Call of Juarez: The Cartel Interview – Samuel Jacques and Aymeric Evennou Talk Shifting Perspectives
Written Saturday, March 19, 2011 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Change is almost always a tough thing to take. We remember crying for weeks when Opal Fruits changed their name to Starburst. And don't even get us started on Snickers and Cif. It's a Marathon and Jif, dammit! So, when we heard that Ubisoft and Techland have decided to change Call of Juarez, our hearts sank.
Moving the Wild West franchise to modern day Los Angeles, Call of Juarez: The Cartel tells a story based upon the very real drug wars being fought today. It's a punchy, contemporary subject and the game draws influences from TV shows like Sons of Anarchy and The Shield.
That's what Ubisoft producer Samuel Jacques and International Product Manager Aymeric Evennou have to say about The Cartel, and we tried to look deeper into why Call of Juarez is shifting from the Wild West to present day. It might not actually be as bad as you think it might be...
Check out our first look preview and read on to find out more.
Could you tell us why, in a little bit of depth, why you've chosen to take the Call of Juarez franchise in this new direction, transporting the story to a modern day setting?
Samuel Jacques: The other Call of Juarez games were a continued success and we were really happy with them, but we were looking at where we could go next and we had already previously done two Western games, so we thought, what could we do? One of the first things we knew, was that players really wanted a co-operative mode, so we knew we wanted to incorporate that into the game, but then what could we do to make it more interesting? So, we thought a 3-player co-op mode would be more interesting and we thought about the kind of story we could tell with three characters. It would have been easy for us to have the iconic leading man with two sidekicks, but we thought it would make for a cooler experience if we had a story that revolves around three characters in a kind of cop fantasy, so we looked at taking the narrative to a modern setting and it all just made sense.
Aymeric Evennou: We know there is a big risk doing this in terms of the fanbase, but what people liked in the previous Call of Juarez, they'll find in this one too, as well as some new stuff. So, we're expanding the franchise while staying true to what made the original games and whether it's this modern setting or the Wild West, the themes are still universal. It's not something of the time, it's the spirit and the treatment that we had in the previous games, that we'll still have in this one.
SJ: I don't know yet, whether there will be another Call of Juarez game, but if so, we could always go back to the classic Wild West setting. I don't know yet, but first we'll finish this one, then we'll see.
The demo you've shown us seemed fairly cinematic, like the nightclub scene reminded us of a similar scene in Collateral. Are there any movies that have had an influence upon Call of Juarez: The Cartel?
AE: We're mainly taking influences and references from TV shows like The Shield and Sons of Anarchy, and of course we take influences from movies and everything, but we're trying to make something that is ours and not really influenced by those kind of references. It's just something we like to refer to when we're talking about the game.
A 3-player co-op game is pretty unconventional. Was it challenging to get the gameplay right and ensure it all works, while integrating it into the story?
AE: It has been a real challenge, but it was not something that was optional for us from the start, really. The whole story had been created around the three characters, so we didn't have the option to do it any other way. Therefore we took a lot of time to make it work, so we have drop-in/drop-out co-op as a feature. When we talk about taking this franchise to the next level, co-op is something that players now consider as a must-have feature, but bringing three-player co-op was especially hard work.
SJ: Yes. It was a big change for Techland for this game and it's not easy to design around 3-players with drop-in/drop-out, so basically we had to do a lot of testing, which was critical to ensure a good experience. We're really happy with this feature.
You choose your character at the beginning of the story, and that's it, you are that character for the duration. Will replaying the story be different for each character?
SJ: It's the same story with different perspectives, but even so there will be parts where sometimes you'll have your own objectives.
AE: For example, you saw in the demo a sequence where Ben is on his own trying to survive while he waits for back-up to arrive. If you consider the whole story, there will be parts where there's different information being revealed and each character has their own personal interests too. This is something that we think is beneficial to the co-op experience too.
Will there be any junctures in the story where you're making decisions at all? Will the narrative branch at any point?
SJ: This is one story and it has a beginning and an end. There's no branching paths, but there are different endings.
AE: If you're thinking the narrative will be like Heavy Rain with repercussions for your actions, it isn't really, but part of how the story unfolds is linked to the character's personal story and perspective.
SJ: It's not about choices that could affect the outcome of a mission, but for example, you can face the same situation as each character and you'll get a very different angle on the story and failing objectives can affect things to some extent.
So does that mean there are no fail states in the game?
SJ: That's right. If you fail, you move on.
Are set-pieces and action sequences scripted or are they organic and spontaneous?
SJ: If you do a set-piece twice, it will be different each time, so you won't have the same cars crashing and so on. Some of it is engine-based, with some special features so that some parts are scripted events, but we want the player to go from moment to moment like it's a rollercoaster. It's a ride with highs and lows, and different points of view.
So, The Cartel is a linear story, but within a more open framework?
Why did you choose to take this slightly more ambitious route of having three individual characters?
SJ: Being a 3-player co-operative game, we still wanted to focus on one character, but we have three main characters and each has to have their own background, so we had to be sure that playing as one player is as consistent and interesting as playing as any other one.
AE: It's also part of the brand's DNA. The franchise is about multiple characters, so in Bound in Blood you had two brothers fighting each other, so we really like the approach where conflict is part of the story and what is better than a triangle?
SJ: And you can play with your friends, with each of you in the role of one character, so each perspective is unique.
Will there be a return for some of the mechanics from the previous Call of Juarez games like the quick draw events and will we still see parallels to the saloons, pistols at dawn and other Wild West references?
AE: Everybody keeps asking this! We're not a Wild West game and we want to be realistic, so we're taking that and blending it with modern times. We're more about conveying the feeling of the Wild West and while some of the spirit still exists, nobody duels any more or anything like that.
SJ: Would it be realistic behaviour for a cop?
I suppose not.
AE: We know that this gameplay was really appreciated by fans of Bound in Blood, but from a game design perspective, if we'd have put things like quick draw events in, it would have seemed out of place and like we were doing it for the sake of it.
SJ: There's still the feature where you breach through doors, which is still about being the quickest gunslinger in town, and that makes more sense in context. We knew quick draw was popular, but we didn't know it was that popular. Also, with 3-players, how do you decide which player does the shootout and which ones sit out?
Call of Juarez: The Cartel is set to release in summer 2011.