Bionic Commando fans are a patient lot. They've been waiting 10 long years for a remake of the classic NES extendible bionic gripper game. Well the end is in sight. Swedish developer GRIN, in collaboration with Japanese publisher Capcom, is hard at work on a next-gen sequel, due out on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. VideoGamer.com sat down with Grin's Ben Judd, Bionic Commando's producer, to chat Metal Gear Solid 2, GTA, Spiderman and how the team is bringing Nathan Spencer into the 21st century.
VideoGamer.com: First off, I wanted to ask you guys what you thought of the reaction to the game's unveiling - I'm talking hardcore gamers, forum posters that kind of thing. Do you care?
Benn Judd: When you announce the return of any cherished franchise there are going to be those who like the approach you are taking and those who don't, but on the whole, the reaction to the return of Bionic Commando was pretty positive. From here on in, it is our job to deliver a game that remains true to the original, yet makes it relevant to today's gaming audience.
VideoGamer.com: So how far into development is the game? Can you say what percent complete BC is?
BJ:The game has not reached the alpha build phase yet so I'd estimate that we are about halfway done.
VideoGamer.com: Do you feel any more pressure than normal developing Bionic Commando, considering the hardcore loyal fanbase of the original game?
BJ: Personally I am one of the biggest fans of the original and I've wanted to see a new game in the series for many years. Following continued requests to the Head of R&D, Inafune-san, he finally gave me the green light and that was a great day for me. Do I feel the pressure to deliver a great game, for sure, but I hope that my love for the original will help produce a game that doesn't let the fans down.
VideoGamer.com: What's the most important thing with BC, making sure the game pleases those hardcore gamers who played the original or making the game relevant for today's 360/PS3/high-end PC-owning gamer? Is it possible to please both?
BJ: It is going to be a tough job, but we are certainly aiming to please both.
VideoGamer.com: What's your opinion on the high-end PC VS 360-PS3 debate? In your opinion can the consoles ever compete, however powerful they are?
BJ: Consoles have one key advantage and that is the fact that they are standardized. You know that all of the users will have the same set-up and same specs. No one gets left out so you know exactly what to plan for. PCs will always have the best graphics but the percentage of people who really can enjoy the game at the level is much, much smaller.
VideoGamer.com: Is there a lead platform for BC? If so, why has it been chosen?
BJ: Development is being undertaken simultaneously across all three platforms.
VideoGamer.com: Are you using a pre-existing game engine or starting from scratch with BC?
BJ: The game is being developed utilizing Grin's propriety Diesel engine. They have created and tweaked it over the past several years and it's currently one of the most cutting-edge multi-platform engines out there.
VideoGamer.com: We understand that a Japanese Capcom design team has been hired to aid development of BC? Could you tell us a little bit about how that relationship is working out?
BJ: Your question is somewhat inaccurate so let me explain the set up.
I work for Capcom and am based in Capcom's R&D office in Osaka Japan where I have the role of Producer on Bionic Commando. Rather than use an internal Capcom team, the development of the game is being undertaken by GRIN, who are based in Stockholm, Sweden. In addition we have a number of staff here in Osaka who are working on the project, one of which is Motohide Eshiro who has the role of Creative Advisor. I am originally from the United States, so the development team behind Bionic Commando represents a unique and compelling collaboration of cultures and skills. This partnership provides a further example of Capcom's strategy to work with the best developer talent, whilst maintaining the unique elements of creativity and approach to game design for which Capcom is renowned.
VideoGamer.com: How much of a challenge is it to make swinging about in a fully 3D environment work well, and how have you managed it?
BJ: Right from the outset we knew that getting the swing mechanic right was essential and we tried a lot of variations before we hit upon an option that we feel gives the player a real level of freedom to explore the game's environments, but at the same time is easy to get to grips with.
VideoGamer.com: Can you tell us a bit about bringing Nathan Spencer into the 21st century and the various considerations and reasons behind your character design decisions?
BJ: First thing we wanted to do was to make Nathan a dynamic character. He is already the hero at the end of the first game having defeated the imperials and therefore was on top of his game. Kojima-san himself mentioned that he chose to make Raiden the main character of MGS2 because he felt Snake was already the veteran and there wasn't much that he couldn't do already. I agree with this concept in that it's never fun to have a lead character that can kick everybody's butt right from the start. You need to have a character that is broken and needs to reach his full potential. Therefore we needed to 'break' Spencer in some way so that he had a direction to go in. Spencer's current character design represents some of the key plot points in the game. The fact that he looks about as "anti-Army" as possible is an active choice he has made, the government let him down and he has no love for it.
VideoGamer.com: What will you spend most of your time doing in BC? Swinging, combat or platforming/exploring? What's the reasoning behind that?
BJ: Swinging will be a key movement mechanic, platforming/exploring will be something that is not required but exists for players who want to maximize their experience. Since you are a commando, expect plenty of combat. A good comparison, as far as exploration/combat/swinging goes would be Grand Theft Auto since the cars were for movement, there was the ability to explore and do other mini-challenges, and of course you had plenty of battles to spice everything up.
VideoGamer.com: Tell us how swinging around in BC will blow swinging around in the Spiderman games out of the water.
BJ: Both Spiderman 1 and 2 had a different type of control mechanism. Spiderman 1 used fixed swing points that increased the challenge of swinging but decreased the speed at which you could move. Additionally, it restricted freedom since you could only attach to limited number of anchoring points. In Spiderman 2 the web would just randomly connect into the sky which required a bit of suspension of disbelief from the user but it did speed things up and give swinging the visceral feeling that I feel it should have. Unfortunately, they sacrificed any sort of user-based skill by making this choice. In Bionic Commando, not only can you shoot enemies while swinging, the base swing mechanic is also much more advanced. The user feels in control, they can go where they want when they want to. However, swinging is skill based so you can't just button mash your way through levels. It truly does feel like the next evolution of the swing mechanic.
VideoGamer.com: What arm features have you decided upon as of now? Can you tell us anything about how you might upgrade it?
BJ: We will be using a unique upgrade system that will give the player incentive to do different speciality moves with their arm. As far as the base mechanics go, let's just say that we have taken a page out of Devil May Cry's book. After all, blending the Capcom feel into this game is also of huge importance to us.
VideoGamer.com: Can you give us any hints on the game's story - anything that hasn't already been announced? For example, why was Spencer imprisoned and what is Spencer's primary goal once he escapes from prison?
BJ: I wish I could, but the PR team will have a fit and they know where I live!
VideoGamer.com: We've already seen Ascension City - what can you tell us about other environments you'll see in BC? Is AC the only city you'll see in the game?
BJ: If you took a careful look at the end of the initial trailer we released you will see a quick glimpse of a Boss character in a different environment to that of Ascension City so yes, there are definitely other areas for Nathan to explore and we'll be revealing more of these as we move closer to the game's release.
VideoGamer.com: Is there any word on any multiplayer features? Will BC have any online functionality?
BJ: Watching multiple "commandos" swing though a variety of different environments certainly sounds appealing to me as a fan. However, we are currently focused on the single-player gameplay.
VideoGamer.com: Is there any word when we might be seeing BC? Is a demo a possibility?
BJ: The game will be released this year for sure and yes, if the schedule permits we would like to release a demo.
VideoGamer.com: Could the game ever come to the Wii? I'm thinking it might be pretty cool to swing Spencer around with the Wii Remote.
BJ: It will largely depend on what the fans want for the future of Bionic Commando. If the interest is there, of course we want as many people as possible to appreciate this great franchise.
Bionic Commando is due out for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC in 2008.