We chatted with Red Steel 2's creative director about how sword-fighting is bad-ass and the challenges of representing it in first-person, and much more.
We had the opportunity to interview Jason Vandenberghe, the creative director of Ubisoft's upcoming Wii first-person shooter Red Steel 2. He's been in the industry for more than a decade with stints at both EA and Activision, and he has previously worked on 007: Everything or Nothing, The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age, and X-Men: The Official Game.
Red Steel 2 is his current project, and it is a sequel to the Wii launch title Red Steel. The second entry starts over with a new story, and a whole new control scheme that uses Wii MotionPlus. It is due out on March 23 exclusively for the Wii.
Nintendo World Report (NWR): In other interviews you have said that the success of Red Steel 2 is critical to your team if you want to keep the franchise going. What do you feel this game has over its predecessor that will really make people want to buy it?
Jason Vandenberghe (JV): Its sheer awesomeness.
Actually, that’s not a joke. When you pick up the Wii Motion Plus for the first time, and take a strong WHACK at a few of the first close-combat enemies in the game, it quickly becomes clear what makes this game different: the sword-fighting works. And, as you play, you’ll really start to feel like that bad-ass swordsman at the middle of the melee… Yep.
Also, of course, nearly everything has been improved: the movement and shooting controls have been polished to a fine sheen, the look of the game has been completely re-done, and everything has been taken up one or two notches. It's a new experience, top to bottom, and almost everything is better.
NWR: Was there ever any thought to rebranding the game as a new franchise, considering the poor reputation of its predecessor and the completely different track this sequel has taken? Also, does the name "Red Steel" mean something different to this game than it did to the first one?
JV: Well, the question has certainly come up. But let me put it to you this way: if I was here, getting ready to release a different game, (call it "Blue Iron") a first-person sword-and-gun fighting game exclusively for the Wii, made by the Red Steel team, shipped by Ubisoft, I'm going to assume your first question would be, "oh, you mean like Red Steel?"
Yeah, kinda like Red Steel. We actually spent a good chunk of time talking with our fans about the first game, and it was clear to us that, regardless of the "official" meaning of the name, what "Red Steel" meant to most people (and, in fact, to us) was the promise of truly physical sword-fighting gameplay, with guns. I think (I hope) that it will always mean that.
NWR: How will the player's abilities change throughout the game? That is to say, toward the end of the game, will you find yourself playing in a completely different way than you do at the start?
JV: Utterly. In fact, this is sort of the whole point of the game.
As you play, you earn cold, hard cash. You use this to buy new moves, guns, and upgrades in three different stores you'll find as you play. Each of these eight moves opens up new avenues of attack for you, and is more or less useful against specific kinds of enemies you'll fight.
In addition, you're going to earn five different "Kusagari powers" as you play (that is, assuming you survive). These are very powerful, and give you options like throwing your enemies into the air for some first-person aerial combat, or striking the ground to stun everyone standing near you. Fun stuff.
This, combined with the four guns to buy and upgrade, gives you a wide number of combat choices as you progress – you'll probably find that you settle on a few favorites that work well for you, but I always find the itch to just show off in combat is tough to resist. Some of the moves are so cool.
Anyway. You get the point.
NWR: How do the sword controls compare to what we've already experienced in Wii Sports Resort, in terms of how you implemented them and how they are used in gameplay? Is it straightforward to interpret MotionPlus data into sword motions, or did you find a lot of room to interpret actions and design the interactions?
JV: Good question! Many folks miss this. Because, of course, it's the interpretation of the MotionPlus data that is the hard thing. And yes, it's very tricky – not because of the hardware, but because of the infinite variability of human beings. Everyone swings a little different, and since we're not standing there to correct you on your exact style (and, really, would you want to play that game?), we have to do quite a lot of work under the hood to figure out if what you did was a "swing," and in what direction.
Fortunately, we have amazing programmers.
I think you'll find that the experience is pretty much completely unlike Wii Sports Resort. Our goals were totally different – we wanted to convey to the player a sense of power, and I think the Wii Sports Resort game is more about timing and "fencing." For us, strength is as important as direction (in many cases), and we expect the player to act and react pretty quickly, but we find almost everyone is up to the task, in practice.
NWR: What is the balance between sword and shooting gameplay, and did you find that balance changing over the course of development?
JV: Yes – the natural instinct was to lean on the guns, and make the sword-fighting "optional," but when we got the Wii MotionPlus, it became clear that maybe we could reverse that. And then we discovered that if we focused the game on short- to mid-range fighting, we could leave the choice of "sword or gun?" almost completely up to the player, which is awesome. So that is what we did. There's no "forced" balance in the game – you can lean on whatever weapon you prefer. I figure that's how it should be.
NWR: What are the pros and cons of using a first-person perspective in a game like this? Does the viewpoint lend itself as naturally to swordplay as it does to shooting?
JV: It doesn't! Not even close! Man, you've got some insightful questions! Who the hell are you guys, anyway?
It's quite difficult, in fact, to communicate to the player about what their options are for sword-fighting in first-person… you can't see the sword much of the time, and even if you can, it's very difficult for the player to get any useful information out of the sword position or stance. So communication with the player is a big problem, and it's in the nature of melee for the player to get surrounded, which is bad bad bad in first person.
That said, WOW is it immediate. When there's a dude standing right in front of you, swinging a big piece of steel at your head, and you need to get that Wii Remote between you and the screen PRONTO, it's pretty intense. And, when you swing back at that bad boy, the strike FX take up half the screen, which is quite satisfying.
So, we trade clarity and complexity for intensity. It's a good trade!
NWR: The game's aesthetic seems reminiscent of the movie Six-String Samurai. Can you comment on that and other influences on the style?
JV: Again, nice call! Not many people have seen that flick! Yeah, modern western desert wanderer? It's in the same wheelhouse, to be sure. We're very inspired by the whole Akira Kurasawa / Sergio Leone "Hero With No Name" concept and setting. The game is, hopefully, something new, but if you see some classics in there, it's because we love 'em, too!
I think of it as For a Fistful of Yen, Cowboy Bebop–style. ;)
Thanks to Jason Vandenberghe and Ubisoft for the interview!