Singularity was introduced at E3 last year and wowed quite a few people with it's time bending plot and top notch visuals. With the game scheduled to hit stores in a few weeks we were able to land an exclusive interview with Raven software to dive a bit deeper into the game. Here it is.
Can you introduce yourself, talk about your role on the project and how you got into the games industry? What kind of things do you do daily on the game?
I’m Brian Raffel, Co-founder and Studio Head of Raven Software. Singularity is a very important game for us, so I played many different roles from level design to artwork to story. I wanted to make sure it was the best it could possibly be.
What's the backstory for Singularity and could you introduce us to the character we'll be playing? Is he based on any real life person or group of people? How does he differ from the standard FPS hero?
In Singularity, you take on the role of Nathaniel Renko, a U.S. Recon Marine. Because we want to immerse the player in our world, you rarely see Renko in the game and he doesn’t speak at all - this helps the player feel more like they are the main character.
How did you come up with the concept of the game? Did you start with the time manipulation elements and work a story around it or the other way around?
The game started around the core concept of using time to change the state of objects/creatures/people on an individual basis. We knew that would open the player up to seeing the world in a whole new light and give them abilities they’ve never had before. The story and the time manipulation elements were developed at the same time – it was the best way to make them feel like a natural fit with each other.
Was it hard to get the greenlight on a new IP with Activision? Is Singularity going to be a stand-alone game or are you looking at it as a beachhead for a new franchise?
New IP’s are very costly and always a bit of a gamble so yes, it wasn’t easy to get it to the light of day. But Activision is always willing to try new a IP if it offers something new and exciting. We did develop a secret demo off the radar because we knew the core concept was something they had to see in action - a bulleted paragraph just wouldn’t do it justice. It was very cool for me to show it to Activision and have them so impressed that they were ready to move on it right away.
Russians seem to have become a popular bad guy in games lately (Modern Warfare 2, Bad Company 2) and now in Singularity. Why do you think we're back to fighting Russians in games again?
We chose Russia for several reasons, the number one being my brother, Steve, and I grew up during the Cold War and we wanted to use that to drive the story. Secondly, the Russians have always impressed us with their ability to think on a massive scale; it would be believable for them to pull off this type of scientific accomplishment.
Raven has a long, solid background in developing FPS games, what are the key elements in a modern FPS game? What has been the most important change in the genre over the last ten years or so? Are we at a point where game developers are just refining the genre or do you think there's still a big leap in the genre coming up?
Visual fidelity continues to improve but most companies are now on a level playing field in regards to that because everyone has the same console to work with and many developers use the Unreal engine. 10 years ago you could stand out simply by having the latest visual bells and whistles.
The biggest changes are that gameplay hooks and story have become incredibly important. What can your game do that no other game can? Do you have a compelling story that engages the player? Are the characters believable? Are they well acted?
Right now, the game industry is in a refinement period. As new platforms become available such as Natal or iPad, we’ll discover things about interaction that will provide the next big leap. Some of those lessons will be carried back to a “standard FPS”. Look at the first round of iPad games; FPS games don’t translate well because there's a big tablet to hold and the controls didn’t make the leap from iPhone up. Eventually that will be solved and it will become the standard. To sum up, I think there are still big leaps on the horizon, probably in the interaction side of things.
Gamers and press seem a bit pre-occupied with how long the single player portion of games are. Do you start with a target of how long you want the game to be or do you just focus on telling a story and then add more if the game is short? Is length a valid criteria or not?
Raven’s number one goal is creating a quality gaming experience that’s exciting from beginning to end. We would rather the player finish wanting more, rather than have them slug through 12 + hours of mediocre content. But we are sensitive to the fact that people feel their being over charged if they aren’t getting 6 to 8 hours out of a game. This figure has changed a lot in the 20 years that we’ve been developing games; there was a time when gamers expected 20+ hours of game play.
What kind of time manipulation abilities will you have with the TMD? Were there other abilities you thought off but had to eliminate for technical or time reasons? What kind of design challenges does having the time manipulation features have?
The biggest design challenge was how we would introduce the TMD and it’s abilities to the player. We had a TON of ideas on what to do with the Time Manipulation Device – way more than we could put in. One of the basic abilities I can reveal is being able to shift an object forward or backwards in time, and using its different states to aid in gameplay. For example, you could age a barrel to dust, stand on it, and then age it back to full height and use it as a pedestal to jump up to a new area. This is just a small example of what we’re allowing the player to do with the TMD.
Outside of the TMD what kind of weapons will players have at their disposal? Could you discuss the selection criteria for the game's arsenal?
There are a variety of weapons for the player to use such as a machine gun, shotgun, and sniper rifle as well as some non-standard ones. We wanted to make sure our non-standard weapons provided a new type of experience or a different way to fight. We didn’t want to duplicate functionality from weapon to weapon and I think we succeeded in that.
Any chance you'll be supporting motion controls via Natal and/or move? What are your thoughts on motion controls for first person shooters? Is there something usefull there or not?
We aren't currently planning to support motion controls for Singularity. Motion controls like the Natal are very intriguing and could open up exciting new avenues in the first person shooter style of game. However, a game should be designed from the outset to take advantage of motion control and not shoe-horned in to be a marketing bullet point on the box. Since these controls debuted well after we were into development on Singularity, we chose not to pursue it.
What's been the biggest change in the game since you started development? Were there things that turned out better than expected?
The biggest changes during the development of Singularity were the way the TMD is used and how the player interacts with the objects/creatures/people the TMD can affect.
We'd like to thank Brian for taking the time to answer our questions as well as Wiebke for coordinating the interview and dealing with my constant nagging.