Designer American McGee discusses Scrapland in his own colorful way.
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Perhaps the easiest way to describe Scrapland is that it's a sci-fi murder mystery featuring robots. But there's a lot more to this open-ended, third-person action adventure game than that. Scrapland will incorporate plenty of disparate elements, including racing, vehicular combat, character interaction, and logic puzzles. And it'll wrap these elements with a lighthearted, humorous approach. We recently had the opportunity to ask designer American McGee about Scrapland. McGee is one of the most colorful figures in the industry, and he lived up to his reputation in our Q&A.
GameSpot: Could you tell us a bit of what Scrapland is about? Give us a who's who of the major characters in the game.
American McGee: I like to describe it as a film noir murder mystery set in a world of robots. Of course I've done that in so many interviews now it's starting to sound tired. How about, it's about the eternal struggle between good and evil--an adventurous, sometimes clumsy, always good-hearted hero who has to save the day--and it's set in a world of robots. It's just fun, go get it!
Major characters? D-Tritus is the main character. He's that hero I mentioned before. He's got a couple of friends, Berto, Spoot-nick, Sebastian, and others. He's got a love interest, Betty. Yeah, robots want love, too. Who knew? I hear they like to screw things. I'm a real nut job today. Oh, make it stop.
GS: What are the origins of Scrapland? How and why did you decide to make a colorful action adventure game featuring robots?
AG: I sent a note to Scrapland's lead designer, Enric Alvarez, and asked him. He wrote back and said this: "Scrapland is a very complex game with many influences. From Stanislaw Lem's sci-fi literature to Pixar's films...I'm only mentioning the more obvious ones. In general, it can be said we have been influenced by games, movies, and books that try to innovate and move some steps forward from the establishment. Personally, I don't like wasting time doing things that have already been done."
How and why does anyone decide to do anything? No, seriously. Answer the question.
GS: Scrapland has a rather unique art direction with Art Deco-style robots, some of whom are almost more human in appearance than mechanical. What was the inspiration and idea behind the game's look?
AG: You know, we get this question a lot. I guess that means people like the art style. What I want to know is, if you like it so much, why do you question it? Wouldn't life be better if you just left alone the things you enjoy? Well anyway, you can point at all the usual suspects in the sci-fi genre: Blade Runner, The Fifth Element, Star Wars, even Tron But I think that one of the things that makes Scrapland really unique is the fact that it exists on its own merit outside of those properties that inspired it. Of course, now that you know that you'll be like, "Uh huh, next question please."
GS: There are many different kinds of gameplay in Scrapland, from the action adventure-style gameplay to the vehicle chases. What kind of balance between the two were you looking for?
AG: Imagine a set of scales made of metal. Old ones--like the ones held by that lady who measures justice. On one side picture a bunch of bananas. On the other side picture some angry weasels. (Poke them with something to make them angry if they seem too placid.) Good, now see how dynamic the bananas and the weasels are with that blind lady trying to figure out what the !(@# is going on with her scales. That's the kind of balance we were looking for. Try it, you'll like it. You are a banana by the way.
Life is a RaceGS: Is racing an important part of the game, especially in multiplayer? What are some of the racing game's most distinctive features? We know that you can customize your vehicles, but to what extent?
AG: It is an important part of the game in so much as you want to complete the game. To be honest, you could decide that racing is against your religion or something, but you wouldn't get very far. So I guess you could say that it's not just important, it's critical. Of course that's only if it isn't against your religion.
In terms of multiplayer, similar idea although in that case your friends might say you're weird if you join a multiplayer game and then just sit there claiming that it's against your religion. Personally, I'd just think you couldn't play very well.
Distinctive feature? It's a racing game. You hop in a ship, you race things. If you like, you can shoot other ships while doing so. You can be shot at. You can employ various defensive and offensive "special weapons." (No, that does not mean they are mentally impaired. What's wrong with you?)
As for ship customization, yes, it can be done. To what extent you ask? Engines, weapons, and weapon enhancements of various types are available. You decide where, how, and in what quantity to use these items on your ship. So it's really up to you how much to modify your ship. It's your ship after all.
GS: One of the gameplay mechanics in the game is the way you can take control of other robots. How did this affect level design? Was one of the goals to allow players to have the freedom to solve problems their own way?
AG: The designers had to be aware of the fact that the player would be able to fly, jump super high, squeeze through small spaces, warp time, instantly destroy any other character, and use a number of other special abilities at any time, anywhere. I'm feeling fat and sassy today so I'm going to be sarcastic and say, no, this had no affect on any aspect of the level design. Continuing that theme, I'm going to say that the intent was to force the player to solve puzzles in only the most rigid and boring of ways possible. If you get it wrong, the game electrocutes you.
GS: Humor plays a big role in the game. How difficult was it to create something that's funny but doesn't go so overboard as to sacrifice the story? Were there specific influences you looked to in writing the game's humor and designing its characters?
AG: Take a look at real life from a sarcastic point of view. There is always someone trying to sell you something, to swindle you, to steal something from you. And there are also good friends, nice people, etc. It's the same for Scrapland. Simple. Now let me show you some nice gold-plated bananas.
GS: What are the major differences between the PC and the Xbox versions of the game? The game's done, so what's next for Mercury Steam? An expansion, a sequel, or something entirely new? What's next for American? What's next for Enlight?
AG: If you put the PC version in your Xbox it won't work and vice versa. That's one major difference. There are also some control features that are exclusive to the Xbox version, such as the "lock on" targeting system that virtually eliminates the disorientation commonly experienced in 3D console games. It's mapped to the left trigger on the game controller and really makes a difference in combat both on foot and in the airships. Aside from that, not much is different. It's a pretty literal translation.
Mercury Steam is currently looking at a number of different development opportunities-- can't say much more than that. American clearly needs his medication increased. Enlight will continue to bring light to the world of games publishing.
GS: Thanks, American.