Superheroes are back in. After buying up most of the world's Y-fronts in the last few years and storming box offices with the likes of Sam Raimi at the reins, and making some quite defensible incursions into the world of console gaming too, now they've set their sights on the beige box under the desk - and thanks to the likes of City of Heroes and Freedom Force Vs The Third Reich, 2005 should be a bumper year for European gamers with superheroic ambitions.
About City of Heroes we know a great deal. But of Freedom Force Vs The Third Reich, sequel to an underrated pseudo-RPG that EA published ages ago before superheroes were even back in style, we know relatively little. Of course fundamentally we know it's slightly tongue-in-cheek, story-driven tactical role-player in which the titular Freedom Force journeys back in time to take on Blitzkrieg, defender of the Reich, and his homicidal henchmen, but otherwise we're relatively low on specifics. Naturally we couldn't let that stand, so upon a recent trip over the pond we tracked down Ken Levine, CEO of developer Irrational Games, and quizzed him about what's changed, what's best about the sequel, and rumours that EA rushed the first game to market. Read on, true believer.
Eurogamer: It's known that you guys were somewhat rushed by EA with the first Freedom Force. That things had to ship 'as they were' so to speak (the limited multiplayer being a prime example). To what extent is FFvTTR making up for that? Is this the game you always wanted Freedom Force to be?
Ken Levine: I think multiplayer was the only aspect where we really felt rushed in the original. Now that we're making our own rules and only have to answer to ourselves, we're able to take our time and do everything right. The area that benefited most from this extra time would have to be the multiplayer. Story-based multiplayer itself would be enough to make FFv3R a better multiplayer game. We didn't stop there though. We added several other new modes, in-game browsers and tons of other new features that'll have fans of freedom busy online for quite some time.
Eurogamer: Some of your development work takes place in Australia, how does working with a split team effect the way your games evolve?
Ken Levine: Sharing development has been a challenge given the obvious time differences. Thankfully, everyone has adapted their schedules to make sure there's as much overlap as possible. I don't know if we would have been equipped to share development on two sides of the globe a few years ago.
Eurogamer: Irrational seems to be a really tight, close-knit team. We noticed that everyone chips in with ideas and even some voice acting! Is this something you encourage as a way of keeping everyone engaged with a project or just a natural result of the enthusiasm you have for your games?
Ken Levine: Absolutely. Everyone's opinion counts at Irrational. We don't hire robots here. We want everyone engaged in as many parts of our games as possible. Being a programmer doesn't mean being simply glued to code all day. In order for a game to work, everyone needs to be as active in the creative process as possible. This probably wouldn't be possible if people didn't get along and weren't receptive to feedback and open discussion.
Eurogamer: Is FFvsTTR a case of bigger, better, more or are you trying to change direction slightly with this new release?
Ken Levine: It's certainly bigger in the sense that it's a more complete package. As we've mentioned before, multiplayer in the original Freedom Force was lacklustre to say the least. We wanted to stay true to the original and give our fans as much new content as possible. All the new characters and improvements to the Character Tool and other features make for a much more robust game. It's also a lot better, with countless enhancements to interface, graphical features, and tons of new characters in a brand new epic storyline.
Eurogamer: 400 plus fansites for the orignal Freedom Force and a highly active modding/dressmaking community, despite the lack of a popular multiplayer mode. What are you doing with FFvsTTR to help expand this evil empire?
Ken Levine: Three words: Story-Based Multiplayer. This brand new mode will give players context for all their custom characters. We find that one of the biggest problems with multiplayer games in general is that you don't really even know what you're playing for. Sure, Unreal Tournament 2004 has Assault Mode, but we wanted to let people create their own stories. Story-Based Multiplayer lets players put all their favourite fan created assets to use.
Eurogamer: There seems to be a much greater emphasis on user editing this time around. What sort of stuff can the average modding newbie expect to achieve with the new tools?
Ken Levine: For starters, new effects including the ability to, for example, attach emitters to your characters. Take a look at the new improved El Diablo. He leaves behind a trail of flames. Effects such as this are now possible with the improved character tool. We've also done some work in making it more user-friendly. There'll be a whole lot less digging through folders and files this time around. We want everyone to try and get involved and create that character that's been brewing in the back of their mind for years.
Eurogamer: Which of the new European characters is your favourite and why?
Ken Levine: Tough call. Not wanting to sound clichéd but I like them all for their own reasons. I really enjoyed writing Black Jack. I also really like his powers as well. Limey Lure is a definite fav. Fortissimo is a riot as well. I'm going to stop before I start listing why I love each character.
Eurogamer: What's the last comic you read cover to cover?
Ken Levine: I read all of Marvel's new "What If?" books. Despite my nostalgic leanings, they were actually much better than the old "What If?" series. Except the old ones were only 50 cents.
We'll be taking another look at Freedom Force vs. The Third Reich in the coming weeks.