Rockstar on Bringing Max Payne Into the Era of Cover Shooters and Regenerating Health

Max Payne 3 developer explains why it has adopted certain shooter trends and shunned others, and whether an open-world setting was ever a consideration.

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For any developer looking to revive a classic franchise, there's always a challenge in looking at which parts of the series have withstood the test of time and which ones need a modern update. Rockstar has certainly found itself in just such a position when it comes to Max Payne 3. We recently spoke with Jeronimo Barrera, Rockstar's VP of product development, to see how the company has addressed those issues.

GameSpot: In your eyes, what's the one part of the third-person shooter genre that has changed most since Max Payne's last outing? How have you addressed that in Max Payne 3?

Jeronimo Barrera: Cover is something that everybody worked to adopt, and it quickly became a staple of third-person shooters. For us, the direction early on was to make sure we had a great, intuitive cover system but not make it the central or core mechanic. It's only natural when trying to build a game around gunplay that the whole environment comes into play, and it would look silly if Max couldn't assume a position behind obvious cover points. One of the goals was to make sure that AI reacted appropriately to the player if they're behind cover. If you're caught by a thug flushing you out, it can be deadly. That led to further development of the shootdodge and the ability to vault over cover in the fast and fluid manner that characterizes the Max Payne games. In the end it feels and looks great and is a totally natural progression for the series.

Max has always known how to handle a gun.

GS:On the other hand, one of the areas where you guys are bucking recent shooter trends is with the health system--it's not the popular regenerating health. What's the reasoning behind that particular design decision?

JB: When we set out to make Max Payne 3, we had a few specific goals--to stay true to the fundamentals of the original games in both tone and in gameplay, but also to significantly update the series for the expectations of today's players in ways that felt fresh and new. We've worked hard to make the gameplay more sophisticated than other third-person shooters in many ways, from the work done on targeting and animation to the new ways we've implemented bullet time, but painkillers are one of the fundamental elements of the series and play a major role in Max's story as well as gameplay.

We also wanted to encourage players to be strategic in their approach to combat spaces and not to rely on cover as simply a point to sit and regenerate health. Max Payne is about the beauty of the gunplay itself, in knowing when to launch yourself into an area, finding the right lines of attack, and perfecting bullet time kills. Regenerating health would have an impact on the game's natural rhythm.

"Regenerating health would have an impact on the game's natural rhythm."
GS: The first trailer shows more than a few instances of Max getting up close and personal with his enemies. While Max had a basic melee attack in Max Payne 2, how much more in-depth will hand-to-hand combat be in the next game?

JB: Max has access to new melee moves in Max Payne 3 which allow you to take down enemies in close quarters, and these are all contextual depending on the weapon you're wielding at the time and your relationship to the enemy. Max will kick lower enemies, head-butt an enemy if you don't have a weapon, or disarm opponents if you're out of ammo. Max will also make creative use of the butts of weapons to pistol-whip enemies in close for a coup de grace

GS: The Max Payne series popularized the bullet time mechanic, and for a while there it seemed like every other game was using some variation of it. What has been the biggest challenge in bringing back bullet time in a way that doesn't feel worn out?

JB: The original Max Payne game was the first time players had seen real, functional slow motion in video games, and it was visually stunning. These days, many games include some superficial form of slow-motion gameplay as one feature among many to mark off a checklist, but in the Max Payne series, bullet time is a core element of gameplay, both strategically and aesthetically. Gunplay has to be both hectic enough for bullet time to make strategic sense, and beautiful at any speed, so the entire game is built around the many ways in which bullet time is implemented.

"These days, many games include some superficial form of slow-motion gameplay as one feature among many to mark off a checklist"
Our challenge then was to make modern bullet time feel integral to the game's design, and we feel we've achieved that in the pacing and design of each level. Enemy AI can be extremely overwhelming in real time: precise, deadly, and smart, flanking, using projectiles, and flushing players out of cover if you stand still for too long. The use of skill-based multipliers to increase bullet time regeneration means the better you group your shots into vital areas, the quicker your bullet time meter will replenish, allowing you precious extra seconds to size up your next move.

We wanted to keep that same wow factor of the first time you saw bullet time, and we've achieved it through the combination of bullet time and Natural Motion's Euphoria system to power character behaviors. Every time you go into bullet time and shoot enemies, you're going to see them react differently. Another way that Euphoria upgrades Max's behavior is how aware Max is of his environment at all times, but especially during shootdodges--rather than a canned dive animation, Max will respond to the world around him as he dives, bracing for a fall with his arm or ducking his head where necessary.

If you can't stand the heat… move to Brazil?

GS: One of the most memorable scenes from the last press demo was of Max firing shots with one hand while holding onto a moving crane hook with the other. Can you give us a sense of how frequently these cinematic moments occur?

JB: Those cinematic moments are another example of the way we've updated bullet time for Max Payne 3. There will be many points throughout the game where areas of the environment will automatically trigger bullet time in order to create these cinematic set pieces. These are not simple quick-time events--you have full control of Max as a character, with full reticle movement in order to precisely target each enemy, and you'll transition in and out of these completely seamlessly.

GS: How much have you tried to incorporate story into the gameplay? Will players get a sense of Max's personal ups and downs in the way the game plays?

Definitely. We put a lot of effort into blending story and gameplay as seamlessly as we possibly can, and Max's personal journey is at the heart of the game. Given the story-driven nature of the game, it's not easy to discuss without quickly heading into spoiler territory, but we'll be jumping around within Max's timeline in a way that will allow every twist in the story to fully reveal itself in a way that lives up to Max's journey so far.

GS: Given that Max Payne 3 is the first game in the series that Rockstar has developed in-house, did you ever consider adapting the Max Payne gameplay into the open-world style Rockstar is so well known for?

JB: Max Payne has a long, acclaimed history and is more than capable of standing alone as a third-person action shooter on its incredibly sophisticated and cinematic blend of story and gameplay, and that is the kind of game we set out to make, alongside our ambitions for competitive multiplayer within the Max series through Max Payne 3. We love our open worlds, but we have one or two other games that cover that territory for us.

GS:Thanks for your time.

Discussion

135 comments
lilhinkle4
lilhinkle4

My favorite quote of this interview, "We love our open worlds, but we have one or two other games that cover that territory for us.".

SerOlmy
SerOlmy

Thank goodness for no regenerating health. Looks like painkillers are still in. IT makes combat more strategic IMO, you have to assess before going in guns blazing less you get rolled.

mydogchev
mydogchev

"These days, many games include some superficial form of slow-motion gameplay as one feature among many to mark off a checklist, but in the Max Payne series, bullet time is a core element of gameplay, both strategically and aesthetically." I wonder if he considers Rockstar's other game, Red Dead Redemption, to be a superficial example of bullet time. I don't think it's fair to consider it part of a "checklist of options," I think I prefer it that way. A game where it's the "core element" seems tiring, like they couldn't think of anything else to do. I guess we'll see how it all works out.

jayvee2112
jayvee2112

No painkillers? I think you guys read it wrong. There WILL be painkillers since there WILL NOT be regenerating health. He even states that painkillers are fundamental to the series and play a major role in the story.

koospetoors
koospetoors

Good read, actually quite looking forward to the game now.

DeadBullet
DeadBullet

The last thing I want to see en every shooter is regenerating health... That's just stupid and ruins realism/pace.

grenade1979
grenade1979

Some companies just flat out know video games. This is one of them.

danaterlord
danaterlord

unfortunately this could either really rock or completely suck, let's hope they don't blow it, i used to love this game.

02050muh
02050muh

vanquish done a great job at bullet time...beat that, rockstar! n max payne 3 might set the bar to gaming once again

kriggy
kriggy

Well if you can still do the cool moves where Payne throws himself in every kind of direction and if it's an intense story, then there's no doubt that I will like this game!

Neil_Clancy
Neil_Clancy

It sounds like they made all of the right design choices. Taking cover is instinctive now for most shooter fans, but regenerating health would have ruined Max Payne's pacing.

blackened83
blackened83

@gamer4fun Max payne isn't about assessing the situation. It's about running and gunning, going in against a room full of guys with no cover. Hopefully the cover system really isn't the core mechanic of this game because if you can't just go into a room full of bad guys and light them all up, then this isn't really Max Payne.

Gamer_4_Fun
Gamer_4_Fun

I thank the lord this game doesn't have regenerative health. While max payne is all about action and regeneration helps to keep the flow of it ,but, max payne was also about tactical decisions as well. If you place regenerative health, people will tend to abuse the system and just go out guns blazing without accessing the situation.

DevilD2005
DevilD2005

People say people dont read the article, but the article's title accidently implies that such elaments are involved.

JJB03
JJB03

trends like regenerating health and cover systems make games feel like the same thing over and over i'm glad painkillers will come back, even though it used far to often it good to hear max has a cover system aswell i guess it would only make sense in the end but it does feel like these returning titles like max payne and hitman and splinter cell are starting to feel very simular because they use the same kid of cover system that gears of war sparked the trend of making but i gues its just a logical solution of giving the plyer some way of self preservation

nurjra
nurjra

what if rockstar was to change the name of the series! OH NO! now we get Grand Max Theft Payne Auto!!!!!!!!

TheoAlmighty
TheoAlmighty

to me, regenerating health makes gun fights less intense and much easier.

Naylord
Naylord

Bring back the ridiculous photo graphics of the first one! You could do way higher res photos now and it'd be hilariously awesome.

holtrocks
holtrocks

BE DIFFERENT, DON'T DO REGENERATING HEALTH.

fed393
fed393

Max Payne 1 was the best 3rd person game ever..........The story was awesome and the the first introduction of slow-mo was just incredible...I hope they live up to the expectation......I apreciate all the promises they are making but i really doubt this bald haired Max will revive my previous game experience......

beanofengland
beanofengland

I cannot wait for this game, played the first two PC games as they came out and they've stuck in my mind like a dose of Valkyr... Of which I'm still clearly addicted! Ill be playing it on a PS3 however

seangames
seangames

There isn't one thing in this interview that makes me question R*'s intents with this game. It's become obvious that this isn't just a modernization of the first two, but a true sequel - a step above both the Max Payne games and current-gen 3rd person shooters.

Psycold
Psycold

It wouldn't have been Max Payne with regenerating health. This all sounds like they are on the right track. *Readies dirty old original Max Payne 1 mouse pad from the 90's game box*

Wizallah
Wizallah

Glad they kept the painkillers.

brain20035
brain20035

""The things that I want", by Max Payne. A smoke. A whiskey. For the sun to shine. I want to sleep to forget. To change the past. My wife and baby girl back. Unlimited ammo and a license to kill. Right then, more than anything, I wanted her". Right now, more than anything, I want Max Payne 3!!

daub11
daub11

i just hope that it will be better then all the other mpayne games. cause i know that it's going to kick soo much @$$.

Mar044
Mar044

pain killers for pain is the the way to go, since when do our white blood cells work a million time faster to heal us.........i miss the old days, at least one game follow the foolishness, im tired of games being built for ADD, even final fantasy went with end of battle full healths......taking away from the tactic aspect of gaming, thus why i still play old games.

slayerSS-3
slayerSS-3

Pain killers FTW! :P regenerating health is for kids that wants to play games and beat them easily and fast, shoot shoot shoot then beat it. Thats not what max payne is about, so kids stay away from this game =)

Marscaleb
Marscaleb

Regenerating health is the worst idea to come into shooters. Three cheers to Max Payne 3 for not following that idiotic trend!

psycho_chan13
psycho_chan13

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Skakruk
Skakruk

death of a great game...

catabuza
catabuza

@spidey0102 my point exactly!. the noir setting defined max payne games

BloomerNYC
BloomerNYC

I HATE regenerating health! Good job Rockstar.

wizzzer_thy_133
wizzzer_thy_133

Max Panye was always about fluid, cinematic and simple gunplay... in todays world i can see Max Payne easily fit itslef with cover mechanic and regenerative health.

spidey0102
spidey0102

"Stay true to the fundamentals of the original games in both tone and in gameplay" my ass, Mr. VP of Product Development. Worse, from the comments here, many readers seem to think that bringing back painkillers is enough. How about the noir setting? The classic Max Payne look? During most of the game, he will be bald, bearded, twice the muscle and running around in a tank top, people...

spidey0102
spidey0102

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

giancarlod
giancarlod

Max Payne series have always kicked ass!

Arda_Daghan212
Arda_Daghan212

Regenerating health is out of the question but the cover system I can't warm up to, I mean it may not be bad if you stand next to a wall and Max automatically moves to a cover position. I'm gonna play this game anyhow just to see how it is (maybe not if it gets 6.5 or something lower but that is highly unlikely) there hasn't been a game like Max Payne and with high hopes I'm looking forward to this game...

Sniper_Wolf_08
Sniper_Wolf_08

so I'm guessing nobody read the part where it says there ISN'T regenerating health...

Arda_Daghan212
Arda_Daghan212

Regenerating health? This game looks worse and worse, if they add cover system and put noir away I'm not buyin'...

Alzena237
Alzena237

Even it would be as same as Max Payne 2, it worth playing.

Agumnivek
Agumnivek

Hmmmmm sounds interesting i hope its not all talk :).