Bulletstorm, the new shooter from Painkiller developer People Can Fly, was recently unveiled to laughter and wide-eyed astonishment at publisher EA's spring showcase. After delivering a live gameplay demo to press, impressions of which you can find here, we sat down for a chat with creative director and PCF co-owner Adrian Chmielarz to get some juicy details on the game Epic's Cliff Blezinski reckons "puts the fun back into first person shooters".
Q: Where did the concept come from? Was there a feeling in the team that games were getting too serious?
Adrian Chmielarz: That's exactly it. When I was thinking about this, I thought how do I explain it? Some people sometimes refer to this as old school. I'm like, no, no, no, no! If you mean fun, then yes. But it's a very modern design. There's better storytelling, right? There's emotional context to all that. The latest technology, right? It makes total sense, unlike Painkiller. I was thinking how to explain that. I just realised how to explain it today. When I was looking at people looking at the trailer... so it started as, 'okay, so what is this' right? I was so happy, that's exactly what it's all about. I have no problem with games that are dead serious. Awesome. 24 tv series, right? Great. But, really, so intense, no jokes whatsoever. We thought, Die Hard, it's a thriller but it's bare foot Bruce Willis also, right? There are these light-hearted moments in this, too. So let's have something like that. Let's have this Tarantino-like gore, which is so over the top that instead of making you disgusted makes you laugh. That was exactly the idea for the game.
Q: Tell me about how you got from that initial idea to a tangible game experience you could feel was fun.
AC: We are completely blessed by the fact that we are part of Epic and we have EA as a publisher. Basically what that translates to for us is that we only need to worry about the creative side of things. We were able to take our time to make sure that this is it. Three years this game has been in development so far, which is a luxury not many teams have. And it's going to be out in 2011, so in total it's going to be four years in development. Usually you don't have that much time to make a game. In our case, we were able to push some ideas, test some stuff, prototype a lot. This thing happened. We always knew from the start that we wanted to have great weapons. We never knew that we wanted a Skill Shot system. That was not initially in the game. But we knew about the weapons being created. Then we thought, as we were messing around with the Flail Gun and wrapping people around and wrapping it around surfaces, we just realised, wait a minute, what if we actually rewarded players for this? So it's not just that they do it because they purely enjoy it, but they do it also because it's worth something in addition. I think even without the Skill Shot system people will be just messing around because it's just fun, like they did in Painkiller with a couple of weapons. But here it actually turned into a gameplay feature. So this idea was sort of lingering, being buried in the industry for a long time. Epic, they were the guys who invented 'Double Kill', 'Multi-kill', 'Headshot'. But it was meaningless from the gameplay point of view. It was just a motivator, an energiser. So it was somewhere out there already. We just grabbed it and turned it into a main game feature that turned Bulletstorm into something, in my opinion, unique.
Q: We saw the game being played single player. Can Bulletstorm be played as a story-driven first-person shooter?
AC: Beautiful question because this is exactly how it is. We don't force this system upon you. The core of it is still shooting things and being in and playing an action game. If you want to ignore that Skill Shot layer and play traditionally, you absolutely can. You will not be able to do it for long, in the way that you will get curious very soon. Some of these Skill Shots you can execute by accident. Then you see, 'So, okay, that was fun. I have these points. Oh, this is what I can get if I have more points. Actually, yeah, I want to try it.' So you start gaining your first points and quickly you're into it. If for some reason, on purpose maybe, you want to play it as every other shooter on the market, absolutely you can. We have a big story that we've invested a lot of resources into. Rick Remender is writing this and we have great actors for this. We are investing in the world. We had to create this world from scratch. 26th century, how does it work? What are the cars in the future? Does the glass still break in the future? Everything. The scripted events, we have over the top crazy sequences in the game. I always repeat that to the team when we talk about this game. Even if we didn't have Skill Shots, I think with the quality of the storytelling and the events we have, the visual quality, we would still have a really, really great game. But I do think that once you taste the Skill Shot system, there's no going back.
Q: Can you play co-operatively with friends against the computer? Is there competitive multiplayer?
AC: There is an online component of the game. If you want to interact with your friends in a Bulletstorm way you definitely will be able to. But I'm not allowed to say anything about multiplayer right now.
Q: Can you play the campaign co-operatively?
AC: In the campaign, no. We have this totally big element of Bulletstorm, like a mode, this other half I would call it. But the single-player campaign is a single-player campaign.
Q: So you can't play it co-operatively?
AC: Technically that's not a problem whatsoever. Gears is four-player co-op, right? But the thing is when we looked at the story we have for this game, it just didn't make any sense. You saw the demo, right? Ishi Sato was just snatched by this monster and dragged underground. So what do you do then in co-op? You just sit there inside the big monster being digested for 30 minutes? More importantly, when you actually play with your friend in the single-player campaign you compete with each other because you're stealing these Skill Shots from each other. That in itself is actually a critical thing. But then instead of just enjoying the story and the world and just breathing and living it, maybe stopping for a little exploration, you just rush through the game ignoring everything that we've done for the single story campaign. So, because we know we have this kick ass online component of the game, we have no problem cutting this from the single-player campaign.
Q: Bulletstorm is due out on 360, PS3 and PC. Will all three versions launch at the same time?
AC: This is a question for the publisher.
PR interjection: The plan is to ship all three simultaneously.
Q: How are you approaching the PC version? Will fans of your previous work who perhaps own powerful PCs be able to push the graphics up?
AC: PC has this fair advantage, I call it. By fair advantage I mean on a core level every platform is supposed to look the same. Nothing is inferior. We love all platforms. Me personally? I'm a console player. But we have hardcore PC players at PCF. So we love all platforms. But of course if you have a powerful card, you'll have a little more juice, higher resolution, anti-aliasing and whatever Unreal engine has. You can probably go hardcore and mess with your INI file and do all this kind of crazy stuff.
Q: I was hoping to get some more information about the story. What is the protagonist's ultimate goal?
AC: Actually oddly enough you're the first man to ask me that! I've had a lot of story-related questions, but nobody's asked me, 'what's the goal? They've crashed and now what?' My problem here is that whatever I tell you will be a spoiler. We want you to have fun when you play the game. But the first idea is, 'let's get the fuck out of here!' This is a really unpleasant place. Everything is trying to kill us. These savages, tribes and gangs are trying to kill us. The whole bloody planet is trying to kill us. Everything is crumbling, collapsing. Plants are trying to eat us! So basically, let's get the hell out of here. But it's not that simple because that ship you attacked also crashed somewhere in the city. Who's on board?
Q: What is that ship?
AC: When you were in Dead Echo, in the beginning of the game, ten years before, your supervisor so to speak was General Serrano. He was in charge of this team. He wasn't taking part in the action. He was pulling the strings from a distance. General Serrano is a very important figure in this future world, a really important guy. He has this whole Confederation of Planets army at his disposal. But you were doing his dirty work for him. Once you're split he wants to kill you because you know all of his secrets. He throws the whole Confederation army after you. The only way to survive is to become pirates. Robbing ships, that's how they make a living. So not only is the army after their heads, everybody will get some money if they kill Ishi and Gray. When you see Ulysses after distant years, this is one of General Serrano's most prized ships. There is a great chance that Serrano might be on board. That's what triggers Gray to attack the ship.
Q: Is he on board?
AC: It's not that hard to figure out [laughs]. But just in case I'm not saying anything.
Q: What can you spend the points you get for doing Skill Shots on?
AC: Whatever you unlock needs to be something tangible, something that really makes a difference. If you have this 100 hour RPG game, + 2 to your sword matters, and that's cool. In our game that would not make any sense that your gun suddenly instead of having 30 bullets in the clip has 32 bullets in the clip. We're not a simulator. In our case, instead of getting something like that you get the ability for your weapon that allows you to shoot 100 bullets at a time, for example. It's the Cycle of Awesome. And, yeah, I know, but Cycle of Awesome is, do cool shit to unlock cool shit to be able to do even cooler shit. You start as a bad ass, but you almost end up as a guy who can split planets in half with a fart. That's how it works. I do believe that when you see the list of items and abilities you can get for the Skill Points, that will make you go, 'I want to work my ass off with the Skill Shots.' But if it's fun then it's not really work. If you're enjoying this then it's not really work. You're going crazy and it's all fun, and at the same time you're rewarded to get tools for even more fun. So I hope that it works.
Bulletstorm is scheduled for release between January and March 2011 for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.