GDC '08: Prince Caspian First Look
We check out the movie-licensed video game based on the classic C.S. Lewis novel.
SAN FRANCISCO--There's nothing like going to the source when it comes to a licensed video game. In the case of the upcoming Prince Caspian for Xbox 360 and other major consoles, the "source" happens to come from a couple of different directions: film director Andrew Adamson, who is the director of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, the movie based on the influential C.S. Lewis novel; the visual effects masters at Peter Jackson's Weta Digital studios; as well as the C.S. Lewis estate itself.
In Adamson's case, attention to detail appeared to be one of the important lessons learned for the developers at Traveller's Tales, as it seems like Adamson's production design has put huge importance on the little details, all the way down to the different kinds of chain mail armor that will appear in the movie (and, as an offshoot, the game). According to Traveller's Tale producers, Adamson's also a huge gamer, and his input on the Prince Caspian game included the advice that players should immediately be grabbed by the coattails and taken for a ride from the outset in the game.
OK, so it's not exactly cutting-edge game design theory there, but that action-packed approach to the game's opening will certainly be there in the game. This brings up another important aspect of the game's development: the narrative structure. While the game follows the same plot as the movie, it tells the same story in a more nonlinear fashion, with several missions acting as hubs from which various side missions continue. Indeed, the first level of the game tells the never-before-examined happenings between the first and second Narnia books, which see just a year pass in "our" world, while 1,300 years have passed in Narnia. What happened during that vast stretch of time was a job for the developers at Traveller's Tales to construct with the help of the C.S. Lewis estate, which is headed by Douglas Gresham, Lewis' stepson, who had the final say on anything and everything to do with game's continuity.
During our brief demo of the game we jumped through a number of different areas that highlighted the two main genres that will comprise Prince Caspian's gameplay: straight-ahead hack-and-slash and puzzle-solving. For the former, a huge number of units onscreen at any given time are a great start--during an early battle in a castle courtyard we watched as the producer demonstrating the game guided a hulking Minotaur through a crowd of battling fighters. You can control up to two players in the game, switching between each on the fly, and the game will allow drop-in/drop-out cooperative play (offline only). The other character on hand during this particular level was a mighty centaur who could gallop through crowds of enemies with ease, knocking them back as he sped along.
One of the goals for this particular level was to take out a series of catapults strewn throughout the courtyard. The Minotaur and centaur weren't strong enough to take them out; so in order to pull it off, you have to jump on the back of a giant standing in the middle of the courtyard. By guiding him around--giants are pretty stupid in Narnia, it seems--you can use his brute power to take down the catapults.
The game isn't just about brute force, however; in a later level shown to us, we saw two of the main characters, Peter and Edmund, make their way through some creepy-looking caves, using a torch's flames to keep bats away. The goal of this level is to use light to repel the bats, as stepping into darkness will bring the cloud of bats to your character. Conspiring against you (and your torch's flame) will be various drafts flowing through the caves, which you will have to plug with rocks and other objects. As you progress through levels, you'll be collecting items and shards that you can use to upgrade your character's armor and weapons.
To create the game's look, the team behind Prince Caspian went straight to the visual source, too--the visual effects masters at Peter Jackson's Weta Digital. The massive castle seen in the video game version of Prince Caspian, for example, comes from the exact same renders of the game that will be seen in the film. It's so big, in fact, that developers decided to create two different levels from it, each composed of different sections of the huge structure.
From creating the precise look of the armor and technology available to the Telmarines (the human armies fighting against Prince Caspian) to the unique score created just for the game, the details behind the Prince Caspian game have been a big undertaking for the developers at Traveller's Tales. Here's hoping the final product--and the movie, for that matter--live up to the sterling reputation of the book from which they draw.
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