Max Payne Q&A

We talk to Remedy Entertainment about bringing Max Payne to the Xbox.

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Rockstar's upcoming conversion of Max Payne to the Xbox is defying conventional wisdom with its quality. First announced this past 2801619 August , the game was never actually shown until recently, only weeks before its release. Such silence can sometimes be a sign of a troubled development--fortunately, that is not the case with Max Payne on the Xbox. Codeveloped by Austrian developer Neo and Finnish developer Remedy Entertainment, the game looks stunning, comparing quite favorably to the PC version. We had a chance to grill Petri Jarvilehto, the project leader from Remedy Entertainment, about the game's development.

Max hits the Xbox with guns ablaze.
Max hits the Xbox with guns ablaze.

GameSpot: How did you approach bringing Max Payne to the Xbox?

Petri Jarvilehto: To begin with, I'd like to mention that Neo (an Austrian game developer) did most of the kick-ass work for the Xbox version. Our role was to help them out as much as possible and make sure that the game meets (and exceeds) the expectations of the Xbox gamers.

About halfway into the PC development of Max Payne, we realized that Max is the perfect console game, and from that point onward, we were careful to design it as a console-style game, even though it was going to debut on the PC. You can see this in the simplicity of the controls, the easy-to-understand interface, and the upward scalability of the graphics, which only top-of-the-line PCs can take advantage of, but all Xbox players will see in full detail and action-packed glory.

A big concern was getting a PC game to function on an Xbox controller flawlessly. A lot of PC titles make their way to consoles, and while many have the look, they fail to correctly implement the controls in a proper fashion. Our mandate was, "If we need a mouse and keyboard to play our console version, then we failed."

GS: Did you have to make any changes to the game to get it to fit?

Surprise!
Surprise!

PJ: We did have to split the levels up. The Xbox has a good amount of RAM for a console (but never enough for a developer), but given that the PC version required 64MB of RAM (not including VRAM), and the Xbox has a total of 64MB of RAM, we had to make some changes. Being that the levels in Max were so huge, we were able to split them so they fit into the memory and maintained the game's already fast pace.

GS: Did you make any enhancements to it?

PJ: We added a lot of gameplay enhancements in the form of auto-aim assistance, a slower bullet time to make aiming easier on a control pad, and selectable crosshairs, among others.

We also tweaked the AI to ensure that a new player can jump right in without getting his or her head blown off. The console market is a new and broader environment, so the game must be "pick up and play" from the start. We could have spent a great deal of time making the game look "X" times better, or changing the story at points, but our number-one goal was gameplay. The game played very well on a PC, but we had to be certain that a new console player had absolutely no issues jumping into this title. Take a gander at the options screen to get an idea of what I'm talking about.

GS: Do you feel like you were able to take advantage of what the Xbox has to offer?

PJ: Certainly. The Xbox is an exceptional hardware platform and allows the game to run with the highest detail settings. And taking advantage of the Xbox's additional power, we added many optimizations that boost performance even further, to 60 frames per second, which results in ultrasmooth gameplay. Another positive change is that we reduced the level size to smaller segments, helping the game flow. You will need a sharp eye to tell me what was changed graphically between the PC and Xbox versions.

Hold these bullets for me.
Hold these bullets for me.

I think everyone involved with the project knows that we really got a lot out of the Xbox hardware. The game looks really good, and it runs like a dream.

GS: How did you approach translating the PC control scheme to the Xbox controller?

PJ: As we all know, 3D shooters do not often play well on console controllers. But we avoided this problem by designing Max Payne as a console game even though it appeared on the PC first. Players will be right at home with maneuvering Max through bullet-time bliss. In short, the left analog stick moves Max forward, backward, and side to side, and the right analog stick controls where Max looks, up, down, and left and right. The D-pad allows for very rapid weapon selection. The two trigger buttons fire Max's weapon and activate bullet time. It's all intuitive and simple, and it quickly becomes second nature when playing the game.

Our biggest concern was enabling players to aim with ease. Most of the time in Max, you are surrounded by enemies. We had to make sure the player could navigate these areas while hitting his or her targets without wanting to slam down the controller. We watched new players play this game early on, and we noticed that many spent 90 percent of the time aiming at the floor or the ceiling because they were not used to analog aiming. We believe we worked around this.

Of course, there are several preset configurations and other control options. For example, PC players could not change the aiming "dot." But Xbox players will have the option to pick from several crosshair sizes.

GS: How did the graphics conversion go? Were you able to retain all the detail from the PC version?

Check out the detail.
Check out the detail.

PJ: The Xbox is a graphics powerhouse and allowed us to crank up the detail to the max! Anyone who's played the PC version is going to drool when they see the Xbox version, especially when they see all the cool particle effects that their PC probably couldn't handle, but the Xbox handles with ease.

GS: How has working on the Xbox gone?

PJ: No complaints here! It's a great system to work with. It's hard to compare with the other systems, as they all have their strengths, but in the case of Max, it was fantastic. It's a good platform to develop on, and I think we'll be seeing more spectacular games for the Xbox in the future.

GS: Where did the idea of "bullet time" come from? Was the game built around it? Or was it added later development?

Bullet time will help in situations like this.
Bullet time will help in situations like this.

PJ: When we started working on Max Payne, we knew that we wanted to capture the spirit of action movies, and slow motion is one of the key ingredients in almost all of the best action scenes. During the development, we went through endless amounts of different iterations on how to use slow motion (starting with linking the cinematic shots and shootdodging into slow motion), and eventually we came to the conclusion that it was the most fun when the player got to control the slow motion. Once we started playing the game with this feature, we just knew that we needed to call it bullet time--it describes perfectly the feeling that you have when you're dodging a hail of slow-moving bullets in combat, vases and glass exploding into shards around you, blood puffs opening on the enemies like petals of roses...OK, OK, I'm getting carried away, but you get the idea!

GS: Had you given any thought to any kind of a multiplayer mode?

A rude surprise.
A rude surprise.

PJ: Yes, a lot of thought. And the conclusion is that we'll keep on focusing on the single-player game. Narrating a story line and making a great single-player experience is what we get the most kicks out of. There are plenty of good multiplayer games out there, so I think we'll just keep on doing the things that we enjoy.

GS: Will it be mod-able? Or allow for downloads of any kind?

PJ: The PC version is mod-able, but the console versions are not. Despite the fact that the Xbox has an Ethernet port, it is unusable until the MS network is up and running. As a result, a mod feature would be generally useless for now.

GS: Thanks for your time, Petri.

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