Last week the lid was finally lifted on Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days, the follow-up to the successful third-person shooter from Hitman developer IO Interactive. Now the game is somewhat out in the open, we're allowed to say just how unique a game it appears to be. With its YouTube-style handicam presentation and bizarre leading characters, Dog Days is certainly a game to keep and eye on. We caught up with producer Hakan Abrak to discuss the challenges involved with such a project and IO's development focus.
Q: What is the big aim with this sequel? What do you want to do with this game?
Hakan Abrak: If you talk about the feel of the game, the style, we were pursuing realism with this game more than the first one. We've been asking each other, and a lot of people, what is real, today. As you've seen, we've been inspired by a lot of Michael Mann movies and Blair Witch kind of camera shake movies. But also documentary, like YouTube kind of documentaries. What we think is real today is something that's on-stage, something that doesn't have the perfect angle, Hollywood style. It's the opposite. It's something that's random. It's some guy just checking out his mobile phone and recording something that's happening, something weird or interesting. For our generation that is accepted as real, and we tried to capture that. I really think we've nailed that.
Q: Has the controversy surrounding the first game created problems for you? Does it put pressure on you during development of the sequel? Does it still cast a shadow? Or have you been able to move away from it as a studio?
HA: It's been really weird for us, because for us we've been bystanders on the sideline looking at all this controversy happening. There's a lot of things we don't know and can't do anything about, but what we can get out from Kane & Lynch 1 is, let's face it, as you say, there are a lot of people who are reading a lot of things in forums about Kane & Lynch 1. We have had a constructive approach to that. We've used that as feedback for our mechanics to fix that. We have listened, done a lot more usability testing – internally, externally – to try to get the core shooter mechanic, the cover mechanics, stuff like that, to really get that tight. I believe we've succeeded with this one. There's some stuff we just can't control. It's out of our hands. We try to be constructive about it and use it.
Q: How do you approach the discussion of your games by gamers?
HA: It's different from person to person. It's a very human thing – how much you block and how much you listen to. We can't afford not to listen, right? We can't afford not to be open and honest about it. That's what we're trying to be with Kane & Lynch 2.
Q: In what way?
HA: First of all with the team. Obviously it has an impact on the team. Feelings on the first one... It got mixed reviews, but still Kane & Lynch was a huge success. It was a new franchise and sold really well. It got mixed reviews, but it got good reviews in a lot of style magazines. But then the whole controversy with Gerstmann kind of got out of hand. You maybe even could say some of the criticism was given by people that haven't played the game but jumped on the carousel with the whole thing. You can't do anything about that, so we just tried to listen to constructive critique. Let's face it, we had some problems with the mechanics, right? I mean, that's the honest truth. We spent a lot of time trying to fix it this time around.
Q: Are you taking a risk with Kane & Lynch 2? The art direction is quite different to what we've seen before. Is it a gamble?
HA: On some level you should always take a gamble. But we believe in what we're doing with this game, the direction we're taking. We spent a lot of time pursuing the X-Factor, doing something that's different, not generic shooter. So we really spent a lot of time in pursuing what's real. We wanted to make a real crime, a brutal crime shooter. What's real for us, for our generation it's user-generated stuff. It's a YouTube documentary. It was so easy for our art direction to communicate that to each other, and it was so easy for the team to understand where we were going. It was felt that we really have nailed it.
Q: It felt familiar?
HA: Yeah, it felt familiar. Although it may feel like a risk or a gamble, I think it's not. A lot of people are used to seeing controversial stuff on YouTube. They're used to it today and they accept it as real. It's not as off a controversial.