Probably best known for last year's Sin, the tribesmen over at Ritual are now working on a new brew. Based on the forthcoming movie of the same name, "Heavy Metal : FAKK2" is a third person action-adventure game using the Quake III engine, and is due for release next spring.
Robert Atkins (art director) and Tom Mustaine (game designer) spill the beans...
Let's Do Lunch
The idea for a game based on FAKK2 came from Kevin Eastman, the man behind the new Heavy Metal movie and also co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, though we'll forgive him that transgression. As Robert explains, it was a case of "his people called our people".
"During 1997, while in the middle of making Sin, our concept artist Joel got a call from his friend and agent in California. Russell Binder, who is also Kevin Eastman's agent, knew that Joel was working in the gaming industry and wanted to know if he was familiar with any game companies who would be interested in creating a title based around the Heavy Metal property."
"While on the phone, it never even crossed his mind that we might want to do the game, especially considering we were in the middle of creating Sin. Right after hanging up, Joel turned to me and started talking about the gig that Kevin Eastman is shopping around. Having been a huge Heavy Metal fan for years, my first reaction was, 'it would be a blast to make a Heavy Metal game'."
"However it wasn't until after reading the screenplay and everything else we could get our hands on regarding the property, it became obvious to us that this title was perfect for Ritual's next game."
The match was perfect. As Tom told me, "just about everybody here had a good foundation of Heavy Metal knowledge, either from watching the first movie or from reading the magazine".
"Working with the Heavy Metal universe has tons of advantages - just the sheer volume of vivid creative content that exists within the Heavy Metal universe helps to spawn great game ideas that are somewhat fantasy based but not medieval. It's an interesting mix, which really leaves an open door to create things that fit the gameplay without compromising the game universe."
And as well as "giving Ritual the opportunity to use any assets from the movie or the Heavy Metal universe", Kevin Eastman has also given Ritual his blessings to extend that universe.
"Kevin was really behind us creating our own content for the game - we grabbed a few characters from the movie, and the rest of the game content is our own. With that in mind, we are building FAKK2 with gameplay as the primary focus, and less on trying to fit the game to a preset movie plot line."
Which has to be a good thing...
Under The Bonnet
It wasn't really a great surprise when Ritual announced that FAKK2 would be using the Quake III engine. After all, their first project (back when they were still called Hipnotic) was a Quake mission pack, and Sin was based on the Quake II engine. Was there ever any question of using a different company's engine?
"We shopped around many other engines", admits Tom. "But the final choice revolved very much around the ability for us to implement our proprietary technology immediately."
Being able to retro-fit Quake III with systems they had designed for Quake and Quake II has helped cut the development time on the game. According to Tom, "working with familiar technology probably saved us a good four months of development that would have suffered if we were to have used another engine."
In fact, development has been remarkably fast, as Robert reveals.
"Over a year and a half ago, while still working on Sin, the concept and story design phase of the game began. However, it wasn't until we got the Quake 3 tech in-house that we started working hard-core on the game assets, which was roughly 5 months ago."
That means that if FAKK2 comes out on time it will have taken only a year to go from an engine and concept art to a fully functioning game.
"I've made a lot of special modifications..."
And Ritual's "proprietary technology" is pretty impressive, making Quake III Arena look positively bland in comparison. Here's just a few of the new features Ritual have added to the engine, as described by Tom -
"Ritual's "Tiki Modeling system" has a host of great features such as a skeletal animation system, dynamic in game LOD, swappable model components, a continuously interpolated single mesh animation system, and accurate model lighting."
"These features allow for our characters to be created with more frames of animation, higher polygon counts, have smoother transitions from animation to animation, and finally look perfect in every environment under any lighting condition."
"Next up is Ritual's "Morpheus Scripting Language", giving the designers unsurpassed control of actors and objects in the world inside a real time interpreted scripting language. Designers and end users can create machines, puzzles, scripted AI sequences, or just about anything else that comes to mind, without any special programming."
"Enhancements to Q3's portal technology gave us sky portal technology, giving us day to night transitions and realistic weather effects. Most importantly, it allows for massive events to take place in the world around you, such as asteroids coming down and striking objects in the distance, or battles taking place miles away."
I'll wait a moment for you to wipe the drool off your keyboard before we continue...
Ok, enough of the technology - what about the gameplay?
"I think people will be very surprised when they play through areas of the game and experience varied types of gameplay. We've gone to serious lengths to make sure each area of the game features a completely different gameplay style, intermixed with characters that require smart weapon choices, and puzzles that present themselves in an easy to swallow form yet are still complex puzzles that require some thought."
Ritual aren't forgetting about multiplayer either.
"We have put some serious thought into the multiplayer aspects of Fakk2. We have yet to finalize our absolute multiplayer approach but there are a lot of interesting ideas on the table. Let's just say, we are taking a very different approach with Fakk2's multiplayer."
With beat 'em up style combination moves and the ability to use two different weapons simultaneously, FAKK2's multiplayer should be a refreshing change from traditional deathmatch...
By now you've probably realised from the screenshots that FAKK2 has more than its fair share of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll. Are Ritual aiming at a more adult audience with this game?
"Well, we have been aiming most importantly at making a very gameplay rich game with Fakk2. We have been creating a Heavy Metal game though, which typically is targeted at a more adult audience. Our goal has been to create content that adults will like and understand, but won't be seriously offensive to parents or kids."
Of course, good intentions don't count for anything these days, and here in Europe we have a more strictly enforced ratings system than in the USA. Ritual "have kicked around the idea of including an adult filter that will remove any of the possibly objectionable material", but even so the game looks likely to get at least a 15 certificate over here.
Which raises the ugly specter of censorship. Tom told me that they "have also looked into removing certain objectionable content on a case by case basis" during localisation. Let's hope that we don't end up seeing a toned down version of the game being released in some countries...
"Holy lactating mammaries, Batman"
Of course, there's one last question which just has to be asked... Which perverted mind is responsible for the giant breasts level?
"That would be Mr. Levelord himself, and yes, it will be in the game :]"
Why does that not surprise me?