Hellboy: The Science of Evil is the latest game to feature the big red demon, and is being developed down under at Krome Studios. GameSpot AU spoke with the game's producer, John Whiston, and associate producer, Rich Forster, about some of the challenges of multiplatform development, co-op, and staying true to the Hellboy story. Hellboy: The Science of Evil is punching its way onto the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and PlayStation Portable later this year.
GameSpot AU: What stage of development is Hellboy in at the moment? Will you be showing the game at E3 this year?
John Whiston: Hellboy: The Science of Evil is currently at the beta stage, and we are really looking forward to showing the game at E3 this year. Konami's producers will be there to demo the game, and will also be at the San Diego Comic-Con at the end of July.
GS AU: What are the key differences between the different console/handheld versions of Hellboy?
JW: The main storyline is the same, with Hellboy chasing enemies through spooky villages and uncovering Nazi plots, but the visuals and gameplay are tailored to best suit each version. Throughout development we've established our own take on the character and universe, whilst staying true to Hellboy's film and comic incarnations. On consoles we like to think we've created a unique fusion of realism with the rich dark shadows of [Hellboy creator Mike] Mignola's artwork. For the PSP we're blending the iconic style of the comic with the lush visual design from the animated series.
Rich Foster: Whereas the console version has a much more realistic look, the PSP relies on a more cartoon-esque style and feel; still retaining the important shading and eerie undertones, but losing the vast majority of noise that just didn't sit well on the PSP. Following the unique PSP art style we've also included a number of 2D cinematics, rather than just having the traditional in-game noninteractive sequences. These, again, help amplify the style we've focused on for the PSP and I hope you'll agree look pretty cool. The gameplay and combat is phenomenal across all versions, and we've worked hard to deliver sharp bouts of combat for the handheld version, playing on the pick-up-and-play aspect of the portable hardware. Rest assured that both the console and handheld versions involve a decent amount of face punching and hitting bad guys with large objects. [Laughs.]
GS AU: What's been easier to work on--the PS3 or the 360 version--and what challenges or advantages does one have over the other?
JW: We're definitely pushing both the PS3 and 360 with Hellboy, and they each have their own unique strengths--allowing us to accomplish many new things that were just not possible on earlier consoles. Krome's Merkury Engine integrates platform-specific programming, allowing the interface to be platform independent. Basically, the Engine allows us to simplify the game development process to work as efficiently as possible. We've been doing cross-platform development from the start of Hellboy, and it's a difficult call to choose which one has been "easier" to work on. I've been changing my mind throughout development as we've got to grips with their intricacies. From a gameplay perspective both consoles are fairly similar; however, the PS3 version does allow the player to use the Sixaxis controller to directly perform some of the short, visceral actions available to Hellboy. There's a real satisfaction to ripping swarming enemies from your back or tearing interactive objects from walls by jerking the controller in the right direction.
GS AU: What can you tell us about the single-player portion of the game? How long do you expect the single-player campaign will last?
JW: The main single-player story for Hellboy: The Science of Evil sees our hero on the trail of a crazed witch, stumbling across adventures in a collection of freshly distinct stories, replete with Nazis, Lovecraftian Demons, and European folklore. Hidden ties are slowly revealed--leading Hellboy toward a final face-off with an insane Nazi and his most awful creation. The campaign is split up across several chapters and locations, and whilst each chapter builds toward the endgame climax in some way, they also each finish off their own individual arc before thrusting Hellboy into the next part of his adventure. The time taken to complete the single-player campaign will vary depending on how the gamer approaches the missions. Then there are also many "Lore" and "Artefacts" to uncover as they progress. These items explain and add to the story, plus unlock bonus content within the game.
GS AU: How will co-op mode work in Hellboy?
JW: Co-op gives you control over two additional BPRD agents, plus a special secret one for fans. Each has entirely unique attacks, strengths, and weaknesses. Some are better suited to levels than others, and importantly--each plays very differently from one another, providing invaluable support to Hellboy.
RF: Liz Sherman is a pyrokinetic; she concentrates and unleashes the power inside her. Playing with fire is awesome! Abe Sapien has a fantastic array of martial arts moves and pulls off incredibly fast combos and strikes. When he uses his pistol it isn't as powerful as Hellboy's Samaritan, but Abe wields it with devastating accuracy. And as for the third character...ahh...that would be telling.
GS AU: How about multiplayer? What modes are you planning for the game?
JF: Multiplayer is either online or split-screen on one console, and has Hellboy and a partner battling their way through the main story, except now there are more enemies, extra dialogue, and extra obstacles that you must overcome together.
RF: On the PSP we are conscious of portability and didn't want to tie two players to a longer multiplayer experience. Instead we've done a revamp of each of the main environments and set up unique multiplayer encounters for two players to enjoy. This still revolves around a cooperative style of play, but incorporates the arena combat from the single-player experience with all new objectives and rewards.
GS AU: How closely did you work with Mike Mignola on the game? Did you use him as a consultant?
JW: We've been extremely fortunate to work very closely with Mike Mignola. He has been involved as a consultant throughout the whole process and we're incredibly grateful for all of his fantastic input. The entire development team here at Krome are massive Hellboy fans, and it was a little intimidating to meet Mike for the first time and pitch him our original ideas! Mike has been fantastic throughout--across concept stages, art style, and plot direction. He even attended our voice recording sessions with Guillermo Del Toro and the Hellboy cast.
GS AU: Hellboy is an action game--what other action games did the team look to for inspiration?
RF: We've pillaged and plundered as much inspirational resource from our extensive games library as possible...or stocked it up where required. Our design team especially dissected as many fighter/brawlers as they could get their grubby mitts on just to see what made them tick...even some of the bad ones [laughs]. As for PSP, we looked not just at the "close competition" but any other games that had made similar journeys on to multiple platforms to see where they worked and where they went wrong.
JW: For inspiration we've looked to a wide range of action games, and even to old-school beat-'em-ups. At its core, Hellboy is a tactical brawler, and we're emphasizing his raw power--he's not a boxer, or a martial artist, or someone who wields weapons with finesse.
GS AU: John and Rich, thanks for your time.