Blood Stone is certainly not the first 007 game that is not based on a pre-existing Bond film. Yet, this is the first 007 game by renowned U.K. studio Bizarre Creations, who are bringing their experience from The Club and the Project Gotham racing franchise. We had an opportunity to speak with Bizarre Creations Art Director Neil Thompson to learn more about 007’s latest mission.
Miguel Concepcion: Can you give us a brief summary on what led to the game’s development?
Neil Thompson: Activision came to us with the idea that they’d like us to develop this game. An original script was written by Bruce Feirstein who wrote all the Brosnan 007 scripts and how could we say no? A British developer doing Bond is an easy decision to make.
MC: It’s in your blood, isn’t it?
NT: Yeah, every English boy dreams about being James Bond. Absolutely everyone.
MC: Or being a footballer.
NT: (laughs) You mean cricketer!
MC: I’m still fresh off playing Blur and it brings back these decade long memories of this almost-expected high difficulty with Bizarre Creations games. Your idea of ‘normal’ is another developer’s idea of ‘hard’.
NT: (laughs) I don’t think that’ll be the case with Blood Stone. I think we realized very early on that Bond’s got a really broad appeal. So this is a game that has to appeal to both hardcore and casual gamers. We’ve really tried to achieve that. It’s really a cinematic experience with minimal loading times. If you play the game and watch the narrative cinematics, you get virtually no load times at all. It’s designed to be played in a cinematic fashion.
Yet because it’s Daniel Craig’s Bond, there’s no gadgets, except this one smart phone which also works on plausible technology. That’s a type of device to encourage the casual gamer. It gives them information, it tells them the positions of enemies within a level and finding waypoints. So we’re trying to approach it for as broad a market as possible.
MC: Interesting point about using the Daniel Craig Bond. You only have two films to reference from, which were notably grittier than the other 007 movies. What other influences did you bring in to make sure you didn’t end up with say, a Roger Moore-esque Blood Stone?
NT:That would be cool wouldn’t it? No one wears a safari suit quite like Roger Moore.
We really wanted to make a contemporary experience. There’s a Bond for every era. You hear that over and over again and Craig is very much a reflection of his times. Not only can you look at the films but also the books. The Bond of the books is very different from most of the films as Bond has a very human side in the books. It’s a much grittier experience. We wanted to bring the brutality that Daniel Craig brought more than anything else.
MC: What was the collaborative process like with the license holders of the Bond franchise? Were you in constant contact just to make sure you weren’t taking too many liberties with the franchise?
NT: Absolutely. Danjaq, the license holders are very keen on their intellectual property since Bond is their world. We didn’t want to take liberties with the character of Bond. At every stage of the development we worked closely with Danjaq to make sure what we were looking to achieve was a plausible use of the Bond character.
MC: Having played the demo, there’s immediately a lot of familiar Bond elements including the trademark opening credits as well as using actors from the Craig films. What other elements have you brought in that many fans might not know about?
NT: I think the key thing for the experience of the game is we have Ben Cook who is Daniel Craig’s stunt coordinator. He did all the motion capture. So all the melee moves you see in the game are all authentic to Bond. We have I think 67 original takedown moves which is a phenomenal amount. It’s all context-sensitive so the angle in which you approach an enemy, the environment that he’s standing on determine which takedown Bond performs.
MC: One appealing aspect of Craig’s Bond is the grittiness in many of the fight scenes, which are intended to look messy, as if you don’t know if Bond is going to survive.
NT: We certainly tried to achieve that. It’s hard to describe. We know it has to be brutal, which was key. You can play the game in multiple ways. You can play in the stealthy fashion or you can play the game in a much more straight-forward, brutal, bludgeoning way. You can just go through these levels, get up close and personal and take these guys down in a physical, messy manner.
MC: But someone can’t possibly play the game 100% stealth or 100% run-and-gun, can they?
NT: All the levels are not specifically set up to play either way. It’s just that we’ve left it open to the player on how they want to approach the game. It’s based on the cover system where you can also perform takedowns while hidden, which doesn’t alert other enemies to your presence. You can be very covert with a silenced pistol. You can work your way through these levels very methodically and stealthfully or you can do what Craig does in the movies and just go in there all guns blazing. You can take people down, but obviously that raises alarms and the enemies will come right at you.
MC: Now I picture how your QA department worked, where one day you tell them to play as stealthy as possible and the next day you’re telling them to be as aggro as possible.
NT: Yes, it’s been very thoroughly played through by QA and it’s also been focus-tested. Focus testing is becoming more and more key as a tool for the developer’s arsenal; getting people in there to play a level, get their feedback and use that to inform how you proceed with development so you can get a sense of what works and what doesn’t. At the end of the day, it cannot be just an exercise on how to follow an interactive procedure. It’s got to be a fun cohesive experience, particularly with something like Bond. We’re trying to be cinematic and we’re trying to combine multiple genres.
MC: How did you deal with the pacing since this is a property that people are used to experience in 2-hour versions?
NT: That was difficult. We tried to punctuate it with the high-octane action sequences which are mostly in the driving portions. The really good levels are quite diverse in their nature. We always try to push some kind of event so there’s always some kind of breathtaking moment in every level. But it’s trying to follow the pacing of a film. It goes to high-octane, then there’s a lull, and it goes up again. Achieving that in a game is difficult.
MC: I wouldn’t know how the economics work but is the film studio hoping that the potential success of this game will lead to some support in actually getting the 23rd Bond film going?
NT: The situation that makes it more interesting is this convergence of film and game that people have been talking about for years, but it’s never really happened. You either have poor films based on game franchises or poor games based on successful film franchises, but here we have this opportunity to have a new episode of a franchise to be in this interactive form, rather than riding on the back of a movie.
Because games are such a mass market force, if Blood Stone is accepted as a valid entry into the series, is that also accepted from an artistic standpoint? The Bond franchise is all-consuming, so it can be a book or a film or a game and will it be accepted on the public level in that sense? That opens the door for lots of games or films to be based upon each other but not tied to the existing entry. It’s an interesting paradigm shift I find.