State of Emergency Designer Diary #3

Check out the third entry in our series of State of Emergency designer diaries.

Entry #3 - 1/24/02

By Jamie King
Director of Development, Rockstar Games NYC

Where should you throw this in order to cause the most mayhem?

The initial design sessions were based on what a large totalitarian multinational company would do if they controlled the country. It was essential that the Corporation was seen as evil with no redeeming features, so we decided to develop the storyline using themes including genetic modification, brainwashing, globalization, consumerism, surveillance, brother states, etc. The inherent structure and ability to script set pieces in revolution mode contrasted with the free-form nature of chaos mode--these different approaches kept development interesting and appealed to alternative gameplay styles. This split also increased the replay value and longevity of State of Emergency.

Beyond the evil Corporation, there were also the gangs to consider; who are they and where do their allegiances lie? We always felt the gangs were a very cool element that we could use to add a different dimension to the bad guy/good guy setup, which existed between the Corporation and the freedom movement. The inclusion of missions allowed us to develop storylines and characters that would reappear throughout the game, as well as develop the identities of key groups such as the gangs.

We also had to decide how the player was going to fit into the mayhem. The obvious answer was fighting and destruction, but we felt that the missions should present the player with more subtle goals than this. Violence has its place, but having the player rescue someone like a helpless shopkeeper and protecting the underdog made for a more interesting and varied approach. We also wanted to make the player feel like part of a bigger organization; consequently, other freedom agents had to be a big part of the gameplay. This had to be balanced by the fact that the player was the hero and would have to do the bulk of the work.

A good example of set pieces is one of the missions in Chinatown. We decided to set the player up for an ambush in a spatially confusing area of the map. To heighten the tension and to increase the player's disorientation, we decided to flood the area with tear gas. The player has to escape through thick clouds of gas, catching glimpses of enemies and civilians alike, meanwhile being intersected by bursts of tracer fire from the enemy AI that's flooding the area. The net result was a very satisfying set piece that we could not have created in the free-form chaos mode.

The joys of explosives.

Missions also allowed us to define what the players' weapons were and therefore to create challenges to suit the situation. For instance, early on, we set the players out with a baseball bat to take on one of the gangs, forcing the players into some hand-to-hand combat. Later on, we gave them a minigun and told them to hold the fort before throwing groups of AI at the player from various directions. If we were feeling more vindictive, we would equip the players with something like a grenade launcher and then tell them to deal with a line of Corporate enforcers. If the players are accurate, they can take them out; if not, they will charge the players whereupon their ranged weapon, with its time delay on detonation, suddenly seems useless!

We had a unique experience with SOE, due to the sheer amount of AI and the complexity of the different generic behaviors. Most of the action in both the revolution and chaos mode is entirely unscripted. The AI interact autonomously, which was a nightmare to balance but well worth the end result! Polishing health and damage values and adjusting the type, quantity, and dynamic values of pickups took up much of the development time, once the core tech was complete. Each change would have implications for the game as a whole--some of which were expected, whilst others were a complete surprise!

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