Jason Vandenberghe is the creative director on Red Steel 2, and a man who loves his swords. This week we sat down to chat about the new game, the future of the Wii, and the effect of FPS games on the human Lizard Brain. No, really!
Q: So Jason, you seem pretty excited today...
Jason Vandenberghe: I am pretty excited. But you know, that's me – I'm just nuts! You shouldn't take that as too much of an indicator. But yeah, for sure: I'm thrilled about this game. It's my favourite game I've ever worked on. It's a sword-fighting game, and we're pushing the envelope for sword-fighting experiences. I love this sort of graphic novel style, and the story is really over-the-top. I feel really personally connected to every piece of this game. I didn't make it all, of course! The team made the game.
Q: You've been working on this game for quite a while. What's been the hardest part of the project?
JV: Really it was the controls and getting the inputs right. We sort of stumbled into this new kind of gameplay with the Wii MotionPlus... I'm trying to think of ways to express this that don't sound like PR bullshit, but it's really true. We started out making a first person shooter, and when we got the Wii MotionPlus, suddenly we could make this brawler! We could make a first-person brawler, and that's what I've always wanted to do! So then we started chasing that, and what we learned is that all the stuff that works in third-person for action fighting... a lot of it does not translate into first-person.
Q: Because you don't have the same perspective...
JV: Exactly. And not only that, but something really weird happens to people's brains, to the Lizard Brain. When you're playing God of War and you're back here [gestures], a guy comes along and your brain goes, "He's close! I should beat him up." When you're playing Red Steel, there's a guy right in your face, beating on you with a sword, and your thought process is [adopts caveman voice] "UGG!". There's no time to be thinking about button combos, and it's really intense! So we had to reduce our expectation about the player's ability to chain inputs. Our combos are two inputs, sometimes it's three but really it's two. And we had to discover that – it's not like we didn't try all of the other versions. There were seven different combo systems that we built over the course of the project, none of which worked.
Q: Because they were too complex?
JV:Yeah, or they weren't engaging, weren't rewarding enough. You could do them, but it wasn't cool enough. Finding that right game balance, between doing something that was motivating and exciting – Yes! I got another move AND I want to use it – that was a really tricky thing. It was a lot of work, and it took a lot of research. But that's why we're in games, right? To discover these new things and to have a chance to invent them. I told the team when we were doing it, "Guys, I know this is hard, but we're not going to get many chances to actually innovate." Everyone claims that they're innovating in the games industry, and this is only the second time that I've actually innovated something.
Q: What was the first?
JV: Everything Or Nothing was the first third-person shooting lock game. We had nothing to compare it to, and so we had to invent this mechanic, figure out how to mix lock shooting with crouch cover and that kind of thing. I mean, it wasn't this huge innovation, but when it came out our friends in the industry were like "Wow! Look what you did." That was cool, and there aren't that many chances to do that. It was luck of the draw really. Ubisoft asked me to come and help out with this, so I just got lucky. That alignment [of guns and swords in first-person] was something that Ubisoft had sitting there with the original Red Steel, and then when we got the Wii MotionPlus the concept sort of appeared and we felt we should do something with it, chase it as far as it can go. We got the MotionPlus, the project was already underway, and then when we showed up the team executed on it. I have a really skilled team who had spent the previous two years with the Wii, trying to learn what does and doesn't work with controls, so they were really able to pick up the ball and run with it.