The Happy Mondays

We chat to Black Monday game director Naresh Hirani and writer/narrative producer Katie Ellwood about the changing face of London, BT vans, motorbikes, and how the game will evolve following its E3 showing.

We'd like to thank Black Monday director Naresh Hirani and writer/narrative producer Katie Ellwood (and designer Dominic Robilliard, who, though he didn't answer any of our questions, was nice enough to give us a tour of the game and show off some of the combat) for their time. If you haven't already, make sure you check out our hands-on impressions of The Getaway: Black Monday elsewhere on the site.

Eurogamer: Does the story fit in at all with what happened in the first game?

Katie Ellwood: It's the same London. You could say it's another level of realism. We've been in development for two years, London has changed, it's real-time storytelling. With cinema, with books, if you've had a story that's got a beginning, a middle and an end - to try and rehash a sequel out of those same characters, it never works very well. This for us is a fresh start.

Eurogamer: Will you be able to access the cinematics separately afterwards?

Naresh Hirani: We're toying with having some kind of gallery mode that maybe let's you review the sequences, but we're still [in the] early days of development there.

Katie Ellwood: Is that something that people want? To watch it as a movie as well?

Eurogamer: Well it's something you see in quite a lot of these sorts of games...

Naresh Hirani: Once we finish the game we'll try it out and see if it's an interesting kind of addition to the package.

Katie Ellwood: For the first game, for our premiere in Leicester Square, we put up the first seven levels and we played them like a movie, and the action sequences, the car chases and so on were actual gameplay. That's the thing about The Getaway - it holds up as a movie in its own right with the story arc. If you watch it continuously over a few hours it has the same kind of emotional drive that a movie has.

Eurogamer: How big is London this time around?

Naresh Hirani: Early on we made the choice of not expanding the city massively. I think in terms of the amount of gameplay and the amount of fun it adds to the game, we found it more useful to add in little back streets and things to bring the game more alive. For example, all the back alleys we've added in are very useful for losing the cops; there are pedestrian back alleys that could fit a motorbike. I think what we're going to do is get people off the main roads now.

Eurogamer: What is the process of mapping the streets?

Naresh Hirani: First of all we start with a grid reference. We take an actual Ordnance Survey map. From there we build on the streets and we send the artists out to the actual locations to film and get a feeling for the style of the environment, and take a lot of shots, and we map those directly to the game basically. So whatever you see in the game, someone has gone out and physically taken loads of pictures.

Eurogamer: We noticed that there's an underground section in the demo showreel downstairs. Is there a working Tube system in Black Monday?

Naresh Hirani: We weren't going to have the whole Tube system. There's a level that takes place on an actual carriage and a platform and there's a whole situation on that platform, which leads into the train... This isn't a train-driving simulator though [laughs]. This is gangsters, this is driving, this is shooting, and we're very focused on that. What we've done is use the train system as a way of forming a new section of gameplay. Across the board, everything we've put into this game is for a reason. There's a very specific reason for the choices of those characters. A lot of thought's gone into how they're introduced, the way the story's told, the different locations. We go from the underground into the sewers, we go right the way up to rooftop chases, across rooftops, so there's a real sense of scale and variety this time around to provide a different gameplay experience.

Eurogamer: You've also put in some scripted events this time around, for example the balcony slipping away as Eddie walks out of a door at the top of the club...

Naresh Hirani: We're playing a lot more with that stuff. This time around we wanted to blend the way we tell stories. If you look at the demo there's flash cuts, and things like that, and what we could have done is have a whole section of cut-scene as Eddie walks into the snooker hall, and to show what's happened there in a cinematic sequence, but I think for a player it's much more fun to play that little bit. As you're walking through, you get the narrative happening around you. In the demo there are sequences happening around you in flash cuts, and in the full game there will be things like cut sequences happening around you as you're walking through. So rather than go in through this very traditional one-style cut-scene, we're mixing things up a lot more this time around, so the overall amount of cut-scenes is probably smaller, despite there being multiple endings as well, but we're telling a lot more narrative in the game around you. It's a much more entertaining experience for the player as well I think not to have to go into these three-minute sections of video, which are fantastic but can detract in certain ways. We keep those sequences for telling a big chunk of narrative that we need to get across to the player, but if there are other ways and other means of giving up our information then we definitely go for them.

Katie Ellwood: The flash cuts aren't realistic cinema in the way the last game was, but we're using some new techniques to symbolise what's going on from his perspective whilst going through this level.

Eurogamer: The camera system in the third-person sections... Will you be tweaking the turning speed, and the way the analogue responds and so on?

Naresh Hirani: The animation, player controls and cameras are all massively intrinsically linked, and that's how you get a sense of control of your main character. So we're really kind of revising the camera system, and particularly the modes of gameplay, so if you're in a brawl, or you're in stealth, or you're standing up against a wall, or if you're running, or you're going very slowly, we want to have a camera system that reflects what you're trying to do. We're definitely revising it.

Eurogamer: Physics-wise, you had some boxes you could kick around. Are you going to extend that at all?

Naresh Hirani: We've just started putting this physics system in. It's come of the back of this new dynamic system that we've created for our motorbikes. If you look at the motorbikes the suspension, the handling, all the kind of moving of parts, what's come off the back of that is this great kind of dynamic system that we can apply to things like boxes. We've got some, for example, in a boxing gym where the punch bags will sway.

Eurogamer: And they'll react to the guns and things like that?

Naresh Hirani: Yeah we're trying to bring the environment to life a little bit more. In that demo [playable on the show floor] you saw things come apart like glass - there's a lot more of that going to be happening. Actually, we tried getting pool balls onto the table [laughs], but we had to take it out last minute.

Eurogamer: Can the other characters in Mitch's unit die, and does that affect the narrative?

Naresh Hirani: No... In the narrative your squad is linked to you so keeping them safe is part of your gameplay.

Eurogamer: So you fail a mission if they perish?

Naresh Hirani: Yeah and likewise if you go on a big murder spree when you're a cop. Mitch is working on the side of the law, he's meant to uphold the public trust or whatever it is, so he's very much about working within the confines of the law, and less about getting in there and being a violent character. So you get told off and eventually, you know, they could come and arrest you.

Eurogamer: What would you say are the biggest changes to the driving sections?

Naresh Hirani: The cars in terms of the way they're modelled are much more realistic. I'd say the dynamics and the handling are much improved, the collision detection is massively improved. The real massive advance is the introduction of motorbikes, as it adds a new dimension to the driving sections, so you can chase through alleyways as well. There's a lot more police. The police AI has been massively improved as well, there's a lot more group behaviour, and non-centric player AI - so for example if you're being chased by a lot of gang cars towards a police roadblock, they will try and take you out but they will also try to take the gang out as well. It feels a lot more natural, it doesn't feel like you're the centre of the world any more. London's happening around you, and your driving experience is taking you through that.

Katie Ellwood: There's a lot more set pieces. Every driving section feels very unique now. It's not just 'oh we're on another driving level'. Things will happen - you'll get taken out of cars, there'll be explosions, ambushes - there's definitely something different about everything.

Naresh Hirani: There's different styles of driving gameplay. We've expanded the styles of gameplay on driving missions, made it a lot more fun, and made it feel a lot less like A to B, A to B, A to B all the time.

Eurogamer: There were Royal Mail vans and BT vans in particular in the last one...

Naresh Hirani: [Smiles] No more BT vans!

Eurogamer: No I imagine not...

Naresh Hirani: We tried some of this stuff last time. If there's an accident an ambulance will rush to it, and that happens, fire engines rush to fires and so on. There's a lot more life to the city.

Eurogamer: Can you pinch the fire engines?

Naresh Hirani: Everything in there you can pinch, but you face the consequences because your 'heat' level will rise.

Eurogamer: The handling seems to have changed quite a bit. The cars seem to slide a lot more...

Naresh Hirani: We're still tweaking the damage. We've recently moved to a new revised system, so we're still sort of tweaking the parameters and getting the kind of feel we want. And in [the original game] the scenery felt very sturdy and heavy, and so the skidding was a lot less, and I think we want to retain some of that, but give more predictability in the handling. So when you're crashing you know what's going to happen. When you're skidding round a corner, you can predict what's going to happen.

Eurogamer: The indicator system. Now, I don't actually live in London - I'm moving there in a couple of months...

Naresh Hirani: Excellent, you can get to know the streets can't you? [Laughs]

Eurogamer: That's the thing though - were you tempted at all to do a mini-map ala Grand Theft Auto? Sometimes in The Getaway you can be going through a fork and you go one way and then realise you probably should have gone the other way...

Naresh Hirani: We're still revising the indicator systems. Until we get to the point where we're happy that that's the best we can get out of the system, then we'll review our options.

Eurogamer: You mentioned motorbikes before. Have you got anything more abstract? Tractors? Combined harvesters? Things like that?

Naresh Hirani: Last time we had some fun little things like a golf cart, a go-kart, there was a tank, so we'll have some more fun stuff in there this time around, definitely.

Katie Ellwood: Really?

Naresh Hirani: Yeah. [General laughter.]

Katie Ellwood: Usually I have to do the speech for them and I'm going, "I can't believe this is going in!"

Eurogamer: You mentioned that the stories could play on each other as you go through the single-player. Could you give us a specific example of how that works?

Katie Ellwood: A specific example... Probably focusing around locations. Such as the second place Mitch gets called to. You're at the beginning of seeing this new wave of crime, and the ruthlessness and viciousness that's kicking off, and there's a shootout at a boxing hall, so Mitch gets called there, but it's not until Eddie's side of the story that you actually see the first cut-scene of him and the heist crew getting together and working out how they're going to do this bank robbery. So you've seen that location and Mitch has got there after the carnage, and from Eddie's half of the story you'll see it before that carnage and when it's all playful and lovable and all the cockney boys were round there. That's just one example.

Naresh Hirani: Actually as Sam arrives at the location, you'll see the end of Mitch's level play out and he'll leave - he'll actually walk out, as you did when you played as Mitch - but then as Sam you're watching it. So you're watching events unfold that you've kind of had a hand in.

Katie Ellwood: There's lots of things you'll see twice from two different perspectives.

Eurogamer: What happened to the idea of doing a sequel and an expansion pack?

Naresh Hirani: We started off thinking we were going to do a mission pack just because it seemed like the obvious choice, and, you know, it was a foregone conclusion in a lot of people's minds, but once we started making this thing it became apparent that we had so much ambition going in that we really weren't going to get in done in time. The mission pack would have to be around a year, and there was no way we could get a new narrative in, and have the sort of level of sophistication we wanted to get in, so we chose to kind of make a form of sequel and head towards more of a darker narrative, more of a suspenseful thriller - keep the whole gangland thing there, but just kind of playing with it a little bit more, to make it a little more cerebral I guess.

Eurogamer: One last thing - what does Brendan [McNamara, the man behind the original Getaway] think of it? Has he seen it?

Naresh Hirani: Um... I'm not sure. I've not actually spoken to him...

We have a feeling he'd like it. The Getaway: Black Monday is due out on PS2 in November 2004.

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Tom Bramwell

Tom Bramwell

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Tom worked at Eurogamer from early 2000 to late 2014, including seven years as Editor-in-Chief.


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