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Interview with High Voltage Software's Josh Olson

Tournament of Legends and The Grinder

by Aaron Kaluszka - March 20, 2010, 11:30 am PDT

We talk to the producer of The Conduit about lessons learned from that game, as well as what we can expect from their upcoming games.

Game Developers Conference 2010:

NWR: What elements of Tournament of Legends couldn't have been done when it was first known as Gladiator A.D.?

JO: We found it limiting initially, after we worked on the grittier "300" style, and allowed for some variation and changes in the characters. And I think as a license, as a property, we would've hit a wall initially. We opened it up, took a more fantastical, mythological, magical approach. Our mixing of mythology has been pretty loose with the story and authenticity. We really opened it up and I think it makes it a much broader game experience than it would've been had we stuck with the original direction.

NWR: What happened to the MotionPlus support that was talked about earlier?

Pat Dolan, Designer: Wii controls are incredible. The motion controls are really, really fun. But, what we discovered is that it's very, very tricky to get instantaneous response and accuracy at the same time. It is very hard to pull that off. So initially, we were left with that challenge, and solved it without the Wii MotionPlus. When the opportunity came to incorporate Wii MotionPlus, we had a choice: We could either throw out everything we'd done and rewire it or something like that, or we could just keep our existing solution. And frankly we decided to go with what we already had working. I know we had it functional and that we looked at it. It's something we'd love to take advantage of in the future. It was just a case of bad timing. We'd already solved the situations that we needed. It actually has even more potential. The Wii MotionPlus would've allowed us to do more, but then we would've had to go back and change our gameplay to support that, and again, the timeline just didn't connect originally.

Game Developers Conference 2010:

NWR: How do you feel about the other gladiator-style games shown recently? There's the WiiWare game Rage of the Gladiator, and also Gladiator Duel using Sony's PlayStation Move.

JO: I saw the WiiWare one very briefly. I haven't seen the one for the Move. I played around with the Move. We have them at the office and they're a lot of fun. I think there are a lot of cool things you can do with it, so I'm looking forward to seeing it. In terms of gladiator games, I think we're going to see more. It's an under-represented genre.

NWR: So it doesn't deter you at all?

JO: No, the more, the merrier I think.

Game Developers Conference 2010:

NWR: One of our forum members was wondering why High Voltage keeps showing games, and then changing the overall look and play style so drastically between reveal and release.

JO: Well, with both titles [Tournament of Legends and The Grinder], we were fortunate enough to be able to start development on our own, so we had our own money to spend on developing them, and part of that iterative process is changing things, finding things that don't work, tweaking it, adjusting it, and making sure it feels good. I like the direction that both of the titles have taken.

Why do we show things early and then change them? It's the nature of development. We're a smaller company, and we want to get the news out there for stuff we're working on. But things do change. I hope fans appreciate it. I hope fans see the direction change is a good thing, and I think once they get hands-on time, they will.

NWR: In regards to The Grinder, what was the impetus behind the new direction?

JO: We looked at titles out there; there's plenty of FPSs on 360 and PS3, and we went multi-platform. We saw that there was a market for a title that we did called "Hunter." It was on Xbox, GameCube and PS2 back in the day. And a sequel to that's a constant request from fans, from press. We really liked this universe. We kind of had The Grinder be a spiritual successor to that title, which did very well for us.

Game Developers Conference 2010:

NWR: So officially, what is the status of The Grinder on Wii?

JO: We're planned for it, then we switched to Infernal Engine; the focus has been on PS3 and 360. We're very interested in pursuing Wii titles. We think there are great opportunities out there on the Wii. We're kind of still defining--the engine does work on the Wii--we're defining what the Wii SKU will be.

NWR: So you'd actually think about switching the whole engine as well?

JO: Well, initially it was on Quantum3, and we're still doing games on Quantum3, and it's nice to have that flexibility between Quantum3 and Infernal, which are both great engines. We can do a lot with them. We haven't quite decided yet.

Game Developers Conference 2010:

NWR: What improvements have been made to the Quantum3 engine since The Conduit?

JO: They're constantly adding stuff. The big thing is tools. It's not something that gamers see, but better tools for our designers and artists to be able to use all the cool tech we have. We have some new lighting tools, some new visual effects tools. A lot of work on our lighting and light maps and, you wouldn't think it, but lighting is one of the big things that make games look really nice, so we have some new lighting, rendering tools available to us. Our water renderer just went through a couple new iterations, so our water is looking better than ever. A lot of performance optimization has been done so we can have bigger levels now and better-looking levels.

NWR: Would you be able to bring some of those optimizations so that the online version of The Conduit looked like the single-player?

JO: We want the game to look really nice. There are some sacrifices you have to make on multiplayer. You're passing a lot more data, there's always going to be some differences between single-player and multiplayer experiences, but I think that gap is going to get smaller and smaller as we continue to optimize and learn new things and new tricks to improve the experience.

Game Developers Conference 2010:

NWR: Have you tried licensing out Quantum3 at all yet?

JO: No, we like having a nice competitive advantage with Quantum3. It's not something we've pursued.

NWR: One of our forum members wanted to know what they have to do to get the FPS version, or even both versions on the Wii.

JO: Send us emails, post on the forums, make a lot of noise... We love FPSs, especially on the Wii. Making Conduit was a great first step for us. The thing with The Conduit was we were learning the tech, and at the same time making the game. There are a lot of things we would love to clean up and polish up, but we're really proud of it. We think it was a great first entry into the genre. But there's a lot of room for improvement too, and we recognize that. FPSs on the Wii are very, very viable, and something High Voltage is very interested in. Right now, nothing is off the table.

Game Developers Conference 2010:

NWR: There are several third-party developers, especially recently, talking about how mature games are a tough sell on the Wii, due to family-friendly appeal. Did that have any bearing on the recent changes to these two titles?

JO: I still think there's a market on the Wii. I'm very curious to see how Red Steel 2 does; I hope it does well. Modern Warfare Reflex has done very well. The Conduit did well. But I think there is a market there. I think people want to generalize and say they don't do well on the console, but that's not exactly true. In terms of the changes to The Grinder and Tournament of Legends, that more came from internally, from us as a team. As I mentioned, creatively we could do more with the change of direction. I hope people can appreciate the new direction.

NWR: So I guess we can't expect the 20 seconds of ball-stomping anymore in Tournament of Legends?

JO: No, that's frowned upon by ratings boards. Testicle crushing is out, unfortunately.

Game Developers Conference 2010:

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