Visceral's lead designer on Dante's Inferno
, Greg Rizzer, sat down for a roundtable discussion on the upcoming downloadable content pack entitled Trials of St. Lucia. Similar in fashion to the arena battles brought to you by the Gates of Hell mode upon completion of the campaign, the DLC introduces a new character with possibilities for online co-op play, new enemies, and user-generated content with the level editor when the pack hits shelves April 29th. Here is what my fellow game journalists and I had to discover.
Miguel Concepcion, Examiner: Knowing how much your team prides itself on the 60 frames per second rate in Dante's Inferno, could you go over any of the challenges you guy might have had in optimizing this for the co-op? I imagine it could not have been easy to keep that frame rate consistent.
One of the things we had to do when we started designing The Trials of St. Lucia was to create Lucy as a separate character. I'm sure you guys know of the little technical aspects that when you add more bones in a game engine, the more they have to render these characters. We didn't want to just do another character that looks like a reskined Dante; we obviously knew people would call us on that.
As soon as we created Lucie, including the complexity of her rig with those wings and everything like that, we were also very aware of trying to create a co-op experience. It means usually that you'd probably want more enemies on-screen because you're obviously having you and your friend playing online. One of the things we actually did was go through all of the existing characters from the single player game and when there was time or when we had the resources to do so, we optimized all the enemies.
So basically what we did was we looked for areas where we could save on texture memory, vfx memory, and things like that. The engineering guys really did an incredible task of going through all the assets and found out where we can get memory savings and redo those characters. For the game with two players to run at 60 frames per second, we did it so that when you're creating your own trials, we have this budget meter. What it does is it keeps the creator from blowing out his budget and causing the game to run under 60 frames. We prevent the creator from causing that to happen on his end.
Jonathan Cooper, Gamervision.com: It was obviously a big decision to do cooperative play. Why did you decide on it as well as waiting to put it out in a DLC pack?
One of the things out there is God of War and we obviously draw comparisons to that game. What we wanted to do was to differentiate ourselves in the market by showing that we can do a combo melee style game like this but to do it with online play.
The scope of doing online gaming is if you're taking a single player game and have any form of competitive multiplayer or even coop, it just blows that scope of your product way, way, way, up. When those guys were busy crafting the single player experience and working on that, we were a completely separate team. We hadn't even started on Trials of Saint Lucia until the single player game was well, well into production. This was a situation where we looked at DLC opportunities but we also knew we had to minimize the risk of the single player game not shipping on time.
This is a really big expansion pack; it's not just online. We have an editor, we have user created content, we have leaderboards, and we have all these other components of taking your product online that immediately increases the scope of the product.
Stephen Hopper, Gamezone.com: In terms of the new character, Saint Lucy, what kinds of moves will she have in her repertoire that sets her apart from Dante?
One of the things with Lucy was that we wanted to make this character that not only look different, but actually played different from Dante. Our fans and gamers in general are very savvy as to when someone is putting on a fresh new coat of paint on something. We knew we had to create something with a completely different feel for her. So obviously her being an angel and with Dante's moves being approximately 70% ground attacks and 30% air attacks, with Lucy we pretty much flipped it over, giving her 30% air attacks and 70% ground attacks. It gives her a much different feel.
Once we developed this character, the guys that worked on Dante joined us and we were able to get the senior animators, character riggers, and the gameplay mechanics guys together and they were able to come and conceptualize the more aerial type of attacks from Lucy. I don't know if you had a chance to play it yet, but she really feels different. We've kind of grown accustomed to guys like Dante or Kratos and other characters in the genre with that similar-but-familiar feel. Lucy's different because she's light and quick. Her abilities are really different. When we did focus testing, we found out that hardcore gamers really noticed right away that she has a totally different feel.
Lucy's eyes were plucked out and we wanted to do this thing with the patron saint of the blind. She has this kinetic eye energy attack that's really unique. It actually made me feel like I was playing Ikaruga. It's just another thing that makes her different from Dante.
Gaming Nexus: I noticed there was this juxtaposition between the big, strong enemies and alongside that there's the small, agile ones. What can I expect from the new enemies I've heard mentioned for this DLC?
Just because of the size and scope of a game like Dante's Inferno, there are often times with these characters where you run out of animation and development time. What we were able to do with some of these enemies was actually finish them. So it was really cool to have these creatures that did not make the final shipping product, and we were able to finish them off, and so that was a great opportunity for us.
One of the things we brought in were characters from The Dark Forest, so you can use those characters when creating your own trials. We actually brought in a character called The Summoner who didn't make it to the single player game and he's a really unique character and creates a lot of gameplay opportunities. You can actually tell The Summoner which creatures he can spawn. Until you kill him, he continues to move around your trials and summons up those creatures you selected for him. It's really one of those creatures who focus-tested really well in the single player game but the guys just didn't have enough time to get it into the game. That's just some of the creatures we're bringing into the editor. There's also a little fire sprite, a fire version of the much talked about baby in the single player version. I guess you can never have enough babies around here so we decided to bring that character back too.
Robert Allen, Tech Gaming: Does St. Lucia have enemy trigger points similar to Little Big Planet or Gravity Crash where you are allowed to adjust the influx of enemies?
When we were settling on the scope of this editor we had to decide how detailed we wanted to get as far as specific spawn locations for NPCs and set up. That’s actually how I cut my teeth; I used to be a game play scripter and set up sequences. We didn't have the time to create the editor to be that specific, but we did create the concept of waves. The idea was that if you set a location for this editor you ca say, “I want three minions to come in first, then maybe I'll scale back the difficulty and then maybe I'll increase the difficulty.”
We're confident that you can create good gameplay pacing by using the wave system and setting up different waves with maybe health drops in one wave to get the guy ready for a subsequent challenging wave. In addition to setting enemy type, once you set those types procedurally the code handles it and spawns those creatures into the wave simultaneously.
We also have trap assemblies, the ability to put rotating blades and flying walls into our combat scenarios. The single player doesn't actually have this. We had to go through and do some additional engineering, a lot of which was to the AI to intelligently pass around traps and the things that you as the creator have placed in there. It gets a little more complicated when you start talking about really hardcore gameplay scripting where you say, “I want this guy to run down, jump and grab and fly down the pole and give you the finger.” We had to make some concessions. One of the things we said was that we wanted it to be simple but powerful. You can set the aggressiveness of the enemies: you can say how strong you want them to be, how much damage they do to the player. If you want them to be more sheepish in the combat grouping with the other guys, or if you want them to be more aggressive compared to the other guys that you've placed in there.
As far as continuing to support the game with DLC what's next after this?
We have our fingers crossed that when this comes out it does really well. We know that this is a different DLC. There are other editors out there: Trials HD has an editor that was really hard to use. And there are other games that have had editors, as well. On the back end of this is that we're really hoping that when people start getting into this editor that it does foster this sense of community. We're hoping that this gets a lot of legs because ultimately we feel that once people learn how to use the editor to create cool trials, and once you upload a trial people can download it, rate it, give you a 1-5 star rating and you'll have leaderboards that we want the community to get involved in. From the player's side you play other people’s trials to earn points for those trials and to earn medals. We have this great medal system and point system, and we have a mile stone system which is not only to say that you played the guy's trial once but you played the guy’s trial say five times, ten times.
We're hoping right now that the overall longevity of Trials of St. Lucia is good. We’re just waiting to see how it does because this is really kind of a different product to be putting out there. As you guys know a lot of the DLC that comes out is usually a map pack or a new level, so this is really something different. We're hoping that it gets out there and it does have pretty long shelf life, as well. Especially with the co-op. You have to realize that when you've been around a product a long time and you've played it enough you say, "Ah, I’m over it." But the co-op is really fun and I can't wait for you guys to play it because it really brings this whole new component to these styles of games. We're hoping not only that this DLC will have the legs that I mentioned before because of the amount of content, but also because its really going to be fun to play.
Are there any other plans to bundle them as a retail package any time soon?
Nothing like that has been announced. We obviously were pleased with the success of the single player game doing well, and hoping that the DLC package does. I’m sure one of you will ask, “Was this already on the disk?” No, it’s not on the disk. It's a very large expansion pack. It couldn’t fit on the disk right now as it stands. The goal of creating content like this is to keep people interested in the product and show that we care about them and want to give them a good value for the DLC. Hopefully it does well, but I can't speak to that because nothing has been announced yet.
Gaming Nexus: Would you consider responding to the interest in co-op in campaign mode or even just split screen offline co-op for the DLC?
Yeah, sure. There are a lot of technical limitations. I know that some people were wondering why you couldn’t play St. Lucia in the single player campaign. Number one: it doesn’t quiet fit the story. Number two is that Lucy has very different movement mechanics. She spends a lot of time in the air. Her overall movements are so unique and different that it wouldn’t work in the spaces that were designed for the single player game. This goes back to saying that we wanted her to be really different and feel different, and of course one of the things with that is that you need to give her ample space to let her be who she is.
As far as playing splitscreen, one of the reasons we couldn’t do splitscreen multi-player couch play for this is because if you try to do a situation like this you have to render both scenes. To keep that at 60 frames with all those video effects and all those animations is just not possible and we'd really have to make some big technical sacrifices in order to have that kind of on-screen at the same time. That's one of the reasons you just don't see that on a product like this. I miss couch play a lot too, but as these games are getting more and more complicated and the scenes are getting so complex, it’s becoming a situation where online gaming is taking over that whole genre. And to be honest with you, I miss it too.
Is the difficulty staggered for a single player game versus the tag team of Dante and St. Lucia?
That’s up to the creator. One of the things we do have is a scoring algorithm. When you create a trial you get point values. You add stuff to your trial whether it is traps or enemies or you increase the difficulty of the enemies. What it does is that it creates a point value for your trial, the idea being that you can upload trials that if you hit a certain value it becomes a bronze, a silver, gold or platinum trial that is the overall scope of the trial that you created. When you create a two-player trial, one of the things the algorithm does is that it actually cuts the score by a certain percentage. What it's implying is that if you were to take out ten creatures in a single wave, with you and your friend in there those ten creatures would be easier to pass then if you were by yourself. So we tried to handle that under the hood so you don’t have to worry as much about that.
And in the pre-existing 40 trials that you guys made?
Those are all set in stone. So what we did with those is that we have 25 single player trials and 15 co-op trials. Once you go to the list you'll see its broken down into single player or two-player, and underneath that is the community trials, the EA trials, there's the trials you created and then a separate tab for the ones you added to your favorites. But EA trials are pretty much ready to go. We're actually still working on them late at night right now. It turns into an interesting design debate when you have a lot of engineers. So we’re trying to get as much feed back from the trials up there and hopefully the ones we put up there will be inspiration for other people when they see how we set up some cool gameplay scenarios.
Special thanks to Gregg Rizzer for the inside information, fortyseven communications for the mediation, and Miguel Concepcion for help with transcription.