The Farm 51 are no strangers to making unique First Person Shooters. From the Doom-like Slog through hell, that was Painkiler Hell and Damnation, to the globe-trotting adventures of James-Lee Quatermain in last year’s Deadfall Adventures. The small studio from Gliwice, Poland has proven time and again that there is far more to the FPS genre than virtual battlefields.
Their latest game, mind bending cyberpunk thriller ‘Get Even’ looks set to continue this trend. Posing a very simple question that may be a lot tougher to answer than it may first appear; ‘What is real?’
We recently caught up with The Farm 51’s co founder and Lead Designer/ Director of Development on ‘Get Even’ – Wojciech Pazdur, to talk about the FPS genre, the wonders of photo realism and what players can expect from ‘Get Even’.
The Farm 51 have done a fantastic job of not only remaking, but also expanding upon Painkiller with Hell and Damnation. If you could choose to work on any other existing IP what would it be?
Thanks. And let me think. Today I’d say I’m in love with Red Dead Redemption and The Last of Us, but knowing how AAA development looks like, I’m very comfortable with being the consumer, not creator. So it’s better to look into the past and I’m torn apart between Silent Hill and (old) Max Payne as my beloved game series. But wait, I’m working on Get Even now, which, replacing demons with the techno staffage, and changing the gameplay mechanics, is as close to these two old titles as possible.
How likely are we to see a sequel to Painkiller: Hell & Damnation in the future?
Time will tell. We’re satisfied with this project, but it’s all in the hands of our publisher (Nordic Games) who needs to decide about the future strategy. So far we’re still involved in some new DLC content, community editor, next platforms. But I spent 3 years on original Painkiller and 2 years on Painkiller: Hell & Damnation, so it really won’t harm to refresh myself with something else, at least for a while. I’m pretty sure, that this brand will be somehow expanded and players will get a lot of new stuff, anyway.
I’ve heard from a fairly reliable source that you’re planning on making some additional single player content for Deadfall Adventures, can you confirm this? If so, what’s in store for James-Lee and co?
Oh, all those reliable sources, let’s keep it a little bit mysterious for now. But sure, we feel we still have a lot to do with Deadfall Adventures. First, there are parts of the story that can be told much better now – having less technical difficulties and limitations, we’ve already improved players mechanics, combat and puzzling system after feedback from players.
And we have a lot of ideas that have been stopped at Xbox 360 stage (passing to PC as well) cause they were too complex for our capabilities then. Let’s say, that what we’re doing now is raising the bar very high over the original game and we believe that this series have a lot to present yet. I’m not personally involved into Deadfall development now, squeezing 120% of my mind and muscles toward Get Even, but I see what Deadfall team is doing every day and I’m really excited and proud of it.
Each of your games thus far have been very different types of first person shooters. With so many military FPSs on the market, do you think it’s important to try and bring a bit more variety to the genre and buck the trend so to speak?
We were always trying to go this direction, each of our games have been first person action oriented toward something different than military shooting. The closest to any kind of soldier adventures in our past was NecroVisioN, but there were World War First combined with vampires and demons, so I’d hardly call this game military FPS. From the other side, our second office is working on some military field training simulations, but it’s not typical gaming stuff.
I love to play Battlefields, CoDs, Killzones, but from both gamer and designer perspective I believe these brands are, let’s say, self-sufficient. We don’t need to support this market with something smaller unless it’s very unique, so if we have to go into different directions, it’s the best to assume, that we’re going as far away as possible. There is a lot of subjects that was rarely or never covered in first person action genre, like real life situations, being torn apart between personal drama and your duties, exploring human mind capabilities or simply trying to survive instead of being able to conquer the whole world. This is what we want to introduce in Get Even.
In your initial announcement for Get Even you stated that the game will ‘blur the lines between single and multiplayer gaming’ Can you tell us a little more about this?
I personally believe that most of modern games suffer from adding so-called multiplayer option. As a market product, a game including singleplayer campaign and multiplayer matches is generally considering better than game without one of these modes. People paying a lot for a game deserve to get as much content and as long playability as possible in one box. That’s perfectly fair.
But at the same time, I see only very few story-driven titles that really got their core values increased by including any kind of multiplayer – usually it’s being done just to increase the market range. Do Dead Space, Uncharted or Max Payne really needs multiplayer? How many people really appreciate and play so much of this mode? And this is the trick. Imagine, that instead of multiplayer, Dead Space 3 could have 100 people more working on better AI of Necromorphs, deeper story and more creepy visuals of Ishimura. To make it clear – Dead Space 3 for me is one of the greatest game anyway, but knowing how the production goes on development side, I regret a little that what was the game essentials could be much better if there was no gameplay options that are not very necessary for me.
And some years ago, in its original concept, Get Even didn’t have multiplayer at all. We wanted to tell a deep, twisted story about revenge and exploring human memories, about borders of reality, but we’ve realized that in this kind of experience feeling the presence of other people may be even more important than in any of games before. But not as a separate “game option”, but as a part of main story. So we started writing concepts, designs and prototypes of gameplay where you’re focused on story-driven narrations and simultaneously other people in the game may play a role in your adventure and today this is the most essential construct of Get Even design.
Are players going to be aware that their games have been invaded in Get Even like in Dark Souls or will it be a case of other players literally tapping into other peoples single player campaigns without them knowing?
Get Even questions “what is real” on many different fields and other human presence is one of important ingredients in all of this. We won’t make player aware of what you call “invasion”, unless it’s necessary in some specific situations, cause the core idea is to use other players to increase feeling of unpredictability and keep your senses sharp all the time. There’s completely different approach to gameplay when you know that your enemy is an AI bot, and when you expect him to behave like a human. When you play against the computer controlled enemies, you always seek for a patterns of behavior and you’re tactically using them to win. What means that with proper pacing, AI and effects you can get quite satisfactory gameplay loops. But it also means that after 10 minutes of gameplay you usually know everything about your enemies and only new kinds of enemies may surprise you – and developers have to deliver them or to cover repetitive gameplay with huge amount of epic cutscenes or explosions.
In the latter case, playing against humans or at least expecting your enemies to behave as humans, you’re showing respect to your enemy and, in result, you also feel much more satisfied when tricking or defeating him. Then you don’t need to kill your foes in thousands, cause each hit or miss may deliver you more adrenaline than hundred of headshots in AI-only scenario.
How has using Thorskan affected the way you are approaching the development of Get Even? Will the game be making extensive use of real world locales?
Thorskan as generic technology of scanning 3D objects at some moment was a part of our tech pipeline. For our needs it become not sufficient and as far as I know even its creators are not using it anymore, cause in the meantime we’ve used our experience from working on scans to create better solutions.
Basically we use several scanning technologies, but at top of it we have much more outsized routines, processes and tools to optimize scans and use them effectively inside the game with real-time rendering that combines scanned geometry and textures with shaders, atmospheric effects and dynamic lighting.
About 90% of game will be build with scanned elements, we could go for higher ratio but at this moment it makes not too much sense, cause there are still objects or textures that are better looking or more manageable when created in classic way. But all key environment parts and characters will utilize scanned real-world counterparts.
But it’s important to note, that even when scanning affects the tech design, level structures and engine routines, the reasoning behind it is opposite to what you may think. We wanted to create a twisted story with photorealistic visuals where both player and his avatar in game would keep asking himself “what is real”, referring to how environment looks and what it’s element really means in this world, cause the whole game is exact recreation of reality. And we’ve found that scanned objects may serve this purpose like anything else, so if you add simply their general high quality to it, we had a no-brainer to use this approach. Especially when we want to make Get Even one of the most unusual ways of utilizing virtual reality systems like Oculus Rift. Our game plays with subjects or alternate realities and just imagine how these photorealistic sceneries may look in VR googles, then add the idea of travelling between different levels of reality with help of device like this – as it’s being used not just by player entering the game, but also by game heroes to reach deeper layers of their consciousness.
Of course, it didn’t come for free. We still have to fight level design issues and memory limitations, the art production pipeline differs from the other projects, requiring more work at some points and sometimes there is no ready to use solution when we reach some obstacle, but after what we did and saw already, we’re sure that there’s no turning back. I’m so excited of exploring these real-life locations in Oculus that I wouldn’t exchange it for anything else.
What new challenges have you faced with Xbox One and PS4 that you didn’t have with the previous generation? Are they easier or harder to develop for?
So far, everything that could be expected here – it’s great we can finally push visuals to proper level, memory limitations allows us to use truly photorealistic models and textures, and at the other side we have all these fixed technical requirements and new functionalities to handle. Generally new consoles are better for developers not just because having more computing power, but also because their architecture is closer to what we’ve been working on with PCs, not to mention that both Microsoft and Sony puts more and more support to not only huge development studios but also to smaller parties like our team.
What are you currently playing?
I just finished a round of re-playing some older games that are somehow important reference to Get Even elements: Condemned, Cryostasis, F.E.A.R., Sanitarium, Fahrenheit. Funny, cause after 5 or 6 years you notice completely different moments and features as enjoying or disturbing than when playing these games at release dates. It’s very refreshing to realize how much changed in the game design within last few years. And that some games, like for example Condemned, really outruns it’s age, there was just not enough market in a past to allow them being more what they could be today when we have so many different genres performing well.
Would you rather fight a horse-sized duck or a hundred duck-sized horses?
Well, what a hundred of duck-sized horses would do to me? Tickle me with their tails? Of course a horse-sized duck sounds like a proper challenge. If it has a decent steel armor and blades attached to its beak, it could even be threatening more than a pig-sized lemming with a laser gun.