Gaming Today Q&A: Bizarre Creations’ Community and Web Lead, Ben Ward, On The Club

theclublogo1-1.jpgSometimes it seems like we live in a world that expects video games to be nothing but toys that cater exclusively to children and avoid controversy at all costs. In times like these, it’s actually a little refreshing to have a game like The Club coming out soon. In this game, the focus is less on story and more on killing tons of enemies as quickly and stylishly as possible. By now, most of us have played the demo for the game, but we’ll still have to wait until next week to see the full product. To get some more insight on what went into creating The Club, we decided to go to Bizarre Creations’ Community and Web Lead, Ben Ward, for some insider info. Full interview after the break.

GT: About the game, first and foremost, how are you pushing the limits and covered territory of the “shooter” genre?

There are several things that set The Club apart from typical shooters:

  • We’ve got eight varied characters to choose from. Normally, you’d have one single character to play with, so this is kind of cool. It’s like Street Fighter or Virtua Fighter in that sense.
  • The combo system is a key game mechanic, and it means that there’s potential for increasing your best scores every single play through. It’s a tough one to explain on paper, so make sure you check out the demo, but imagine a shooter that gives you the replayability of the crash mode in Burnout or trying to find the perfect skating line in Tony Hawk.
  • It’s easy to jump to your favorite sections of the game. We didn’t want people to be forced to play for ages to get to their favorite bits, so we’ve designed it with this in mind. Each section of gameplay lasts for about 2 or 3 minutes, but it’s the most intense, fun and breathless 3 minutes of gameplay you’ll have experienced!
  • It’s not about hiding behind blocks or cover, but is fully about sprinting through levels and taking out enemies in stylish and cool ways. This is true run and gun gameplay; there’s no stealth or need to be cautious. We want players to feel like they’re Rambo as they charge through levels!

Those are the four main pillars of the game which really set The Club apart from other 3rd person shooters. The more you play the more you’ll find what sets it apart.

theclubscreen3-1.jpgGT: What would you say are the biggest influences that went into The Club?

People have tried to label The Club and they always try to say what it’s like. At some recent presentations of the game I heard comparisons to all sorts of games – all of which were completely different when put down next to each other! Prime examples are Tony Hawk, Doom (speed runs in particular), Project Gotham Racing, and Virtua Cop! It’s crazy! I would say that our main influences came from wanting to create a game which people found accessible, but also one that was driven by gameplay.

We had a game mechanic that was fun to play from a very early stage and it was through working with SEGA that we have been able to build The Club into what it is today. Originally the game was based around shooting pop-up targets, but since then it’s evolved greatly. However, what this does show was that we had the gameplay right from the very beginning and that has remained at the forefront ever since then.

GT: Are there any environments around the world which really inspired your team to create terrain or areas of gameplay?

The members of The Club are rich, powerful, elite people who have access to all kinds of places to hold the tournaments. So, with this in mind we racked our brains to come up with locations that we thought they might have access to: a disused island prison similar to Alcatraz? Yup, we’ll have that. A massive English manor-house? Yup, got one of those. How about a beautiful old cruise ship that’s run aground? Sure thing, this is The Club after all.

Obviously, we had some inspirations for where to base these on, (eg Alcatraz), but we also had the brilliant John Wallin to work with and he came up with some fantastic concept art for the environments. Look him up, he’s a man of many talents and as been involved in some amazing projects.

theclubscreen4-1.jpgGT: How did you go about developing the characters for the game?

We were eager to keep the characters interesting and unique right off the bat. We used quite an unusual design process for this, in that we drafted in an author to come up with several character bios first. These were just simple paragraphs of text which described the character idea and motivations in a bite-size snippet.

Then our in-house concept artists went to work! We had some “personality concepts” made up from the original bios. These were aimed to really show what was unique/likable about this particular character… for example Dragov was originally shown swinging a giant wrecking ball above his head! The second concept art we made up was the in-game placement… i.e. the character drawn in the style of The Club using the correct proportions. This was what was going to be our final design.

The problem was that we had 15 characters at the start, but we needed to get down to 8. We solved this by having a huge vote between Bizarre and SEGA… each staffer got to pick one character they liked the most, and one they liked the least. At that point we actually did something else unusual… we cut out the middle votes and kept both the strongly liked and strongly disliked characters. Our intention was to get opinions polarized on which characters were best – we didn’t want any boring designs in there.

GT: Were there any cliché characters or traits that you wanted to avoid, or did you really want to work with and push the different types of people that are in “The Club?”

We wanted to push different character types and not just have your stereotypical characters that we’ve seen in a million video games before.

theclubscreen2-1.jpgGT: Are there any moments which you just had everything come together for creating any elements of the game?

There were definitely a few moments, like when you see people “get” the combo system for the first time and they’re like “oh, so you could do a death roll and combo it with a head shot on that enemy and then look for a ricochet to take out the next enemy, but should I go for the multi-kill on the next two bad guys by shooting the gas tank, or will I get more points for taking them out individually?” Their eyes light up and all of a sudden they are possibilities everywhere in levels.
Man, when we first gave the SEGA QA team the code to test we were confident that they wouldn’t even come close to touching our high scores – we’d designed the game after all! – but then all of a sudden they were posting mad scores and doing stuff that we hadn’t even contemplated. That really upped the competitiveness in the studio I can tell you.

Other moments included when we had finalized the big show stopper moment on the prison environment on a level called ‘Escape from New Haven’ – when we first showed it to SEGA they were like “oooooooooh, that’s really good!”.

GT: Were there any ideas that you came across, alternate storylines or ways of playing the game, for example, that you just had to scrap because it went in a completely different direction?

You’ll find that in any game development there comes a time when you have to stop adding stuff to the game and get it finished. We’re very happy with everything that we’ve achieved with The Club, but if you gave us more time of course we’d find something else to put in! Ask any developer and they’ll tell you the same story!

theclubscreen1-1.jpgGT: Has there been anything that has not been possible because of constraints or limitations on time or budget?

Absolutely not. We’ve had the right support and the right relationship with SEGA.

GT: Was violence a factor in creating the game? Were there any bloody moments which, in the wake of quite a bit of anti-violent-video-game sentiments, you decided against?

We never set out to make a gratuitous violent game and when you play it you will see that for yourselves. I would point out that the violence in The Club stems from the story and not the gameplay. Like I said earlier we had fun originally shooting cardboard targets, but you just can’t include that in a triple A game and keep it intense!

GT: What has worked the best for heightening the shooter experience in The Club?

The combo system without a doubt. When you’re on a 20+ combo and the combo meter is racing down, you’re under enormous pressure to sprint to find the next bad guy in time to stop your combo from bleeding out. It’s an intense, yet rewarding experience that’ll have your heart racing.

GT: Anything you want to add about the game that blows your mind?

The sheer competitiveness of the game still amazes me. We get SEGA emailing us with their new high scores and that prompts everyone in the studio to jump back on the game to prove who’s the daddy. Played in the right way, The Club is pure gaming magic.

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