Call of Juarez: The Gunslinger Interview – Talking The Cartel and the Wild West With Techland
Written Thursday, September 13, 2012 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
It's pretty much universally agreed that Call of Juarez: The Cartel was a major misfire, forcing Techland to seriously rethink the future of its wild west franchise. Going back to the drawing board, the developer listened to the fans and returned to the series' old western origins, with cowboys and six-shooters.
Call of Juarez: The Gunslinger goes back to the series' roots then, taking the action to the Xbox Live Arcade. As part of Ubisoft's Digital Days showcase, we had a first look at the game – you can read our impressions here – and had the opportunity to talk to Techland's International Brand Manager, Blazej Krakowiak about releasing the game on digital platforms.
When you started with development on Call of Juarez: The Gunslinger, what were the primary goals for the team?
To go back to the serious roots, go back to the original wild west and then just move forward from there. Because just going back to what worked is definitely not our ambition. We want to move forward on the storytelling side and the gameplay side, so we have new features, we have an interesting way of telling the story with the narrator, but on the other hand we're doing what the fans really wanted by going back to the wild west.
Why did you decide to develop the game for the Xbox Live Arcade rather than going for a full retail release?
That's a complicated subject, because there are many different reasons starting with the fact that digital releasing seems to be the future, and people are going more in that direction. But mainly because our partner is Ubisoft, one of the biggest supporters of digital releases with high quality and high creative potential. We've seen some great games from Ubisoft, so when we started talking about the next Call of Juarez game, that was an idea that came up and we believe that we can really do something new with the series and hopefully for the platform, because it's evident from the game's quality that we're not trying to do anything more or limited than a full retail quality game. This is our aim, for the game to really stand out as a high quality title.
In terms of content then, are we looking at a similar scale as a full retail release for The Gunslinger?
We're talking about around 10 hours of gameplay, and if you want to replay it, there's even more. We have the scoring system as you saw, so you can always go back in after you've finished the game and become obsessed with getting the best scores, getting to the top of the leaderboards. And one of the oft requested features, the character customisation is something that fans wanted for a long time and it also promotes replayability. You can go back an play the game with new skills or you can play longer to unlock everything and so on. We'll detail the game modes in a while, because this is just a first look at the game, but there will be different ways to play it.
At the end of the demo mission we were shown, we saw that the episode had been unlocked to replay in Arcade Mode. Is that a score attack mode that can be replayed then?
Yeah. As I said, more details will obviously follow. But we definitely want the game to be both a story experience and a great, focused gameplay experience, because an arcade, scoring mode is something that works very well on the platform.
With the skill trees and all of the XP you're earning throughout the game, will Call of Juarez: The Gunslinger have a new game+ option then?
Yes, it will. The XP you earn is based on the score and the score has multipliers, so being accurate, killing enemies quickly and efficiently or doing some special stunts like igniting multiple explosions, things like that earn more XP. Obviously it's all about playing in a spectacular way.
Why did you decide to adopt a comic book-inspired art style for this particular Call of Juarez?
The game is all about telling a great western story and if you consider the nature of the myths surrounding the wild west, it's about those incredible, larger than life characters of legendary gunslingers, that you actually get to meet in the game. That's the cool part. Also the whole thing is a mix of historical truth and the legends built around it, so a comic book style seems to be tailor made for something like this. And there's the narrator and some other details that you might have noticed, like when there's transitions between screens you have something that looks like brushstrokes. All those sorts of details contribute to this presentation of playing inside a story that's being told by someone.
In terms of historical research for the game, has there been a lot of effort put into providing a certain level of authenticity?
It's not our first western, so we think we're experts when it comes to the setting and we do a lot of research on the historical side, so we know what really happened. But we also research as extensively on the pop culture part, so comic books, novels and all the movies, both new and old. And basically we learn the truth, and then we ignore half of it, because this is what everyone expects, this is how the whole thing actually works in our minds. We don't want to hear that Billy the Kid didn't kill twenty-one people, he killed maybe only seven and he wasn't really that bad, you know? He was a normal, pretty nice guy who protected his friends, though on the other hand he did some bad things during his life. Finding this balance between the truth and legend is interesting.
Like the whole story of Wyatt Earp and the legend of Tombstone, there's also a lot of invented stuff in there. But he was a real character, there really was a shootout and Doc Holliday definitely played a role and so on. I think that people really love to expand upon the legends and stories grow in the telling and this approach is how we wrote the story, taking a creative approach. But to prove that we really do know the truth, we have the collectibles (called 'Notes on Authenticity') that show the historical facts about the characters, so if you want to know what's real you can just go ahead and read it. But then we take that and make it a better story, because it's one that's being told over a glass of whiskey in a saloon. The first level that we've shown is Stinking Springs, which is an actual place that we've made larger and it has ten times more enemies in it, but yeah, it's all somehow anchored in truth.
The Gunslinger's character is known only as 'the narrator', and so he seems very mysterious and enigmatic. Does he tie in with the McCall brothers from previous Call of Juarez games at all?
He does have a name, but we're not revealing that yet. All that we're saying is he's a bounty hunter with a long and successful career, who's ready to set the record straight on some things and tell stories from his life. He never wanted fame, he was never interested in being in the spotlight, but he's doesn't mind sitting down and telling some stories. And he has some great tales to tell, because he met all those legendary people during his life. In terms of ties to the previous games, this is a new character and a new story, but maybe you'll meet someone who knew the McCall's or revisit some familiar places, but that's about it.
Do you think you're finished with the McCall's story then? Is that chapter of Call of Juarez finished for good?
We're not saying we won't revisit the McCall's at some point in the future. We don't like making specific statements, because we're always ready to exploring some new creative ideas, but this is what we're concentrating on now, and we believe this is a full, next instalment in the series. It's a real Call of Juarez game and I think it's the best one to date, so we hope it turns out to be great for the fans.
Call of Juarez: The Cartel was a risk that didn't pay off, but would you ever consider going back to that modern day setting?
For now we're in a different time and place. Basically the key feedback from people who weren't happy with The Cartel were saying, “OK, just bring the series back to the wild west and we'll be happy”.
Call of Juarez: The Gunslinger is out on XBLA in early 2013.