A Climactic Encounter

Climax's Matt Cooper on running backwards less, screaming kamikaze troops and more in Serious Sam: The Next Encounter, due out this Friday on PS2 and Cube.

With Take-Two's Global Star label set to release the budget-priced Serious Sam: The Next Encounter on PS2 and GameCube this Friday, the publisher is understandably trying to "big up the mayhem", pointing out that in a world of first-person shooters increasingly devoid of just-plain-shooting, The Next Encounter represents a return to the heady days of walking into a room and having to kill legions of really bizarre and stupid enemies with memorable catchphrases. Like "AAAAAARRRRGGGGGHHHH!!!!!!" We were only too happy to help convey the message, so here's a recent Q&A the publisher conducted with the game's producer at Climax, Matt Cooper.

Question: A lot of the gameplay of the PC and Xbox version involved you madly running backwards while circle strafing. Is the same true of the PS2/Cube titles or do the vehicles allow you to stand your ground more?

Matt Cooper: You definitely run backwards less in this title. Innovations such as the "weapon-wheel" allow you to change weapons quickly on the fly, so you can strike back at the baddies quickly. The environments are tighter, forcing you to take the fight to the enemy and the scoring of the combos means you can't sit back and pick off distant bad guys, you have to get in the thick of it.

Question: The bosses of the previous incarnation were vast. Was there a sense of irony at creating an arch nemesis - ie, Mini Sam - that's a pint-sized this time round? Or does he get involved with some massive attack craft?

Matt Cooper: There's definitely a big gag in having this "mini" version of Sam pulling the strings this time round. Scale is so important in Serious Sam and so having the "Mr. Big" be "Mr. Small" fits in with the slightly wacky humour. We don't want to spoil the climax of the game, but when you do finally track down the mischievous little scamp he might try turning the tables on you by bringing his own Serious firepower to the fight.

Question: The screams of the Kamikaze warriors still haunt us. How have up updated this most explosive of adversary for The Next Encounter?

Matt Cooper: You'll see the Kamikaze you know and love from the first games in Next Encounter. But you'll also see his brother, the new Mark II Kamikaze Warrior. He has a huge stick of dynamite strapped to his back, ready to go off like a giant firecracker. Whereas the old kamikaze had lost his head, literally, this new Kamikaze has his head intact. It's his mind that's missing. This is a kamikaze that loves his job.

Question: Was the combine harvester [one of The Next Encounter's many vehicles] modelled on any particular make?

Matt Cooper: It's a super modified Serious harvester. Maybe in the future, they'll make harvesters this good but for now there's nothing like it.

Question: With all the new weapon types - plus multiple ammo actions - just how many variants would you say there are to Sam's armoury in The Next Encounter?

Matt Cooper: Well, there are 12 weapons in all. When you factor in the alternate ammos, there are probably well over 20 variants. Wait till you see the laughing gas or the homing bullets. They're neat.

Question: The spider mines seem quite tactically defensive for a game that has previously relied on all-out carnage. Can you give us an example of how they'll work in game?

Matt Cooper: Defensive? No, attack is the only form of defence that Sam knows. If you're surrounded on all sides by crazed grunts, you can shoot off spiders and they'll seek out the prey. Rather than lying them down in advance of a fight, they're more useful as a "fire and forget" type weapon. And they look funny.

Question: What's with the T-shirt, jeans and Converse high tops? It's almost as retro as having red telephone boxes as save points, isn't it?

Matt Cooper: We ditched the telephone boxes this time round; it was way too expensive sending them all the way back in time. Bad dress sense? When your day job is blasting aliens across the planet, there's no point in dressing up; you're bound to get messy. And to be honest, Sam's so busy travelling through time he's probably a decade or too out of fashion. Sam's more Blam Blam than Bling Bling.

Question: Of the 30 new enemies, which ones have given you the most trouble in testing. Not just on an animation front, but also in the difficulty level of taking them down?

Matt Cooper: The monkeys are nasty; they hide up on roofs and on walls. And you're too busy laughing to remember to kill them. Other than that, I'd watch out for the Octochops. They get in real close and slice you up. They are tough to take down too, so you'll have to outmanoeuvre them and keep pumping them with rockets.

Question: Is there any delicate balance to the AI? Or is it a case of See Sam = charge?

Matt Cooper: We spent a lot of time simulating the mental processes of the deranged minds of the zombie creatures that had been brainwashed by Mental, setting up their motivations, senses and memories. And you know what? They still just see Sam and charge.

Question: Can you describe any nice environmental touches the three new locations allow the player to witness?

Matt Cooper: Look out for the water; we've got a real sweet water effect. Lots of destroyable stuff: you can smash statues, pots, barrels etc. as you're blasting through the worlds. Atlantis looks plain weird and beautiful. Wait till you see the gravity-defying Tower of Confusion.

Question: How much friendly fire actually becomes apparent in the all-new co-op mode? Or is it a case that there's always enough to keep two people completely occupied?

Matt Cooper: By default it's turned on. You can turn it off. Friendly fire only becomes an issue when there's a power up or vehicle you're racing towards. Strange how easily the finger can slip on the sniper trigger when your buddy is just about to jump into the jeep.

Question: The auto assist on the aim always seemed a touch generous previously. Is this still the case with The Next Encounter?

Matt Cooper: Play the game, and if you think it's too easy, we'll eat our shorts. The auto-aim helps just enough to smooth over any stick-fumbles but you definitely need skill to pop the bad guys if you're playing on anything other than the easy mode.

Question: Do you think that there's something of the Nukem about Sam?

Matt Cooper: Nukem who?

Question: What kinds of game have influenced you in the creation of Sam's next adventure?

Matt Cooper: We played the Serious Sam games on PC and Xbox a lot. We played Smash TV, Ikari Warriors, Contra, all the classic shoot-em-ups. I think the aim was to get that classic feel, make sure it controlled just right and give it that modern 3D look. We were really pleased when we saw how natural it was to add all the arcadey stuff - combos, killing bonuses, checkpoints - into the Serious Sam gameplay. Sam is the evolution of all those classic run and gun games.

Question: Would you agree that the FPS is in need of an overhaul gameplay wise, and is this why you're opted for a more old skool/action-based rather than the ‘stealth' option that's rapidly becoming overused?

Matt Cooper: Stealth is fun. As are dialogue, puzzles, tool manipulation, whatever else you get in the modern FPS. But we're losing the shooter in First Person Shooter. Sam is a type of game that developers have stopped making, but that people really hanker to play. People are already tired of sneaking and are itching to get shooting again. Sam lets them shoot.

Question: Where do you see Sam and maybe the FPS heading in the future? And would the PS2's online element feature in this?

Matt Cooper: We're really looking forward to seeing what Croteam do with their next Serious Sam. Serious Sam has always been about mayhem, pretty looking mayhem and the next generation of hardware is going to allow more mayhem and prettier mayhem. Online will only get bigger and Sam has always been about bringing friends in on the action so is really well placed to ride this wave.

Question: Would any of the development team actually punch an alien if they met one in real life?

Matt Cooper: Punch? When we could damage our games playing hands? Nah, we'd blast 'em.

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