We talk with Scott West about Headfirst Productions' new game based on the famous table top RPG.
The world of table top RPGs has always offered to the videogames industry a sort of enormous archive of gameplay structures and ideas, but also a series of worlds so detailed that no developer could create them during the development of a single game.
To be honest, I've never been a player of table top RPGs, but I've always looked at them, also through the passion of many of my friends, as a fascinating, deep way to enjoy your time in a fantasy world created by intelligent, often extremely talented writers and role-players. The amount of cross-cultural references, the level of detail of the fantasy worlds in which these games are played, are often astounding.
Strangely enough, no videogame was ever developed on Deadlands, one of the most influential and rich RPGs, written by Shane Lacy Hensley and published by Pinnacle Entertainment Group. The game won eight Origins Awards, a prestigious prize that marks excellence in the role-playing community. Not being a role-player, I remember reading for the first time about Deadlands in an article on a magazine about possible alternate realities; the article included a (rather imprecise, I would have later discovered) look at how role-players have created their own fantasy worlds, and how few of these worlds had a starting point in real history.
Deadlands takes place in a horror version of the American West; the history of Earth is like ours until the Battle Of Gettysburg, in 1863. Mysteriously, at that time, the dead start to get back, thus starting the Reckoning, a disastrous event that brings back on earth ancient spirits and creatures, destroying the barrier between life and death.
In 1877 the Civil War is still dragging on, and the forces fighting in the West try to hide the horrifying truth to those peacefully living in the East. Texas Rangers and federal agents try to keep the menace away from the East, while the West is in chaos. Sinister cults, powerful Indian tribes that have received the power of the spirits, undead gunslingers roam the West. Fears become reality, with shadows lurking in the darkness, ready to take the place that once was of the living.
Pinnacle Entertainment Group has a nice website complete with a community of great role-players that seem happy to introduce newcomers to the amazing horror world of Deadlands.
Headfirst's Deadlands is going to be the first game based on this popular RPG - anyhow, while the game will contain RPG elements, Headfirst describes it as an action/adventure title set in the vast world of the famous RPG. This gives the developers an enormous amount of material to choose from, and let them create a storyline that moves over an amazingly detailed and rich world with its history, legends, and myths.
We had a chance to interview Scott West, designer at Headfirst Productions, about the game his team is creating, about the cooperation with Pinnacle and influences coming from inside and outside the videogame industry.
Harry: Could you introduce yourself to our readers? What's your role in the development of the game?
Scott West: Hi, my name is Scott West and I am a Designer at Headfirst Productions. My role as a designer varies throughout the course of development dependant on what stage of production we're at. At the start of the project I am mainly involved in the pre-dev design, which is where we put together a demo and test our technology. As the game progresses I then move onto other tasks such as level design, missions design, enemy placement, story and locations and finally gameplay balancing. I work closely with the lead Designer, Lead Artist and Lead Programmer to ensure that the all of the separate features are developed and implemented how we all envisaged them to be. A lot of things can change over the course of development and one of my main roles is to ensure that any changes or additions remain within the theme of the game and that all of the separate areas gel together into one cohesive environment.
The work of a developer is hard. A party where he can show the world his unique Fryar Tuck's haristyle is Scott's favorite way to unwind. And to worry his friends.
H: First of all, could you tell us which elements of the original Deadlands tabletop RPG attracted you and made you think a game based on the franchise would have been possible?
SW: The whole Premise of the Deadlands experience is what attracted us - there are so many cool features within the Deadlands universe. One of the strongest features that we thought the license held was mainly the locations and back-story, which has provided us with a great and unique setting in which to base it. As we're all big fans of the Deadlands table top RPG it just seemed a natural progression for us as fans to turn it into a videogame. There are so many cool ideas within the Weird West World that we wanted to turn all of our own ideas into interactive content and thus the idea to acquire the Deadlands License was born.
H: The community and the fantasy world surrounding Pinnacle Entertainment Group's RPG franchise is enormous - how do you choose which elements must be included within your game?
SW: There are so many elements involved that it's been really difficult to pick which sections we'll keep and which ones we'll save for another day. Basically we have selected elements that define the genre/license - that will allow people to experience a taster of the Deadlands franchise; we've been careful not to exclude newcomers to Deadlands but also are aware of current fanbase. There are so many good ideas within the license that we've picked the ones which suit our story the best and also the ones which will allow the players to have the most amount of fun.
H: Is Pinnacle Entertainment Group helping you in any way in the development of Deadlands?
SW: Yes - We are in close contact with the Founder of Pinnacle who gives feedback on all of our designs helping us to provide an experience which is true to the Deadlands Franchise.
H: Deadlands - the videogame - is described on the official press release as an action horror title; will it still contain RPG elements, as fans of the table RPG could expect?
SW: Yes it will but we'll be concentrating mainly on the action/horror aspect. We have created a predominantly action based title with both adventure and puzzle solving elements and are trying to make it as accessible to as many people as possible. With regards to the amount of RPG elements that are contained, the are definitely elements of these in there, but this is definitely more of an action horror title more akin to say Prince of Persia than a true role playing game.
H: Is Deadlands a linear action title, like Onimusha or Devil May Cry, or has it some elements of non-linearity? Is it mission-based?
SW: Deadlands will be linear, however it will contain a certain amount of exploration - certain sections will contain non-linear elements allowing the player to explore and also certain sections will have multiple routes. There will be lots of secrets and bonuses for the player who retraces their steps through previously completed levels using new weapons and items that they have unlocked. The narrative element will be mostly linear in its implementation as the Stranger attempts to track down the Seven Sins Gang members. For the majority of the game the story will unfold as Stranger progresses through the levels tracking down the gang members whilst searching for clues about his past life. In addition to this, at certain points in the game, specially scripted sequences will occur which can effect the narratives direction dependant on the players response and handling of the situation.
H: Can you tell us something more about the fighting and weapon upgrade system?
SW: There are several different categories of weapons ranging from traditional (Pistol and Shotguns) to Ancestral (Spears, Bows'n'Arrows) through to Coups which are the powers absorbed from defeated enemies. In addition to this there is also the ability to upgrade weaponry as you progress not only with the standard upgrades such as increased rate of fire and higher accuracy, but also with Ghost Rock abilities (Ghost rock is a super fuel which burns 100 times hotter and longer than Coal).
H: Any plans of including some kind of multiplayer mode in the game?
SW: Not yet but me way have a surprise up our sleeves - I can't really say much more than that to be honest at the minute.
H: Have you decided on which platforms will the game be released? On the official website it seems that the Playstation 2 is your main focus.
SW: Ps2, Xbox and PC.
H: Deadlands should be part of a series of video games based on this juicy franchise. Can you tell us something more about this?
SW: As we said before there are so many cool ideas within the RPG books that we'd love to do alternative versions of the game and include all of the sections that we've had to miss out. The scope to expand on this is phenomenal and we've all got so many ideas and things we'd love to see in the game that we'd love to do a sequel.
H: I imagine that when developing a game, every designer has some expectations, some goals that he/she absolutely wants to reach with his/her game. I mean, I think that every great game should start from a vision, a "dream" of the developers. What are yours? How would you like this game to be perceived by the players?
SW: Absolutely - from the start we had a very clear "vision" of what we wanted to achieve and part of that vision is that we wanted to create an action based horror game that was truly action based yet was coupled with the longevity of an adventure game. We've found ourselves that certain action titles don't contain the lifespan of say a traditional adventure game yet the adventure game doesn't contain the same level of detail with regards to its action elements such as combat - combining the two together was our first thoughts at how we'd imagine a Deadlands game to play. The table top RPG is fantastic but there wasn't any point simply recreating that for the console - instead we've selected some of the more popular features and combined them with our own ideas to produce a game that contains adventure elements such as exploration and puzzle solving, yet combined with all the positive aspects of an action game such as an amazing arsenal of weaponry and special moves.
H: Which games have an influence on your work? Is there some developer that you respect more than others, and see as an example to follow for your work?
SW: Personally I'm a big fan of Japanese developers especially Nintendo and Capcom. The amount of work that they put into creating believable worlds and characters is truly staggering and a true inspiration for myself.
H: Are there any movies that are influencing you in your work?
SW: I think lots of films are a good source of inspiration for many projects. However, with something as unique as the Deadlands brand, I think we've taken our inspiration from the core of the books. Obviously we've been watching a lot of Spaghetti Westerns to pick up the feel for the Wild West and also Horror films as we're merging the two together. Action films are also a great source of inspiration, as high impact fight sequences can often inspire, such as the likes of John Woo.
H: When do you think that video games can be considered Art? And do you think that it's possible to give a single person the status of "author" of a game, like it happens in "authorial" cinema?
SW: I don't really think that games can be classed as Art themselves, however I would say that games do contain art - pieces of art or places that stay in your memory, fantasy worlds that are created and stored in your mind like an old school holiday - I've played plenty of games that have contained what I would consider art but a lot of the time and especially with games it's the convergence of media that makes it atmospheric, such as music and graphics, level setting and design, thus it's difficult to say that one is more important than the other.
As for one author, sure you can get one single person with a "vision", and a lot of the time we rely on the skills of exceptionally talented concept artists, designers and programmers to help visualize the worlds we intend to the create. However, without the hard work, dedication and willingness of the entire team to follow that vision, the game would not get anywhere.
H: Headfirst is also working on "Call Of Cthulu" games - can you tell us something more about the announced Tainted Legacy for the PlayStation 2?
SW: I can't say too much about this one I'm afraid but keep your eye out for Press Releases very soon as we'll be announcing some really exciting stuff to do with this project.
Harry: Thank you Scott!