Famed Hong Kong action director John Woo's classic films are so ripe for video game translation, it's a wonder nobody's done it before now. But if it was going to take this long, at least it looks like the team at Midway now hard at work on the Unreal Engine 3-based Stranglehold is doing everything it can to get the first game based on a Woo film right. The game marks the triumphant return of Hard-Boiled's tough-as-nails cop inspector Tequila, brought to life for the first time with the voice and face of action star Chow Yun-Fat. To get the straight dope on Stranglehold's development as it nears completion--and to find out more about the new trailer you'll find linked to the right--we went straight to the game's director at Midway, Brian Eddy.
GameSpot: Start off by introducing yourself. Tell us what you're doing on this game, and also briefly give us an idea of what you've worked on in the past.
Brian Eddy: I'm Brian Eddy, the director and project lead on the game. In the past, I worked on Psi-Ops, and then before that I did arcade games, like the arcade version of Arctic Thunder. And if you really dig back, I did a bunch of pinball machines.
GS: Can you tell us when Stranglehold takes place in relation to the movie Hard-Boiled and run down the storyline of the game?
BE: It takes place soon after Hard-Boiled, and the basic storyline is that [inspector] Tequila gets pulled into this adventure by a cop getting killed. And along the lines of investigating why the cop was killed, he finds out that it starts to involve his family. He actually has an ex-wife that has been estranged and sent to Chicago for safety, and he finds out through investigating what happened to the cop that it actually starts to get personal. And then Tequila gets pulled into the other side of the law and has to cross the line in order to save his family.
GS: Most of the footage in the gameplay demos you guys have shown so far has just been set in that one teahouse area, but this new trailer is showing off a lot of new environments. Can you elaborate on what we're seeing in the trailer and talk about some of the new features that are being introduced here?
BE: Yeah, there's a couple of different snippets in there. One, there's a museum level in Chicago based upon all the local museums, and it's a great place to be because it has tons of stuff to break and explode when the battle's going on. So you see one little clip of Tequila running up the dinosaur exhibit, and that's really cool because he can use the environment and the things in the environment in different ways. So one of the things--the dinosaur tail--you can run up the side of it, leap off of it while you're taking out guys and stuff. Or you can just blast it away and destroy the whole skeleton, as it crumbles down and falls and kills people all around it and such. There's another little snip of an exhibit of the terra-cotta soldiers, they're kind of famous from China, and there's a whole exhibit of them. A great thing to have a battle in between, with them shattering and breaking all around you.
Then there's a little bit of the penthouse in Chicago. This is a very opulent palace--this is the [home of the] Russian mafia boss who runs the Chicago-area syndicate, and you have to go there and basically take him out and all his guys. But this is a really opulent house, multiple levels and floors, and he's got it decked out, and you get to just trash the place. And being at the top of a high rise, it's all glass windows all around, and you know, you're blowing people out the windows and having them fall to their death and stuff. It's a great place to have a big battle in.
There's one more different level, the boat hanger that's part of the dock area. There are two giant hanger areas with dry docks, where they bring boats in. Multiple levels, you know, scaffolding climbing all over the place, so lots of areas to do cool interactions--sliding down railings, diving off--and there's a giant boat in the dry dock, too, that you fight on. So there's a big variety, a little bit of outdoor and indoor on that one.
GS: The environmental actions are the one thing in the trailer that stood out the most to us. How extensive are those going to be? How many different options will you have for doing different things, and how automated are they?
BE: Yeah, we really want to give players as many options as we possibly can squeeze into it. We're really big on the whole emerging gameplay thing, just throwing a bunch of little [gameplay] tools out there and letting people play with it and kind of work their way through the game the way they want to. So you'll see a lot of that. We're really focused on making sure that you can do those things, and you can do them really easily, and they'll lead to really cool events as you use them. So I mean, the control is just as easy as it was in the teahouse, you see something highlight and you just press the interact button and he does it.
GS: OK. So it's basically a matter of hitting one button and seeing something cool happen?
BE: Yeah. And most of them, you direct them along, too. When you start using it, you kind of put together little movie scenes yourself when you're playing, as he dives off in the slow-mo, as he's running up railings and sliding down them. And you're kind of making these little moments, which are really cool.
GS: So even when you're having these specific interactions with the environment, you're still given some kind of free reign over what you're doing?
BE: Right. So you can jump on banister rails, and you can still move left and right--you're attached to it, but it gives you a better vantage point and allows the camera to go into the slow-mo automatically for you.
GS: Obviously, John Woo's movies have inspired a lot of game design in the past few years. How are you guys honoring or adhering to his style of action, but also differentiating the game from he rest of the pack of action games that use this sort of design and inspiration?
BE: You're definitely right, a lot of games have borrowed from him, and I think even John Woo knows that himself, which is why he wanted to do a game. He says, "All these different games are kind of borrowing pieces from my past, you know, I should just do a game." And we thought it was a great idea, too, since he's an amazing action director.
The stuff that we've worked through with him is, you know, we watched a ton of all his films, especially all the older stuff, you know, The Killer and Hard-Boiled and A Better Tomorrow, and really tried to pick out the essence of all those movies--what the cool moments are--and tried to turn that into the gameplay so that the player could feel those cool moments himself, doing them. And once we had a good list of the stuff together, we went and talked to John Woo and batted ideas back and forth and kind of came up with that "essence of Woo" [laughs]. We decided how to package that into the game, and it boils down to that, you know, the interactions: It's not just running around on the ground shooting guys, you use that environment to dive off of things, to jump on rails and slide through the world, and you just find interesting ways to kill people.
And then there's the massive destruction that's happening in the world. As you know, all the scenes from his earlier [films], there's just stuff shattering and breaking everywhere, and it goes into slow-mo, and everything just looks cooler in slow-mo when you see it. So we're sprinkling that in. I don't think you could do a John Woo game without slow-mo. So it's obviously a focus in our game, but I think the way we've implemented it has been different than any other game that we've seen. And it really wows the player to not have to so heavily focus on knowing when to turn it on and off, because it's kind of helping you do that automatically.
GS: Speaking of that slow-mo, since that feature has obviously shown up in a lot of other games--but you know, it was sort of inspired by Woo's movies to begin with--could you elaborate on how you're differentiating your slow motion feature from other games and making your version of the bullet-time concept unique?
BE: I think the main difference is how we're activating it. We're using it in a number of different ways in the game in different time dilations--different speeds and stuff. But in the main mode that you use it in to kill guys, it automatically turns on for you. Now, the player still has manual control if they ever want it, so if you're really a hardcore gamer and you want to be able to go on and off, you can.
But for most people, they really love this automode. So it'll automatically turn on for you when you're diving, or when you're doing any of those special world interactions that you've seen like running up rails, swinging from chandeliers. It'll automatically turn on for you whenever the targeting reticle gets a guy within view. So it's one less thing for the player to manage, it kind of just makes cool things happen. So you can concentrate on aiming at the guys and deciding whether or not you want to do an interaction or not. And yeah, it'll just turn on automatically for you at the right moment. So what it ends up doing is it creates these cinematic moments in the gameplay that just happen for you, and it really makes you feel powerful, and like you're doing something really cool, without having to figure out 50 buttons and press them at just the right time to turn everything on.
GS: You said John Woo has been pretty heavily involved in the game. How much does his game company, Tiger Hill, have to do with it?
BE: They're mainly involved on the storyline and the storyboards, because John Woo is big on story, and in getting that heart into the story and really making you feel like Tequila has motives and [making you] care for the characters and stuff. So they spent a lot of time on writing the story and the script and doing all the storyboards for the actions in the scenes and coming up with cool ways of making it happen on screen.
And also when we start getting stuff functional in the game, all these gameplay features that we've talked about, we show it to him, and we talk back and forth about how would he cinematically frame this, or what would he do with the camera here if we want to highlight stuff. So it's been a pretty good collaborative relationship back and forth. You know, even though their main thing isn't games and they know that, but what we really want them for is to bring all that cinematic feel that he adds to the movies into the game. And that's been working out pretty well so far.
GS: How about Chow Yun-Fat? Obviously you guys have his likeness in the game. Has he also been directly involved? Has he given any kind of input?
BE: Chow hasn't been as involved as John Woo, but he's been there whenever we needed him. We went and scanned him in China about a year ago to get his exact likeness, and we just recently went and got his voice-over in China. So he's really excited. This is the first game that Chow was actually in. And I think the first game his VO has ever been in, too. And you know, it brings John and Chow Yun-Fat back together. You know, they haven't done a film together in a while, and I think there's a little bit of that to them, you know, that they're coming back together, especially with this being a sequel to Hard-Boiled, which was, I think, pretty close to their hearts. It really kind of brings everybody back together.
GS: What stage of development are you guys at with the game?
BE: Well, we're headed for Q1 for release on all the platforms. So we're getting to the point where we're tuning the levels and the missions that are in there and want to make sure that we spend a good amount of time making sure that stuff's right and is fun. We definitely don't want to push this out until it's really tight.
GS: How has Unreal Engine 3 been to work with? What kind of interesting stuff are you guys able to do with it?
BE: You know, Unreal Engine really gave us a great head start as a platform that really allows the artist to really dig in to make cool stuff. We're just trying to push as much as we possibly can into the engine. We've taken and modified it pretty heavily, too. You know, we started on it about a year and a half ago when we were one of the first major licensees to pick up the license and kind of made it our own as we've integrated Havoc into it, AI Implant into it. And you know, Unreal's got a great rendering engine, a great ability to make things look cool. Havoc's got an amazing physics engine, and with AI Implant for the AI stuff, we're just pulling the best systems we can together so that we can spend the most time making the game. The artists love Unreal as a tool, because it allows them to do so much.
GS: You're shipping on the 360, PS3, and PC. What's your primary development platform, and where are you seeing the best performance and the best visual quality?
BE: We've been developing primarily on PC, but 360 is probably the next closest, and then PS3. That's mainly just because of the order that they've come out. You know, we've just had 360s longer, and [on the] PS3, we're just getting up to speed now. As far as performance and stuff, they're all relatively close to each other. There's different ways, different approaches on the PS3 versus the Xbox to get the performance out of it. But so far, they seem pretty close to [each other].
GS: Finally, Stranglehold was originally slated to be out this year, and you guys have pushed it back to early next year. What are you doing with the extra development time that you've been allotted?
BE: Well, making sure that everything is there, [that] it plays smooth and there's no weird hitches and glitches and stuff going on, you know. [The extra time] allowed us to keep a few features that we may have had to cut before, so that we have time to polish them up and get them fun to play. And all in the name of making a better game, that's what we're all for.
GS: That's what we like to hear. Thanks a lot for your time, Brian.