Quantum of Solace is getting some very good hype as both a movie and a video game. The Bond franchise hasn’t done very well in the latter medium, with the eternally lauded exception of Goldeneye on the Nintendo 64 system. We spoke with Jeremy Luyties, Design Director for the game to get the hows and whys; how was the game made, and why should gamers be excited.
Newsarama: How early was the decision to use the Call of Duty 4 engine as the base of this game?
Jeremy Luyties: Immediately. Why not? Even before CoD4 was done. We’re all in the family, we’re all Activision, and when we see a game like that coming out that strong, it’s immediately “why not start out with something that’s already achieving this level?”.
NRAMA: What about a “war” game’s engine made you immediately think a Bond game would fit into it?
JL: Yeah, that’s an interesting question. We didn’t look at it from the perspective of a war game’s engine. We looked at it from the perspective of the baseline of code, how long has it been around, how many Call of Duty games have there been, how many iterations of this tech have occurred. And then it’s just those four games that’ve been made off this tech.
NRAMA: As opposed to the seemingly thousands of Unreal Engine games?
JL: (laughs) Well it’s the same kinda reason to go with Unreal as well. It’s a tank, it’s been around a long time, people have worked on it, made successful games with it. For us, the Bond team, we’d done a lot of CoD stuff before, so we’re very familiar with the scripting language, the tools, and what it takes to get the game up and running and working. So it was a no brainer as far as taking that base and what it allowed us to use. It allowed us to focus on a couple of features like the cover combat, like the whole new AI system, and really focus on those instead of building an engine from the ground up AND scrambling to build new features. Starting from scratch is easily a four or five year process, where we could do it off this engine in 24 months.
NRAMA: You just mentioned a lot of the development team has done CoD and games like that. How important is it from a development standpoint for a team to continue working on the same genre vs. jumping around between different types of games?
JL: That’s another interesting question. I would feel odd speaking for the team, but for myself I like making shooters. I’m very fortunate that my whole career I’ve only ever made shooters; the first game I worked on was Return to Castle Wolfenstein. I love shooters, I live shooters, I breathe shooters, I just want to make shooters! So for me that’s huge, it makes a big difference.
NRAMA: Do you think that you would be in shooters if it wasn’t your first type of game?
JL: I don’t know, it could be because it was my first one. When you see development teams that focus on a particular type of game, they have stronger chances of putting something out that’s very good. For instance, Call of Duty, you have two great teams going back and forth making it. And looking at other franchises, anything with “Shock” at the end of it (Bioshock, System Shock), the team has a whole history of making that type of game, and that increases their chances versus a new team. It definitely adds to success. You want to bring people in fresh as well, though, cause we go into third person, so we brought in people who worked on the Spider-Man games to help us out with camera angles, and how it works with boss sequences. At the end of the day it’s all about the team. You can put anything in front of a bunch of developers and designers, but if the team has made games together, and the same type of games together, they simply have a higher chance of making a good game.
NRAMA: Did you guys have a pretty strict team? Across the industry lately there’ve been teams that have collapsed late in development, or had people brought on at the tail end of a project.
JL: The Bond team was actually made up of a lot of people who’d never made a game together. So it was a huge challenge to come onto the Bond team and work with a group of people that this is their first time at bat as a team. As well as on a new IP, basically, with how different this is from previous Bond games. New mechanics, newer engine, so it can be very challenging. What you do though is try to find what people do best. You may have a guy doing one particular thing for a few months, then one day he tries something else for fun and you need to just say “Hey, you should be working on that!”
NRAMA: Do you have that flexibility? To take someone from one part and put them on a completely different part of the game?
JL: Completely. You want people to be invested, passionate, and working on things they love. There are certain things I love and certain things I don’t. We may discover a guy has an affinity for security cameras, and that’s what we want him working on.
NRAMA: So what are a few features that you specifically love that you’re working on in this game?
JL: Well, I really like the third person melee take downs. It’s basically the same melee as any first person shooter, you just walk up and hit a button. Then there’s one other button you have to hit to send it to third person and take the guy down. That’s something we haven’t seen before in an FPS, and it’s a really cool visual thing.
NRAMA: So it’s not quite the slightly more complicated takedowns seen earlier this year in Metal Gear Solid 4?
JL: Well, it’s kinda in-between, but it’s all about accessibility.
NRAMA: Are there multiple animations for those takedowns?
JL: We have about 30 or 40 different ones. It’s all situational and environmental. You’ll do a different on outside than you will when you’re up against a wall. If you’re in a tight spot, it’ll do an especially quick elbow to keep you moving. When we initially had standard melee, and you’re walking around just hitting people with the butt of your gun, it just didn’t feel like Bond. But when you see him go into third person and slam the guy against the wall, it makes people feel like James Bond.
NRAMA: You said you started your career working on Wolfenstein, which is an original IP. How is it different working on a licensed IP?
JL: It’s the same and not the same! Everyone’s invested, and there’re many different partners in making games. When we made Wolfenstein, we were partners with iD. iD was very involved, and very invested, just like the license here. Working with the movie production and all those people to make Bond is just like working with a third party. One thing that changes is you lose a little freedom in making certain decisions. If you want an event to end a certain way, but it doesn’t in the license, you can’t pull that off, you can’t change something from the movie. But, we can use stuff that was cut from the movie, and we actually put a couple levels into the game that didn’t make it into the movie. You get a little more bang for the buck that way.
I just want to say, too, that we’re really lucky that this team that never worked together pulled off a miracle. This is intense pressure, intense deadlines, zero tolerance for failure. This is people stepping up and believing in themselves. These people really believe in the game we’ve made.
NRAMA: With the license do you have to get approval for every game concept that you want to use though?
JL: Not necessarily. It’s more of global broadstrokes, rules. James Bond badguys don’t talk about things, they don’t look foolish, we can’t have them tripping; there are no bums in the world of Bond. We had a bum in a level, and you walked by and he just said “Get outta here!” and the license holders said “no bums.” So there is that sort of stuff, but when it comes to the nitty-gritty they really gave us a lot of freedom.
First and foremost, this is a video game. So we largely wanted to take off the James Bond “shell” and make a good, fun video game. Then once it’s fun, put the James Bond “shell” back onto it, and now we have a chance of putting something out that’s cool. We don’t want to depend too much on that. We want them to enjoy the core elements and mechanics of the game, not just buy it cause it says “Bond” on it.
NRAMA: OK, I have one more question for you. Activision Blizzard is an enormous company. They have tons of games coming out in just the next two months under that fold. IS that difficult as a developer? Do you still get a lot of support from a publisher that large?
JL: Oh, heavily. We are all part of the same team, and we get a huge amount of support. Assets, resources; Treyarch is very close to the heart of Activision. I was originally with Grey Matter, and we got absorbed, but we aren't treated any differently. Basically, it’s “What do you guys need?” anytime we go to them.