LucasArts has kept much of its latest Indiana Jones adventure, The Staff of Kings, shrouded in mystery, but at a recent press event in London it took the shackles off and allowed us some much-needed hands-on with the Wii version. Not only that, but LucasArts' voice director David Collins was on hand to give us even more details on the whip-cracking adventure.
VideoGamer.com: The game is being developed by A2M. Who came up with the story?
David Collins: LucasArts came up with the story a few years ago. It was a collaboration between several people. There were some key producers and team members at LucasArts, including vice president at the time Peter Hirschmann, and what they would do is meet in strike teams and come up with that story, and then they would take it to George (Lucas). He's the master storyteller. So getting his input, he just has this insight that nobody else has, obviously it's his universe. We pushed hard to make new characters, new adversaries for Indiana Jones, new friends of his that you're introduced to, like Maggie O'Mally, the love interest, she's a photojournalist from Ireland. Archie and Susie Tan, who are Chinese from San Francisco, they help you out. An old professor of yours, an archaeology professor named Kingston has gone on looking for this (Staff of Moses) before you have and so you are looking for him as well. Then you see Magnus Moeller, who used to be a student with you, and now of course is working for the other side. We're very careful about when we set it. We're set in 1939, a year after Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, so it's right in that historical backdrop. Basically we had that story outlined, we had all that ready to go, then A2M started to build the game.
VideoGamer.com: Is meeting George Lucas to get story approval an incredibly nerve-racking thing?
DC: I'm sure it is. I wish I could say I was invited into the room! To be clear, George Lucas is a very busy man. They put out a press release saying he's working on a World War II movie which they're calling Red Tales right now. Of course while we were in development on this, he was in development with Steven Spielberg on Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. We were able to go to him every once in a while but he also tries to give us a certain amount of autonomy in order to build these games. But we were lucky on this one to be able to get his input. Those meetings... I mean I helped set it up! I mixed the trailer for the thing, or some pre-visualisation movies for that, as well as Star Wars: Force Unleashed. And we would go in and basically talk to him about these projects. The feedback that they got, I mean you just can't get it anywhere but the source. It really helps. I think that's why in those cinematic moments that you see it just feels very Indiana Jones. The idea of him always being up against insurmountable odds and always trying to do the right thing, but not necessarily in the neatest way, it really comes across in The Staff of Kings.
VideoGamer.com: Is it Harrison Ford's voice?
DC: It's not. In all languages we have a Indiana Jones sound-a-like, for a variety of reasons, and some of which honestly I'm not even privy to. It's mostly availability, time, he's a very busy man. Having a sound-a-like in there means we can go to him with any pick-ups any time we need to, or go through the tutorial and get a lot of variations of 'press the A button'. So it worked for us to have a sound-a-like. It's John Armstrong, he was actually the voice of Han Solo in Star Wars: Empire at War. He's from that same area of the Midwest, the Chicago area, he just has that sort of swagger to him. Indiana Jones is a huge loveable character and so we wanted to be true to that feel.
VideoGamer.com: Have any of the cast from the films been involved in the game?
DC: There aren't any real characters from the other films because we created a bunch of new characters.
VideoGamer.com: I was just thinking about unlockable characters from past films...
DC: Right. Oh, probably... well shoot, I can't... there are a couple but I can't tell you about those! We're not talking about them yet. Almost told ya! But there are some actors that if you're a fan of Star Wars and Indiana Jones that you will be familiar with. And we did a lot of casting here out of London, and actually did a lot of recording here.
VideoGamer.com: You said fans of Star Wars...
DC: In that you would recognise some of the actors...
VideoGamer.com: Not that there might be Star Wars characters in this game?
DC: Not that... I don't... I'm sorry I'm a little deaf!
VideoGamer.com: It's OK, I have a very quiet voice!
DC: (Laughs) That's good!
VideoGamer.com: The Fate of Atlantis game that's included is sure to get core fans very excited...
DC: Myself included.
VideoGamer.com: Why did you decide to put that in?
DC: I don't know the full story, but I can tell you that I went up to Montreal, with the A2M guys just to consult on the audio and talk about voice and things like that, and they were absolutely passionate about that game, and had looked at all the Indiana Jones games. Fate of Atlantis is just a great game. It's the 1992 version with all the voice in it and things like that. I know they were really pushing for it. And we have some producers on the LucasArts side that just, I mean we all love those classic adventure games, that's why we work at LucasArts, as well as loving Star Wars and Indiana Jones. I can't tell you who made the final decision, but I think everyone looked at it and saw it worked really well on the Wii and thought it would add value to the overall package. Honestly, in replaying it, it's really charming, it's a really fun game.
VideoGamer.com: Have there been any changes at all?
DC: The control system is different. Everything else is the same. It's very pure. It's the same midi music, the same resolution, everything, even the opening logo is the same. The only thing that's different is that there's a screen up front where it juts shows you how the Wii Remote controls are laid out. Instead of pointing and clicking with your mouse you just point the Wii Remote at the screen and click. That's the difference. That's not even a cosmetic change, just a functional change.
VideoGamer.com: How will you unlock it?
DC: It is an unlockable. I know that we're looking into ways to make sure that people can play that game with relative smoothness. It's not going to be impossible to unlock.
VideoGamer.com: One of the things that struck me as I was playing Staff of Kings is that it's quite forgiving. I was told it was set to easy. How will the game change as you put it on harder difficulties?
DC: The combat changes, the damage changes, the AI changes, so it's not quite as forgiving. It becomes a little more difficult to get out of those hairy situations when you're surrounded by a group of guys and they're wailing on you. The vehicle levels, you take more damage, things like that. It's basically easy and hard. A2M and LucasArts worked hard to create a game that was accessible to enthusiasts to the franchise and folks that have played a ton of games and just want to jump in and start kicking butt as Indiana Jones. You saw the tutorial, there's just a ton of moves, you don't have to memorise them all but if you do it's really fun if you're an expert gamer. If you're new to it and just want to pick up a shovel and want to whack a bunch of soldiers, you can do that as well.
VideoGamer.com: One thing that impressed me was that the game detected your motions well, which some Wii games struggle with. How has that been achieved?
DC: I know that there was a lot of trial and error and a lot of feedback and testing, but A2M, they did a great job at making you feel like Indiana Jones by not necessarily just doing a little flick of the wrists. Some games you barely do anything and it works. With this one you've got to throw a punch in order to throw a punch. If you want to swing a shovel you've got to do a sharp movement from right to left. That's intentional because it is intuitive that way and you don't get a lot of false triggering, which is good because you're surrounded by a bunch of different guys.
VideoGamer.com: The game is coming out round about the time as the Wii MotionPlus. Will the game support that?
DC: Unfortunately not. That's a timing issue, with the development of this game and getting the development tools necessary for Wii MotionPlus. But it is something that LucasArts as a company is aware of, and are looking at. Unfortunately Staff of Kings is not going to support Wii MotionPlus.
VideoGamer.com: You mentioned that eventually Indy will get hold of the Staff of Moses itself. How will it impact the game?
DC: It'll have an impact on the story.
VideoGamer.com: So will it be the case that Indy will be able to wield the Staff and have access to crazy magical powers like parting the sea?
DC: That's more of a story thing. No we're not making Indiana Jones and the Staff Unleashed, basically, if that answers your question. The focus of Staff of Kings is very much on using that whip and feeling like Indiana Jones. The Staff is like the Arc of the Covenant. It's too powerful. It's too powerful and Indy recognises it's too powerful, and that's why everyone is searching for it. If the bad guys in World War II get a hold of it there's no telling what could happen. It's the story term, MacGuffin, it's the MacGuffin of this game, and it's perfect for Indy because it's such a familiar thing, and we know the stories from the Old Testament about its capabilities. It's something that you're pushing for towards the entire game, and you don't want it to fall into the wrong hands. So the way that the Staff affects you is with the storyline.
VideoGamer.com: You mentioned four-player co-op. How will it actually work?
DC: There are a wide variety of co-op modes. A lot of them are just two players on the same screen working with each other. For example if you're shooting with you and a friend you're basically trying to take down an enemy or something like that, or if you're rafting together one of you is on the left and one of you is on the right. In four-player you get into a split-screen mode where you're all playing and doing something different. In terms of four-player it's really mostly about the vehicle modes, the tanks and the planes. The rest is two-player co-op.
VideoGamer.com: You mentioned it's got an independent storyline.
DC: It's got a few characters, but mainly a very familiar character in co-op that isn't in the normal game. So they came up with this side story to push you through the co-op levels, these moving, art style cutscenes. It's a nice little side adventure. It's almost like a moving comic book. You just move through the co-op levels that way. It's just bonus material that feels very cinematic.
VideoGamer.com: The game's coming out on everything except the PS3 and 360. What was the reason behind not doing a "next-gen" version?
DC: Well we did actually show at one point, in fact I demoed it, a 360 version a few years ago. Honestly we just had to make some really tough decisions as a company. A lot of it was timing. A lot of it was financial. The good news there is that the Wii is just a really great fit for Indiana Jones, and what we saw was an opportunity to move forward on a platform that just worked really well with the Wii Remote as a whip. So, we made that tough decision last year, and put all of our energy towards the Wii and the other platforms as well in order to make those the best that they could be and bring those to market in a time that made sense, which in this case is 12 June 2009.
But I can say just as a follow up to that, that Indiana Jones as a brand is incredibly important to us, and will continue to be. It's one of our core franchises. While we don't have any announcements at this time about the 360 or PS3 or other consoles besides the ones that we're talking about today, we're always investigating new ways to bring Indiana Jones to market.
VideoGamer.com: So there's still hope for a new Indiana Jones game to come to the 360 and PS3?
DC: There's always hope. We're always going to be making Indiana Jones games and Star Wars games. This go around we really decided that the Wii was the right way to go, and make a game that was really compelling with the Wii Remote, and utilises the same storyline.
VideoGamer.com: How will the other versions differ from the Wii version?
DC: There are levels in the PSP version that you're not going to see in the other platforms. We always do something special for the PSP. The DS features stylus-based gameplay, so everything revolves around the stylus on the DS, so that's a different game. And then the PS2, I mean I still have my PS2, I love my PS2, and I just love the controller on that. The PS2 version is similar to the Wii version obviously except the controls are entirely different. That's more about that classic PS2 controller feel, but the story is the same and the levels are the same. So if you're not a Wii owner but you still love your PS2, we're not excluding those players.
Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings is due out for Wii, PSP, PS2 and DS on June 12 2009.