GamesBeat

How PSP vets aim to make The Order: 1886 into Sony’s next great franchise (interview)

Above: The Order: 1886

Image Credit: Sony

The Order: 1886 is going to be one of Sony’s major games at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) tradeshow in June. If all goes well, it could be one of the company’s next big series, akin to the huge franchises like Uncharted or The Last of Us.

Based on the preview I’ve seen, this one is living up that hype so far. It has stellar graphics, including realistic human faces and incredibly detailed imagery of London in 1886. It’s also got an interesting story and fleshed out characters.

But Ready At Dawn Studios, the developer of The Order, is announcing today it’s going to take a little longer to finish, so the game will be shipping in early 2015 on the PlayStation 4 instead of 2014.

We caught up with Ru Weerasuriya, the chief executive and creative director at Ready At Dawn Studios, at a recent Sony press event. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.

GamesBeat: It’s a visually arresting game. What stands out most is the seamless transition between the gameplay and cinematics.

Ru Weerasuriya: Absolutely. It was the goal from the very beginning. It’s nice to see that goal realized after this many years. It’s a risk. We’ve made a lot of mistakes. We’ve done a lot of good things. We’ve solved a lot of issues. But the most important thing about it [is that] it was an integral part of the [intellectual property]. The IP lends itself to that seamless experience. The storytelling mode also lends itself to a seamless experience.

Ru Weerasuriya, creative director of The Order: 1886.

Above: Ru Weerasuriya, the creative director of Ready at Dawn Studios.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

GamesBeat: What stands out in the leap from PlayStation 3 to PlayStation 4? 

Weerasuriya: The leap for us, really, was PlayStation Portable to PlayStation 4, which was interesting. It was an even bigger leap. Yes, we get a lot more horsepower out of it on every front. The GPU is amazing. The system the PlayStation 4 has put together is unparalleled.

The big tell about it, when the development of the hardware took place, they had an open conversation with the developers, even with independents. They came to us and said, “Hey, you’re doing a first-party title. What do you expect out of the PlayStation 4?” [Sony's chief architect for the PS4] Mark Cerny and the teams at SCE did an amazing job building this hardware.

But the jump, to tell you the truth — as weird as it might sound, the PSP was in many ways harder to build for. You had a smaller system that you tried to get a lot out of, with so many restrictions. Today we feel like our hands are freer, but it also means there’s a lot more we have to try to do. Sometimes you set your sights so high that — on this, it’s still a hard thing to get this out of the machine. It shows how much the guys at work have done, and also how well the hardware measures up against everything else.

GamesBeat: You have a bit of a delay with The Order. Is that going to be substantial, or is it relatively short from your point of view?

Weerasuriya: It’s pretty short. We’re basically moving toward finishing a lot of stuff right now. The game’s slated for release in early 2015.

We announced the game a year ago at E3. We’ve talked about all these beats and this IP that we’d like to open up to the world. But for the first time, I think we see a sense of all these pieces coming together and where the character work is going. We’ve gone to great lengths to make the performances feel more realistic. There’s going to be some cool things everyone will get to see at E3.

The Order: 1886

Above: The Order: 1886: Don’t call is “steampunk.”

Image Credit: Sony

GamesBeat: It looks the user interface steps out in a way. Rather than go “Check your inventory, grab a potion from it, press a button, and now you’re drinking the bottle,” you can actually show that animation. That seems more immersive. You’re not falling out of that movie-like scene.

Weerasuriya: To tell you the truth, we learned some great lessons from other people that have done this. I can single out some games that were a breath of fresh air, like Dead Space. The way the U.I. in Dead Space was integrated — people had tried it, but not in the way they did it. For us, it’s the same goal. We try to find ways to leave you in the experience, to minimize the UI. Yes, there are necessities, because of the gameplay sequences. At the same time, we’re doing the best we can to make sure that people’s eyes remain on the game, and not outside of it in some menu.

GamesBeat: You were talking a bit about the story. Is this steampunk? What’s the style you’re going for?

Weerasuriya: We kind of shy away from the word “steampunk.” I think there’s a more comedic and humorous side to that. What we went for is what we called neo-Victorian. We based it some reality that actually existed. The thermite weapon is built out of little elements that are real things that could have been built. Aluminum oxide can be ignited to actually rain down fire, if you were to do that.

All we did is take technologies that could be alive later on and brought them back a bit. They feel more real than what steampunk sometimes does. Steampunk often just breaks the bounds of reality. It’s fantastical. For us, fantasy is a word we try to avoid. We never want to cross that boundary.

The Order: 1886

Above: The Order: 1886 is “neo-Victorian.” We wonder if that grand monarch would be amused.

Image Credit: Sony

GamesBeat: It’s a fun gun to play with. It feels like you’re lighting off fireworks or something.

Weerasuriya: What you can do, you can light something on one side and just start painting across the whole level, little by little, and picking everybody up. It’s pretty cool.

GamesBeat: With games like Dishonored, we’ve seen some similar art styles. What would you say is going to be different about your London? Why the particular setting in 1886?

Weerasuriya: 1886 is an interesting time. It’s far enough from where we are today that we can romanticize the era a little bit. We can re-create it in the way that we want. But we can’t go too far, because we can’t make it unbelievable. At the same time, it’s an era that’s close enough to us that we can still relate to it. The world then is close enough to ours — it’s not so different. The buildings are the same. Our social system has evolved, but we still have a relationship with the way the world was at that time. It makes it easy for us to give a relatability to the game and the world, where the player doesn’t have to ask questions about everything.

On the artistic side, we made a London that we felt was truer to the Victorian London, the London of Charles Dickens. Dickens was amazing at depicting London. I was inspired by a lot of the things he wrote. Three months ago, in London, I met with a historian back there who’s a specialist in Victorian London. He gave us the biggest compliment he could when he said, after seeing the game, that our version of Whitechapel is probably truer to reality than the way people saw it at the time. It’s a lot of work going into it, but I think that we’re depicting the city in a real-world sense, with all the dirt and grittiness that belongs there.

The Order: 1886 features a thermite gun.

Above: The Order: 1886 features a thermite gun.

Image Credit: Sony

GamesBeat: Making games now, it seems like it’s getting harder and harder to decide what looks real and what looks fake. If you make a leap from The Last of Us to this, it does look better, but I can’t say exactly what looks better.

Weerasuriya: It’s weird. I’m going to get a bit philosophical if I go there, and I don’t really want to, but — humanity is in the imperfections. We expect imperfections out of everything. Although we don’t want it — we seek perfection — but the reality of what makes things true is that everything around us is imperfect. Nobody’s face is symmetrical. Everyone has little tics. Everyone has little things that happened to their face. The world is never clean. It’s all gray. That’s the tone that we went for.

When you look at a movie, do you actually really question whether the camera you’re looking through has distortion on the sides? It does, right? The camera lens adds a little distortion. But that’s a given now. You expect that distortion as part of the feel of a movie. There’s dirt. There’s bouquet coming from the depth of field and all that stuff. In games we have a tendency to seek a certain perfection that makes things artificial. It’s the uncanny valley effect.

Re-creating all of this is in some ways giving players what they’ve been living with in other media for 30-odd years, 40-odd years. In some way or the other, we just haven’t done it in games as much.

The Order: 1886 is coming in 2015 for PlayStation 4.

Above: The Order: 1886 is coming in 2015 for PlayStation 4.

Image Credit: Sony

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