Freedom Force will be a revolutionary tactical role-playing game that will let you assume the roles of an evolving team of superheroes as they do battle against evil. The game will feature both an intense 3D tactical battle engine with fully destructible environments and a breakthrough superhero RPG skill system. Irrational Games' Ken Levine, the lead designer of System Shock 2, is the senior design consultant for Freedom Force. We pulled him aside and asked him some questions about the upcoming game.
GameSpot: How many superheroes will you be able to have on your team?
Ken Levine: We're toying around with that right now. Currently, you can take up to four heroes with you on any one mission. Unlike [the units in] a real-time strategy game, each hero will have an incredibly rich suite of powers and commands to utilize.
GS: How many different superheroes or types of superheroes will you be able to recruit?
KL: The single-player game will have around 20 different heroes altogether. There is a huge range of characters to choose from with wildly different powers. For example, there's The Ant, an incredibly agile superhero who can climb walls and burrow short distances, and ManBot, an incredibly potent entity "trapped" inside a suit of powered armor. We've even got sidekicks, such as Sea Urchin, the cute-as-a-button teenage girl who tags along with the noble and powerful Man-o'-War.
GS: Can you build a team of supervillains in the single- or multiplayer component of Freedom Force?
KL: You can build a team of villains in multiplayer (or, if you like, a mixed team of heroes and villains!). In single-player... well, you'll just have to wait to find that out!
GS: What kinds of attributes and superpowers will your team be able to learn? Give us a sense of some of the characteristics they'll be able to develop.
KL: Attributes are more or less permanent features of the heroes and villains. They can be simple things like claws or wings or more complex like a rubber body, which allows you to bounce around if you fall off a building. There are also disadvantageous attributes, like a tendency to go berserk and lose control in combat. Powers are things that can be developed during the game. There's an incredible variety of these including straightforward combat powers like energy projection and more wacky special powers like the ability to tunnel through the ground or stop time.
GS: What about Freedom Force itself? Will it be played from a first-person perspective like System Shock 2?
KL: Freedom Force is a multi-character RPG that lets you control a team of heroes from a "god's-eye-view" perspective. Freedom Force is not a Street Fighter-style fighting game, it is not a side-scrolling punching game, and it is not a linear action-adventure game. It is a complex tactical RPG that for the first time delivers the scope and vibe of what makes comic books so great.
When we thought about this issue in the beginning of the design stage, we tried to imagine what would really bring the player the experience of leading a team of superheroes. We tried to distill the key elements that make comic books great. For us, that was exciting, dynamic (and sometimes flawed) heroes and villains; slugfests that span city blocks; and missions, settings, and dialogue that remain true to the genre.
While we really tried to deliver an interactive environment in System Shock 2, Freedom Force takes that one (or two) steps further. Characters will be able to knock over buildings, hurl buses, attack enemies with lampposts - you name it. We're going to incredible lengths to give the player authentic environments in 1960s New York City that they can wreak utter havoc upon. You don't like Rockefeller Center? Here's your chance to do a little "remodeling!"
GS: How often will the game switch from the strategic mode to the tactical mode? How different is the gameplay between these two modes?
KL: The strategic (we call it management) mode is where you organize and build your team of heroes. Generally, you will return to your base after every mission, and this is your chance to go out and recruit new heroes into your force. Also, you can develop your existing heroes based on the experience you've accumulated in the tactical missions. There's a fully featured RPG system here where you can juggle stats, pump up powers, and so on. You can also examine the strengths and weaknesses of the villains and plan strategies for defeating them in the future.
GS: How many single-player missions will you build into Freedom Force? Give us an example of some of your favorite levels.
KL: There will be roughly 30 missions in the game. I don't want to give away any details of the missions right now, but I can say that most of the game takes place in and around New York City. So, you'll definitely be fighting on the Empire State Building, in the subways, and in Central Park. There are also some more exotic environments that open up as the plot progresses.
GS: Are you designing a 3D engine from the ground up? What kind of visual features can we expect in Freedom Force?
KL: We're building the game using a set of libraries called NetImmerse (also being used for Munch's Oddysee, Star Trek Bridge Commander, and others). NetImmerse is quite different from Quake, Unreal, or LithTech - it's a flexible set of tools that can be used to build just about any kind of game engine. So it gives us a starting point but doesn't constrain us to a particular type of game. We considered some of the other, more full-featured engines out there but realized that they would all force us to build a game with much the same features as the rest of the shooters that are out there.
The game will be fully 3D, the characters are all extremely high-poly (rendered using a sophisticated level-of-detail system), we'll have all the usual bells and whistles including dynamic lighting, reflections, shadows, smoke, etc., etc. The most unique feature you will see is that our engine is designed to allow anything to be destroyed - and we mean anything.
GS: Since Freedom Force starts out in the 1960s, will the game's artwork resemble comic imagery from the likes of Stan Lee and other comic book artists from that era? Will it take place over multiple eras and incorporate multiple styles?
KL: We were definitely inspired by the visual styling of people like Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. There are so many time periods to draw inspiration from, and for me, I wanted the first game in the series to have the energetic feel of the comics I grew up with: Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, etc. As the series progresses, and we move through time with our heroes, you'll see the characters and settings match those time periods, with things becoming darker and more gritty.