Like Bulletstorm itself, People Can Fly's Creative Director, Adrian Chmielarz doesn't tend to mince his words. New single-player mode, Echoes is all about “how big your dick is” and if you like, you can measure it with your friends and the rest of the world. If that doesn't sell the game, we don't know what will.
He's evidently passionate about Bulletstorm too, which is more than the sum of its parts with an “insane amount of permutations” that take into account hero Grayson Hunt's energy leash, his powerful kick that could boot a man to the moon and of course the game's raison d'etre, the ubiquitous 'kill-with-skill' mechanic.
Having played both Echoes and Anarchy for perhaps more time than is healthy for any grown man, we then sat down to chat with Chmielarz about why the size of your meat and two veg matters in the game's Echoes mode, the rewarding nature of co-op Anarchy sessions and how having excrement flying at the screen was considered a step too far, even for a game as unsubtle as Bulletstorm.
Can you start by filling us in on how Bulletstorm's core ideas and concepts came about?
You know, people ask, "Where do you get all of these ideas from?" Usually the answer is out of my head, because it's very hard to explain. I've always been very into pulp and I'm always joking about two groups who fight each other over these dilithium crystals in Star Trek, like how are these ships powered and how is intergalactic space travel possible? And one group doesn't care, because they're more interested in the human interactions and the stories. I'm a fan of that approach, so the first thing we wanted to do was make this cool game that was pulpy like an Indiana Jones movie, while on the other hand knowing that we also wanted it to be sci-fi. We knew we wanted more of the 'fi' than 'sci', to allow us to be a little crazier with the weapons, the enemy design, with the story, and so in a way, that's Bulletstorm.
How did comic book writer, Rick Remender get involved with Bulletstorm's script?
We actually have good people within the company that we're well-suited to write the story and the dialogue, so it wasn't the case that it was a problem writing dialogue for the game and we are actually pretty confident with what we had, but we thought if we want to do something really special, then let's get someone who actually does this kind of thing for a living.
I happened to come across the comic book Fear Agent (penned by Remender) and I bought all of the trade paperbacks that were out there (Fear Agent ran for 32 issues), started reading this pulp sci-fi story and I was so disappointed with the first chapter that I thought, 'oh my god, I've wasted so much money on buying all these books.' Then something happened and the rest of the adventures in those books were absolutely awesome, and by the end of tome two, I was just sold, I went crazy.
We had ten other writers to choose from, but I wanted to see if it was possible to contact this particular guy and get him to work on Bulletstorm. Then the funniest thing happened – once he actually said yes, it turned out that he was the guy behind Dead Space (Remender was one of three writers on the first Dead Space), so he'd worked with EA before and had written for games before, which was extremely important. I was over the moon when I found out about that and when he came on board - although we had a pretty decent script – he wasn't able to redo everything by this point, but he just dissected everything and turned it into something completely different and everybody agreed that it's so much better.
A lot of the dialogue and one-liners we've heard while playing the game and in trailers and so on, are pretty funny in a tongue-in-cheek way. Was it always part of the plan to have that vein of offbeat humour running through Bulletstorm?
Yes, and it's actually not that easy to write lowbrow humour. The thing is now, everyone has focused on these one-liners, which I think are funny and they work, but I think it's only the icing on the cake. The dialogue that's actually story-related is really exciting, but the goal was to always make a game that's not really like many other games, but is still just basically fun. It's like when you watch Die Hard. That's essentially a serious movie with terrorists and all that, and people die, but at the same time there's all the humour involved and the one-liners throughout that movie. We wanted to have the same thing.
What kind of games would you cite as influences making Bulletstorm? For me, I feel it's slightly reminiscent of real old-school FPS titles like Quake or Duke Nukem 3D. Would it be fair to say those games were an influence to some degree?
I honestly don't think so. I mean that was our theory sort of, but when you think old-school, you think perhaps story does not matter and it's all about pure gameplay, so we tried to do something a little different. Well not different, but go for something more: so action sequences, great voice actors, more story and all that, but then what happened is we also have this gameplay mechanic, the whole skill-shot layer in the game. And when we were playtesting the game with our guys who are all gamers basically, they got so engaged in the story, because we have a surprise around every corner and the visuals and everything, but that's only really scratching the surface.
Echoes is probably the juiciest part of the single-player experience, because we've edited out all of the dialogue, the cinematics and whatever, so now it's just pure gameplay and purely fighting for points. Obviously when we were doing that, we never really reference or think about the past and I guess ideas and concepts all accumulate through every game in the last fifteen years or whatever, but not consciously.
With so many gameplay mechanics like the leash, the kick, the slide and the 'kill-with-skill' scoring system in the game, was Bulletstorm difficult to to balance?
When we do any element of our gameplay mechanics we have two goals in mind. One is that it needs to be very useful and fun, and bring something to the gameplay, but it also needs to feel visceral, like you are a badass guy. So, the idea that there is this hotshot trying to kill you and he thinks he's very smart because he's hiding behind cover, and all you need to do is use your leash and 'swish swish' he's floating there in front of you in slow-motion wide-open for any kind of brutal damage you want to execute on him, that's both very useful for gameplay, but it also feels right and makes you feel like a badass.
The leash is just one of many mechanics in the game, which is sort of a problem for us and it's very scary, because it's great having the leash and the kicks, and all the environmental stuff, but it's scary because we have no control over it. The amount of permutations is so insane that you basically can't test all of the combinations, but the reward is, if you want to unleash your inner sadist, this has all got to work, so you can write the story of how your murderous instincts (laughs) can be unveiled in the game.
If you had to single out one aspect of Bulletstorm as the most badass thing in the game, what would it be?
I think the most badass thing is how we've managed to overcome one big challenge that we had designing Bulletstorm, which is that you actually start as a badass. It's not a game where you have amnesia and a pistol in the beginning. You actually start this game as a guy who literally kicks ass, so to make the game and maintain the player's interest when you start at this high a level was tough. There is another game that did this, and that's God of War. When Kratos starts, he's a badass and those battles in a way are an inspiration and we learnt a lot from that game. How do you make it interesting when you start as a badass? The only way to get better is to become even more powerful and more badass, so I'm really glad that we managed to solve that.
So are you unlocking new weapons, gadgets and upgrades? How do you become even more badass?
It's everything. I do think that there's pretty gradual progression in our game, so the curve doesn't shoot straight up high. It's more interesting to have to adapt to new conditions on the battlefield instead of introducing a guy that requires twice as much ammo to kill as the previous guy. So, that's the direction we've gone for with the game.
You're showing off Anarchy and Echoes today, which are new multiplayer and single-player modes respectively. Are there any other co-op or multiplayer modes planned for Bulletstorm?
Bulletstorm has three legs. One is the single-player story, one is Echoes mode, where it's all about the size of your dick, so you can measure yourself against your friends or the world, if you're up for it. Then there's the Anarchy mode, which is a co-op experience for up to four players and you can get together and basically kick ass. It's a completely new experience, because if you play totally on your own, then it's chaos, but once you work together, it's great fun, because we really reward you for co-operating, so we offer all of these mechanics that help you and reward you for working together.
Finally, while making Bulletstorm, was there anything that was a little bit too over-the-top for the game that you'd have liked to incorporate? Were there certain ideas that just crossed the line a bit too far?
Well, as you know we have this sequence where you basically expose a mini-boss's ass, and if you shoot him in the ass, you get the 'fire in the hole' skill-shot. There was one graphic artist who actually wanted to have an effect where if you were really close, pieces of shit actually hit you in the face and I don't even know whether we could get away with this! Probably not, but honestly, we were never ever censored by anybody. We do this sort of self-censoring thing, which is where it's only funny if it's not forced and you're not trying too hard to be funny. So honestly, everything we wanted to do, we've actually done.
Perhaps we'll see the shit effect in the sequel then?
Bulletstorm is scheduled for release on February 22nd, 2011 in North America and February 25th, 2011 in the UK and Europe.