Yesterday in Fear And Loathing In Antarctica we spoke to The Thing's senior producer, Chris Hadley of Computer Artworks, about the behaviour of your squad mates in the game and how they react to your actions, the environment they find themselves in and the Thing beasts that you're going up against. Today we go behind the scenes to find out more about the game's development, and to discover what it is that your men have to be afraid of...
You Gotta Be Kidding Me
You don't have to spend long with The Thing to realise that this game is definitely going to be on the receiving end of an 18 certificate. Whether it's the blood-splattered sets, the gruesome monsters, or the way your men react to them, vomiting or cracking up and shooting themselves when faced with too many horrors, there's plenty here to upset the ratings board.
Chris told us that "it's not shocks that we're after really", but even if they weren't trying, they've certainly succeeded in creating a game that will at times surprise, shock and even disgust the player. The Thing beasts themselves are clearly an important part of this, coming in three main classes - "the little scuttler guys, the walkers, and the eruptions", the last of which act as boss characters. Naturally a wide range of variations are present within these classes, each sporting their own special abilities and bizarre mutations.
"Scuttlers are obviously taken from the part [in the film] where the guy's head grows legs and runs off. And that's one of the walkers you see there. When he gets to a certain health level his head splits open and he grows a new head, and that's a weapon. You saw the guy earlier with a birth sac giving birth to the little scuttlers, and then there's another guy with a big tentacle in his stomach that comes out and tries to spear you. So there's lots of different versions of each of them."
On being confronted by one of these horrific monsters, you couldn't be blamed for trying to get the hell away from it. "You can run away from Thing beasts, you don't have to kill them. In this particular situation I've left the NPCs behind and legged it and left them to deal with the Things", Chris offered, as he bravely turned tail and fled.
"That's fine, but it means that they might start to trust me less because I'm not taking part in combat, and if they don't come through with me to the next level that makes it harder. The way we've actually structured the game is to give the player lots and lots of decisions. So it's quite interesting when you go back and play a level that you've already played and try doing it in a different way, and you get a quite different reaction from the NPCs."
"There's about twenty different levels based over eight to ten different environments. The first four or five levels are very familiar from the film - you've got all these snowstorms and broken down bases. From there on we start to introduce a few extra elements that we've created. Because there's only about two places in the actual film!"
"This particular level is obviously very much an action level, where it's basically a hold the fort type situation. You're being mugged from all sides by the Thing beasts, and you've got to repel them until you can get out. Some of the other levels are a bit more thoughtful, they're quite quiet and there's a lot of creeping around, puzzle solving and things like that. It's trying to change the pace and keep on challenging the game in different ways."
Under most circumstances publishers would run a mile when confronted with a game like The Thing. It's not an easy game to pigeon-hole, it has some novel features like the emotional responses of the NPCs, which must have made beta testing a nightmare, there's an almost gratuitous amount of gore, and it's based on a twenty year old cult movie. But the Vivendi Universal empire has apparently been quite supportive.
"To start off with we didn't say an awful lot of the stuff that we wanted to do, because we were a bit scared of shocking them", Chris admitted. "But I think because of the fact that they're a film company as well, they quite quickly came around to the idea of a lot of the stuff that we were doing. They've been pretty open and behind us on the things we wanted to do, and they've got the same kind of ideas about the license as we had."
"Pretty much everything had to go through Universal, but we had a close working relation with them and it's not been very painful at all. We've been really lucky; I've worked on other licenses before and it can be a complete nightmare. But it's been really really good with Universal. As long as they know what we're doing, they're generally ok. They've been seeing things all the way through - rather than waiting until something was completely finished we'd just keep on sending them stuff."
Not everything went through uncontested though, and the original plot was the main casualty, probably with good reason. "The first storyline that we came up with was very much a case of the big evil corporation that you must fight against, and Universal weren't too happy with that because it was like Aliens. So we moved away from that, and now we use the corporation more for back story and to give us new locations."
Although working on The Thing with Universal has been a relatively happy experience, the license did have its limitations. "We couldn't use any of the voices, the license didn't stretch that far. But we have got two characters from the film in there: we've got Childs and we've got McReady. But I can't really say in what way because that would spoil the twist in the game."
Instead a new cast of characters have been introduced, each with their own unique voices provided by a cast of movie and television veterans. Probably the most famous of these actors is William B Davis, better known as the shadowy Cancer Man from the X-Files, but players may just recognise a host of other familiar voices. "A lot of the guys who did the voice-over stuff actually work for people like Disney", Chris told us. "There's a female voice in there that we use very briefly on a couple of levels as an automated security system, and the woman who did the voice for that does the voice for the sister in Dexter's Laboratory. It's really weird hearing her going from that to this deep and sultry 'security clearance granted' stuff."
Not all of the actors were quite so serious during their recording sessions though, which led to some rather bizarre sound clips arriving at Computer Artworks' studio. "Apparently about 90% of the guys who were doing the voice-over stuff for some reason did one take, just off their own back, in a camp style. It was just quite odd. We got the normal audio files, and then we got these files through where they're all like 'oh hello, darling'. Right, ok. We did think about putting these in as a bonus feature, but unfortunately there's so much audio on the disc..."
The Thing is currently in the final stages of development at Computer Artworks, with work starting to focus on enhancing the graphics for the Xbox version. And once that work is complete and the developers have had a well deserved holiday, what happens next?
"We've tried to keep the John Carpenter cliffhanger ending", Chris admitted, telling us that a sequel was a definite possibility. "There was an awful lot of ideas that we couldn't do on this game, a lot of people had a lot of input. So the first thing to do is to rake over those old ideas and come up with some fresh ones as well."
In the meantime, European gamers can look forward to The Thing infecting shelves across the continent in September. And judging from what we've seen of the game so far, we could be in for a treat.