Smuggler's Run: Warzones Q&A

We talk to Angel Studios about its upcoming GameCube entry in the Smuggler's Run franchise.

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The Smuggler's Run franchise has been evolving since its debut as a launch title for the PlayStation 2 two years ago. Developed by Angel Studios, a veteran of console-game development whose colorful resume runs the gamut from Mr. Bones for the Sega Saturn to Resident Evil 2 for the Nintendo 64 to TransWorld Surf for the PS2 and Xbox, the series has offered a successful mix of arcade gameplay and the attitude that has fast become the calling card of publisher Rockstar games. The latest entry in the series, Smuggler's Run: Warzones, marks a change of platform for the franchise and its gameplay. We recently had the chance to talk to lead game designer Troy Bowman, producer Glen Hernandez, lead artist Bert Huntsinger, technical director Steve Reed, and 3D artist Brian Vanderhulst of Angel Studios and Rockstar games about the upcoming title.

Warzones has been in development since before Hostile Territory.

GameSpot: How long has Warzones been in development?

Glen Hernandez: We actually started working on Smuggler's Run: Warzones before we finished Smuggler's Run 2: Hostile Territory. We started with a list of ideas put together by the whole team and with the help of a few others at Angel on what we could do to make the game better for the GameCube. The top items on the list were 60Hz gameplay, four-player split-screen play, and more countermeasures. Once we settled on those, we spent several months testing new modes of play that would optimize the excitement and fun for the player. This, in turn, led to giving players two countermeasures to use in multiplayer mode.

In addition, since we suspected Smuggler's Run: Warzones would be the first Smuggler's Run experience for many GameCube owners, we did a lot of subtle tuning to the missions to make them better suited for new smugglers, while keeping the same overall level of challenge and feeling of accomplishment for finishing them all.

GS: Since the Eastern Europe environment is exclusive to the GameCube version of the game, can you tell us a bit about it?

The game will have a brand new environment that will be exclusive to the GameCube.

Troy Bowman: We wanted to create a level that would allow us to focus on multiplayer action and gameplay techniques such as midair pickups and drop-offs and things like rooftop driving. We also wanted the level to look beautiful but somewhat different from the Smuggler's Run 2 levels while still retaining that "Smuggler's Run" feel. We were all in favor of a fall setting for the level, with leaves changing color on the trees, and so on. Eastern Europe seemed like a logical setting since it is quite beautiful in many parts, but also quite dangerous and volatile in others.

Brian Vanderhulst: This was by far my favorite level to work on and play. We designed it with the four-player modes in mind, as well as the new countermeasures. Each area within the level has been play-tested extensively, using all the vehicles and their new countermeasures (and practically every lunch break and evening, establishing the team champions). So, for example, when you drive through the industrial area with the truck, you might see some contraband on top of a building that the truck can get to using vertical boost, but another player might be there with the repulsion countermeasure and knock you about 30 meters away, preventing your pickup. The art on the level was also fun to work on because I was able to use what I learned from working on the previous two versions of the game and take it to the next level and expand on that. In the Eastern Europe level we have castles, inns, farms, an abandoned industrial complex, and lush vegetation, all over a great variety of terrain types that I think provide a great overall experience.

31 Flavors of Warfare

GS: Can you go through the four-player multiplayer modes and explain each one?

Domination and fox & hound modes will let up to four players compete against each other.

TB: In the fox and hounds, all players start out empty-handed, and they fight tooth and nail to be the first to pick up the contraband, called the "token" in this game mode. Whoever picks it up becomes the "fox," and the other players become the "hounds." The fox holds onto the token as long as possible without damaging it out and earns points as long as he or she has it. The hounds harass the fox and destroy the token as quickly as possible by ramming him her (the token cannot be stolen from the fox as it can in other game modes). When the token is destroyed, another one appears randomly, and there is another mad dash to pick it up. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins.

Our goal in this game mode was to encourage players to work together to beat the snot out of the fox. It's really satisfying to work together with two or three of your friends to beat the crap out of the fox in this game, but it's perhaps even more satisfying to be able to successfully evade all the hounds when you're the fox. In order to keep the fox from getting too far away from the hounds, we gave the token a heavy weight value, which will slow him or her down a bit.

Domination starts out similarly to fox and hounds. Whoever gets the token can then drive through the "strongholds" to change them to his or her team's color. Teams accumulate points over time for each stronghold that they control. Other players can steal the token, and it can also be damaged out, in which case a new one will appear. Whoever gets the new token can capture unclaimed strongholds and opponents' strongholds. There are two ways to win. A team can win if it dominates by capturing all strongholds, or if it has the highest score when the time runs out.

In domination, we wanted to foster cooperation between teammates. There is a lot of strategy involved, such as harassing opponents while your teammate makes a run for the strongholds, or passing the token to your teammate when you're about to damage out, and so on. It can be very satisfying to win an intense game with well-executed teamwork.

GS: How has the enemy AI been improved for the GameCube version of Smuggler's Run?

You'll have to stay sharp, because the AI in Warzones will never let up.

GH: For Warzones, we wanted to refine the AI, and keep the AI constantly harassing you without overwhelming you, unless you make a significant mistake. So even if you're doing everything right, the police and opponents will still be on you, and if you screw up, then all hell will break loose. We also had to make sure that the AI players would be able to deal with the new countermeasures.

GS: Who are the licensed artists featured in Warzones' soundtrack?

GH: We have licensed music from some of the world's most respected techno producers, including James Ruskin, courtesy of Blueprint Records; Octave One, Kaotic Special Rhythms, Wild Planet, and Random Noise Generation, courtesy of 430 West Records; and Reese, Faces, and Phrases, Tronik House, and E-Dancer, courtesy of Kevin Saunderson (KMS Productions).

Spicing up the Gameplay

GS: Could you describe some of the new countermeasures and explain why you decided to include them?

Countermeasuers will place the weaker vehicles in the game on the same level as the bigger ones.

TB: There are two reasons for the new countermeasures. First of all, we wanted to give players something new for the GameCube version. But more importantly, the new countermeasures help to balance out the vehicles that were weaker in the PlayStation 2 version. I really wanted to make all the vehicles fun to play, especially because of the heavier emphasis on multiplayer gameplay. I think the combination of the old and new countermeasures and the improved vehicle tuning makes each vehicle fun and useful in its own way.

The cloaking device makes your vehicle disappear from other players' screens and radar maps. They can still use the HUD arrow or your vehicle's tire tracks and dirt trails to find you, though.

The repulse shield is like an inverted electromagnet. It pushes other vehicles away from your vehicle when activated. It can be used in obvious ways such as preventing opponents from stealing your loot, but it can also be used offensively by creative players to shove nearby opponents into obstacles, off the side of a cliff, and so on.

The acid drop originally started out as the ninja weapon known as caltrops or tetsubishi--small metal spikes designed to pop tires, injure feet, and so on. It was determined, however, that the caltrops would not be visible enough against the terrain, especially at high speeds, so the acid drop was born. The effect is the same--hit it and for a limited time the acid will eat away at your tires and undercarriage, causing you to lose speed and sustain damage while driving.

The vertical boost is pretty self-explanatory. It can be used to jump over obstacles and opponents, jump onto buildings, soften a landing so as not to damage out, and so on. It is a high-powered burst of steam that emits from the bottom of the vehicle, propelling it in the opposite direction of the burst. What this means is that if your vehicle is on its side, for example, the vertical boost will propel it sideways instead of upward. This can be helpful in some situations and harmful in others. Learning to use it well and in conjunction with the vehicle's air balance button is key.

GS: So which one of these is your favorite?

TB: Wow, that's a tough one. I love them all like a parent loves each of his children, but if I had to choose only one it would be the bombs. It's just so much fun to blow the hell out of each other with those things! Out of the new countermeasures, my favorite is the vertical boost because there's nothing better than to be racing head on at an opponent only to juke him or her with your vertical boost (except if you also drop a bomb on him or her).

The vehicles in Warzones behave completely differently from each other.

GS: What's your favorite vehicle? Will there be any hidden vehicles besides the hoverbike?

TB: My favorite vehicle used to be the baja truck because of its great handling and awesome countermeasures, but with all the improvements to the vehicles in this version, I can't really pick just one anymore.

As for the hidden vehicle, it's actually called the hoversled. We especially like driving it through the redwoods in North America at high speeds. Give it a try and see what you think!

Smuggler's Run, Cubed

GS: What has working with the GameCube hardware been like? What have you been impressed with and what has disappointed you thus far?

TB: It was quite challenging to support all the functionality we needed with the GameCube controller. Other than that, I've been pleased with the hardware.

Expect this GameCube version of Smuggler's Run to have better lighting than its PlayStation 2 sibling.

Steve Reed: The GameCube is a pleasure to work with. The CPU and memory access is very fast. Multitexture support is very nice as well. We draw up to six textures on some of the terrain areas, and it has no problems with it.

GS: What graphical improvements have been made to the GameCube version when compared with the PlayStation 2 version?

SR: The GameCube version has better reflection and specular mapping, and we were able to optimize it to run at a smooth 60Hz in one- and two-player modes. We were also able to add a 30Hz four-player mode, which is a blast to play!

Bert Huntsinger: With the improved specular highlights added, sunlight now glints off the surface of lakes and rivers. In addition, lighting and fog have been subtly improved, key models have been given more generous polygon budgets, and all textures look sharper. The look of the new countermeasures is also really cool.

For everyone who remembers the first Smuggler's Run, the original North American level has been dramatically improved. It has been completely retextured, and all the models have been reworked to take advantage of technology changes since the first game.

GS: Will Warzones support progressive-scan video output?

Steve Reed: Yes, and the game looks great in progressive-scan mode, especially four-player on a big screen! GS: Now that the game is nearing release, what final adjustments are being made?

TB: Just polish, polish, and more polish. Polish and attention to detail are the keys to a fun game. I always wish there were even more time for those!

GS: What would you have liked to include in the game but were unable to due to time constraints or other reasons?

TB: It would have been really sweet to include a mission editor and the ability for players to swap their saved missions via memory card. If there were one more thing I could have fit in there, that would have been it.

GS: After Warzones is released, what's next for the Smuggler's Run franchise? Will there be a sequel on the GameCube?

Warzones is almost done--all that's left for the developers to do is add a nice layer of polish.

TB: We have some interesting ideas, but I don't want to say too much yet. For the next version, we want to take a generational leap in terms of gameplay, technology, content, and so on. We want to seriously kick some butt, and leave the pretenders in our dust!

GS: Will the Warzones engine be used in future GameCube games?

SR: I cannot comment on any future game plans, but I can say that the terrain and physics engines in Smuggler's Run: Warzones are part of Angel Studios' core technology and still considered valuable assets to the company.

GH: We'll continue to make improvements to the technology as we move forward to future projects.

GS: Thanks for your time.

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