Capcom could have picked a number of developers to handle the new Strider game, but selected Double Helix Games. The Irvine, California based studio is currently working on Killer Instinct and also made Silent Hill: Homecoming, Front Mission Evolved, and some movie tie-ins like Battleship. We asked Andrew Szymanski, Senior Producer, about working with Double Helix and what’s different in Strider for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Why did you guys pick Double Helix as the studio to develop Strider? I remember you said you met with a lot of different developers for Lost Planet 3, but decided on Spark so you know a lot of different teams.
Andrew Szymanski, Senior Producer: Double Helix, first of all, is a great group of guys and they are highly motivated. Obviously from the consumer’s perspective, it doesn’t matter until the game is out. All I can tell the readers is to check out the gameplay videos. Check out the game when it comes out to see the work, because ultimately the game has to speak for itself. I can tell you that they are the best developers in the world, but if you don’t like what they make it, then there’s no point.
But if you want to know the personal background behind why I chose them, it really comes down to the passion for the IP. We needed somebody who can work very closely with our Osaka team. Our Osaka team is not only comprised of guys who did all of the artwork for Strider 2. They know the franchise in and out. We also have game design gurus in Osaka like the guys who did Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts and guys who worked on the original DuckTales games, basically guys who know hard core side-scrollers have been worked with Capcom since late 80s early 90s.
We needed somebody who’s going to be able to take that and bring it into a multi-platform, 2.5D polygonal world. Double Helix had not only the engine tech and the expertise, but also the passion for the project. When they came to us and we said, “Hey, what would you do with the Strider?” They came with just an amazing amount of background research, amazing amount of love. Again, knowing what to pull from the old games, what things to sort of hint at and what homages to put in but also what to make new, and that was just incredibly compelling pitch to get from them.
Couple that with the fact that they are really turning the studio around, I mean they made a big splash at E3 last month with Killer Instinct. And again, I don’t blame anybody for looking at the pedigree and say I’m a little dubious on these guys. They are making a huge effort over the past couple of years to change what their studio does, to change what their studio is known for. Microsoft saw it and saw fit to give them Killer Instinct. We saw it when we originally approached them with Strider. And I’d like to think that both games have shown how much the studio has improved in the past few years.
You personally seem to do that a lot like the way you selected Spark for Lost Planet 3. Are there any studios out there that you see have great potential that’s been underutilized?
AS: I can’t speak to any other studios personally because I need to work with somebody before I can really say that. I mean I visit studios all the time. I talk to them all the time, but it really takes at least a two to three-month concept, kind of a honeymoon phase before you can really say for sure.
I will say this is a general point, I don’t want to discount the developer’s track record. That’s very important. I mean this is how this industry runs and how it builds is you have to establish a track record of making great games. That being said, you also have to throw in a little bit of optimism and skepticism in there as well. You have to take everything with a grain of salt. Just as an individual who has good years and bad years, high points and low points, so also do studios.
Particularly now with the advent of new hardware coming out and the number of studios in the industry sort of shrink, you got a lot more indie guys coming up, but the kind of old-school larger development houses are folding or getting absorbing things like that. A lot of developers out there are trying to reinvent themselves in order to reach the quality bar that they need to because, you know, there is not as many of them left.
Are you thinking about releasing Strider 2 as a PsOne classic or re-releasing some of the old games leading up to the new Strider?
AS: We are definitely looking at what we can do. I can’t make any promises now, but we are looking into it.
How are the PS4 and Xbox One versions different from the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions?
AS: Content-wise they are the same. In terms of the actual levels, enemies, bosses, and all that kind of stuff. What you’re going to see are a lot of graphical improvements. Whether its physics tweaks, resolution tweaks, framerate stuff, particle effects – basically all of the eye candy stuff you’re going to see at a higher level on next-gen. The same thing for PC because our PC version will run on [Direct X] 11.
Is the PC version the same as the PS4 and Xbox One release?
AS: Not exactly the same, but they share a very similar hardware base. With the PC version running DX11 you’re going to see a lot of the same improvements on the PC version, assuming you a video card that supports all of those things.
Why did you skip Wii U since it seems like most of Capcom’s games are on all platforms like DuckTales Remastered or Dungeons & Dragons.
AS: I don’t necessarily make all of the platform decisions. We try to match the right platform to the right title. Sometimes that’s purely a strategy decision. Sometimes it has to do with technology. Sometimes it has to do with the expertise of any given developer. For this game, we started out on PS3, 360, and PC. As we got more information and actual hardware from next-gen, we saw we would be able to leverage those. Given our release timing is soon after launch we decided that would be a good way to bring it to even more people and add in more bells and whistles.
When I remember the arcade game I played way back then, Strider was a lot bigger in comparison and there were these immersive backgrounds.
AS: We have a dynamic camera system. It actually zooms in and out depending on the best approach for any different area. Sometimes it’s scripted sometimes its procedural. Basically, how do we make Strider look badass and how do we make sure you have enough viewpoint of what’s going around you. One of the advantages of going with a 2.5D view opposed to a sprite based system is to have that camera.
If you go back to the gameplay video, the very first 30 seconds or so is a homage to Strider 1. We got the camera way up and he’s as big on the screen as he was on the first one. Then we reach a point after 30 seconds where we pull the camera back and say actually this world is much bigger than you thought and it’s not a linear experience.
The camera is designed to show you what we feel is the best angle for any given section. The opening section is a linear section so we keep you up close to the action to show off Strider’s character model as much as possible. And then when it opens up and there are platforms above you and places to drop down, we pull out a little bit. When you get to the midboss fighting which is a small room with just you and the boss the camera comes in again. For a large scale boss that takes up an entire level, the camera pulls out. If it’s a human size boss that’s a similar scale to Hiryu, the camera zooms in and you have a kind of intimate one on one feel.
You mentioned that Strider moves 8x faster in the upcoming game. The NES and arcade games had tight controls since you’re moving so fast how did you adjust this to make sure the controls are just as responsive?
AS: Speed isn’t directly related to responsiveness. In fact, speed makes it more responsive, so that wasn’t a concern. The concern for us was the faster he moves the more real estate you have to cover. So, you have to make levels that much larger because he can cover so much ground in such a short amount of time. The larger challenge is how do we set things up with the pacing in terms of he’s moving so quickly with platforms, drops, and jumps. When you’re moving at such a breakneck speed you might miss some of that. That has been one of our biggest challenges and what we focused on most.
The speed contributes the responsiveness. It contributes to the feeling of the character because you’re running through mowing down guys, especially in the beginning when it’s mostly cannon fodder guys. That makes you feel like a badass and the game is supposed to make you feel like a badass. We introduce the challenge as you get further along in.
What we showed in the gameplay video is basically the opening couple of minutes of the game. Of course, it has some tweaks unique for the demo. Like some of the powerups in there you won’t get until later on in the full game. For the most part, in terms of the map layout, that is the opening few minutes. The enemies you saw were the cannon fodder, two hits to kill kinds of guys. Later on, even your standard enemies will take multiple hits. But, you also get powerups that make you stronger as well. It’s a constant arms race where the enemies get more powerful, but so does Hiryu as well.
We talked a lot about homages, what’s brand new that we’re never going to see that’s brand new? Tell us more about the stuff that happens in the middle before you get to Grandmaster Meio.
AS: I think the two biggest things that are going to feel brand new, besides the gameplay being a mix of combat and exploration as well as the interconnectedness of the world where you uncover the map as you go along, are going to be the abilities. We’ve talked about the Cypher abilities. There is stuff we haven’t talked about yet that are brand new. There are movement abilities and things that we’ve got that he’s never had in any game previously that totally change how he moves around in space. All I can say is for the readers to look forward to when we can show that to you which won’t be too far away.
Also, the bosses. All of the Strider games have been about completely over the top bosses. Not only over the top in how you fight them, but over the top in their design. Like, who thought of this stuff? We want to take that and bring it back. There are going to be a bunch of bosses like the dragon that we showed briefly in the demo that reference the old ones. That references the Oroboros from the first game and the second game that where it was more Chinese inspired from the Hong Kong level. We’ve got bosses in there that are brand new. The best hint I can give is most people know one of the plot devices in the Strider games is when Meio takes control he establishes his multinational army of generals that you have to fight. We have a nice eccentric cast of characters that we will be showing over the coming months.