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I find myself in the minority when it comes to Lost Planet 2. It had issues, especially at launch, and it had one hell of a learning curve, but once I got passed that I found myself constantly marveling at how incredibly deep the game was.
Lost Planet 3 is nothing like its predecessor. You still run around laying waste to an endless supply of alien bugs and occasionally hop in a mech to blow shit up, but the Michael Bay-does-anime-style approach has been stripped out in favor of a smaller and more personal story-driven shooter. To say that Lost Planet 3 is attempting to cater to a more mainstream Western audience would be an understatement. Capcom has even enlisted Spark Unlimited (Legendary, Turning Point: Fall of Liberty) to handle development duties.
The one thing I couldn’t shake during my entire hour-long single-player demo was that the playable lead, Jim Peyton, looks exactly like a young Nicolas Cage. To be more specific, he looks like if Cage’s character from Raising Arizona had a life-changing event, cleaned himself up a little, and became a space miner. With a beard.
After an extensive hands-on demo with both the single-player and multiplayer modes, GamesBeat sat down with Andrew Szymanski, the producer and project lead for Lost Planet 3 at Capcom. Szymanski has been with the company for three-and-a-half years and was responsible for hiring Spark Unlimited.
GamesBeat: The first question is obviously the most important, and that’s how much of an inspiration was Nicolas Cage on the main character?
Andrew Szymanski: Zero. [Laughs]
GamesBeat: Come on — you’re in a safe place. Really?
Szymanski: Well, all the main characters are in the game using a technique called performance capture. We actually scan a real actor and their features into the game. They provide the facial animation, the body animation, and the V/O all in one session. So the face that you see on Jim is actually an actor called Bill Watterson who actually plays Jim. That’s his face.
GamesBeat: Lost Planet 2 had a bit of a learning curve, but it also had a hardcore community. The people who stuck with it really enjoyed it as they uncovered all of the different layers that aren’t immediately noticeable. Also, there were a lot of very notable issues that the developer fixed relatively quickly, maybe a month or so after launch. But I felt like, at that time, after the mediocre reviews and bad word of mouth, the mainstream had kind of moved on and missed out on that.
So, going into Lost Planet 3, what were some of the lessons learned from Lost Planet 2 and specifically the way it launched?
Szymanski: We learned a lot of lessons. The first one was. … This is based on feedback from gamers, but also just personal preference from myself and also from Keiji Oguro, who’s the franchise creative director and made the first two games internally at Capcom and led the charge for LP3. In fact he’s at Spark in L.A. right now overseeing the last few months of development.
Basically, we went in and we said that LP2 was great as sort of a party shooter. If you got people all together online, you could enjoy all this great stuff in both the campaign mode and the dedicated multiplayer as well. But you didn’t have the grounding in the characters. You never knew who the character was. He was kind of a faceless guy. There was a story in a sense, but you didn’t really feel like a part of it because you kept jumping between different characters. So there’s amazing set pieces and everything, but you didn’t really feel grounded into the world.
We made a decision for the campaign specifically that we wanted to go in and have LP3 have a strong narrative with a strong character that you actually could feel that you were not only playing as, but you felt like you could root for him and experience the world through his eyes. You could experience the history of EDN III and how the colonization began and everything through the eyes of our character, Jim Peyton. I think that’s something that we’ve been pretty successful with in LP3. That was definitely one of the things, in terms of the overall game vision.
Obviously, there were a lot of minor things that we looked at in terms of specific game systems and things like that in order to improve on them. The biggest decision that we made when we went in and said we were going to make a sequel was, OK, which direction are we going to take this? Do we make it more of the same as LP2 or do we try and do something different? Obviously, we chose the latter.
GamesBeat: Speaking of Spark, with Legendary and Turning Point, they tried some interesting things, especially from a story standpoint, but those games also received a mediocre reception, at least critically. What was the thought behind having them take over one of Capcom’s premier franchises?
Szymanski: As you yourself said, I think that they have a history of having great ideas, but not necessarily having either the resources or maybe the support that they needed to follow through with them. One of the things that I really felt … I was the one who chose to go with Spark as the developer. When I went on site with them … I was very skeptical going in. I’m going to be honest with you. When I first went to visit them, I thought the same things that you’ve mentioned. I looked at the track record. I looked at the review scores for the games, and I’m like, can these guys bring the goods? But between some of the in-the-works stuff that they showed me, prototypes that they had for stuff that didn’t end up getting released, as well as some team arrangements that they had made in terms of trying to build on their past to change what needed to be changed in order to move forward. … That was a good indicator. And also just they pitched a concept … a lot of those things ended up in the final form of the game.
I’m thinking to myself, if we can take the drive and the creativity and the overall idea-based approach and great concepts that these guys have and try to marry that to some of Capcom’s best practices in terms of how to execute and how to provide them with the resources that they need, provide them with the time that they need, and support them to see that vision through to the end, then hopefully we can avoid some of their past experiences and deliver something that everybody is going to be proud of for Lost Planet 3.
GamesBeat: Capcom has historically had a very up-and-down history using Western developers. A big one was Grin on Bionic Commando. Then Slant Six last year with Raccoon City.What’s the internal thinking on using Western developers? And also, since Capcom is a Japanese company, how does the Japan branch feel about it? Do you get more resistance when you’re trying to pitch a Western company taking over?
Szymanski: For us, it’s always about looking at, what games do we want to put out there? What games do we want to have in our lineup? What do we focus on internally versus externally? I think it’s really cool that our internal developers are constantly trying to push the envelope with new IP. Even stuff that isn’t necessarily super-well-received critically, I think there’s been a lot of games that have come over the past year or two, like Asura’s Wrath and Dragon’s Dogma. Really ambitious new IP that’s kind of ballsy. In my opinion. That’s just my personal opinion.
So when you look at franchises and things that … OK, the Japanese internal development has already done a couple of installments, and now it’s like, if we want to keep this going, if our internal developers are looking at how they can branch out and do new IP, we have to keep these things going. Going to external developers, whether those external developers are in Japan or whether they’re in the West, in America, in the U.K., wherever, that’s one of the options on the plate. But every developer is different. We try to look at the strengths of every developer. We try to look at, particularly, how the relationship works.
This is something I’ve talked about before, but sometimes the “best” developers are the ones that are really skilled at, basically … you hand something over to them and say, “Go do this.” Some of the best-known developers out there are at their best when there’s no limitation placed on them whatsoever. But if you’re coming at it from Capcom’s point of view, particularly from the Japanese office, you want to explore new boundaries, but you also want to make sure that you’re keeping things intact from the series. And so we really want to find a developer relationship where they’re like, yes, we have our own ideas, we have our own concepts, we’re really passionate about what we want to do, but we’re open to conversations with the guys who made the first couple of games.
In the case of Lost Planet, you’ve got [franchise director Kenji] Oguro, who was the game director for LP1 and LP2. He’s gotta come onsite and say, this is what Lost Planet is. This is the stuff I care about that you can’t change. If you change this, it’s no longer Lost Planet. Here’s the stuff that I think we have a lot of wiggle room for. I wasn’t personally involved with DmC, but I’m sure that they had a similar conversation.
From our standpoint, we’re always kind of looking at who’s going to be a good, flexible partner that can bring a bunch of new blood and new ideas to it while not fighting us on the stuff we think is really important? How do we create a true collaboration where people feel like it’s a two-way street, instead of, hey, here’s a bunch of money, go make us a game.
GamesBeat: Spark’s history comes from first-person shooters. Now, when you’re piloting the rig, it’s in first-person. Was that something that they were excited to tap into, that expertise?
Szymanski: Yeah, I think so. The decision to make the rig in first-person was mainly one where we wanted to really have the scale of it come across. It’s the biggest vehicle or robot that we’ve ever had in the franchise. And so we really wanted to have this idea that, when you’re in the rig, you’re sort of overseeing and surveying the environment, so to speak. If you go back and look at the first two Lost Planet games, what you will notice is that you have the Vital Suits, which are anywhere from two to three times the size of the player character in terms of their height. But because they’re always in third-person, you’re not necessarily getting that sense of scale.
What happens is, you’ll have your third-person camera that’s floating a fixed distance behind the character. Then you jump in the Vital Suit, and even though it’s bigger, the camera pulls back, so the amount of space that the player character or the Vital Suit is taking up on screen doesn’t change. We felt that, in order to alleviate that, the only choice was to go into first-person, so you can literally say, hey, before this particular block of ice was about as big as the character. Now I’m looking down on it.
Another great example is the ice crab enemy, which you saw earlier and that we’ve shown in a lot of our trailers and things like that. On foot, that thing is big. It’s huge. Jim isn’t even big enough to be as tall as one of its claws. Then you get in the rig and you’re looking down on it and basically grabbing it and tearing it limb from limb. So that’s the kind of thing that we wanted to show – how powerful and how safe you feel when you’re in this thing, and contrasting that with how vulnerable Jim feels when he’s outside of it.
GamesBeat: How much, if any, did the recent Steel Battalion Kinect game play into that, whether it’s just U.I. or little things? How much did that impact or influence this?
Szymanski: I wouldn’t say there’s any sort of direct influence. They were working on that at the same time that we were working on this, so we had kind of a friendly thing where I looked at some of what they were doing and they looked at some of what we were doing. But I don’t think we directly influenced each other that much.
GamesBeat: How open-ended is Lost Planet 3? It seems intentionally a little bit more linear than Lost Planet 2. Can you revisit old areas? Is there a hub that then branches out to new areas?
Szymanski: If anything I’d say it’s much less linear than Lost Planet 2 because after you go from your initial base area, which you saw in the demo today… basically, as the game progresses — both through critical path missions and some of the side and optional missions – you’re constantly expanding the world. Then, as soon as you’ve entered an area for the first time, you can go back there at any time. You’re literally and thematically exploring the planet. You’re introducing new areas as you go along.
GamesBeat: Do you have a reason to go back?
Szymanski: Yes, yes. There are plenty of side missions that you can do that will send you back to areas that you’ve already been. There are collectibles, unlockables. There are also areas that you can’t get to until you have certain upgrades both for Jim and for the rig. A great example of this is the grappling hook. The section you played, which is the first 50 minutes of the game, he doesn’t have the grappling hook yet. Later on you get the grappling hook, and as you’re walking through a particular area, you might notice, hey, it looks like I can go up there but I can’t get there right now. Later on, when you get an upgrade or something, you can go back and find a secret area or a power-up.
GamesBeat: Is the grappling hook the only Metroidvania-type thing like that, or is there a series?
Szymanski: No, there’s a series. I don’t want to give them all away, but every major upgrade that you get to the rig also has some sort of gating mechanic built in to it. There’s the winch that we showed as far back as Gamescom, which is basically, you can shoot the claw out on a wire and grab on to things. That has a combat function. You can shoot it at small enemies and it just kills them outright. If you fire it at larger enemies you can grab on to them and pull them in. It also has a gating function. There are certain catch points in the environment where you can shoot the winch out and grab on to things and then you can use your zipline – which is another upgrade that Jim gets later on – to basically zip over to those areas. What you’re going to see as you’re playing through the game is a lot of icons that you can’t interact with right away. They’ll look like purple Xes. Then, when you get the appropriate upgrade, you’ll see the button for that. The winch is the left bumper on the 360. That indicates, hey, now you can use this.