If ever a man reflected the character of the game he was making, it's Stuart Black, the wild creative lead behind Codemasters' gun porn shooter Bodycount. Loud, effervescent, uncompromising, relentless, engaging, destructive. If his mouth was a gun, energetic banter with the silver-haired Scot would end with your brains smeared over the wall.
Never afraid to court controversy, Black's central assertion that most console shooters are "f***ing boring" isn't something he's about to apologise for any time soon.
"But that's not to say they're all s***!" he smiles. He's just rightly fed up with "nineties design" and "whack-a-mole" AI, where enemies obligingly pop their heads out of cover in patterns so predictable it's insulting. He also admits to a healthy hatred of being forced to play in a prescribed way by the developer. "It really pisses me off!" he hisses.
"Now, I'm certainly not going to make a game like that. I'm bored of that. I've done it to death. I want to play something different," he insists. "There has to be a valid reason for making Bodycount. I don't want to copy someone else, and if it doesn't exist you have to invent it. If I could buy this style of game, I wouldn't make it."
With seemingly no-one willing to pick up the gun porn mantle from Criterion's Black, it's hardly a great shock that Black himself has taken up the challenge of making another game with the same insatiable appetite for destruction. A game where "unapologetic arcade action" is placed front and centre, and the gun is the true star.
To demonstrate the point, we're invited to play an early build and spend time simply spraying bullets around an enclosed environment to see what effect they have. Wooden crates don't simply break apart in the usual prescribed fashion, but splinter apart piece by piece, scattering debris in all directions. The metal frame bends and eventually buckles, with its ammo-filled contents revealed, and you can take it even further by electing to blow up the ammo rather than collect it.
This layered approach to destruction extends to the most trivial item of scenery, whether it's a vending machine, petrol pump or an internal wall. Every shot exposes its shattered innards, until it falls apart completely in a big pile of shattered junk.
But such a gratuitous approach isn't just technological showboating to ratchet up the feeling of chaos. As much as it succeeds in doing that, the tactical implications are literally everywhere. For Black, "it's about player choice and player customisation".
In the midst of a level, you're suddenly aware that interior walls, floors and ceilings aren't going to stand up to concerted punishment - and so it proves. Enemies cowering for cover beside windows and doors can be quickly flushed out, while a bit of speculative ceiling destruction promises to ensure that anyone hiding upstairs won't be safe for long.
To pull this off, Codemasters has had to come up with the kind of adaptive AI that's alien to most shooters. With practically every cover point destructible, enemies react accordingly when in danger, and scuttle off to take up new positions. "If there's opportunity to broaden the player choice, we'll always go down that route. We're building creative arenas rather than corridors," Black nods.
Amidst all this dust-strewn chaos, Codemasters hasn't neglected to create a world that you care about, populated with strong characters that you care about. With influences drawn heavily from the best modern, big-budget episodic dramas and personalities they could think of, you play as a generically-named combat asset, John Doe. "He's the bastard love child of Steve McQueen, Lady Gaga and JJ Abrams," according to the ever-modest Black. "He really typifies that post-modern take on thrillers, and that's the direction we wanted to go."
With everything from True Blood to FlashForward and Lost thrown into the pot, the plan is to create a "glossy techno thriller" where you play as a combat asset on the ground, engaging in "a stylised orgy of shooting" under the remote guidance of three sexy operatives.
"There's a lot of depression in games these days," notes Black. "You're always playing a desperate man in a cruel world, but I want you to escape to a fantasy world, and that's not often done."
It's set, as is the trend these days, over a 13-episode seasonal arc, and each episode is structured to last about the same length as a TV show - around 45 minutes - with Codies gunning for the 10-hour mark in total for the single-player campaign. Choice will once again play a key part in the proceedings, with the player able to make decisions based on which of the three operatives they feel most inclined to align themselves with.
Although ostensibly a linear game in terms of plot progression, the sexy ladies whispering tactical advice in your earpiece can be overruled, allowing you to go rogue and open up a bunch of possibilities that Black isn't willing to divulge at this stage. "You're not so much a hammer as the nail," he says.
With much of the single-player detail obscured from view for now, thoughts turn to multiplayer. Arguably the most glaring omission from Black was its lack of multiplayer - something Criterion ditched because, says Black, "it couldn't sync up the physics."
Five years on, bothersome technological hurdles have already been overcome, and "all the destruction, all the environmental shredding is now perfectly synced up online." The current plan to ship with 12-player Team Deathmatch, as well as a two-player co-op mode that's "transparent drop-in/drop-out and online," though Black admits, "it might go up to four." Make it happen.
Black reveals that he initially wanted to build Bodycount from the ground up as a co-operative game, and "draw the single-player out of that," but had to scrap those plans once the narrative plan was laid out.
"As we started developing the story - not in terms of plot, but of character arc - I realised that it was really important at key moments that the player is on their own. People use the argument that it didn't matter in Halo, but we found that there's no way we can achieve that emotional state when their player's talking to their buddy. It was a bit of a problem to start off with."
As a compromise, Black and his team figured that the co-op element would work best as "effectively prequels and sequels to events that the player sees," which will "fill out the back-story of either the Target or the Network and what they're doing."
"Everything in the single-player campaign is all from the player's point of view," notes Black. "You only know the information that the player-character knows, which is all the information on the ground and coming through his ear piece. If I cut away to the Target guys and the Network guys, there are scenes where they're talking about their big plan or whatever else, so we use the co-op and Team Deathmatch to explore that kind of stuff.
"We actually get to tell a broader story of the world that we're creating here, and look at it from different angles," he adds. "A problem turned into a positive, and overall it's a richer experience."
As for Team Deathmatch, the implications of progressive 'shredding' of the levels are obvious. "We keep our shredding consistent between rounds. So when you start playing, the world's all nice and pristine. There are not many angles between things, the combat's quite close-up.
"You're using submachine guns, shotguns, assault rifles and you're boring through walls. You're making your own routes through stuff, and it's generally pretty close. As the world gets ripped down, you'll be looking right through maybe four or five rooms, and have the chance to snipe someone on the other side of the map. Shredding make a big difference to how you play the game."
Built using Codies' increasingly flexible EGO engine, the early signs are extremely promising that Bodycount has all the ingredients to make it stand apart from its contemporaries - a point an unblinking Black makes with great conviction.
"Bodycount is going to be great, and if people don't think it's great, we've got a problem," he admits. "We don't expect everyone will love it, but we want to try to appeal to as broad an audience as possible. It's got to be quality all the way, and there really is no excuse for not achieving that."
From the horse's mouth: Bodycount is officially going to be amazing. And if it isn't, you'll know who to blame.
Bodycount is due out for PS3 and Xbox 360 in Q1 2011.