At a recent hands-on demo day, I managed to get some time to chat with Tim Woodley, vice president of branding at Codemasters, who talked over Clive Barker's Jericho, a dark and violent horror game due later this year on PS3 and Xbox 360.
Pro-G: Clive Barker is a huge name in horror writing. How did this partnership come about?
Tim Woodley: Well, it was kind of like a mutual need. Clive was in the market to revisit the video game space. He had a concept that was specifically designed or conjured up for a game. Codemasters had noticed there was a trend in the market for horror; not just in gaming but across the board in the entertainment sphere, and when we were looking to enter the horror genre, there is really only one name when it comes down to it.
Pro-G: Over the past few years, the fashion in horror has been towards the creepy, atmospheric thriller, with films like The Ring and games like Project Zero. What will Jericho offer in contrast to this?
TW: What Clive brings to the table, and what we've realised in the game is that there is more than one dimension to horror, and Clive's particular dimension is on building these grotesque scenarios and universes, fully fleshed out and intense. When you restrict yourself in terms of pace, I think games can become quite stilted and quite ordinary. I think this will be quite a fresh take on the genre for many people. Exploring the mind of Clive Barker is going to be quite a disturbing thing.
Pro-G: Have you had to make any concessions with the gore and violence in the wake of the Manhunt 2 fiasco, which has made the press eager to jump on any game they can accuse of being unsuitable for the public?
TW: As a publisher, our primary concern is that we are responsible to the people we are selling a game to. This game was always going to be adult themed and have mature content. The fact that it is set in a fantasy world that is no different from a horror movie, for example, stands us in good stead, but even so we are being particularly sensitive in this current climate. We're making sure we've got the ratings board on board.
Pro-G: Tell me about the way the gameplay works. Jericho appears to be a squad-based shooter.
TW: Yes, well, unlike in other squad-based games where ordinarily you would have the ability to order your squad as a whole, in Jericho we've taken that sort of squad-based angle, and with the unique storyline, there is the ability for the player to jump from character to character and play as that character, at whatever point in the game they want to. There are seven members of the squad. Each one not only has unique conventional warfare abilities, but also has a number of supernatural powers.
Pro-G: So has it been challenging to make that work as a game mechanic without a control set-up that overwhelms the player?
TW: The first thing to point out is that they are introduced gradually over the first period of the game, so you start off with one and then another is added, so you get used to jumping between them all. It's an educational process, and it is almost like powering yourself up with another weapon. That, and the fact that the control mechanism that Mercury Steam has developed is just so intuitive.
Pro-G: And what about multiplayer?
TW: (Laughter) Good question! Obviously the game is quite plot-driven, so it is not going to include multiplayer. We thought long and hard about first-person-shooters, and how people expect them to include multiplayer in this day and age. When you think about what Jericho is, and how the storyline delivers and provides the ability to bend time and slow down time, this creates all kinds of physical difficulties. If you were to create a multiplayer that had any real worth you'd have to strip away all of those special things that are so crucial to the single-player. Ultimately all you'd be left with would be the maps we'd created and a bit of deathmatch and capture the flag. Rather than put that in and get marked down for a weak multiplayer, we thought 'no, we're going to concentrate on creating what is essentially a multiplayer game in a single-player world'. It was an agonising decision but we feel we've made the right one.
Pro-G; That is quite a bold decision.
TW: Yes it is. The way I look at it is that it happens to be told from a first-person perspective, but it could just have easily been third person. If you look at Resident Evil or Silent Hill it is all about the single-player storyline. And again, how would you include a character that slows down time in a multiplayer space?
Pro-G: I guess I wouldn't.
TW: Exactly, because you'd be loosing more than you'd be adding.
Pro-G: Brilliant. Thanks so much Tim.