After 15 years of PlayStation exclusivity, Resistance and Ratchet developer Insomniac is spreading its wings and having a crack at multi-platform development. The eventual result, announced during EA's E3 2011 press conference with a CGI trailer, is four-player co-op action game Overstrike.
All the trailer did was raise questions. What is Overstrike? When will it launch? Where did the idea come from? And what does Xbox 360 development mean for Insomniac's loyal army of PS3 fans?
With our ears bursting from the noise echoing round EA's gargantuan booth, Eurogamer quizzed Insomniac boss Ted Price to get some answers.
Eurogamer: Is Overstrike a first-person or third-person game?
Ted Price: It's a third-person action game.
Eurogamer: Would you say it's a third-person shooter?
Ted Price: I would describe it as a four-player co-op game where you're playing as one of a selection of characters who you saw in the video, using these cool weapons and gadgets, some of which you got to see.
Eurogamer: The trailer doesn't seem to take itself too seriously – there's some humour there. But there's violence, too. How would you describe the game's feel?
Ted Price: We at Insomniac have always loved injecting humour into our games. Resistance is not a humourous game at all. However, our other franchises have been enthused with humour.
This takes the humour in a more sophisticated direction. It's not in-your-face humour. It's a more subtle humour. Our intention is to reach out to an audience that's a little bit older than what some of our fans are used to.
Eurogamer: With regard Ratchet, not Resistance.
Ted Price: Right. Resistance is clearly a very mature title. This one may have a very broad appeal in that it introduces heavy action components and some pretty hard-hitting weapons and gadgets. But at the same time it doesn't take itself too seriously.
Eurogamer: Why is the game called Overstrike?
Ted Price: It's a triple entendre. The organisation responsible for these teams of agents is called Overstrike. The team itself is Overstrike 9. This is a team of misfits. They're definitely non-conformists. The challenge they have, and challenge the agency has, is they don't take the traditional approach to running missions. They leave a lot of collateral damage in their wake.
Thus, Overstrike 9 is only called in when there are no other choices. The Overstrike agency has to live with the consequences.
Eurogamer: What's the big threat in the game?
Ted Price: We're not giving any specifics about that yet. But there's a big threat, of course.
Eurogamer: Who are the characters?
Ted Price: We've got a reformed mercenary. We've got a thief, who is interested in causing havoc. We've got a young, brilliant scientist who has some issues of her own. And of course we've got an ex-detective. Dalton in the trailer says he's like a Buddhist monk, but the opposite is actually true. He's got a real temper issue.
Throughout the game, these personalities become bigger than life and they help create a more unique play experience for each of the people who pick up the controller and choose to play as one of those characters.
Eurogamer: We saw a brief glimpse of some of the weapons and gadgets. Can you tell us about them?
Ted Price: I'm going to stay away from the specifics now. What we're focusing on is just announcing the franchise, talking about why we're going multi-platform, our relationship with EA, and leaving the trailer to tell the the story for now.
Eurogamer: So when will you reveal more?
Ted Price: Not going to say yet, but of course we will. It's easy to go too far and to give away the game experience before its time. We want to present the basics and demonstrate that Overstrike is a very different take, and is at the same time a very Insomniac game.
Eurogamer: What makes it an Insomniac game?
Ted Price: The exotic weapons and gadgets. We've always been committed to doing crazy, ridiculous things with our weapons and gadgets. It's the story and the characters and our dedication to creating deep story and developing characters throughout the game, which is something is maybe done less these days than it used to be.
Eurogamer: Why do you think that is?
Ted Price: It was something we discussed heavily on Resistance, where we moved to a more story-driven game because we felt many of the action games that were being released were lighter on story than we as players liked.
So we feel there's an opportunity to weave gameplay and story together more than there has been, simply because our own tech has improved and because players are now more used to real-time storytelling in games. Five, ten years ago the paradigm was: gameplay segment, long cinematic, gameplay segment that maybe had nothing to do with story, long cinematic.
Now we're seeing much more of a blurring of the lines, and we're trying to push that pretty heavily with all of our games.
Eurogamer: Valve is good at that.
Ted Price: They do a great job. They were for sure a pioneer in that area. We've looked very closely and been fans of what they've done over the years.
Eurogamer: Will Overstrike launch in 2012?
Ted Price: We haven't confirmed the release date yet.
Eurogamer: Where did the idea for Overstrike come from?
Ted Price: We've wanted to work on a multi-platform franchise for a while. We made the decision to do so a couple of years ago. We also knew it was time to come up with a brand new franchise, something that would play to our strengths.
In particular, the strengths we build on with all of our games: our love of exotic weapons and gadgets, our adherence to story-driven games with deep characters, and our interest in these very different universes where we can break the rules, if you will, for what is possible and what isn't.
Eurogamer: Why did the team want to make a multi-platform game?
Ted Price: We recognise we have a very loyal fanbase among Sony players, and we love them. We're definitely dedicated to them. However, we've always wanted to reach out to an even broader audience. The Xbox 360 audience has been a viable, vibrant audience for a long time. This was just a chance to do that.
Eurogamer: You've made PlayStation games exclusively for a while now. What challenges does Insomniac face making a game for Xbox 360?
Ted Price: There are certain technical challenges when you're working on a multi-platform game, as most multi-platform developers will tell you. We've planned carefully to address those, whether it's difference in the media you're delivering on, or the technology required to support the multi-platform game.
However, the multi-platform development has been going very smoothly. It was not something we went into lightly. We planned in advance for this.
Eurogamer: Given your expertise with the PS3, will the PS3 version have the edge?
Ted Price: Both versions will end up being very similar. To be fair, we can't really say until the final game is out, but certainly all of our tests so far have demonstrated a parity between our two builds.
Eurogamer: Why no PC version?
Ted Price: At this point we're focusing on the console audience because that's what we know best.
Eurogamer: Is it better suited to console as a leisurely experience?
Ted Price: I wouldn't say leisurely. This is definitely a high-action game. Hopefully the trailer demonstrated that. Those moments in the game where you are fighting as a team are pretty over-the-top.
Eurogamer: Is Overstrike being made by a new Insomniac team, or an existing one?
Ted Price: We have a lot of teams at Insomniac. We're pretty quiet about our size and how we've grown over the last 17 years. We've gone from a one team company back in the PlayStation 2 days, to a multi-team company working on many different types of titles, whether it's Resistance, Ratchet, our Insomniac Click team or the Overstrike team.
We've put together the team from a number of individuals who are passionate about the particular direction this game was heading.
Eurogamer: Is this the beginning of what you hope to turn into a franchise?
Ted Price: Absolutely.
Eurogamer: What's your vision for the brand?
Ted Price: A brand is really important to us. In fact, we would like this universe to extend beyond games, as most developers probably do with their franchises.
It's an Insomniac-owned franchise, and so we have control over how the franchise itself is exploited. The first and most important goal, though, is to deliver an amazing multi-platform game. From there, we hope to go even broader.
"We're focusing on the console audience because that's what we know best."
Eurogamer: Can you talk about the ways you'd like to broaden it out?
Ted Price: We'll keep that to ourselves for now.
Eurogamer: How did the deal with EA come about?
Ted Price: We work with EA Partners. It has been extremely successful working with the top independent developers who also own their intellectual property.
For us as a company, owning and controlling our intellectual property has been a goal of ours for many years. Now, working with EAP we have that opportunity, especially since EAP is a multi-platform publisher and does a fantastic job of marketing and promoting its titles.
Eurogamer: Why is it so important for Insomniac to own its own IP?
Ted Price: From the very beginning we've been adamant about creating content at Insomniac and not using or adopting other folks' ideas. We don't make licensed games. We make stuff that's generated from within Insomniac.
For us, we've loved having Sony as a partner for many years, and we're continuing to work with Sony. However, Sony owns the IP. That's great. We've wanted to be able to control our destiny a little bit more in a more solid way. Owning one's IP gives you even more latitude when it comes to how your IP is taken beyond games.
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Eurogamer: Is Kinect and PlayStation Move a good fit for Overstrike?
Ted Price: It's a good question. The jury's out until we get further into development.
Eurogamer: How far into development are you?
Ted Price: We're not talking about how far we are into development.
Eurogamer: Does Overstrike mark the end of PS3-exclusive development for Insomniac?
Ted Price: It's important to say never say never. Everybody's been constantly surprised at how quickly the industry changes, so I would never want to say anything that locks us into a particular path because it'll be brought up and dusted off and used against us at some point. It pays to be open-minded.
Eurogamer: What about in the near-term?
Ted Price: In the near-term we've got two big PS3-exclusive launches with Resistance 3 and Ratchet & Clank All 4 One this fall. We're super excited about those.
Eurogamer: Are you open to making more games in those series?
Ted Price: We have a history of being pretty quiet, as most developers do, about our future releases, so I'm not going say anything about that.