By Steve Wright
GAME NAME: Lost Planet 3
PLATFORM(S): PS3, PC, Xbox 360
GENRE(S): Action adventure
RELEASE DATE(S): 30 August 2013
Lost Planet 3 producer Andrew Szymanski was in Sydney this week, giving media the chance to get hands-on with the game’s single-player campaign. We sat down to have a chat with Szymansku about the upcoming title.
Stevivor: Lost Planet 3 is a prequel, taking place on the same planet as the original Lost Planet. It seems closer – in terms of features and gameplay – to the original title rather than Lost Planet 2. How much of the Lost Planet 3’s design was in response to criticism of Lost Planet 2?
Szymanski: Yeah, I’d say that’s a fair assessment in that Lost Planet 3 is closer to 1 than it is to 2. I think when we first set out, one of the key phrases that we were throwing around internally was “return to extreme conditions.” We had a lot of feedback from people that suggested they’d enjoyed the first game, and we ourselves felt strongly that we wanted to get back to more of that experience.
I think Lost Planet 2 did what it set out to do, and that was to create almost a party-like atmosphere where you could get four people online and shoot up a bunch of giant creatures. While that’s all well and good, I think we wanted to get back to having a single, strong protagonist and follow him along on his journey from the time he arrives on the planet until the game’s conclusion. It was very important for us to not only get back to the frozen environment, but have a strong cast of characters, and that informed everything we did when we got in and started building the game.
Stevivor: As a prequel, you get the chance to delve into NEVEC's motivations, plus those of the Snow Pirates. You've also introduced new Akrid types never-before-seen. Was it difficult to make your backstory fit in the world, or was it always written and waiting? Are you concerned Lost Planet fanboys will freak out over what they'd consider to be canon issues?
Szymanski: It’s actually pretty liberating, cause we’ve got all of these concepts in Lost Planet that have been hinted at, or sort have been casually been bandied about, but there hasn’t been a lot of exposition on them. The Snow Pirates are a good case in point; in the beginning of LP1, you’re told that you’re a Snow Pirate, but what’s a Snow Pirate? The game doesn’t really explain that. We saw this as a really great opportunity to go back and explore some of those questions.
We didn’t have, necessarily, a very explicit framework, but we did have a timeline with major events in the Lost Planet universe. We took a little bit of artistic license, but for the most part, we tried to follow that sequence of events in order to show things that make sense and feed into LP1. If you’ve played LP1, you can see how things connect into that, but if LP3 is your first game in the franchise, it makes LP1 accessible. It was really great to go back and explore those kinds of things. This is really the origin story of the Lost Planet universe and it should make a whole lot of sense.
There’s not too much concern about canon issues. It’s always important to listen to fans and what they’re telling you, but as I always say: if you made a game and incorporated everything from fan feedback, you’d have the worst game ever. *laughs* You have to pick and choose.
For us, it was simple with the Akrid because we know we wanted more types of Akrid. We have Akrid that are returning, but we wanted more variety. In the first two games, most of the Akrid were insect-based. What we tried to do was take some inspiration from mammals -- like tigers and wolves -- in order to create a little more variety. All we did was create a narrative “out,” if you will – an excuse – because as you know, in LP1 and LP2, there was global warming, and all of those new Akrid went extinct. There’s a solid reason for having these new Akrid types.
Stevivor: Thermal-energy is almost like a hybrid of previous games; how did you come to change it from a life-support tool to a form of in-game currency?
Szymanski: Oh, wow – you’ve done your research. *laughs* That’s correct.
This is one of the decisions that came about as a gameplay necessity. Lost Planet 3 is much more about exploration, and it has much more of a deliberate pace than the first game did. We didn’t want a timer that’s kind of counting down to arbitrarily – and artificially -- push you forward. We wanted you to be able to walk around and explore the environment, as that is a big part of our game.
We made a conscious choice to say that it was no longer necessary for survival, and that you could purchase items instead. That actually fits in with in our narrative, because the whole setup for Lost Planet 3, in the beginning, is that the colonists arrive on the planet and have discovered thermal energy, and then are figuring out how to best utilise it. It makes perfect sense; it’s like the gold rush. Everyone’s trying to get their hands on thermal energy. Jim, at the start, is told to grab as much as he can, and it makes sense that he’s rewarded for collecting it.
Stevivor: First-person com bat in huge Rigs looks to be a great deal of fun. As a predecessor to the VS mechs of the first two games, what are the biggest differences between VSes and Rigs? How will those differences affect Lost Planet gameplay?
Szymanski: Well, the battle suit was basically a weaponised vehicle that was small and manoeuvrable, and had rocket and chain guns and stuff. That was great for the first two games, but what we wanted to do with this game -- because it’s a civilian and not a military operation, and Jim himself not being a soldier but a contractor – was have the vehicle reflect those themes as well. So we decided that this would be the perfect precursor to the battle suit.
You know, as most technology miniaturises over time – you start with a Walkman and end up with an iPod – we decided that it should be larger and more cumbersome, and very utilitarian and massive. One of our inspirations was the power loader from Aliens. And so, because it’s not weaponised, the player will have to take this construction-based vehicle and figure out how to improvise and defeat enemies. Again, not to wax too philosophic, but one of the things we constantly tried to do was make sure everything tied together. We wanted to have bigger vehicles and make them more impressive. Still, we wanted to make sure they fit in well with the narrative. That was also the reason that we use first-person for the rigs; to show how big they are and stress that change in perspective.
Stevivor: You just mentioned Aliens, and it would seem like there’s a lot of sci-fi influence, and I wondered if you wanted to talk about that. Also, I was curious if you think that we’ve “westernised” Lost Planet in this third game and if it factors into development at all.
Szymanski: Oh, yeah – there’s definitely a lot of inspiration from classic sci-fi. The first two Alien movies for sure; the first Alien, on the ship, is an inspiration on how the crew is set up and how they relate to each other. The mech design is influenced by the second movie. Also, The Thing of course; John Carpenter was a big inspiration in how people behave in the unknown. I think everybody on the team, in various degrees, are big fans of sci-fi and that’s inspired how the characters relate and respond to each other.
In terms of the western influence, I’m cautious about labels. Let’s face it, people in Japan love Aliens. Do they like it despite the fact that it was made in another country, or does that not even enter the thought process? I would argue the latter.
This wasn’t about us making the game more western. It was about realising our themes have been explored in a lot of Hollywood movies and in sci-fi, and taking those inspirations and techniques to make a game that’s more cinematic, more character driven and has an ensemble cast. These are things that eastern games don’t often do, but we feel these things have universal appeal.
As – obviously – Capcom is a Japanese company, it’s going to be a very important game in the Japanese market as well. We just wanted to make sure that when people played it, they feel like they’re playing a movie, so to speak.
Stevivor: Now, obviously Lost Planet came out FAR before Dead Space 3, but in 2013, gamers might associate Visceral's shooter with sci-fi, aliens and cold planets. How does Lost Planet 3 differentiate itself from Dead Space 3?
Szymanski: We get that question – and those similarities -- a lot. I think when people play the game, they'll see the similarities are quite superficial. When we found out that Dead Space 3 was going to be on a snow planet, it was flattering in the sense that they wanted to use it. I think they were probably pretty surprised when we announced Lost Planet 3, because they didn't expect a new Lost Planet game. *laughs*
We're gamers, and we're all going to the think the same sort of stuff is cool. It's one of those cases of parallel evolution. From a gameplay perspective, I think you'll see that things are very different. I think at times Lost Planet 3 tries to create an atmosphere of danger, just by the fact that you're out there in the overwhelming wilderness, but we don't bring that into the core of the game. We don't do jump scares and we don’t limit ammo.
You get some foreboding atmosphere at times through audio and storytelling, of course, but we're very action-oriented. We punctuate that with a lot of levity from Jim himself, who's a wise-cracking type of guy. We also show human interaction every time you go back to base; you'll have people to talk with and interact with. There's a big human element to the game and I hope people will respond well to that.
Stevivor: Struggle mode takes the stock-standard QTE and throws a new twist upon it. Development-wise, how'd that new feature pan out?
Szymanski: This is actually a cool behind-the-scenes story, and it's a very simple thought process. Our franchise creative director at Capcom [Kenji Oguro], who made the first two games, had an overlying theme over the franchise: the whole point of a shooter is aiming at something and shooting it. It's getting that feedback of putting your aiming reticule over a target and following through. It's one of the reasons why the original Lost Planet introduced the concept of those glowing orange weak spots; the cores. If you're playing Call of Duty, or another shooter with human enemies, you're enemies are little dots on a map, and you're trying to score headshots on those tiny dots from across the map.
In the first two Lost Planet games, they wanted to have huge enemies, but you can't make that thing the entire target, or else you would have the satisfaction of aiming correctly. That's where the weak spots came from, so you can have enemies right on top of you, but you'd still have to aim.
That's the exact same concept behind struggle mode. We wanted close-quarters, “kill or be killed” kind of moments, but we wanted to keep the idea of aiming present in that because it's such a core element. We didn't want to have button mashing; instead, you'll control a knife by aiming your reticule over a weak spot and pulling a trigger to stab the enemy. It's all about being consistent with the core concepts of the game.
Stevivor: What are journalists missing when it comes to Lost Planet 3? What's a favourite feature you don't think we're talking enough about?
Szymanski: I think something that's mentioned briefly in a sentence or two -- but no one's really gone into details -- is how much we've fleshed out the world. It's not forced upon you; you can play and understand the story just by playing the main critical path missions. Even if you just choose to walk around the initial base, you'll find all sorts of people to talk to, who'll flesh out a lot of the background on why they're there.
We have an entire setup with the base that you're in, in that it's actually the colony ship. It was supposed to land on a flat surface and expand into a colony building, but they ran into rough weather when they came in and it actually landed in a ravine. So, there are these sequences where you'll have to tighten these moorings that are keeping this colony ship from sinking into the ravine. There are missions that do that, but if you go around and talk to all the scientists in the base, you'll get all this background on how they got there, and things that happened before Jim showed up. There are great little snippets that flesh out the world -- and we'll never make them mandatory -- but if you're like me and a completionist who wants to be immersed in the environment, there's a lot of content there.
Stevivor: Thanks so much for your time, Andrew!
Szymanski: Thank you.
A big thanks to Andrew, Capcom and All Interactive Entertainment for the chance to speak about Lost Planet 3!