Making a successful PC first-person shooter is getting tougher and tougher these days. While the core game elements, which include running around a level and using an arsenal of weapons to blast your enemies from a first-person perspective, haven't changed much over the years, pretty much everything else has. Recent first-person shooters have begun to emphasize features like realism, stealth, and team-based tactics. However, as we've also seen, there's still room for fast-paced arcade-style shooters, like Croteam's Serious Sam. And like that game, developer People Can Fly's upcoming shooter Painkiller will arm you with heavy-duty weapons and pit you against armies of bizarre creatures. However, unlike previous arcade-style shooters, Painkiller will also make extensive use of the Havok 2 physics engine, which models the now-popular graphical technique of "rag-doll" death animations for fallen enemies, as well as featuring realistic environmental object behavior--like presenting boxes and barrels that are capable of actually being tossed around.
Painkiller also has an unusual premise. You play the game as an ordinary guy who has led a decent life. Suddenly you perish and are sent off to purgatory (rather than heaven, as you seem to have deserved). While in purgatory, you're assaulted by armies of demonic minions, and, by defeating them, you can collect their souls to temporarily become a raging demon yourself. That may sound far-fetched, but the game also lets you pull off some impressive-looking and satisfying maneuvers, like blasting through walls and sending enemies hurtling end-over-end from clean shots from the game's bizarre weapons, like the stakegun. The game is currently in a beta-testing phase and is scheduled for release in 2004. For more information on this unusual shooter, we sat down with project leader Adrian Chmielarz.
GameSpot: Could you explain what aspects of the game the team is currently working on? How is the beta going?
Adrian Chmielarz: Right now, the team is working on the last couple of solo levels--populating them with monsters and objects. They're also working on the multiplayer component. We've had a ton of input on our message boards about what players want to see in multiplayer, and the team is working to integrate as much of that as makes sense--and is possible with the time remaining.
The closed beta is ready. We're just going through the list of almost 7,000 applicants(!) to pull out the testers we think can provide the best feedback. We were totally overwhelmed by the response of the community to the closed beta. It's really encouraging and really helps to spur the team on to make the multiplayer all that it can be.
GS: One of the most interesting aspects of Painkiller that we've seen so far is its use of Havok 2 physics. What role does the Havok 2 engine play in the game? Is it just for rag-doll death animations, or does the game use it for other purposes?
AC: Havok is sweet, isn't it? The use of physics in Painkiller is one of the things we're most proud of. It has enabled so much more than death animations. "Physics-based gameplay" is going to be, in my opinion, the next big thing in gaming.
In Painkiller, players and monsters actually physically interact with objects in the world. For example, in the Thor boss level (which we showcased at E3 2003), Thor will actually stomp around the level and knock over the stone pillars. His AI tells him that (a) you'll be crushed by the massive blocks if they fall on you, and (b) you're small, so the blocks will get in your way and make it harder for you to get around.
As ever, the Havok 2 engine is also known for allowing us to utilize the "rag-doll physics" we hear so much about. A great example is our stakegun. Wherever you fire the stake, that's where the pain and death animation will be centered, so you'll see the fiend writhing in agony as it's pinned to the floor, ceiling, or wall.
GS: What other interesting graphical features does Painkiller support? Since Painkiller seems like a very fast-paced first-person shooter, how are you making sure the game will run at a smooth frame rate once it's released?
AC: Painkiller uses all the latest 3D tricks and techniques: vertex and pixel shaders, dot3 bump-mapping, specular lighting, you know the rest. If you've read about a technique being used in another game, chances are it's also being implemented in Painkiller. We also have a couple of our own innovations, be it a trick to improve the frame rate or a new technique for rendering volumetric lights.
How are we pulling it off? The PAIN Engine. It was custom-built to allow for all this great stuff. It's a really fast renderer, and, even at this pre-alpha stage, I run the game at really comfortable frame rates--even at 1024x768 with 4x antialiasing and 16x anisotropic filtering!
GS: Tell us about Painkiller's sound and music. How do they contribute to the game?
AC: I'm a big fan of game sound effects and music. Together with lighting, sound really sets the stage and helps you really get into the game. In our game, there's ambient and battle music. The ambient music is just that. It plays in the background and is tuned to the environment. The ambient music will really help immerse the player into the game world. The battle music kicks in when the action gets frantic. It's much heavier, with a metal-rock edge to it. Of course, you'll be able to turn off the music if you'd like.
All the music in Painkiller is an original score, and it's great stuff. In fact, the snippets of music that we've released through trailers and movies have really been well received. We've had so many requests for it, we're going to be producing a soundtrack CD. The soundtrack will likely be offered as a preorder bonus.
Mere Mortals Need Not Apply
GS: Painkiller takes place in purgatory, and its main character is a dead man who must fight demons. Why did you choose this setting? How does this setting let you create unusual monsters and special powers?
AC: The story is really a big part of Painkiller. Look, every shooter is basically the same concept. You have to save the world against seemingly insurmountable odds. For Painkiller, we wanted to create a story that was different from anything we'd played before and had a lot more depth--a world that, while fantastic, would immerse the player. Originally, the game was set on Earth on the "mortal plane," but we had a hard time reconciling the superrealistic environments and the freaky demons. Moving it to purgatory solved all the problems we had with the story!
GS: Tell us about Painkiller's weapons. We've seen the stakegun, the minigun, and the automatic pistol in action, but what about the others? Other than blasting monsters, what purpose do these weapons serve? Will some work better in certain situations than others, such as destroying architecture or defeating certain enemies? How are you balancing them for the single-player and multiplayer game?
AC: The stakegun is my favorite, hands down. It is such a visceral thrill pinning a demon to the wall. We're keeping the other weapons under wraps for now. Don't want to give it all away too soon!
The important thing about the weapon system in Painkiller is to understand the concept of "combo weapons." We decided from the outset that providing 30 weapons was unnecessary in this game. Most shooter players usually have only one or two weapons that they use all the time, and having to cycle through unused weapons is a pain. Also, we wanted to ensure that both firing modes on each weapon were unique. So, we give the player a rocket launcher/chaingun or a stakegun/grenade launcher. This allows everyone to maximize the weapon they have equipped and have fun with every gun. It also gives the skilled player the chance to perfect combo attacks for added bonuses.
You'll definitely find that different weapons work better at different times and against different enemies, particularly the bosses. All the weapons will work the same in both single-player and multiplayer play, except for one combo that we think will be really unbalanced, so we're going to change it for multiplayer. We've got one multiplayer level that has been tweaked to be a stakegun arena. It's a total blast! Stakes go whizzing by your head, grenades get lobbed from high perches... Great stuff!
GS: Tell us about Painkiller's single-player game, which we understand will include more than 20 levels. About how long is the game intended to be? Will the game consist mostly of straightforward shoot-'em-up levels, or will there be other elements, such as stealth or character development?
AC: It's actually looking to be 19 levels, with five boss arenas, for a total of 24 maps. Something to point out: Each level is totally unique. There are no textures reused from one level to the next! Total gameplay time has yet to be determined (we've still got a lot of balancing to do), but I fully expect to be in the 17-22 hour range to run through the single-player story, including cinematics.
There will be no stealth in Painkiller. This game is all about action with a capital "A." There isn't even a crouch button! If it moves, shoot it. Hell, if it doesn't move, shoot it anyway--it'll probably blow up or break apart.
There's no real "character development" in the RPG sense, where you get points to upgrade skills or something like that. However, we've got something kinda neat up our sleeve. We'll talk more about it in the next couple of months.
GS: Tell us about Painkiller's multiplayer modes. Other than deathmatch, what other play modes will be in the game?
AC: Multiplayer will have five modes, [including] standard deathmatch and team deathmatch, of course. We'll also have three other play modes that should prove to be a lot of fun. People Can Fly is a modification of deathmatch one-on-one that integrates Painkiller's combo weapon system and physics-based gameplay. In this mode, both players have only the rocket launcher. Damage to the other player can be done only when he is airborne, so you have to blow him into the air with a rocket, and then finish him off with the chaingun combo. Voosh is a multiplayer mode in which every player has the same weapon. After a certain period of time, each player's weapon is switched to either the next in line (set by the server) or a random one. All weapons have infinite ammo. Lastly, we'll have a mode we're calling "The Light Bearer." This mode assumes that quad damage never wears off. The first player who grabs the quad can use it as long as he stays alive. Also, with every successful frag, the player gets ten additional health points. When he is dead, he drops the quad, and another player can pick it up. The winner is the player who has the quad at the end of the game. However, every time someone picks up the quad, the time limit is raised by 30 seconds to make it possible for other players to get their chances.
GS: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add about Painkiller?
AC: I really want gamers to take away one message about Painkiller. There's a lot more depth to the game than is instantly apparent from just watching the movies, so don't be too quick to dismiss it! We're spending a lot of time crafting a game that will deliver a total experience in a world that we think a lot of people will enjoy. Keep your eyes peeled and your ears open for more info as we release it over the next couple months, and join the message board at our official Web site. Thanks for your time!
GS: And thank you, Adrian.