Bulletstorm Interview (Xbox360)

Bitch-tits, fungal rim-jobs, spikes and dismemberment... Bulletstorm has certainly caused a stir with its colourful dialogue and over the top action set-pieces, but underneath it's slightly silly exterior lies a deep and serious game wanting to change the world slightly. We sat down with two of the front runners behind the game, Cliff Bleszinksi from Epic Games, and People Can Fly's Adrian Chmielarz.

Strategy Informer: So, without giving away too much, is Bulletstorm basically Serenity meets Lost Planet 2 on Speed or something?

Adrian Chmielarz: *laughs* You know what, yes! Whatever Joss Whedon has done with the sci-fi stuff, it's the text book definition of a pulp sci-fi, right? And that's way more emphasis on 'fi' than 'sci', and that's the same as what we've done with Bulletstorm. We don't really care what powers the spaceships, we just cares that they can destroyed. And that basically means that it's meaningful to the characters. But I've always been a fan so I'm sure there's a sense of it in Bulletstorm.

Cliff Bleszinski: It's funny you think about Joss Whedon and what he's able to put into his work, and sometimes it comes across as very serious, and then it comes across as fun and ultimately having a lot of heart, and actually I think some of those traits will come through in this product in the end.

Strategy Informer: Cliff, you mentioned before that, whilst you've got characters shouting bitch-tits and being as creative with profanities as you can be with skillshots, there's also the robust story there as well. Do you want people to take this game seriously?

Cliff Bleszinski: That's a tricky question. I think when people first hear about, they see videos and see some of the dialogue... that has their attention. At least they're reading people's churn on message boards and the trolling, and the "no I've played it it's great". It's kind of a classic cycle of what an Epic game is. People come for the graphics and the single-player and then they want to stay for the multiplayer and replay-ability. They may be initially shocked with some of the things they hear or see that you can do in the game, but then they wind up really digging the characters and the story arc and the depth of the skillshots system.

Adrian Chmielarz: The name we bring a lot to this discussion is Tarantino. You know it's like if you asked him whether he wanted people to take Pulp Fiction seriously. I guess the answer from him would be yes - I have over the top characters, right, this is crazy, they're about to go kill a guy and they're talking about Big Macs and then there's the stuff in the cellar. So it's OTT and crazy but at the same time these characters are fleshed out, you really invest yourself in them. We do wink at the player from time to time - that moment in the elevator for example, but we don't break the fourth wall.

Strategy Informer: How did the voice actors get on with the script, especially all the swearing and everything?

Cliff Bleszinski: I think they had a lot of fun with it.

Adrian Chmielarz: They actually did. The funny story with Steve Blum, we described to him the character and everything, and he did like ten different version of the guy, and finally the eleventh one was the best one, and that was his own voice. We told him to do it as you, as Steve Blum and just have fun with it.

Cliff Bleszinski: You get a lot with voice actors. Whenever you hear them say their name, and then go into a different voice you just say "no no, do that, do you", and that works best.

Adrian Chmielarz: The thing that surprised me, and I'm ecstatic about this, is that everyone recorded separately but when you listen to them, it's like they're actually talking. I mean we had lines read to them, but it likes they were actually working together. It's another thing that it was very good for us to use professional voice actors.

Cliff Bleszinski: You really do get what you pay for. It's like the difference between community theatre and...

Adrian Chmielarz: Or, the difference between someone with a recognizable name, like a proper actor, but not that great of a voice actor.

Strategy Informer: You also said earlier that if Bulletstorm didn't do well, we'd probably be seeing military shooters for the next ten years...

Cliff Bleszinski: You're still going to be seeing them regardless.

Strategy Informer: Do you worry though that these kinds of shooters are becoming a standard that everyone wants to try and follow?

Cliff Bleszinski: I think they're successful not only because the ones that are popular are incredibly polished and cool - I mean just look at the amount of features you have to have in your latest Call of Duty or Medal of Honor it's a metric fuckton. But at the same time these games are popular for the same reason football is popular: people can look at it and they already know the rules. They know that this is a desert eagle, or this is an AK-47 and it does this etc...

When you have a new universe with weapons and characters you sometimes have to go a little easier at the beginning to ease people into it and what it all is and everything is slightly slower, but that can be more rewarding because you really get involved in the fiction and the universe instead of a predefined location like Afghanistan.

Adrian Chmielarz: I love them, I play them, It's just that there's this trend lately that - it doesn't matter whether it's World War II or Sci-fi, it's always military based, everything is about securing the LZ all the time. But when you look at the summer blockbuster movies, sure there are ones in the same genre with some similarities but there are differences as well. It can be Die Hard, or it can be Independence Day. They're both over the top, action, both have jokes and humour, but this is like aliens invading earth and the other is a cop shooting up terrorists.

This is what we wanted to do. We don't want you to hate military shooters, we just want you to know that there can be something else as well.
Strategy Informer: Do you see Bulletstorm as a franchise? Specifically Bulletstorm or just another game along the same themes?

Adrian Chmielarz: Voting will happen on the 25th of February *laughs* We'll see. What's interesting currently, and this goes beyond Bulletstorm, is that I'm absolutely in love with the convergence - take Dead Space 2 for example. I'm not playing that currently because I'm currently going through the prequel book, and then I'm going to play Extraction, and THEN I can jump into Dead Space 2. In that sense in regards to the universe, I think it's fair to say we will see a lot more of that, regardless of whether its Bulletstorm or not.

Strategy Informer: Would Epic want to continue to support this as a franchise, or at least see more games of this calibre?

Cliff Bleszinski: There's a saying in Hollywood is that the last sequel is the one that fails to make money, and that's business 101 type stuff. Like Adrian said we'll see how people vote with their dollars. What I will say is that, with Gears you've seen the novels, the comics, the action figures... and what I like about this is that it creates an uberfan, this creates the Star Trek nerd for your property. Some people will have just seen the recent movie but they'll be this one guy who's been there from the beginning who'll be like "You've no idea!", but that's kind of cool to have that. Some people really aspire to know more about the universe. We'll wait and see on the success and if the game does well we'll maybe expand into other areas.

Strategy Informer: Let's assume hypothetically for a moment that a sequel has been green lit. People say 2011 is a great year for games, but it's also a year filled with sequels. Do you worry that some kind of Sequel fatigue might set in?

Cliff Bleszinski: I think sequels are a double-edged sword right? On the one hand... learning a new game is like picking up Rosetta stones and learning a language, especially if they change the controls. We're unfortunately in a world that's becoming increasingly brand orientated where people are less willing to take a chance. You have to come out with a two-ton hammer and hit people on the head, which is what I think is what's working well for Bulletstorm in the language, the OTT action, the skillshots etc...

Adrian Chmielarz: From my point of view, I don't care if its new IP or sequel. I love going to the cinema and seeing a movie where I see a set of characters for the first time, but I also like TV shows, with like five seasons for whatever. So what matters to me is if there's a certain type of game that I'm missing - if I want to play a horror-FPS, what do I do? If I want to play a comedy adventure, what do I do? There's nothing out there... but if I have ten different military shooters to choose from, well, that's great for one of them. We bring new IP's to the market, but I'm not happy if it's just for the sake of bringing new IP's, I'm happy because we're bringing a new proposal, a new way of playing a FPS.

Strategy Informer: In Bulletstorm, obviously you have all of the fancy skills shots and weird and wonderful ways to kill people, especially in multiplayer where you can kill people co-operatively. What were the technical challenges you faced there?

Cliff Bleszinski: I was more on the creative side of things, but one thing I know that's tricky with any kind of networking is the replication of objects across multiple clients. When the first versions of the game were in single-player, you kick the barrel, you spin people up in the air and shoot the barrel for the rag dolls - that's something where you have to send continual updates to the other players. Thankfully that all worked out quite well.

Adrian Chmielarz: Probably the biggest challenge is that - well rag-dolls and havok physics only kick in after death. You shoot a guy, and because it doesn't really matter where he falls because he's dead, that's when you use it locally. When you have a game though where you can kick all these barrels and they need to replicate properly across all clients and you have ragdolls... yeah that was a big technical challenge.
Strategy Informer: More and more these days you're starting to see developers put their own achievements or rewardable tasks into games, aside from Microsoft Achievements or Trophies, do you think these 'in-game' achievements are going to become more prominent?

Cliff Bleszinski: You saw it happen when Call of Duty started doing it, right? Microsoft only allows a maximum of roughly 50 achievements in 360 games. I will go on record to say that for a game, especially shooters where you're expected to put in hundreds of hours of gameplay, that is not enough short-terms goals for medium-to long term gameplay. You need more granularity than that, and that's why you're starting to see games offer ribbons and badges and XP bonuses with unlockable shoes and all that, and then occasionally you get an achievement, and then you go back into the grind of the meta-game, and you'll get another achievement, but it's too long a gap. Now the two can co-exist quite well, but gamers need deep, long games that have constant feedback and rewards.

Strategy Informer: How did you decide what skillshots to include in the game? What was the thinking there?

Adrian Chmielarz: You can imagine how all these brainstorming sessions looked like- it was even worse than that. It's very hard to answer like where do all these ideas come from - out of my head! But it's like we have these planning sessions and we just ask "what other bad things can happen to this guy?" but sometimes you could be in the bath and think "wait a minute... ass shot!".

Cliff Bleszinski: I don't want to know what happened in that bath. But at the same time you have a certain rule in that that shot needs to have a certain skill to it. It's not enough to just throw a guy in the air and shoot him.

Adrian Chmielarz: Yeah, currently you pull the guy with the leash and you kill him, you just get +10 because it's not that skilful. It's always the risk vs. reward. If you go for 'Mercy' you can get a lot of points because it require calm precision, and then you need to follow up, actually to do that one. But it's not easy, because the challenge is that you want people to know that they will be rewarded before they execute the skillshot. A perfect example of this is the cacti, you pull the guy to you, you have the kick, there's a cactus behind him, you know you're going to get something before you even kick him. The challenge was not in inventing all the ways, the challenge was to make them natural rewards for what you were doing anyway. I think we've done a pretty good job in making things feel for natural.

Strategy Informer: There's no direct competitive multiplayer in Bulletstorm, any particular reason for that?

Cliff Bleszinski: There is not a traditional PvP, but there is an a-synchronous versus mode in Echoes mode, which is basically "I beat your score, see if you can do better" and is leaderboard base.

Adrian Chmielarz: It's the Unreal Engine right, we can do whatever. The problem was, take the flail gun for example. You fire a chain at him, you have six seconds to do what you like with him. Now put that in (a PvP) multiplayer. Somebody wraps the chain around you, and for six seconds you are helpless, and in PvP that's like eternity. Six seconds of being immobilised would be like Hell. I mean anything is solvable, but we'd have to do like an entirely different game.

We thought "hey, wait a minute", we are introducing completely new way of playing FPS to the world, one thing at a time. We have this beautiful core combat mechanic... If someone is really competitive - Echoes mode. The demo has proven it works every well - This is your internet penis, you can compare your scores. If you just want to have good fun with your friends, with a beer, then go for Anarchy, and if you want to be competitive in Anarchy you can still try to be the best in your team. I think it's similar to the balls Infinity Ward showed when the removed co-op from the single-player. Everybody said "oh when you have a campaign you need to have co-op!" and they were like "no, it doesn't work. Here's your single player, here's your spec-ops and here's your multiplayer". We did the same thing - what's best for the game.

Well, I don't think we need to say anything else. Stay tuned for our review which will be coming in a couple of weeks time.