Buffy the Vampire Slayer Q&A
We get the lowdown on EA's upcoming Buffy game from its developer, the Collective.
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EA's upcoming Buffy the Vampire Slayer game is looking to be one of the more promising Xbox titles on the way. Developed by the Collective, the title blends typical third-person action adventure with a robust combat engine and attempts to capture the appeal of the popular TV series.
We had a chance to interrogate the team about the game and were able to talk to James Goddard, co-lead designer for Combat design/scripting; Tony Barnes, co-lead designer for level design; Chris Aguilar, lead artist; Nathan Hunt, lead engine/game programmer; Richard Hare, creative director and VP; and Douglas Hare, VP of production.
GameSpot: How long has the game been in development?
Douglas Hare: In total, we've been working on Buffy for three years. The game was originally intended for the PlayStation and PC, but at the start of 2001, it became apparent that to truly realize Buffy's potential, we needed to transition to a next-generation console, and the logical choice was Xbox. Thankfully, the assets we had created for the PC version of the game were really high-end, so we didn't have to redo everything from scratch, although pretty much every single piece of art was improved upon for the Xbox version.
GS: Is it turning out to be what it was originally intended to be?
Richard Hare: Buffy has become a far more sophisticated full 3D brawler than we originally anticipated. We knew we wanted the close-quarters combat to feel awesome, but the team ultimately created something extraordinary--busting undead chops has never been so much fun! Smacking the heads of zombies with a baseball bat, impaling vampires with spears and stakes, and generally putting the big hurt on demons turned out to be so much fun that we decided to showcase this and play down some of the more puzzle-oriented content we had originally planned. Somehow, it just seemed jarring going from the monster mash to solving a somewhat sophisticated puzzle.
GS: How big is the team that's working on the game?
DH: During the height of production, the team probably peaked at around 20 people.
GS: Which games did the team worked on previously?
DH: The team behind Buffy is exceptionally talented and experienced, and some of the more famous games that team members have worked on include:
Street Fighter II: Champion Edition (coin-op)
Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting (coin-op)
Slam Masters (coin-op)
Savage Quest (coin-op)
Star Trek: DS9 The Fallen
Legacy of Kain
The Strike Series
Star Control III
Virtual Pool 2
John Madden Football
Star Trek: Starfleet Academy
GS: Why choose this type of game for the Buffy license? RH: It was clear to us from the outset that "Buffy was the weapon." As such, we knew that we had to showcase her superhuman strength and martial arts prowess. The challenge was to create a full 3D close-quarters fighting experience that a regular gamer would instantly find rewarding, yet provide the depth and flexibility that experienced players demand. Early into development, there weren't any comparable games to use as a reference point, and, even now, we haven't seen a full 3D brawling experience that sizes up. Although close-quarters brawling is definitely the focus of gameplay, we also mixed in fun navigation/adventuring, groovy slayer weapons (my favorite is the reaper wing), and action puzzles. This seemed to be the best blend for Buffy.
James Goddard: On the combat side of the game, only a new style of free-roaming 3D combat could do Buffy justice. In the show, she has a very raw martial arts style that is almost natural yet brawling and can hit at any angle with uncanny accuracy because of her slayer senses. She often uses the environment around her and improvises with stakes, bounces fools off walls, stakes them on the rebound, kicks them flying into a "made" environmental stake like a broken table without even looking, and chucks vamp dudes into each other like she is vampire bowling. No game in this genre had all that until now (or will anytime soon)--Buffy Xbox does all of the above as a warm-up, and the best part is you do not have to be a fighting game master to do any of it! We have created a control scheme that is so intuitive and old school in 3D that you will be completely immersed in Buffy's movement after minutes of playing. But that does not mean for a second that this is not an industrial-strength fighting engine!
As a starting point, we made sure it had all the standard one-on-one coin-op features of Tekken, DOA, and a dash of SFII (inside joke, sorry) and then turned it on its side and erased "the line" and introduced free-roaming targeting and environmental gameplay. There are tons of crazy combos and techniques that are designed to challenge even hard-core tournament players' skills--try to jump in chain to super to juggle to wall splat to juggle to ground hit to down stake-kill 15-hit combo for starters. And then there are the weapons. The final game has an incredible number of moves and gameplay, all told; there are 76 authentic hand-to-hand attacks, 58 nasty weapon moves, and hundreds of combos in full 3D. So the answer to the question is there was no choice--Buffy demanded a new genre of 3D combat and adventure. Who would be crazy enough to let Buffy down?!?
Tony Barnes: We feel the type of game generated is a new genre, "action combat adventure," and it will be interesting to watch the games that come out in this category after Buffy. The action adventure aspect reflects the investigation and mysteries that unravel in the intricate storylines of Buffy. The combat aspect clearly had to be emphasized, because it's so integral to the show, and we felt the public was craving for a great 3D brawler that is easy to learn yet has technique and skill involved.
GS: How did you settle on the timeline for the story? (There's no Anya, Tara, Dawn, and so on.)
RH: We (The Collective and Fox) wanted to create a game that featured the original cast members during the Sunnydale High School years. Given that this is the first major game based on the show, we didn't want to gloss over this important chapter in Buffy's history. Furthermore, it was "safer" to create a story set in Buffy's past to minimize conflicts with current/future TV storylines.
GS: How much input did the TV show's creator have? How closely did you all work together?
RH: We collaborated with Buffy Productions at the very outset of development, primarily seeking their feedback and approval of our original storyline. This all went very smoothly, as they were very happy with the story we created.
GS: Do you feel added pressure because there are so many hard-core Buffy fans?
JG: Absolutely! If Buffy came out fighting like Bruce Lee, for example, we would be "slayed" out of disrespect for both licenses! We studied Buffy's moves extensively for months to get a solid plan for her base set and then planned new moves that would be a natural evolution of her fighting style. Then we got really lucky when Fox hooked us up with Jeff Pruitt and Sophia Crawford, the stunt team from season three and four. Oh my god, was that cool--we mocapped them doing all the classic Buffy and vampire combat moves from the show and did some crazy wire gags to top it off.
This was just the starting point, though; we then had our crack animator Roberta Brown extensively tweak and exaggerate that motion to be game-ready. In addition to that, our animation team, by hand, did tons of additional moves and behaviors for Buffy and the cast of 30 creatures to go beyond what is even done in the show--since we have no budget limitations, we can just cram moves into a scene that you typically see in an episode. So hopefully, Buffy fans will freak when they see "their girl" in action in this game because we are deadly accurate with the show.
TB: Every decision going into Buffy was to best benefit the license and, ultimately, the fans and game players. As with any license we take on at The Collective, we take them very seriously, because we're fans too. For the hard-core fan, we've made sure every little detail is in the correct place and time. If a setting used in the game was showcased in the show, it has been reproduced as accurately as possible. We visited the locations and the sets used by the show and consulted stacks and stacks of reference material. I think the fans will love the game, because it's so much like the show, from the acting and the combat to the environments.
Chris Aguilar: Because we are big Buffy fans, we naturally take great care in staying true to the story, character, and style of the series. We do our homework and re-create everything with loving attention to detail and take special care in creating original elements that seamlessly fit into the Buffy universe. And, as with every product we work on, we are determined to make an entertaining quality title for fans and gamers alike.
GS: Tell us about the graphics engine for the game. How long did it take to develop? How does it take advantage of the hardware?
Nathan Hunt: The Slayer engine and the SlayEd tool set have been in development for more than three years. Slayer is a very powerful crossplatform engine that is tweaked to take advantage of whichever platform it's running on. Buffy takes advantage of the Xbox hardware by making extensive use of the programmable vertex shaders. Plus, we have enough texture, lighting, and polygon data to take the Xbox memory to its limits, and we're pushing enough polygons to easily achieve the visuals we set out to achieve. Beyond the visual aspects, we're also really happy with how far Slayer pushes the audio hardware.
GS: Thanks for your time.
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