you make throughout the game? Are there branches in the code?
Dean Sharpe: There are not so much branches, but it's set up so that there are multiple ways to play it and that's true throughout the entire game. Just about every place you could, you do have that choice, whether you go in more aggressive or whether you choose a stealthy route.
Andrew Prokhoror: You can choose a different weapon or different approach to passing something or trying to get past something. You can assault or try to pass silently.
The reason I hesitate to say anything is that I hesitate to use that as an example of a feature, because it's kind of one of those things that's expected and we didn't want it to be like that, just because it's expected to be in there.
We wanted it to be that you could actually play it both ways and we put a lot of effort into making it fun both ways.
It seems to me primarily a PC shooter... was it conceived as PC primarily and ported across, what's the balance between the two versions?
Dean Sharpe: I completely disagree, maybe it's because you haven't gotten into it enough. I like to think a good game's a good game, you shouldn't have to compromise.
You know in the early days of games, there weren't kids games and adult games, there were just games, it's like, it's a good game it's a good game. Personally being originally a console guy I think it's a PC game with a lot of console type elements in it. But by the same token it's a very console game. I don't think you can differentiate.