What's my favourite thing about 24?
Plink! Plunk! Plink! Plunk!
Obviously. Except on Sky One, when it meant you'd have to sit through another five minutes of ads. 24: The Game, due out in mid March, still has my favourite sounds, but thankfully no ads. "I don't think anyone wants us to introduce them," deadpans Mark Green of developer SCEE Cambridge. It's a bit more like watching 24 on DVD or on the BBC then - and of course it's Green's and everybody else's hope that it really will be a lot like watching 24, with split-screen, never-ending U-turns and all the rest of it. With the game less than two months away, we fired off some questions to try and find out a bit more about it. So let's get into those. Er:
Plink! Plunk! Plink! Plunk!
Eurogamer: Under most circumstances, adapting a television series would be difficult in terms of scaling up from an episodic format to a lengthier game one. Given 24's method and the number of arcs that it keeps in focus though, it must've been completely the other way round for you. What were the key considerations in creating a game that stayed true to the format of the show?
Mark Green: A few things were key. The multiple story arcs, the interweaving story threads, the double-bluffs, dead-ends and U-turns, the variety of activities, but perhaps most of all, remembering that we were making a game and that game mechanics had to take priority over certain structures - like the real-time aspect. I mean, even the TV show uses the commercial break to cover the boring travel time and suchlike. In a game we don't have commercial breaks, and I don't think anyone wants us to introduce them, so if we were to do real-time then there would be a lot of "filler" and that is absolutely alien to good games.
Eurogamer: One thing I read about the game was that the TV show writers were planning on writing content in series four that tied it in to the events of the game - can you talk a little about how 24 complements what fans of the show already know, and how it contributes to the overall 24 storyline?
Mark Green: Well, one of the tricky things for the writers was where to place the game in the 24 timeline. We started all this whilst they were writing Season 3 and we knew we'd be coming out around the start of Season 5, but no one knew how Season 3 was going to end never mind any details about Seasons 4 or 5. So, when they came up with the idea of answering all the questions that were springing up on the forums about what happened to Palmer at the end of Season 2, where did Chase come from, how did Kim get a job in CTU, we jumped at the chance. As for Season 4, I'm not sure that they wrote anything in especially relating to the game, but I think if you look at the shows side by side, you'll see that the number of game-like gadgets that appeared in Season 4 had definitely increased - we like to think that was a subconscious response to the influence of the game!
Eurogamer: I understand that the game can be played through in about 24 hours and includes many of the principle cast in playable roles. Although you've adapted many of the show's trademark multi-angle shot ideas, presumably you opted for quite a linear storytelling approach?
Mark Green: Yes, I think that the story is vital to 24 the TV show and since stories in games are strongest when told linearly that was our choice. However, having said that, in the same way that the TV show surprises you, I like to think that the game does exactly the same. As for timings, I think it'll take most people less that 24 hours, but along the way they will meet pretty much the entire cast of major players from the show, plus a few surprises.
Eurogamer: What would you say were your inspirations in gameplay terms, and how did they affect the outcome?
Mark Green: In game terms, I'd probably point at the likes of Lord of the Rings and the Matrix, simply because they worked so hard at maintaining the feeling of the original licence, but purely in terms of gameplay, that's a tricky one. I guess Everything or Nothing can claim some inspiration simply because of its targeting system, maybe I'd even mention some elements of Alias as ideas outside the mainstream of gameplay that breathe a breath of fresh air into the business, but, and I think you may agree when you see the game, the variety of gameplay in 24 is so great that it's incredibly difficult to directly compare it with any one product.
Eurogamer: You've been very positive about how all the voice recording worked out, how people reacted to the script, and how the process went generally. Obviously videogame recordings differ in key ways though, particularly in terms of having to manage several potential outcomes - what sort of feedback did you receive from actors like Sutherland, and was there anything that perhaps you learnt from working on Primal that made the process easier on 24?
Mark Green: One of the main things that we learnt from both Primal and GhostHunter was that there's a reason why the top actors are in such demand, and that's because they're so good. Which meant that working on 24 was a delight for us, as it gave us access to an entire cast of great actors. That said, I'd have to single out Kiefer Sutherland as being quite exceptional in his portrayal of Jack. It wasn't easy for him, particularly with our interrogation gameplay, where there is a multitude of different lines dependent upon the player's actions, but he sailed through them. He's an intense man and very focused on the job at hand, but we certainly benefited from that.
Okay, that's making me seem a little sycophantic, let's change tack. One of the keys we discovered in recording dialogue for previous games was that actors respond so much better when they have someone to act against. However, most of the actors are so busy that we can't get them all in the booth at the same time, so we hired line bouncers for them to act with. In fact one thing we learnt whilst making 24 is that actors work even better when they already have a rapport with their line bouncer and so we brought in the people they worked with on the show.
Eurogamer: That said, I did read somewhere that during voice recording, Kiefer Sutherland actually refused to deliver one of the lines, which must have been amusing. Could you tell us what it was?
Mark Green: Ha-ha! Yes that's true. I'm struggling to remember what the line was, but it wasn't the content that he had a problem with it was just a slightly poorly worded, cumbersome line and he wanted us to alter it. "There's no way those words are coming out of my mouth," was his statement. So, he took a break and we feverishly re-wrote the line.
Eurogamer: How did you go about modelling each of the characters?
Mark Green: You know, that's your shortest question and it probably deserves the longest answer. Let me see what I can do. Okay, so the first stage is to take at least eight photographs of the actor, for the eight points of the compass if you like. You need to be careful to make sure that the light is quite ambient and even, no harsh lights and definitely no shadows. Oh, and you need to ask the actor not to smile - not always the easiest thing when they're so used to smiling for photos! Now from here we could have taken a very automated, photo-realistic approach and scanned their heads and applied the photographic textures, but we feel that method doesn't quite work. I mean lots of us have had a go at using EyeToy to take our photograph and apply it to a player in TIF - only to discover that whilst it is us, it doesn't look quite like us. So we decided to use the materials merely as reference, lining them up to get the head shape correct and then fading them down to about 10 per cent and building up a texture of our own. We find that this method gives a more believable model.
Eurogamer: Some pretty shocking stuff happens in 24. I'm still haunted by that sequence with the guy's head in season two, the interrogation sequence... You've got elements akin to that in your game - how far have you been allowed to go? Moreover, given the show's huge popularity and penchant for spectacular events, how much freedom were you given to do things that would have a persistent effect on the state of the 24 universe?
Mark Green: Shocking events are a key factor in 24, but in the game we have to be very careful, interactive torture just isn't morally acceptable. I mean, in the show they get to build up to the moment, toy with your emotions, show what will happen if this thing doesn't happen, then cut away at just the right moment to give impact without showing too much and perhaps most importantly show the cost and consequences of the action. Games are getting better but still the emotional involvement of the player is limited to fear or excitement and with an interactive product you cannot cut away to minimise the grim details. So, all in all, we had to be clever in what we did. Hopefully you'll agree that the interrogation sequences of gameplay work well as our equivalent.
As for freedom within the 24 world, obviously we weren't given free reign, but the creators of the show were very open to our ideas and did indeed let us kill... oh, hold on, I can't tell you that, but you get the gist.
Eurogamer: Finally, if you had to pick a point in the game that you're particularly proud of to talk about, without giving too much away, what would it be?
Mark Green: That's tricky. From my standpoint, I'd say the way in which we replicate the show's look and feel so closely, but then I was heavily involved on that side of things. I know others are particularly pleased with the aiming system, where you can "flick" the right mushroom to target another enemy but then move it more accurately to specifically wound them or shoot them in the head. In fact the designers are most proud of the overall variety in the game. It's not just a third person action adventure, or just a driving game, but combines both and throws is interrogation, sniping and gadgets for good measure. I'm not sure of any other game that can claim such diversity. Perhaps the most important thing is that it really does let feel like Jack Bauer.
24: The Game is due out on PS2 in Europe on March 17th.