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LGF: Reality gets an upgrade

The Ninja Theory team offers insight into the development processes behind the upcoming PS3 fighter, Heavenly Sword.


LONDON--Four members of the Ninja Theory development team revealed a little bit more of the promising third-person action game Heavenly Sword during a presentation at the Game Developers Conference London today.

Duncan Frostick (combat code Ninja), Nina Kristensen (chief development Ninja), SaiTong Man (combat design Ninja), and Guy Midgely (lead animation Ninja) talked through some of the gameplay aspects and showed off some demo videos to prove their points.

Man explained that the team found inspiration for the upcoming PlayStation 3 game from kung fu movies and current popular fighting games. "We looked at games like Virtua Fighter and Soul Calibur because they have essentially very simple designs." Frostick added: "We worked on a flowing pose-to-pose animation. The inspiration came from kung fu films, not hard, Western-style animation."

Man said that one of the driving forces behind the game was to create something that looked "pretty" and action sequences that flowed together perfectly. "Way back when we first started working on Heavenly Sword, the main thing for me was aesthetics; it had to look amazing. Also, the gameplay had to be completely accessible to the casual gamer, but it had to have depth for the hardcore gamer."

Frostick revealed that the main character would become stronger and gain attack moves as the game progressed, which suggested the game will feature role-playing elements. "Like most fighting games, we worked on the basis that through the game, the bigger and better the moves become. There are two types of synchronised attacks. There are counters and what we call super styles. The super style stuff looks spectacular. These get more and more kind of ridiculous as you go through the game and get more and more powerful."

Midgely went on to talk about how important the flow of the game is to make physically impossible fighting moves look real. "We're taking reality and amping it up to the next level. The players always feel like they are in the game. You don't want to be enjoying playing a game, or watching a kung-fu movie, and think, 'Wait, that's not right.' It takes away enjoyment from the game."

The game, as has been seen from previous videos and demos, will be fast paced--Midgely confirmed that the animations will be running at 60 frames per second, while most games today run at 30. He added that there will also be a slowing effect within the game, which may work out something like 'bullet time,' now common in games.

No visuals of game bosses were shown, but the team was quick to assert that their moves will be equally impressive as those of the main character. Frostick elaborated on some of the boss-related elements: "There are some bosses who do truly spectacular moves. And there are armies, 1,000 people tearing through a valley trying to get you. There is also another element to the game, more cinematic elements, environmental interactions, power jumps, etc."

He went on to quantify the number of attack animations: "For the hero, there are literally hundreds of different attack animations. I'd say around 1,000 animations at the moment."

One revelation that surprised many attending the session was the lack of a collision-based system within the game, but Frostick defended the choice. "We use transitions to take the hero away from the wall into a safe area with cool animations. I'm pretty happy with that solution."

The quartet also explained the creative process for the game. "We were an autonomous unit and the studio heads have faith in what we do. We don't have to go through several people to get what we want. It's talking around the table rather than having to go through lots of red tape to make something happen."

Although some of the fighting sequences in the demo were obviously violent, including one in which a creature was sliced from the groin up, Midgely claimed that the game is likely to receive a T-for-Teen rating in the US.

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