Let's face it, action games are due for a good parody. We've had a few over the years but those were games that weren't supposed to be funny. Since we're big gaming nerds and closet Duke Nukem fanboys we tracked down someone at D3 to talk about their upcoming game Eat Lead: The Matt Hazard story.
Can you introduce yourself and describe your role on the project? How long have you been in the gaming industry and what drew you to your current position?
My name is Brian Etheridge. I am the Producer for Eat Lead, working for D3Publisher of America, Inc. I have been working in games since 2001. I was drawn into the industry because of my love for games. I started in the industry, hoping to get a job doing sound design, but gave that up when I found that producing was much more in line with my skill set. I also needed to find a way to get games for free since my gaming addiction was becoming what my psychiatrist called a “life problem.”
While parody and homage will serve as comedy and irony, will Matt Hazard show us anything "new" in Eat Lead? If there was a spectrum with one end labeled hilarity and one end labeled fun, where would Matt Hazard land? D3 – Eat Lead definitely strives to strike a balance between fun and hilarity.
While we focused on making a funny game, we didn’t leave the game design behind. The game started as a 3rd person shooter, so that’s where its roots are. The gameplay is solid, cover-based 3rd person shooter, but we wanted to make sure the cover system felt as seamless as possible. That’s where you will see a couple of new things. The ability to move around, to and from and over cover is about as smooth as it gets. When you add in the “point and cover” system, it just becomes incredibly easy to move while fighting hordes of funny bad guys.
Comedy is hard. Is Writer's Guild Award-Winning author Dave Ellis up to the task? And by the way, what did Dave Ellis win the Writer's Guild award for?
Dave Ellis won the WGA award for his work on Dead Head Fred for the PSP. It’s definitely one of the funniest games out there, and definitely on par with some of comedy writing coming out of Hollywood… the only difference being that Dave is a huge gamer, so he knows what makes gamers laugh. Is he up to it? Without a doubt. He’s already done it before and it seems like the idea for Eat Lead came out of a notebook where he had been storing all of his ideas for what he would do if he was able to make his own game.
Nazis: check. Cowboys: check. Scientists, butchers, zombies: check, check, check. Short of having a Guitar Hero segment pop up, what other genres will Matt Hazard be blasting his way through?
Actually, I don’t think we had scientists. Give me a second while I call the manufacturing plant to stop the presses so we can put those in… (long pause) OK, I’m back. There are some genres that are rife with clichés; shooters in general, Japanese RPGs, anything that was made with only 8-bits, any game title that ends with the word “carts”, and any game with space marines. Those all made their way into Eat Lead.
Out and out videogame comedies (Armed and Dangerous, The Bard's Tale) are few and far between. Is the time ripe for a full-on comedy? Are you keeping the focus on lampooning the games or can we expect to see a few jabs at gamer culture and maybe even the gaming press?
We didn’t want people to think that we are targeting specific games, because we’re not. There are some clichés that are so obvious that they just beg to be parodied. Other than that, the game is definitely a wide-reaching comedy saga. As you get into it, you will see that there is a true and serious story behind all of the jokes. There are gamer culture references for sure, but we didn’t bash on the gaming press because you are all extremely good-looking, eloquent, and very talented artists in your own right… and because we wanted to make sure you didn’t give us bad scores.
Connections have been drawn between Matt Hazard, Duke Nukem, and Mario. Duke Nukem is no stretch of the imagination -- but Mario?
Seriously, Duke Nukem? I haven’t heard that one yet. =) The comparisons to Mario are most likely from some recently released footage in which Matt meets and old friend of his by the name of Captain Carpenter. For some odd reason, I think people think that Captain Carpenter is a Mario parody because he’s of a similar profession. I’ll tell you right now that if you ever went up to a carpenter and compared him to a plumber, you would probably get a framing hammer in your face or a 2x4 where the sun doesn’t shine. Don’t do it.
You've signed Will Arnett and Neil Patrick Harris to lend their voices to the game, can you talk about why you picked those actors for the game? Will we be seeing more big name talent in the future? (We hear Bruce Campbell is available)
Both Will Arnett and Neil Patrick Harris were natural choices for the roles, but they came about by different means. For our main character, Matt, we had a huge list of people that we all liked, but we had a requirement that they had to be able to deliver a funny line completely straight, and they had to have a gruff voice. Will Arnett stayed at the top of the list until it was completely obvious that he was the best candidate out of everyone. As for Neil, well his character, Wally, had to be a snooty and rich gamer kid who had everything. We had a list of people for the character, but none of us were completely happy with the list. That’s when we came across “Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog.” I think we literally called the next day.One of the most important parts of any game is the weapons, can you talk about the kind of heat Matt Hazard will be bringing?
Matt only needs his trusty Hazard Pistol to get any job done, but of course there are others. We patterned the weapons after the characters that Matt comes across. Since there was such a diverse batch of enemies, the weapons ended up being pretty diverse as well. Matt can pull some of the more standard fare off of the dead Russian soldiers and Yakuza gangsters that litter the first few levels, like AK-47s and a couple of different pistols. But Matt won’t get access to some of the cooler weapons until later in the game. That’s when you start to pick up the deadly squirt guns carried by the Soak’em Commandos and the plasma weapons that are favored by Space Marines. There’s also a special arcade cabinet sniper rifle turret that Matt can make use of in level 3… awesome.
There's been a lot of talk lately about video games making gamers feel emotions while they play the game, is that really a goal in games or is that just for candy ass game developers?
OK, don’t laugh, but that one part in Gears of War 2 where Dom finds his wife and she’s all starved and decrepit and he has to kill her… I got a little tear. I told a guy at work (Josh, the producer of Dark Sector), and he deleted me from his instant messenger account. What a jerk. I didn’t tell him that my favorite movies are Steel Magnolias and Love Actually. In all seriousness, I think there is definitely room for making the player feel emotion, but that is only for specific types of games. For example, Earth Defense Force 2017, another game we did, was not meant to be a tear jerker. It just would not have been appropriate in such a fast-paced action game. On the other hand, games like the Final Fantasy series are the perfect platform for emotion. Eat Lead doesn’t really go for your heart strings, but we do go straight for your funny bone.
Does Matt Hazard ride alone in this game or will he have backup (i.e. co-op mode)? Any type of multiplayer?
A lot of Matt’s old compadres from his past titles and other Marathon games make an appearance, but the player will have to roll solo. Eat Lead is an exclusively single-player experience.
Are you using your own graphics engine or are you licensing someone else's technology?
This is actually the first title being made with VE2, the second iteration of the Vicious Engine. This is a proprietary engine created and owned by our internal studio, Vicious Cycle. Seeing this game come to life on this engine has been pretty amazing.
We keep hearing rumors of a Duke Nukem Comeback, do you think Matt Hazard will make his return before Duke or not?
Matt is making his comeback in Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard on March 3rd, 2009. So if Duke is going to keep up, he better get in gear.
Anything else we should know about the game that we missed?
Just keep in mind that Matt is making another comeback this summer in a newly announced Matt Hazard downloadable game for the Xbox 360 and PS3.
We'd like to thank Brian for taking the time to answer our questions and to Matt for helping to setup the interview.