[NYCC 2012] Interview: Lost Planet 3 will be a narrative-driven experience
At last weekend's New York Comic Con we had a chance to sit down with Capcom Producer Andrew Szymanski about their upcoming Western-developed Lost Planet game. Lost Planet 3 is being developed by Spark Unlimited and is set for an early 2013 release. We speak at length about the direction the series is taking in this third game, and what fans of both Lost Planet: Extreme Condition and Lost Planet 2 can expect.
GameZone: Lost Planet 3 seems a lot different from the second game. What's the direction for this game overall?
Andrew Szymanski: From a narrative standpoint, even though it's numbered Lost Planet 3 it's actually chronologically the first game in the series, it's a prequel. The idea was to show the colonization of the planet E.D.N. III and the first humans to arrive on the planet. How they are taming the frontier and building this colony.
So we have Jim, who is our main character and not your typical space marine/hero-type character. He's a blue collar worker who has come to the planet as part of the colonization efforts in order to earn money to support his wife and child that he's left back on Earth.
It's very much more about the human element and getting back to a more narrative-driven and character-driven experience. The first [Lost Planet], even though its narrative could be a bit nonsensical at times, was much more about focusing on those characters, whereas the second game went into this almost party game space where it was all about the online play.
As far as gameplay goes, we are continuing the third-person shooting which is a hallmark of the franchise. You've got your different weapons, you're fighting Akrid creatures, which are the native lifeforms of the planet. But once again we are trying to keep that narrative element and trying to put you in Jim's shoes.
We also have a vehicle, the Utility Rig. In the previous games we had something called Vital Suits which were these smaller, more agile mecha that had machine guns and rockets and things like that. Because of the change in chronology and the fact that it's a colonization operation and not a military operation, the Utility Rig that Jim uses in Lost Planet 3 is actually a civilian machine. It's a construction machine. So the player is tasked with taking these tools—the drill and the claw—and figuring out how to use them not only to combat the enemies but also to traverse the environment. When you're in the Rig, for the first time in the franchise we actually go into a first-person view. What that does is help to sell the scale of the Rig because it's the largest vehicle we've had in the series.
GameZone: You mentioned that Jim is an everyman character. Is that something that will translate in the gameplay?
Andrew Szymanski: I think you'll find that we develop that through his character. It's a very fine line to walk because even if somebody is "less experienced" you don't want to feel hampered as a player. I don't want to jump into a shooter where I can't aim well because theoretically my character can't aim. The player's skill has to be able to shine through. So what we tried to do was show Jim's more civilian nature in his interactions with other characters and his interactions with his family.
GameZone: How much does the Rig factor into the gameplay in Lost Planet 3?
Andrew Szymanski: It factors in quite a bit. Obviously it's a method of transportation, so when you're traversing long distances you want to be using the Rig most of the time. It's also a way to stay protected, so when you're fighting both larger and smaller Akrid it's great to have the Rig. For the smaller Akrid they pose almost no threat. We like that element of escalation where an enemy that is a normal enemy on foot is basically no threat whatsoever to the Rig whereas a boss class enemy becomes a normal enemy for the Rig.
It also serves as a base of operations and a home away from home for Jim. So when you're out in the wilderness it will protect him against the elements. When you're within a certain proximity of the Rig it sends you additional information to your HUD and when you get further away you lose some of that. It shows the loneliness and the isolation out there in the environment. I'd say you spend about 60 percent out versus 40 percent in, but it will depend a lot on the player. We allow the player to get in and out whenever they want. Sometimes the game, by necessity, will send you off on foot into an enclosed area that you physically can't get into with your Rig, but otherwise you're going to have the option to use it for quite a bit of the game.
GameZone: So this is Jim's personal Rig?
Andrew Szymanski: Exactly. It's actually Jim's personal property that he paid for with his own money and brought to the planet. So it's very important to him.
GameZone: How have you approached creating a more narrative-focused game?
Andrew Szymanski: Part of hitting the narrative is having great story and great dialogue, but also being able to have characters that are relatable and believable. In order to achieve that we felt it was important to have strong performances. So we're actually using a performance capture style. The characters are actually played by actors and we're including their likenesses.
When you see Jim, his likeness, his face, everything is based off of an actual actor. In most games you'd have an actor specifically hired to do the body capture, you might have someone to perform facial capture, and then you'd have a voice actor who provides voice in the booth. What we've done as part of the digital double process is all of that is done not only by the same person, but at the same time. So you can walk into a motion capture volume and you'll have multiple characters performing a scene as if it was a stage play. What that allows you to do is create a much more natural method of performing because the actors feel as though they're part of a scene as opposed to just in a booth reading off of a script.