If you’ve been following Electronic Art’s upcoming balls-to-the-wall shooter Bulletstorm, you know it strongly encourages players to kill with epic style. We’ve already experienced first-hand what it’s like to steamroll enemies with cannonballs, use their bulging Adam’s apples for target practice, and fill their bum holes--no joke--full of lead. While we’ve enjoyed the stylized kill spree, we haven’t heard much about the story supporting this imagination-fueled massacre, the game’s RPG-like upgrade system, or how this Epic Games/People Can Fly collaboration is putting its defining stamp on the overcrowded FPS market. Following a replay of the demo previously shown at Tokyo Game Show, we sat down with Epic Games producer--and Bulletstorm project lead--Tanya Jessen to discuss these topics and find out how the eight-year industry vet is juggling two very involved development teams.
G4: Aside from the cool kill mechanics, how is Bulletstorm separating itself from other first-person shooters?
Tanya Jessen: Bulletstorm is totally taking a side step from typical first person shooters. It’s a sci-fi FPS, but that’s where the similarities end. In other games it’s about killing enemies and not dying, and then those interactions looping. In Bulletstorm, it’s about killing enemies creatively and earning points. So, if you figure out a cool way to kill an enemy, you get a skill shot for it, and that gives you skill points. The harder or more unique the skill shot, the more skill points you get. This allows you to upgrade weapons and ammo, unlock new ones, and upgrade your characters. There’s a whole RPG system that’s based on rewarding you for playing the game in a sand box way. You've got weapons, the environment, and some body moves--kicking, sliding, using your leash to pull enemies closer to you. Doing any of these things kind of puts the world in a slow motion state so you can figure out how you want to kill them creatively and earn skill points.
G4: We’ve heard and seen lots about Bulletstorm’s unique kills and weapons, but not much about the story or characters. What can you share about these aspects?
TJ: What we knew from a game sense was that we wanted to do something very fun, very unique, and something outside the box as far as where shooters are right now. But the campaign itself is structured very much like a full single-player campaign with a great story, characters with tons of personality. Lots of work went into making sure not only the gameplay represents that over-the-top, pulp sci-fi feeling, but also the story, characters, settings, and the world; in fact, the world is a character in itself.
G4: Is there any justification built into the story for why you’re not killing people the old fashioned way?
TJ: Yes, there is. It’s kind of intertwined in the story with a few twists. We haven’t talked about that specifically. But the planet Stygia was once a tourist planet that was developed by corporations--there’s also some conspiracy-laced government involvement. But it was basically the Las Vegas of planets, so people from Earth would pay a lot of money to go there and have their wildest fantasies come true. There are settings--cities, forests, Mediterranean villas--for people of all tastes. It was created for people to go and get away, and have their perfect fantasy…live their perfect life. However, there was a gamma-ray radiation storm on the planet, causing the corporation to evacuate everyone. But they left people behind, the cheap prison labor the corporation had brought in to run everything. The prisoners were left because, well, they’re prisoners…the corporation doesn’t care about their well being. Years and years pass, everything is mutated because of the radiation, the people left there have become feral and are only out for survival. That’s when you crash on the planet. Almost everyone in your crew is murdered by these savages, so not only do you not have your buddies, but you have to find a way off the planet. There's also a whole other side storyline with the surviving characters, that’s an important part of why you crashed, and why you really care about getting to this guy who wronged you.
G4: Can you talk about the collaboration between Epic Games and People Can Fly, and what it’s bringing to Bulletstorm?
TJ: When we first made the decision to purchase People Can Fly, it was because they were so good at using insane over-the-top moments. Not just doing something and making it work, but thinking of all those really weird, awesome things that nobody really thinks of. They did that with Painkiller…a lot of very interesting, unique stuff in that game. So what Epic brought to the table is that we’ve made a lot of games this generation that are very polished and have lots of cinematic value. So we thought this was a really good opportunity to take this studio that has tons of potential and work with Epic, and make a marriage. It’s been a lot of work to get to what you see now, but everyone at Epic has been incredibly proud of what the People Can Fly guys have done. Cliff (Bleszinski) reviews the game every single day. Chris Perna, the art director at Epic, has literally gone through every single aspect and approved it, and made recommendations on every environment and asset with the art lead at People Can Fly. There’s been lots of iteration with people between the two companies, and this game would never be what it is without having Epic really involved with People Can Fly…we all really wanted to work together.
G4: And what’s your role like in all this?
TJ: I'm the person in the middle. I'm at People Can Fly most of the time, but I go back to Epic once a month, sit down with all the execs like Cliff and Chris. We go through everything and make sure they’re not worried about anything, make sure things are being done in a way they like, and address any questions they have. It’s been a very fun and interesting experience…I'll say that much.
G4: With all the inventive weapons and kill animations we’ve already seen, is there anything left? You guys saving any surprises?
TJ: Yes, we haven’t even talked about that many weapons yet. Plus, every weapon has its own set of skill shots and charge shots. Additionally, every charge shot you purchase has its own set of skill shots; you can use all of these in combination with every other skill shot you’ve already unlocked to that point. When you first start the game and start doing skill shots, you might only have the assault rifle and the ability to kick…that alone might have at least 40 different kill shots. Every time you unlock a new weapon or charge shot, it just adds to that. Once you get the leash, it’s the same thing…its own set of skill shots. Once you get the Bouncer, which is our cannonball gun, same thing…it has its own set of skill shots. It all really fosters that sense of sandbox style gameplay.