1Up interview with Ravens Creative Director Eric Bessman

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Previews Wolfenstein's creative director discusses the Veil, a super-powered BJ Blazkowicz, and how id and Raven are BFFs. By Thierry Nguyen 12/12/2008 Yes, we know that Wolfenstein's release date follows the id Software convention of "when it's done," but we'll be surprised if it doesn't manage to hit shelves by the holidays next year. It's been a bit of a while since we've seen anything on Raven's installment of the legendary franchise (remember, pretty much all first-person shooters trace their lineage to the goofy pseudo-3D FPS where you fight Mecha-Hitler at the end), so we sent some questions to Creative Director Eric Biessman over at Raven. Here, he touches on topics such as where the heck the supernatural dimension known as the Veil came from, what's it like to give the player special powers, and how id and Raven are totally best friends forever. 1UP: Can you talk about how much id contributes to Wolfenstein's development? Is it pretty much 100 percent Raven, with id providing a John Hancock or two when needed, or is id more intimately involved? Eric Biessman: Raven and id have worked very closely throughout the development of Wolfenstein. There's a rich history in the license, and we've worked hard to push forward new ideas and gameplay while still retaining the flavor and characters that are a part of the world. We're lucky, because id and Raven have a great history of working together. Some of Raven's first titles were done hand-in-hand with id -- from Heretic to Hexen 2 -- and we've had the pleasure of doing many projects on id technology. Because of this, we've got a really good chemistry of openness and an ease in communication -- it's a great collaboration. If I have a question for [designer] Kevin Cloud at id, I'm always open to drop an IM, e-mail, call, or even set up a videoconference so we can look at the game together. It's worked out great, from brainstorming new ideas to getting solid feedback as we implement things into the game. [img]http://www.1up.com/media/03/6/6/0/lg/023.jpg[/img] 1UP: With Raven working on three games -- Singularity, Wolfenstein, and X-Men Origins: Wolverine -- can you talk about the team size and the production cycle? Is it a smaller, more focused team compared to previous Raven shooter teams -- such as Quake IV -- is it business as usual, or is it the biggest team of the three? EB: The Wolfenstein team has grown throughout its development. Starting as a smaller, tighter team that rapidly prototyped new ideas and made technology improvements, the team's grown as the design and gameplay solidified. Raven currently has around 50 people on the [Wolfenstein] team, as well as the people in our cinematic and scanning-and-motion-capture groups that help out with content creation. We're at a similar number to the other teams that are in development at Raven. 1UP: No offense intended, but Wolfenstein was first announced by id CEO Todd Hollenshead back at X05. So, uh, what's taken so long? EB: No offense taken! We spent time doing research and development for the game, really focusing on what worked well for the license and removing what didn't work so well. Wolfenstein is an intense and dynamic story-driven combat experience where the occult comes to life. It's filled with traditional kickass Wolfenstein combat, sci-fi weaponry, strange occult creatures born from dark experiments, and evil Nazis. We knew that this was the key to making the game great, and we kept that as our driving goal throughout development. We took the time necessary to create a design to fill those criteria. In the end, put the time down to our dedication to deliver a great experience. [img]http://www.1up.com/media/03/6/6/0/lg/020.jpg[/img] 1UP: In past demonstrations of the game, Raven personnel have discussed the idea of the "expansive environment" as one of the things that Wolfenstein is pushing; can you elaborate on what that means, and how does that affect the level design? EB: Similar to previous games in the series, Wolfenstein thrusts the player into the role of BJ Blazkowicz, a hardened OSA soldier sent to deal with the strange experiments that the Nazis have up their sleeves. This time around, the Nazis have discovered a strange power source near the fictional German city of Isenstadt. It's in and around the city that BJ battles the Nazis, working to stop them from realizing their terrible plans. The idea behind the expansive environment is that as BJ [progresses] through the game and the story, new areas and missions open up, offering him the choice of exploration and how he approaches obstacles and combat within the city. If BJ is under heavy fire from an emplaced gun, he may decide to rush the weapon in a straight assault. If he doesn't think that'll work, he could take to the rooftops and drop down behind the emplacement. Or, perhaps he wants to avoid the situation entirely, dropping through a nearby manhole to bypass the emplacement altogether. Really, the main goal of the game is to offer the player enough choice to suit his needs while still driving an immersive and exciting story and world. 1UP: Where did the idea for the Veil come from? What was the specific "a-ha!" moment for the Veil -- did you happen to watch or read something that provided the creative spark for it? EB: That's really a tough question. As a quick explanation, the Veil's an alternate dimension that rests on top of reality. Early in the game, BJ finds an ancient item that allows him to enter the Veil, gaining new abilities and powers that he can use against the Nazi threat as they work on their evil deeds. Primarily, the Veil was born out of gameplay. We'd created a set of gameplay options for the player that allowed him to grab glowing runes in the world that activated short-lived powers. While we loved the idea of giving BJ access to the powers that the Nazis were using against him, we felt that it ended up giving the player more of a "multiplayer power-up" feeling and really took away a lot of player choice when the runes were set in the world. With that in mind, we set out to allow the player to choose when and how he used his powers, while keeping it streamlined and fast for players. [img]http://www.1up.com/media/03/6/6/0/lg/019.jpg[/img] One of the things that the team at Raven has always loved about Wolfenstein was the "what if?" possibility of reality. What if the Nazis' research in the occult really paid off? What if the Black Sun, which is based on historical past and is the basis for the Nazi SS logo, really was a real item? We asked ourselves questions like this. As we were brainstorming ideas for how to allow the player to have control over the powers, the Veil came into being. Essentially, it's the perfect tie-in between the gameplay concept and the story conceit. The Nazis have discovered that the Black Sun is real. Unfortunately for them, but fortunately for our hero, they're blocked from direct access to it by the Veil. BJ discovers he can use the Veil to control the small amount of Black Sun energy that's leaking into the Veil against the Nazis. It really was an "a-ha!" moment that tied it all together. 1UP: How do you go about designing abilities like Mire, a sort of Veil-powered bullet time? Abilities in single-player are a new thing to Wolfenstein; were they designed as a way to augment the player's overall experience, or to solve specific design challenges that came up during conception, or what? EB: We actually end up with both solutions. [As mentioned earlier], the powers were added to the game to really augment the player on a combat level. As we worked on the game, we realized that they also tie in well with obstacles and design challenges. So, we've got the best of both worlds -- the ability to really crank up the player's combat prowess as well as a cool and helpful way to solve obstacles. Wolfenstein's an action game first and foremost, so keeping things fast and fluid has been our driving goal, and the Veil powers fit in their very solidly. [img]http://www.1up.com/media/03/6/6/0/lg/024.jpg[/img] 1UP: So, what will make this new Wolfenstein feel like a "Wolfenstein" game? EB: We haven't divulged a lot of specific information on the game yet, but you can expect to see a lot of things that tie Wolfenstein to its predecessors. You're going to see things that are instantly memorable [or nostalgic], like hidden treasures and some favorite weapons, as well as some returning characters that we're not talking about yet. Of course, BJ's back in action, and he defines the Wolfenstein universe in a nutshell! Lastly, Wolfenstein's very deep into the awesome setting of the universe. It's a world where things don't have to be grounded in reality. Soldiers in power armor patrol the city streets side by side with Wehrmacht infantry; strange creatures fly through a twisted and violent alternate dimension. The spirit of Wolfenstein is definitely alive and well in this game.

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