Andrew Szymanski, Producer at Capcom, and Matt Sophos, Director at Spark Unlimited, spoke with Siliconera in depth about creating Lost Planet 3. The first question I had was why Capcom picked Spark Unlimited. We also talked about creating Jim, the game’s bearded hero, and how Rig fights are kind of like Punchout.
What did you look for in a Lost Planet developer and why did you pick Spark Unlimited? Did you talk to any other developers before choosing them for Lost Planet 3?
Andrew Szymanski, Producer at Capcom: We always go through a candidate search. Sometimes we go down a shortlist or make our wish list, sometimes we’re approached by developers who have capacity. Can’t give you specific examples, but yes, there was a list of several developers I visited.
The main choice for Spark was… Honestly speaking, when I saw their name and looked up their track record, I thought, “What am I getting myself into?” You know. [Laughs] But when I got on-site—I saw a prototype for an unreleased title that Matt here had done.
Matt was actually new to the studio and he had done a previous prototype for an unreleased game for them. I thought, “Wow, here’s a good example, a good use of the engine; here’s an example of combat that works, cameras that work, control schemes that work.” It was really polished. As I’ve told people before, software doesn’t lie. You can make up a bunch of smoke and mirrors with art and video, but when you actually have a piece of software running on a 360, that you play, you can’t lie with that. It either plays well and looks good, or it doesn’t.
After talking to Matt, who had done that prototype, I thought Spark may be one of those undiscovered gems who’ve sort of gone in and revamped their team and image, and are chomping at the bit to get out there and show what they can do. There’s something to be said for a developer who has the skill, but—for any number of reasons—hasn’t had the ability to show that.
Not to toot our own horn, but most of the coverage coming out of E3 and Captivate has been positive, with people looking at it and going, “Wait, this might be good… but how is that possible?!”
The fact of the matter is that there’s a lot that went on behind the scenes to make that possible.
Lost Planet 3 feels like a very different direction from the first and second games. The protagonist feels like an everyman guy who’s just trying to make a living… well on an ice planet. Why did you guys decide to go that route?
Matt Sophos, Director at Spark Unlimited: The reason we went the route we went is we wanted to create a very compelling, cinematic experience and a character that’s relatable across the board. He’s got western trappings; he’s a bearded guy like Kurt Russell in The Thing. He listens to a certain style of music and has a colloquialism. Our story is based on universal themes. Jim is there on the planet to take care of his family back home. These are the kind of things that anyone can relate to, whether you’re an eastern audience or a western audience.
He meets people on the base who kind of become an extended family and each have their own motivations, whether it’s a larger cause or just pure greed or intense technological curiosity. It’s all themes and motivations that translate universally. In trying to create a more believable and grounded world, you ended up putting into the character what feels right, and that’s the direction we’re in.
AS: We have gotten a lot of contraction from international audiences, I will say that. We’ve shown the game at media events in Germany, Spain, and Italy. A lot of time, everybody says, “Hey, I feel like I’m watching a quasi-frontier western movie set in space.” Sort of Hollywood entertainment. But people get the themes; they get the character. Even the Japanese press immediately latches on to it. Like, “Yeah, we get it. He’s a bearded old guy. We get what they’re trying to do here. It feels like we’re watching a sci-fi movie.”
So, I think that we’ve actually—by not trying to water it down—made more people happy because they understand what is trying to be done with the character.
When we’re in the hub world, it feels like you added more RPG elements to it. Are there going to be side quests that involve people in the base?
MS: Yeah, you kind of have the main storyline path you go through. The main contracts Jim picks up for that. But yes, we do have a world that’s kind of what we call “hub and spoke”. You’ll not only be able to get optional quests or standing contracts but you can also go out into the world and be walking around in the rig, and see, “Hey, that looks like something I could possibly grapple to” and get out and go explore. We want to encourage the player to explore the world and pick up little bits of more story.
AS: From a game mechanic standpoint, your job log will have a quest tracker, so you’ll have your main story quests at any time—the ones that push the narrative forward and create scripted narrative moments—but you’ll also have quest givers in the base and outside the base who’ll give you different quest lines that you can follow. By completing those, not only are you getting Thermal Energy, but you’re also getting other rewards and it helps fill in the backstory. So, it’s certainly not an RPG but there are some trappings in terms of multiple quests that you can track. It’s not a Mass Effect-style conversation with NPCs, but you can overhear conversations, and it fills in the story, too.
I played all the way until the end and finished the Rig fight. It’s very different from other mecha combat games, almost like Punch-Out, you block and you grab. What other experiments were you trying when you were developing the rig combat? What did you look to for inspiration?
MS: [Laughs] You actually nailed it. We talked about Punch-Out, we talked a little about Chronicles of Riddick. Looking at what games have done with first-person melee in the past, it looks like they’ve only gone so far because it’s kind of a difficult thing to do, to judge distances and things like that. Our game is about aiming and pulling the trigger, whether you’re on foot in third-person shooter mechanics or even inside the Rig.
So, our melee combat kind of breaks down to, you aim at something, and you grab it, and you pick it up, and you have to aim and pull the trigger to drill. And keeping the controls feeling intuitive—all the functions for the left of the Rig are on the left controls, all the functions for the right are on the right controls. So, we’re always making sure that the play experience is intuitive but that we try to expand what has been done in first-person melee.
You also have melee with the knife, as well.
MS: The melee for the knife is what we call struggle mode, when a creature can kinda jump on you, and you have to deal with it. But even within that, we want to make sure people understand that it’s not quick-time-events where you get a random series of buttons. There are certain buttons that make sense, like rapidly pressing a button to push a creature off. Then it breaks down to aiming a reticule that’s fighting you because you’re in a struggle, and pulling the trigger.
AS: It’s all about keeping the player in control. Another interesting thing to note—this is something I’ve heard from a lot of people and I want to set the record straight, so to speak—I think that we were so ambitious in our E3 demo, we gave people the impression that our Rig combat is more kind of scripted-slash-quick-time-event-y than it really is. It’s all about one-to-one control.
In the E3 demo, because we’re trying to tutorialize it and give people all the information to beat that fight, we have slow-mo and little tutorial prompts, and you can’t move on to the next thing until you’ve done that, but that’s all for the sake of the demo. But in the full game, you’re going to be fed all that information in a much more natural and gradual way, so that when you’re in Rig combat, it is all one-to-one control.
It’s not scripted; it’s all in-game gameplay. That’s something that we prototyped heavily. We spent months prototyping that, to make it feel like you were really behind the controls of this big Rig.
MS: Slow-mo is purely to give the player who iss playing that demo enough time to read what that button says. [Laughs]
Jason Alexander, Public Relations Manager at Capcom: I think it’s important to note, too, that there’s no one way to attack that boss—or any bosses, for that matter. So, it’s kind of up to the player.
AS: The problem is, it’s so hard in a 30-minute demo to not only teach people what all the buttons do, but also to explain the different things you can do with those buttons. Like, we teach people to bash. You can bash the crab until it’s stunned, and then grab the arm. You can then lop the arm off. Or you can grab onto that arm, hold onto it with the VS, get out while the crab is still being held, and run around and shoot it in the back.
Or if you never want to get in the Rig at all, you could even defeat it on foot without ever using the Rig, or a combination of the two. We have a snippet where we show him taking off the claws on foot, and then jumping into the Rig to finish it off.
MS: With a few notable exceptions, all of our creatures are creatures you can fight on foot or in a combination of the two. We wanted to make sure that when you had a creature that was a challenge on foot, you could get in the Rig and squash it like a bug. If it’s an almost semi-boss on foot, you get in the Rig and it’s more of a fair fight.
AS: So, we kind of want to set the record straight for people—even who’ve played the demo and don’t understand—it’s not a situation where it’s like, “I have to grab the left claw first, then I have to lift it up, then I have to drill it or else I can’t defeat it.” No, we’re going to give you the tools and you’re gonna have to figure out how to use them, and you’ll have a lot of freedom for how you can use those tools.