With Lost Planet 3, Capcom is going back to the franchise's original direction, from being a bombastic multiplayer-focused game to being a single player-focused personal tale of sci-fi pioneers trying to adapt to the harsh, cold environment of E.D.N. III. The third game will serve as a prequel that takes place 30 years before the first game. It will also show the evolution of the iconic vital suits from their prototype, the hulking civilian mech utility rig.
I talked with Lost Planet 3 producer Andrew Szymanski during Capcom's hands-on session of the game in Singapore to find out more about the company's reason for the change in direction, the plans for the multiplayer component, his thoughts on the state of the shooter genre, and the fate of the Lost Planet spin-off, E.X. Troopers.
What made your team go for the Wild West motif for Lost Planet 3's story and feel?
Szymanski: Let's start off with the fact that we wanted to make Lost Planet 3 a narrative-focused experience. A lot of the feedback on Lost Planet 2 was that it was more of a multiplayer party game. It was lacking in the narrative and thematic department. That was the thing we wanted, to go back to basics.
All that being said, it was natural for us because it's a colonial frontier story. It's about guys who go to the unexplored planet and open it up for humans--build something out of nothing. We want to tell the story about these pioneers. Thematically, Jim's character is a cowboy--stand-up moral guy who knows his way around a rifle.
Later in the game, Jim's wife sends him a playlist of futuristic country music you can play in the utility rig. We're really emphasizing these Wild West influences as much as possible.
The grappling hook has been a Lost Planet staple. Is it reserved for multiplayer use?
Szymanski: Not just in multiplayer. You'll get it in campaign mode a couple of hours in. In multiplayer, you'll be using it every few seconds. In the campaign, it's used as a traversal mechanic to go up and down in the environment. So there's a stage later on where you have to climb a mountain and use the hook quite a bit.
Speaking of multiplayer, can you confirm all of the modes available?
Szymanski: There's team deathmatch, which is self-explanatory in this day and age. The second one is Scenario mode, still a five-versus-five mode but with different objectives for each map. What we've tried to do is to tailor the game rules and objectives to each map to take advantage of the map structure and provide a narrative backdrop. What we didn't like about objective-based multiplayer games was that you're told to do something just because. Instead of PA announcers, we provide a unique voice-over from the commander of each team, who tells you why you're doing each objective and explains what's going on.
One of the maps is a capture-the-flag-style mode where you kill this giant akrid, and then the team fight it out over who takes the sample it leaves behind back to the base. Another map has a tank controlled by the NEVEC team. The team's objective is to breach three security points of a snow pirate's base, while the snow pirates team defend those points.
Another main mode is Extraction, which is based off of the thermal post mode from the previous games. It's a king-of-the-hill mode where a team has to plant thermal posts in a specific area to gather thermal energy. When the extraction area changes, the teams have to head there to collect more until the quota's filled.
The last one is Akrid Survival, a three-on-three mode where two teams of three are placed on different closed-off sections of the map and have to fend off akrids for points. The faster you kill them, the more points you get. The twist here is that on the third wave, the map breaks open and it becomes a PVP on top of it. Killing enemy players at this part will net you more points, of course. There will only be one type of VS you can pilot: it's the standard one that has a chaingun and a rocket launcher on each side of its arms.
From a design standpoint, why did the team opt to switch to a first-person perspective for the utility rig and VSs?
Szymanski: For single-player, a lot of it was to show the size of the rig because it was the largest unit we ever had in the series that's controllable. Here's the problem: in LP1 and LP2, when you go from being on foot to the VS, the camera pulls back. So what that means is that the amount of space that the player character takes up doesn't change. Even if you're in these giant machines, the camera pulls back in proportion to that, so what you see is similar, and what you're playing is still very similar.
One of the thoughts when doing this part in first-person is that we can change that feeling. You're actually looking down at the environment to show the scale. An object within Jim's line of sight will be a crushable speck when on the utility rig, like the spiral-looking akrids. It's also another way to immerse the player like he/she is driving a mech. You could say that Jim's a truck driver, which brings the colonial frontier/pioneers theme to full circle.
Is there anything missing in shooters nowadays? With games like The Last of Us and BioShock Infinite bridging narrative with shooter gameplay mechanics, what are your thoughts on the genre in this day and age?
Szymanski: Shooters have already salvaged themselves as the de facto genre, like fighting games back in the '90s. It's good because in a way there's a standardized control scheme. Most people who play games know how to play a shooter. [Developers] are using it as a way to tell a story. Ken Levine was talking about BI's combat and story in a number of interviews.
A lot of people, myself included, felt the disconnection between the violence that was going on in the combat and the actual story. He said that you have to think about these things separately. The combat in the first-person view was the vehicle that you're playing to tell the story.
I thought that was interesting. It means that where in the past an RPG and action adventure would do this, now people are using the shooter format to tell a complicated story. That's something that we tried to do with Lost Planet 3, though not to the extent of BI and The Last of Us.
Yes, you spend a lot of time outside shooting bugs. But when we sat down to make the game, we had two choices: we could make a game about shooting bugs that's just about that, or we could make a game about shooting bugs that has actually more to say.
Dead Space 3 may have been influenced by Lost Planet, in terms of location and setting. What are your thoughts on the similarities there?
Szymanski: We announced Lost Planet 3 last year in April, while Dead Space 3 made a showing in E3 with the snow planet and all. We thought that it was kind of flattering.
I won't say that everybody cribs off of each other, but they're influenced off of each other. I mean, our menu system in Lost Planet 3 was influenced by Dead Space 1's in-game UI. We saw that and we said, "That's ingenious. Every game's gonna have that in three years' time." It's flattering for us that the devs love the snow setting enough that they want to use it.
In most parts of LP3, there will be balls-to-the-wall action where you're defending your transformed utility rig that's drilling for T-Energy from incoming akrids. About 15 percent of the game is focused on being suspenseful because we wanted to have a change of pace as well. We studied the Dead Space games and other survival horror titles to nail that atmosphere.
It's good when people can be influenced from each other. It's just coincidence that Dead Space 3 and Lost Planet 3 are both a few months apart from each other.
In this day and age, what defines a shooter?
Szymanski: It's definitely the gameplay, because you can have a shooter without story. Just the definition of the genre does not require a story. You can use any other method or genre to tell a story. A narrative-driven shooter is just that, a core element of shooting where you point a target at an enemy and you pull the trigger.
Let's bring up that Lost Planet spin-off, E.X. Troopers. Is there a chance for the game to be localized in English?
Szymanski: The best thing to do is to contact your local distributors and email Capcom, because if there's a demand for it, that will increase our ability to localize it. That game was designed to be a domestic title, and there was no direct connection between the game and Lost Planet 3 in terms of narrative and the world. It all comes down to portfolio decisions in the end.
[In terms of overseas demand], it's only from a vocal minority. You have a lot of people who say they want it, but how many copies do you think we're going to get out there? Don't get me wrong, it's great to have hundreds and thousands of people who want to play the game. But just a hundred or a few thousand isn't enough to justify localization and outside distribution. There has to be some way to gauge the desire for the game above and beyond that.
In your thoughts, would the shooter market want a fast-paced title like E.X. Troopers, or would they prefer the game you've created?
Szymanski: Well, the thing about E.X. Troopers is that it wasn't even positioned as a Lost Planet game. That's why there's no Lost Planet in the title, just elements of the franchise. So it's hard to say for sure.
I will say that we made Lost Planet 3 the way we wanted it, for the majority who want a cinematic and immersive experience with good characters and dialogue. That's a little different than the bombastic atmospheric way Lost Planet 2 and E.X. Troopers presented themselves. So I think you do have to split that up. I'm all for more variety; it's just that you have to prove that there's a market out there to put it out.
Lost Planet 3 will be out on August 27 in North America, August 29 in Japan and Australia, and August 30 in Europe and Southeast Asia.