Strategy Informer recently had a chat with Richard Gilbert (Producer) and Jacob Minkoff (Lead Designer) to talk about the upcoming release of Damnation, a shooter set to be released on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.
Strategy Informer: Development of Damnation is taking on a rather unique approach by outsourcing all of your work to 3rd-party companies, how has that worked out for the team thus far?
Jacob Minkoff & Richard Gilbert: The production model we use at Blue Omega Entertainment is akin to the independent film model in that there is a small core production team that develops the concepts then brings together and oversees the groups that make the concept a reality. During a production we act as a group of leads and managers who also go in and get our hands dirty. Considering the number of games that have 200+ people involved in the production, this sort of distributed production model is what makes sense for use being an independent studio who is looking to survive and develop quality games.
Strategy Informer: Do you worry about lacking a sense of cohesion between the various production departments with so much of the content produced elsewhere?
Jacob Minkoff & Richard Gilbert: As I will tell anyone who is interested, it is no small feat using this model. Your pre-production and planning has to be near flawless and your communication and production pipelines need to rock solid. The reason we consider this distributed development rather than outsourcing is because we are really collaborating with these external teams as though they are in another part of the building rather than across the country. Whether through video conferences which happen multiple times a day, email, IM, or the bug tracker there is constant communication
Strategy Informer: The concept of a huge open-world shooter with open terrain and distant objectives reminds us very much of Project I.G.I, did the team look at any similar shooters for inspiration?
Jacob Minkoff & Richard Gilbert: When we started development on Damnation back in 2004, we were playing Quake 3 most evenings after work. Then, at home, we were playing games like Prince of Persia: Sands of Time and ICO. We started to think about how awesome it would be if you could have that fast-paced, precise, frenetic type of shooter combat in a vertically-oriented adventure-game-like environment. It would open up the shooter experience to all sorts of new possibilities. Shooters at the time were, and to some degree have remained, very constrained to small tunnels, room, and flat arenas. By adding in the vertical element and giving the player all sorts of acrobatic climbing moves, it enables us to open up the game world and have huge environments, consisting not only of miles of horizontal distance but also thousands of vertical feet in height. This, in-turn, opens up all sorts of new tactical possibilities for the player.
Strategy Informer: Could you walk us through the inspiration for the storyline? An alternative-history American civil war sounds like an interesting proposition, but one that will be little-known outside of the USA.
Jacob Minkoff & Richard Gilbert: We wanted to play in a unique world that wasn’t space-marines or WWII. American history was a particular setting we liked that hadn’t been used much in videogames, but we still wanted to have all the cool sorts of weapons and vehicles that space-marines games get to have – so we added and exaggerated the steampunk aspects of the world. All of those various ideas ultimately turned into Damnation: a steampunk-themed, hardcore shooter with acrobatic abilities, set in an alternate American history. I personally don’t think that the setting will be an issue, because everybody understands war and the American Civil War was one that hasn’t been focused on as much as some of the other wars in history.
Strategy Informer: Damnation is set to feature a range of acrobatic movement on top of standard shooter controls, but how would you say the game balances out overall? Are we looking at Gears or Assassins Creed territory?
Jacob Minkoff & Richard Gilbert: Tough question. I think Damnation stands on its own two feet as a game different from all the rest, but if I was told that there was a game out there which was being compared to Assassins Creed and Gears, well… I’d buy it.
Strategy Informer: Could you go into a little detail on the rather mysterious 'Spirit Vision' modes, and particularly how these will affect the multiplayer functionality?
Jacob Minkoff & Richard Gilbert: Spirit Vision allows you to briefly see the auras of your enemies through walls at the expense of being able to move or shoot. It is given to Rourke by a native seer in the single player campaign. This changes the dynamic of multiplayer entirely since you can never be safe spawn-camping or staying in one sniping position. Everyone in the map has to continue moving all the time, because someone may have seen them hiding somewhere and is currently in the process of closing in on their location. It cuts down on cheap deaths in both single-player and multiplayer, while at the same time making the game much faster-paced.
Strategy Informer: With at least one vision mode allowing you to see foes behind walls, will we be seeing a high level of environmental destructibility in Damnation? If I can see someone hiding behind a wooden door, will I be able to shoot them without entering the room?
Jacob Minkoff & Richard Gilbert: Damnation is about using your cool acrobatic moves through the environment to get the drop on enemies. While it is a shooter, and therefore things must explode we do not make extensive use of destructible environments. It would be a damn shame to blow up something you needed to climb on to escape a situation or get the drop on someone.
Strategy Informer: Without a linear and focussed map, enemy AI routines inevitably stand out more as you engage in combat over long distances. Is this an area that the team has spent a lot of time perfecting?
Jacob Minkoff & Richard Gilbert: Of course – it’s a vital part of any shooter. Especially, as you mention, when there is very little linearity in how you tackle the huge spaces available in Damnation. The AI will be able to follow the player anywhere they go. It doesn’t matter if the player jumps through windows, over railings, off of ropes, onto rooftops – there’s no safe place to hide. Not only that, but the AI doesn’t JUST follow the player – they’re also tactically intelligent enough that a squad leader might have most of his team lay down suppression fire to keep the player busy while he sends two members of his team to flank the player by climbing up onto a rooftop behind them.
Strategy Informer: Lastly, as Damnation began life as a mod rather than completely original title, exactly how much of that original material is left standing in the final design? Anything we should be looking out for?
Jacob Minkoff & Richard Gilbert: Damnation gives the player MUCH more freedom than the original mod. The mod was a really great testing ground for all the new gameplay ideas we had. It helped us figure out what worked and what didn’t, and we used all the great community feedback we got to start developing Damnation as a final product.
When we moved to the Unreal Engine 3, we finally got the ability to create the huge, visually detailed environments we always wanted to make for the mod. We also got the support of UE3’s vehicle system – allowing us to add the vehicles that the mod only showed in cinematics. In addition, we have added a massive amount of multiplayer content, including two-player co-op.