Lost Planet 3 producer Andrew Szymanski interview
Capcom's Lost Planet 3, the latest in the franchise renowned for third-person shooter action on snowy alien planets, is released in just a few months.
The game is a prequel to the first two, putting players in the shoes of blue-collar family man Jim Peyton. He is part of a team of colonists working for NEVEC to mine E.D.N. III, the titular planet with an ice age-like environment.
Recently I interviewed Lost Planet 3 producer Andrew Szymanski to find out more about what players can expect from the game.
What makes a Lost Planet game unique? What is something special about these games that makes them especially fun?
Well I think that the core elements of the Lost Planet franchise are in the setting, the snow planets and frozen worlds. You've got the two human factions - the NEVEC as the evil corporation, and the Snow Pirates, the population that is living off the land and are a lot closer to nature. Then you've got the indigenous creatures as other life forms, who are enemies in a sense, but are also essential to the ecology of the planet. And then you've got the giant robots, the battlesuits in the older games and the utility rig in this one.
So I think that all of those elements have to be part of a Lost Planet game. However, in Lost Planet 3, we've tried to bring those elements together and, while very much keeping them intact, rearrange them in a slightly different way. So because it's a prequel, and because we're going back in time to before the events of the first Lost Planet, we're answering a lot of questions about how did NEVEC become an evil corporation and so on. How did they change from a scientific expedition to a profit-driven entity? Who are the Snow Pirates and where did they come from? How did they get there? At the beginning of the first Lost Planet we're told the Snow Pirates landed, but we aren't told where they came from or who they are. So this gives us a great opportunity to go back and have a look at those essential elements and give people a bit of background, explaining how things got to be the way they were. I've been calling it the origin story of Lost Planet.
There's somewhat a new direction with this title, tell me how it is different than the first two titles and why you wanted to do it that way.
Originally we wanted to not so much get away from Lost Planet 2, but get back to where we were with the first game. We had a lot of feedback from people, and thoughts at Capcom, that while Lost Planet 2 did a lot of great things in the multiplayer space where you could get together with four people and fight, they didn't really know what was going on, they didn't feel invested in the story of the character, and were just along for the ride. With Lost Planet 3 we've focused on getting back to more of a narrative-driven experience and getting people invested in the characters and engaged with the story. That sort of formed the basis for where we wanted to take it, and it sort of went from there. We decided to structure it similar to the first game where we had a campaign story mode that is single player, story-focused and very character-driven, then we had a multiplayer mode that adds an equally robust but separate option to that.
Not that many people remember storylines from games the way they do with movies. Why do you think it's harder to make games memorable through their story, and how well do you think Lost Planet 3 will be remembered?
Well, I think one of the difficulties in games is that by their very nature games are interactive and stories by their nature have to be linear. So every developer faces a challenge in terms of balancing how much linearity they want in order to tell the game's story. Telling a story through the interactivity of the game has definitely been done quite well, with games like BioShock. Particularly in first-person games, that is something that's become more prevalent. So at its heart you want to show particular interactions with the characters, and you want to have the main character existing in relationships, and you've got to show the interactions between characters. So I guess what I'm trying to get at is that movies are often memorable because of their relationships between the characters, and games have to make a decision around that. Are we going to show that element, or are we going to keep things more in the player's control? With a game like BioShock or Skyrim, they make a lot of effort to not pull the player out of the experience by having extended dialogue scenes, but instead show the player the story throughout the game.
With Lost Planet 3 we made the decision of wanting things to have the human element. We want Jim, the main character, to feel like a human being, we want you to join him in his journey through his struggles. So you've got this situation where out in the wilderness he's very isolated, very alone and it's got the shooter gameplay that you've come to expect. But when you interact with other characters when they're back on the base, you this human element of these colonists struggling to survive. So my belief is that's what the players are going to take away from it. They're going to come away with the feeling that yes, I was part of the colonisation of this planet. I understand what it's like to go through those hardships and tribulations in order to establish an outpost on a completely alien world. That's really what we're going for as much as we can.
Some fans love the VS mechs of the previous games, which were replaced by the rigs in Lost Planet 3. Can you tell me about the differences between those two, and are the fans of the mechs going to be satiated with the rigs?
The rigs fit with our setting more as Lost Planet 3 is set in the past and based on it being a scientific and civilian expedition as opposed to a military operation. We've gone back in time with the mechs as well, and we've imagined what the predecessor to the battlesuit would be, which is the utility rig. So the VS mechs are a smaller, more maneuverable type of vehicle that has a lot of weapons attached to it. The utility rig is actually set up as a construction vehicle. It's what is used to perform contracts on the planet and is not designed as a weapon. So the player has to improvise with how to use it in combat scenarios. We thought about the idea of technology miniaturising over time, so that's why the utility rig is bigger than the battlesuits in the previous games.
I think people will enjoy it, because we've done a lot to really accentuate the utility rig, make it feel essential to Jim as a character and make it essential to the player. We also wanted to create that juxtaposition so when you're off the rig the game is third-person, then when you're inside the rig you're in first-person. This is one of the more challenging things that we did on the game, but when you're in first-person perspective on the rig it shows the scale of it because you're looking down at eye level before. This is something that makes you feel very powerful and protected, being inside this giant machine. One other thing, while I do expect that Lost Planet fans are going to be really happy with the utility rig, in multiplayer we do have the return of the battlesuit. So in multiplayer you will be able to jump into the battlesuits with the chainguns and rockets and play more of a traditional Lost Planet style.
Of course, there's a lot of shooting in Lost Planet 3. What is your favourite gun in the game?
I'm pretty partial to the Valkyrie crossbow, a Snow Pirate weapon. Jim gets it at a certain point in the story where he first gets involved with the Snow Pirates. It fires a spread-shot of explosive bolts, and these have splash damage, so they can do a lot of damage to what's around your target. So if you're surrounded by smaller enemies, you can use this to clear them out quite easily. It has a scope upgrade so you can snipe with it as well. It's a pretty cool weapon.
Although it's an action-based shooter, Lost Planet 3 appears to have some survival horror elements to it. Is that fair to say?
Yeah, we try to use audio and visual cues, and various types of techniques to create an atmosphere of foreboding and horror. Jim is alone out in the wilderness, he's exploring areas where people have never been before. He's surrounded by these indigenous creatures, and it's very dangerous for him. What we've tried to avoid is going too far along the survival horror route with the actual gameplay. We do want to stay firmly rooted in the shooting and action of the franchise. So you won't see things like jump scares, or enemies popping out from behind you to try and startle you. You're also going to see your pretty plentiful access to different weapons and ammunition, so you're not going to have to ration yourself and think about every shot like you would in a survival game. So just to kind of sum it up I think that we've created a lot of the atmosphere, without necessarily putting in the limitations that people associate with the kind of survival horror games.
What is it about snowy planets that make such good settings for games with horror elements? Is it the impact that the original of The Thing had on us?
I think that's a huge part of it, yes. We're definitely influenced by that. I think ultimately it comes down to the idea that… Well, in most games, let's say you're walking through a building, or even outside down a city street. Your only concern is when an enemy's going to appear, and how powerful they're going to be, whether they're going to be able to kill you. When you're in this kind of extreme environment with the snow, ice and cold, the idea is the environment itself is an enemy. Just surviving out in the environment is in itself a challenge. I think that adds a layer onto the experience. If the game took place in a temperate, easy-to-live area, it wouldn't have quite the same impact. In The Thing, those people were dealing with an unknown menace in an environment that could kill them by itself. It was that combination that made the movie so great, and I think that's what we've captured in Lost Planet 3.
Just to finish, what are you most excited about people experiencing in Lost Planet 3?
Well, of course I'm excited for people to experience the combat – we have the utility rig and things like that, and I think people are going to be very satisfied. We have very solid game mechanics. But I think even more than that, what I'm personally proud of and what I’m very excited to hear from people about is the story and the characters. I've made quite a few games over my career, but I can't recall one in which we've ever put this much effort into making the characters feel like people. They're not just these stereotypes like avatars or cyborgs, they feel like living, breathing people. They talk like actual people, they use humour and levity to try to keep their spirits high when they're in this incredibly stressful environment. Then when Jim is back in civilisation, you're surrounded by all this human interaction and humanity, and that's something we've worked very hard on. We've spent a lot of time and a lot of resources on voice capture and the movement of the faces, just to make it feel like the people are real, and I hope that comes through to the end user once the game comes out.
Lost Planet 3 is set for a New Zealand release on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC on August 30.