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Chris Sorrell, Creative Director, Sony Studios Cambridge

Interview - Chris Sorrell, Creative Director at Sony Studios Cambridge, fields questions about Primal

We haven't seen much of Primal since its demo debut at the PlayStation Experience alongside ECTS in August, but Sony has stated publicly that the game forms a significant part of the platform holder's Q1 2003 software push. With this in mind, we tracked down Chris Sorrell, Creative Director at Sony's Cambridge Studios, and picked his brains on the subject.

Eurogamer Why do you think Eurogamer readers should be excited about Primal when it launches early next year?
Because we've put almost three years of dedication and late late nights into making it something special! It's a very different game to MediEvil in many respects, but I believe that like MediEvil it has a 'personality' that sets it apart from most other games out there. It has a fresh, risk-taking gameplay structure. It has excellent graphics and sound, unique storyline and characterisation, and there are plenty of surprises awaiting you before you reach the game's dramatic conclusion.
Getting Jen and Scree to work together will be crucial to success in Primal
Eurogamer How long has Primal been in development for and has it stayed true to the original concept of the game?
It's been a long journey. Concepting started in August '99, but our final devkits didn't arrive until 2000 so that was when we started in earnest. I'd say we've remained pretty true to most of our original goals (with just a few shifts of direction along the way). Certainly most of what we started with is still there in some form, for example, original inspiration came from Tarot cards and their ideology; while the visual look of our demon realms and characters has developed a lot since then, the Tarot inspired structure is still apparent if you know what to look for. In fact, our development names for the realms remain those of the Tarot suits - Pentacles, Swords, Cups and Wands.
Buffy was a major influence for the Cambridge studio, but Primal is hoping to be a lot more cerebral
Eurogamer How much longer will Primal be in development? What have been your favourite experiences so far?
As I write this we've got just short of two months until gold disks need to reach the factory. In terms of gameplay and features we're 99 per cent there - although of course there are always more things you want to add. My favourite experience so far has really been just seeing our game worlds come together, especially with regard to our dynamic data management which means the world never seems to stop - no crappy level breaks. Of course, the best bit is still to come - seeing the game in the shops and being able to take a long break.
EurogamerWhat were the main influences during the making of Primal and how does this differ from your previous projects like MediEvil and C-12?
Our biggest influences have been TV shows like Buffy, Angel, Dark Angel (how could they cancel it?), and a host of others. We wanted to create a kind of fictional reality, to feature a believable and vulnerable lead character, to have a fantastical storyline, but like Buffy, one that balances action and horror with humour and character development. By comparison MediEvil and C12 were rather more straightforward in that they were set in 'pure' fantasy worlds with more traditionally 'gamey' characters. MediEvil also took a lot of inspiration from Ghosts 'n' Goblins; with Primal we've tried to do our own thing a lot more - to create a game that has its own distinct look and feel.
Jen without her make-up
EurogamerPrimal comes across as cross between Devil May Cry, Soul Calibur and Soul Reaver. How would you characterise the overall visual style of the game?
Rich, varied, and for a video game, very realistic. There's a lot of attention to detail - we put a lot of effort into trying to build not just game worlds, but mini civilisations: each demon realm has its own people who in turn have their own culture - art-styling, architecture, etc. The games you mention are interesting and accurate references… I'm certainly a big fan of Soul Reaver, but its similarities to Primal are purely cosmetic (and not deliberate). The same with Devil May Cry - we obviously share some themes. Soul Calibur is the one game here that we did actually look to for inspiration: since combat is a big part of Primal, we wanted to try and learn from the best, to try and capture the essence of this awesome beat-em up in the combat elements of our action adventure.
Underwater worlds are traditionally unspectacular, but with Aquis Sony hopes to buck the trend
EurogamerFollowing The Getaway, Primal looks set to become another big in-house title from Sony's European studios. Has there been much internal pressure throughout the last two to three years?
The pressure has mainly come from within: our own desire to take what we learnt and achieved with the MediEvil games and apply and significantly build upon that in our first PS2 title. I think all the SCEE studios have a lot of ambition and drive, and we're lucky to have tremendous support from the management who obviously want us to create the best games we can for the platform.
EurogamerPlayers will get to control two characters: Jennifer and Scree. How do the two characters differ and how do they interact throughout the story?

Well Jen's a pretty everyday 21-year old girl (or so she thinks) and Scree is an immortal, stone gargoyle from another realm - so they're very different characters. In terms of gameplay it comes down to the fact that they both have their own strengths. Jen acquires the ability to morph into the form of each of our demon races. Each new form gives her new combat abilities - she's really the fighter. Scree's talents are more centred around the exploration or puzzle-solving side of things. The boundaries between the two are blurred however, and we leave it to the player to work out exactly who's best for each situation. Plus, of course, sometimes they'll also need to work together.

When it comes to the story, both characters are vital and have a pretty much equal stake in events. Scree has secrets that he is initially holding back from Jen. The story really unfolds from Jen's perspective since she is obviously learning many things about herself and the demon world she's exploring.

She may look a bit like Lara, but where Lara generally shoots demons first, Jen asks questions...
EurogamerTell us more about the different demon forms of Jen and the four different realms involved.
As Jen progresses through the game she learns that she can morph into each of the demonic races. Each has their own fighting style and combat skills, but they have other special abilities too which of course open up new gameplay and puzzle possibilities.
The worlds themselves are pretty varied and very tied in to the 'balance' that the game's overall storyline is concerned with (a power struggle between the forces of Order and Chaos). The first world is Solum, a night time realm of fierce, tribal hunters. Then Aquis, an underwater kingdom, ethereal and beautiful, but its inhabitants have turned into savage mutants. Next is Aetha, a realm of mountains and home to an evil vampire-like race. Finally Volca, a kingdom built inside a volcano, its evil inhabitants - the Djinn - the most powerful demon-race of all. Each of the four realms has its own storyline that fits into the over-arcing storyline that pushes Jen and Scree through the game; there are around twenty major characters you'll meet along the way.
Sony has taken a few ambitious leaps with Primal - let's hope they built in a decent respawn mechanism
EurogamerUnusually, the combat buttons in Primal have been assigned to the shoulder buttons. How well do you think it will work for gamers so used to pressing the symbol buttons?
Throughout the game we've tried to avoid being shackled by convention and in some areas this has certainly meant taking a few risks (which is scary, but hopefully they've paid off). By using the shoulder buttons for combat we felt that the controls became more consistent between exploration and combat. After we implemented this we found that you very quickly adjust to using these buttons instead of the symbols, and that their more clearcut left/right nature actually works better with the left/right nature of the combat controls.
EurogamerFrom looking at the preview trailer, there's some gory and violent looking demons and some interesting weapons at Jen's disposal. What can gamers look out for in both areas?
Well, I mentioned Jen's different weapons in each demon form and these range from Wolverine-like energy claws to whips and swords. Each weapon has its own style of combat - even down to the finishing moves which are specifically designed for the weapon type. The demons are also varied, from the molten-metal Djinn to the vampire-like Wraith, each have their own strengths, passions and schemes. Like the worlds they live in, our characters (a mix of friends and foes) had a lot of time spent on their design and are lavishly modelled.
EurogamerApparently Jen was originally less "alternative" looking as her human form. How many different incarnations of Jen have there been and also what factors determined her final look?
Our lead artist had notched up over a hundred Jen sketches before we settled on the final look! Initially we imagined Jen being a trendy 'clubber', but we found this style of clothing looked pretty silly when worn by a demon. We tried her wearing everything from geeky-student gear to…well to what we ended up with (and a few more extreme versions that seemed a bit too fetishist which wasn't where we wanted to go with Jen!) I'm very pleased with the final look. I think it captures the feel we wanted Jen to have: she's sexy but not in the sleazy 'cheap' manner of most game heroines. She's tough and independent, but she's also quite human and vulnerable.
EurogamerThe inevitable Lara Croft comparisons are there. Who do you think would win in a fight if they crossed paths?
We always knew there'd be comparisons, but aside from both being female, the two characters are very very different. Certainly once Jen shifts into her first demon form, any similarities are lost. As for winning a fight? Jen can adopt any of four different demon forms and she has Scree to back her up - that really ought to give her the edge.
EurogamerThere was talk of Hollywood names being involved in the game. Tell us which actors you got on board to voice Jennifer and Scree and whether you're happy with the results.

Andreas Katsulas is the actor who played G'Kar in Babylon 5 (amongst many, many other roles) and his was the only voice we had in mind when originally designing Scree. We contacted his agent and ended up meeting with Andreas at E3 2001. Having never working on a videogame before, I think he was quite intrigued, and thankfully seemed to take an immediate liking to Scree's character.

Casting for Jen was a little more difficult. We wanted someone who had the energy and hard edge to cope with playing Jen in Demon form but also a softer more humorous side. Hudson Leick was in Xena: Warrior Princess as Callisto, a fantastic character who is initially wickedly evil, but in later episodes shows a more tender side. It took us a while to get hold of Hudson as she only returns to acting when she wants to - most of the time she seems to be doing Yoga! When we finally tracked her down (I think she was impressed that we even found her!) she was also intrigued to work on a game and took to Jen right away.

Things moved on from there. We had three recording sessions in Hollywood with Hudson and Andreas - who were both a pleasure to work with - and hearing our script delivered by them both was a fantastic experience. We recorded with both actors present, something that's not often done in games because of the expense. This proved invaluable in them both bringing not only their respective characters to life, but also imbuing the relationship between Jen and Scree with a real warmth and sense of fun. I like to think that the end result is some of the best game voice-over yet delivered.

EurogamerWe hear that 16Volt are doing the music. Do you plan to release a soundtrack?

We weren't too sure how to score the game's intro sequence, then quite simply, I was listening to a 16Volt CD one night and it suddenly hit me me: this would be perfect. I checked on their website, got the lead singer's email address and contacted him right away. Eric [Powell] was enthusiastic about the prospect and it wasn't too long before a deal was struck. In addition to the intro sequence, we decided that their tracks also added just the punch we needed to in-game combat sequences.

All told I think Primal has quite an outstanding soundtrack: in addition to 16Volt's tracks, we also have almost two hours worth of fantastic, orchestrally recorded music for cut scenes/in-game ambience. A soundtrack CD could be terrific; it's something I think the marketing guys are considering, but whether it'll happen isn't really for me to say.

EurogamerWhat are your five favourite games of all time?
In no particular order; Ico, Resident Evil, Mario 64, Jak & Daxter and Half-Life.
EurogamerAnd finally - make up your own question and answer it.

Do you guys spend your free time hanging around graveyards because every publicity photo of you seems to suggest this?

No!

EG: Chris Sorrell, thanks for your time!

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