Escape from Butcher Bay was a pseudo movie tie in game that a lot of people figured was going to suck. The movie wasn’t very good but the game turned out to be a very solid stealth game that a lot of people enjoyed. Next week the game is being re-released along with a second game that fleshes out more of the Riddick universe.
Can you introduce yourself and talk about your role on the project? How did you get into the games industry?
My name is Ian Stevens and I’m the Head of Game Production at Tigon Studios, formerly Lead Designer at Starbreeze. Like many other Designers and Producers, I got into the industry as a tester. My first project was Hexen 2 :)
What was the impetus behind the decision to make it a first-person stealth game, as opposed to the more common third person viewpoint? What kinds of challenges does this represent in game play design?
Initially Escape from Butcher Bay was a 3rd person game. But we were interested in breaking convention and so based on some early tests to see how the game might play in First-Person, we eventually decided to go down that road. It was hugely challenging, especially because we wanted to retain the player character (Riddick) instead of the floating head design that was common for shooters up to that point. So we didn’t make it easy on ourselves by any means – but the payoff was that much more spectacular as a result.
The original game was well received, what do you think made the game so special and how did you go about expanding on those things?
We were doing so much within Escape from Butcher Bay and bending so many different genre elements. At least for me, what wound up making that game so special is just how successful we were in doing that, which isn’t the kind of thing you list on the back of a box as a feature, but it was really the combination and the execution of all those different gameplay elements that made EfBB work.
With Assault on Dark Athena we’re moving that focus forward and looking to blend even more variation in gameplay just as seamlessly.
Was there any concern during the time between Activision Blizzard dropping the project and Atari picking up the publishing rights? Did that decision surprise you at all? What reasoning did Activision/Blizzard give for passing on the publishing rights?
Well, we knew we had a special game, but you never want something like that to happen. I’ve spent many years at Activision and know the management team there pretty well, so we could anticipate what was going to happen to some degree, but it really was out of our hands. So as that was taking place we really just kept out confidence in the game’s quality and continued to concentrate on making the best game we could while finding a new home for it.
We've seen a few interviews about how the original game has been revamped and tweaked, can you provide us with a specific example of a change you made to the first game that fixes something that was bothering you?
It will be a LOT harder to get lost in the mines now – that’s an immediate and relevant example. Anything that we tweaked in remaking the game is based larely on community feedback, so it should all hit a positive nerve. And then of course everything that we’ve done to enhance the original gameplay mechanics for Assault on Dark Athena, are retroactively a part of the remake as well. This means better AI, better First-Person Fighting, enhancements to Stealth, etc.
Why include the first game on the disc as opposed to a double-sized new game? Will the games tie together seamlessly or will there be a noticeable jump when you go from the first game to the second? Compared to the original game, how much new content is in Assault on Dark Athena?
Remaking Escape from Butcher Bay was important to us for several reasons, but mainly due to the fact that it couldn’t be backwards compatible on the 360, and also that there’s an entire PlayStation audience that hasn’t experienced it. As far as sacrificing one for the other, always remember this – quantity does not equal quality. The notion of having Assault on Dark Athena be twice as long would not intrinsically make it a better game, so we just don’t approach it that way. In terms of transition, when you finish Escape from Butcher Bay, you’ll then get sent back to the menu, and from there you can start Assault on Dark Athena, which is a brand new fully-featured game that’s just as big as the original, and tells a new story in the Riddick universe.How much input did Vin Diesel have on Assault on Dark Athena? Can you talk about how much room you had to work with in terms of the canon of the Riddick universe? Do you see more adventures of Riddick being told on the consoles?
Vin is deeply tied to the Riddick universe and the Riddick character and through Tigon (his game production company) he has a pretty heavy role in producing these games. Starbreeze, though, is an extremely talented group of creatives and as much as possible we give them room to use their talent and invent large portions of this world. Where we go from here isn’t clear just yet, but there’s certainly tons of room to play
What improvements have been made to the game's engine now that you are putting it on more powerful hardware? Was there something that you wish you could have done with Butcher Bay but had the opportunity to do in Dark Athena? What kinds of limitations are you running into with current generation hardware?
The best way to answer that question is to look at the jump we made between Escape from Butcher Bay and The Darkness. Similarly, we’ve made another big leap in our engine technology and rendering features with Assault on Dark Athena, particularly with our lighting and certain post effects. In terms of hardware bottlenecks and where we get frustrated, the simple truth is that you’re always going to have a wall to deal with – there will always be some kind of limit to what you can do – so our job is more about managing our resources and opportunities in a creative way that helps us make the most out of what we’ve got. Even when there’s an Xbox 9000, you’ll still have limitation – better to focus on what you can do than what you can’t.
Melee combat is hard to do in any game but especially in first person games, can you talked about what worked from the first game and if you've made any changes for the new game? Have you made any tweaks to the core gameplay at all?
The core system for our First-Person Fighting remains the same and what we’ve done with Assault on Dark Athena is simply enhance it. So now you’re able to do many more stealth kills, counter-moves, and weapon-grabs, and the sheer number of weapons available to you exceeds what we offered originally. We’ve also made some enhancements to the AI which makes the fights much more challenging in certain areas.
Can you walk us through the two multiplayer modes? What kinds of things do you like in your multiplayer gaming and how are you incorporating them in Assault on Dark Athena?
We approached the Multiplayer for Assault on Dark Athena with a real interest in supporting the classic feel and tone of FPS multiplayer gaming, and then of course we add our spin to that.
We include Death Match, Team Deathmatch, CTF, and so on. But two modes that have us really excited are Pitch Black and Butcher Bay Riot. Pitch Black places Riddick against six other players (Mercs) in an environment that’s completely dark – properly pitch black. The Riddick character is faster with more health and carries only melee weapons (Ulaks – the curved blades) – he can also use his eyeshine to see in the dark. The Mercs have big guns and flashlights. It’s kill or be killed and if you kill Riddick, you get to play as Riddick in the next round. Audio plays a big part in this mode.
With Butcher Bay Riot mode, there are three teams of four players – Prisoners, Mercs, and Guards. Each faction plays against another: Prisoners hate Guards, Guards hate Mercs, and Mercs hate Prisoners. As a team you fight for a central power cell to plant in your enemy’s base. It’s best of three or five rounds, and you have the chance to score UD money (Riddick currency). You can then use that money to buy better gear. This mode is surprisingly flexible; it can be very strategic or simply run and gun – all depends on you and the people you’re playing with.
We'd like to thank Ian for taking the time to answer our questions and to Stephanie for helping to coordinate the interview.