Heavenly Sword

Ninja Theory on the PS3's next big thing.

The fate of any new console isn't so much about how powerful it is, but the quality of its first party exclusive titles. You only have to look at how significant Gears of War, Project Gotham Racing and Halo have been in establishing Microsoft as a serious player, or how vital Zelda and Mario games are to Nintendo.

But does Heavenly Sword have what it takes to banish the cycle of negativity surrounding the PS3? Certainly from what we've seen so far, it's a very interesting proposition from a technical standpoint, but does it have the crossover potential to be the sort of game you'd buy a PS3 just to play?

With the launch of the game just four months away, we thought it was high time we caught up with Ninja Theory's co-founder Tameem Antoniades and find out how the game's shaping up.

Eurogamer: What have you learned from the experience of making Kung Fu Chaos for Microsoft - i.e. what did you do differently this time to get the amount of pre-release attention that KFC simply didn't generate?

Tameem Antoniades: We learned a lot of lessons. Two of the biggest ones at the time were "Go big or go home!" which every publisher rammed into us, and don't do a cartoony game unless it is an established brand. We also did our own PR and marketing when we didn't have a publisher, which helped us a lot. A big thanks to you guys for supporting and covering us back then!

Bless her cotton socks.

Eurogamer: What elements of Kung Fu Chaos made it into Heavenly Sword? As presumably you didn't just junk all the good ideas you had and start from scratch.

Tameem Antoniades: Yeah, it does seem like a bit of a leap from KFC to HS, but look closely and you'll see that there are a lot of ideas we have built on.

We learned a fair bit about how to make combat work in a third-person game with multiple enemies, so we really pushed that to the maximum of our abilities. The object interaction we took, too, so that you can pick up and throw pretty much anything in the environment.

The variety of mini-games we had in Kung Fu Chaos made it through to a degree, although it's integrated into the story and action rather than being a separate part. The scale of the levels and richness of animation we pushed to new heights, as we're strong in that area, and the replays with cinematics were pretty cool so we did our best to integrate them into the gameplay.

On top of all that we added loads more layers; things like physics, story, facial performances, interactive audio, group A.I. and armies to name a few.

Ultimately, Heavenly Sword would never have been possible without the experience we gained from making Kung Fu Chaos, even if it is a completely different gameplay style.

Eurogamer: Kung Fu Chaos was one of the few genuinely amusing games of the last generation, yet Heavenly Sword appears to play it with a straight bat. Was that a conscious decision from day one?

Tameem Antoniades: You may well be surprised by the humour in Heavenly Sword!

It will come courtesy of our innate draw towards it and the wicked sense of humour that Andy Serkis has. Most of this revolves around King Bohan and his three Generals, who are sick, sadistic and one of the most dysfunctional "families" ever seen in a film or game.

But, yes, the humour is a lot more subdued than the slapstick approach in Kung Fu Chaos. We wanted to make something with feeling that could affect you at a deeper emotional level, so the themes are more character-based this time.

We've always maintained that the big difference between the last generation and this one is that we can create more believable characters and stories, so we've pushed in that direction by collaborating with people who are the best in their fields, such as Andy Serkis, Weta Digital and Nitin Sawhney.

Our unblemished and fiery vixen.

Eurogamer: What helped influence the game setting? What kind of hero are you trying to create, and, conversely, how have you made the bad guys interesting to those of us who've fought a zillion nefarious maniacs over the decades? Who's the history buff on the team?

Tameem Antoniades: There are quite a few kung fu and samurai movie buffs on the team, including myself. And I'm satisfied we have created a fantasy setting that feels grounded and could easily be built upon in future.

The hero we tried to create was one that was strong and beautiful, yet vulnerable and tragic. In a way I think we created a typical Eastern or European hero - one that favours inner strength over American outer strength.

Eurogamer: The art style is very strikingly different. Who came up with the art direction, what were the influences there, and how hard was it to fit the design around the overall look of the game?

Tameem Antoniades: We wanted to make a beautiful, dreamy Wuxia experience like Hero or Crouching Tiger. So rather than go for realism we went for a stylistic look revolving around scale, lighting and movement.

Originally we wanted something authentically Eastern, but quickly found it to be derivative and restricting. Game worlds just have to look larger than life to be interesting, so we ran with our imaginations and found every excuse to make it more stylish and over-the-top at every turn.

There were lots of hands involved in shaping the visuals, mood, animation, and feel of the game, so there's no one person that I can pick out above others. It's been a team effort and lots of excellent talent has helped make Heavenly Sword what it is. I am proud of what we have achieved from such humble beginnings.

Eurogamer: What games would you say Heavenly Sword has most in common with? If we were lazy and trying to encourage a mate to buy it, our first impressions suggest it's Prince of Persia meets God of War. Is that on the money?

Tameem Antoniades: If you really want a small list of influences and inspirations, how about this: the poetic beauty of ICO, the dynamic action of Panzer Dragoon Orta, the extreme style of Devil May Cry, the depth of combat of Virtua Fighter, the visual emotion of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, the "wire-fu" style of Yuen Woo Ping, the over-the-top action of Kung Fu Hustle, the madness of Versus and the scale of Lord of the Rings.

But we've always made things our own and pushed them into areas we were interested in going. So I would really prefer the game to be judged on its own merits, as it really isn't the same experience as any of the games or movies I mentioned.

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About the author

Robert Purchese

Robert Purchese

Senior Staff Writer  |  Clert

Bertie is senior staff writer and Eurogamer's Poland-and-dragons correspondent. He's part of the furniture here, a friendly chair, and reports on all kinds of things, the stranger the better.


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