The sequel to the most acclaimed first-person shooter of 2000 is almost ready for prime time, and Fox Interactive is bringing complete build of the game to the 2002 E3. No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.'s Way has been in development since the original NOLF's release, and it's clearly shaping up into a worthy successor to the game that received our nod for the best action game in 2000. Once again, you'll assume the role of the dashing double agent Cate Archer, who'll try to foil H.A.R.M.'s evil plans for world domination, and like in the first game, you'll have access to a wide variety of James Bond-esque weapons to help you accomplish your tasks. With E3 right around the corner, we sat down with the entire design team at Monolith to talk about the game and find out what showgoers can expect to see of it at E3.
GameSpot: There was definitely the hint of more things to come at the end of NOLF. What's the catalyst for Cate Archer's new adventures? What role does H.A.R.M. play in the sequel?
Craig Hubbard, Lead Game Designer: The catalyst is an envoy from the US government, which has learned of a Soviet project that threatens to bring about World War III and wants UNITY's help to prevent a global catastrophe. Think of the Cuban Missile Crisis filtered through '60s movies like Our Man Flint and Danger: Diabolik. Meanwhile, H.A.R.M. wants revenge, so they're bringing in top assassins to eliminate Cate.
GS: Will there be much story or character continuity between the two games? How much later does the sequel take place?
CH: There's a fair amount of continuity, but we're structuring the game so that you won't need to have played the first game to feel at home with the sequel. NOLF2 takes place shortly after the events in the first game.
GS: Despite the similarity with the Austin Powers movies, NOLF came off as having a sense of humor all its own. Does this humor carry over to the sequel?
CH: The similarities between NOLF and Austin Powers are a result of being influenced by many of the same sources: the Matt Helm movies, the Flint movies, Get Smart, Danger: Diabolik, The Pink Panther series, The Avengers, Modesty Blaise, and numerous other films, television shows, and novels.
The primary difference is that Austin Powers is a spoof. NOLF isn't. Sure, it's campy and silly, but the underlying premise borders on apocalyptic. That dichotomy in tone results in a very different style of humor from a parody, where everything is in good fun and nobody, including the characters, takes anything very seriously.
Anyway, the same sense of humor carries over into the sequel.
GS: NOLF's missions had both stealth and run-and-gun elements. Will the sequel share this emphasis on stealth? Or are you toning down that aspect of NOLF down in the sequel?
Jeff Orkin, AI Engineer: Actually, there's a much greater emphasis on stealth in NOLF2. Players can still choose to go in guns-a-blazing if they want to, but that approach may be tough. In NOLF, once enemies were alerted to Cate's presence, they would chase her relentlessly. In NOLF2, the player has opportunities to escape, and the AI truly relies on their vision. Cate can find hiding spots where the enemies will run right by, and she can create her own hiding spots by turning off lights. As the player improves Cate's stealth skill, she will find it easier to evade the enemies. NOLF2's goal-based AI lets enemies fall back on relaxed behaviors when they've given up the chase or are unaware of Cate's presence. If Cate is stealthy, she can observe the AIs doing a variety of activities in their spare time, including office work, napping, smoking, and using the facilities.
GS: Does Cate Archer have new noncombat items and abilities?
Brad Pendleton, Lead Engineer: Cate has many ways to interact with the environment and enemies. Watching for enemy shadows is a great way to ensure you don't unexpectedly run into lurking soldiers. Hiding and using stealth rather than brute force can often make your objectives easier to accomplish. If you do get into a firefight, you can pick up and move the bodies out of the way so that other patrols don't find their dead comrades. You can also inspect much of the world for information. If your objectives are difficult to execute, sometimes searching a file cabinet, a desk drawer, or even a body can reveal valuable information.
GS: NOLF2 will use a new version of the LithTech 3D technology. Aside from being able to push more polygons, what's this Jupiter engine capable of that the LithTech engine in NOLF wasn't, and how does that translate into new gameplay mechanics?
Kevin Stephens, Director of Engineering: The LithTech Jupiter System used in NOLF2 has numerous features not present in the NOLF engine. All these features have been added to enhance the gameplay experience. A good example of this is the referential prefab system. This system allows level designers to detail areas using prefab instances instead of creating the same detail over and over in each level. A prefab can consist of any type and combination of level objects and geometry. Anything from a single model to an entire level can be made into a prefab. The beauty of this system is that the level designers never need to go back into each level to update the functionality of the prefab instances. If new functionality needs to be added, the level designer can go back to the original prefab and add the functionality there. All the levels using instances of the prefab will then be automatically updated with the new functionality.
It is probably easiest to understand with an in-game example: Early in the development of NOLF2, level designers made a type of "hat light" prefab that they used to populate many of our Siberia levels. The initial version of this prefab consisted of the geometry for the hat light, a model representing the light bulb, and the light object that is used to light models and the world. However, engineering was later completed to support dynamic level lighting that allows us to turn lights on and off. At this point, a level designer went back to the hat light prefab and added the functionality of being able to unscrew the light bulb (to turn off the lights), shoot the light bulb out, and activate the light using a light switch. As soon as he was done adding this functionality to the prefab, all the hat light instances in every Siberia level were automatically updated to have this same functionality. Not only does the referential prefab system allow us the ability to quickly enhance game systems, but it also helps us keep the gameplay consistent throughout the game. Of course, the hat light prefab is just one example of the prefab system in action.
GS: The first game took us through a number of unique environments, including a sunken ship and a space station that was falling apart at the seams. What are some of the more interesting locations in the new game?
Wes Saulsberry, Art Lead: I'd have to say that all our locales in NOLF2 are pretty interesting. We are striving to make each environment feel very authentic and distinct. We've also planned memorable moments across all the locations, including Japan, Siberia, Ohio, and India. We also have several as yet undisclosed locations. I don't want to give away much, but in Japan, there is anunderground lair you must escape fromIn Ohio, you fight in a trailer park during a really bad weather. What has really helped us bring these locations to life are some of the technology changes in the LithTech Jupiter System. For example, the FX editor has been improved, with particle drawing accelerated for T&L and new particle features like friction and model collision. This is being put to good use in several levels, including Ohio. Texture compression is also fully supported now, so we can use more textures and track texture memory more efficiently. This has helped us flesh out greater detail for exotic locations such as India.
Surprises, Mimes, and Bananas
GS: We saw the game briefly at the GDC in March. What kind of feedback did you get at the show? How has the game progressed since then?
Samantha Ryan, Producer: The levels selected for the GDC were designed to showcase the LithTech Jupiter System. We actually went in and pulled out some of the playable elements. It would have been difficult for their sales people to demonstrate new water or particle systems if they were getting killed every few minutes by bands of wild ninjas! Therefore, the majority of the feedback we received was engine-related. Fortunately, the LithTech Jupiter System is really coming together nicely, and the feedback from the GDC was very positive.
GS: Many of the levels that were on display at the GDC were outdoors, and they were deserted more often than not. Will you be showing different areas at E3?
SR: As mentioned previously, the GDC levels were chosen to demonstrate engine technology. The E3 levels will be fully playable and showcase gameplay features such as hiding, searching, and moving bodies and several new weapons and gadgets. They also feature a few new characters including Soviets and mimes.
GS: What about new weapons and enemies? We've seen the crossbow and the female ninja. Any surprises we can expect to see on the show floor?
David Longo, Art Director: If I told you it wouldn't be a surprise, now would it? New enemies, eh? Imagine, if you will, a troupe of mimes. Not your ordinary run-of-the-mill mimes--bad mimes. And when I say "bad," I don't mean it in the traditional way that mimes are bad, although they are bad in that way too. The "silent art" for this company of black-and-white clowns is just a cover for their true raison d'être: evildoing.
As far as new weapons go, one of the possible ways to combat the Tommy-gun-toting mimes and other enemies without calling too much attention to yourself would be the banana. When thrown in the path of an enemy, it becomes a slippery trap to trip them up.
There you go. Mimes and bananas, together at last.
GS: We understand that one of the levels that you'll be showing off at E3 will feature impressive use of the Jupiter engine's particle system to model some kind of weather effect. Can you tell us more about this level?
John Mulkey, Lead Level Designer: To remain true to the spirit of a great spy adventure, Cate travels the globe to exciting and exotic locales. Which would obviously include a trip to Stucky, Ohio--where she fights Ninjas in a trailer park. And did I mention the tornado? The trailer park and surrounding neighborhood is being ravaged by inclement weather. In the middle of this chaos, Cate must defend herself against attacking ninjas. Debris is flying, structures are being ripped apart and thrown through the air, trailers are being picked up and rolled around the park--it's kind of neat. The Ohio level is being shown privately in the Vivendi suite. In addition, on the show floor, we'll have a Siberian area that showcases our new snow effects, which also look great and really add to the ambience of the level.
GS: Are you still on schedule to release the game by the end of the year?
SR: Yes, development is moving along well, and we are on track to meet our deadlines.
GS: Sounds great, guys. Thank you all for your time.