Starbreeze shines Riddick

Chronicles of Riddick producer Lars Johansson talks up the developer's Pitch Black prequel.

Pitch Black. To paraphrase one of the first reviews at IMDB, it was nothing new, but it had its moments. And most of those moments involved Richard B. Riddick, Vin Diesel's eerie prisoner-in-transit, who finds himself let loose on a mysterious planet when the ship he's travelling on crash-lands and only a quarter of the crew survive. The real fun of the film was what happened when the sun went down on the remnants of the crew, but even when the final curtain fell it was clear Riddick had a bit more mileage than anybody else.

The Chronicles of Riddick, currently in post-production, continues the tale of the now-hunted anti-hero and answers a few questions about his past, as he finds himself caught in the midst of yet another intergalactic catastrophe. Vivendi-Universal Games has already licensed the movie, with Enclave developer Starbreeze currently handling the Xbox-only title. Here the game's producer Lars Johansson tries to give us a sense of what they're doing with Riddick...

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VU Games: Please describe The Chronicles of Riddick in 100 words...

Lars Johansson: Riddick is a first-person action/stealth/adventure hybrid that serves as a prequel to both Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick. The game is about the criminal anti-hero Riddick and his escape from Butcher Bay - where you'll learn how he got his eyes shined by the mysterious Pope Joe - and you'll meet characters that go on to appear both in Pitch Black and in The Chronicles of Riddick. At the same time, Riddick will feature some of the most advanced console technology to date, including powerful use of Normal-Mapping and Per-Pixel Shading/Dynamic Lighting.

VU Games: What has the team worked on before?

Lars Johansson: It's pretty much the same team that worked on Enclave. Some of the team members also worked on our first game Outforce, which was for the PC.

VU Games: What were your influences on the production of the game?

Lars Johansson: I'm the producer on the development side. From the beginning of the project, my priority has been to make sure that Riddick is an amazing game and that it comes out on time! I manage the team here at Starbreeze and deal with all the publisher communications with VUG. I make sure that Starbreeze and VUG are in the same loop at all times. I also deal with many of the minor tasks that support the team.

VU Games: How long has the game been in development?

Lars Johansson: Almost two years.

VU Games: What new gameplay concepts or technology features does the game offer?

Lars Johansson: In terms of gameplay, Riddick offers a hybrid of several genres. We have fast-paced action, stealth, adventure/exploration, and we've created a very unique first-person melee fighting mechanic. In terms of technology, Riddick will be using some of the most advanced console technology to date. The game will utilize an amazing amount of Normal-Mapping, Ragdoll, Per-Pixel Shading/Dynamic Lighting and many of the other features that are making Doom 3, Halo 2, and Half-Life 2, such anticipated games.

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VU Games: Were there any features that you had wanted to include but hadn't been able to?

Lars Johansson: As a game developer there are always things that you'd like to put in the game, but time and money has the upper hand here. At the same time, adding more and more features can affect the game in a negative way, where the game looses its focus and players gets confused instead of entertained.

VU Games: How do you plan to recreate the atmosphere of the movie in the game?

Lars Johansson: Riddick ties heavily into the growing Pitch Black/Chronicles of Riddick universe. Actors from both films are lending their talents for the game. And the game itself is told as a prequel to both films - diving deep into the back-story of Riddick himself. We tell the story of Riddick before Pitch Black and before The Chronicles of Riddick. We explore things like how Riddick got his eyes shined and his relationship with the Bounty Hunter Johns.

VU Games: What's been the most difficult factor in the game's production?

Lars Johansson: It's a challenge to make a movie game because there are so many people involved in the process. Story, script, likeness, models, design, and pretty much everything needs to go through several channels and this can be very time consuming. It takes a lot of coordination to keep things on track. But players will definitely enjoy the pay-off! From a technical standpoint, we started to develop the new technology as production on the game started. This meant that the content we produced early in the project had to be re-built later on. We weren't able to focus on final content from day one, which meant lots of throwaway time. Also, when dealing with R&D, there are things on paper that don't always work out the way you hoped in implementation. Trial and error is something that should always be accounted for.

VU Games: Who do you expect the game to appeal to?

Lars Johansson: Anyone who wants to experience the most innovative game on the Xbox! Riddick is going to offer a lot of interesting gameplay, great production values, and bleeding-edge technology. It'll be fun for anyone. Action and stealth fans especially should really enjoy it. At the same time, no one has to see the movies to play the game - it's a self-contained story, and a good one too!

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VU Games: The Chronicles of Riddick (the game) is the prequel to Pitch Black. For those that may not be familiar with the series please can you explain a little of the plot.

Lars Johansson: The game beings with Riddick's arrival at Butcher Bay - the most notorious prison in the Galaxy. Butcher Bay is a Triple-Max correctional facility, and Riddick is sent there for reasons unexplained. The prison itself is divided into three different security ratings. On the surface we have the Max facilities, under ground is the Double Max, and finally, the “Tower” has the highest security rating in the whole universe - the Triple Max classification. Riddick's one goal is to bust out and escape from this hellhole. It's all about getting out. And players will find that Riddick is not only a talented escape artist - but simply the best at what he does.

VU Games: Why do you think there was no game made of Pitch Black and why did you decided to start with Riddick instead?

Lars Johansson: It took 20 years for someone to make a game based on The Thing. It's hard to know why some movies become games and some don't. But the Pitch Black/Chronicles of Riddick universe is epic and exciting, and the decision to make a game based on that universe was an easy one. The question only had to be asked.

VU Games: How do you think this movie license will benefit gamers?

Lars Johansson: The production team at VUG would tell you that this is the most heavily integrated project that they have ever done. Vin Diesel's involvement has been phenomenal, and the cooperation and support of the Film Studio has been just as spectacular. The benefit that the license has brought is that it's allowed us to create more than just a game, but a piece of a larger puzzle - and a piece of a mythology that we're very excited about. We believe people will really love The Chronicles of Riddick, and we're very happy to be a part of that universe.

VU Games: How closely does the game follow the movie? Are there many aspects that have been expanded upon, omitted or are completely unique to the game?

Lars Johansson: Given that Riddick is a prequel, it doesn't follow the films as much as it prefaces them.

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VU Games: How closely have you worked alongside the moviemakers?

Lars Johansson: Making sure that the Riddick game fit properly into the over-all universe was extremely important, and the filmmakers were heavily involved in making sure that all the details and storytelling matched up. We were very happy to collaborate on this process, because we got to make sure that the game would contribute intelligently to a larger story. And of course, Vin Diesel's close and personal involvement made sure that the game would have the right impact.

VU Games: What special abilities does Riddick have and how do these affect gameplay?

Lars Johansson: Riddick's number one trait is his eyeshine, which allows him to see in the pitch black. This affects gameplay in many ways. For instance, if players enter an area where there are several guards and it's really well lit, he can shoot out the lights and use his eyeshine to stalk them in the dark. Then it's just a matter of distractions, snapping necks, and enjoying your Riddick bloodlust.

VU Games: Please can you describe a typical mission?

Lars Johansson: Get to the Mainframe! Riddick has to break out of a heavily guarded prison area, in order to get to a DNA Sampler machine that will allow him to use the prison assault rifles, which are DNA encoded - and shock anyone who isn't in the system. This will involve fighting and brutalizing other inmates, trading money for prison weapons, killing guards for access codes, sneaking through monitored areas, and eventual firefights with legions of prison guards that sadly don't know they're already dead!

VU Games: What makes Riddick stand out from the rest of the first-person action/adventure crowd?

Lars Johansson: How amazingly gorgeous the game looks will initially get everyone's attention. But then when people experience the gameplay, they're going to be very happy! It's a very unique hybrid - and the first-person fighting and the way we've implemented it, is unlike anything else on the Xbox.

VU Games: What aspect of the game are you most proud of?

Lars Johansson: I have to say the visuals. Its just amazing what the super talented artists have done with the technology that our ass kicking programmers have put together.

A successful Pitch?

You can see how The Chronicles of Riddick is shaping up thanks to this batch of screenshots released on Friday. The Chronicles of Riddick has yet to make it onto Vivendi-Universal Games' release schedule.

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