Gamestyle Archive intro: anyone remember Mace Griffin or the development team at Warthog? Gamestyle was often offered interviews and the questions were composed by the team before being sent off. The game itself was enjoyable and was a modest success – hopefully it’ll turn up as we continue the archive.
Published: September 2003
1. How was the Mace Griffin conceived and when did development commence?
Mace is an original title that was conceived entirely by a small core team here at Warthog. A couple of us had worked on space combat games before, but wanted to venture out into the world of FPSs as we enjoyed the genre so much. We first started talking about the title in April 2000, but development didn’t start properly until around 2.5 years ago
2. Did the change in publisher from Crave to Vivendi Universal Games affect development?
Not particularly. Crave gave us creative freedom and thankfully so have Vivendi. The only thing they insisted on was to lose the hat and cape on Mace, which was a good call anyway.
3. Having been originally intended for release last year – has the game provided more challenging than originally anticipated?
The game was originally planned using existing technology, but this proved impossible if we were to achieve the seamless transition, and writing a lot of new code cost us time. However we now have a powerful system with which to write future titles.
4. Mace Griffin is being released on Gamecube, Xbox, Playstation 2 and PC – will each be tailored to suit each machine, and if so is there a personal preference?
The gameplay is the same across all the platforms; the only differences are graphical and control inputs. The game looks great on all platforms, but my personal favourite is the Xbox as that what we started on and it makes good use of the pixel shaders.
5. Has it been difficult matching the control system to several different controllers?
No, because we have always had a limited amount of functions and controls so as not to get in the way of the action. The control layouts on the ground and in space are also very similar, which made the job even easier. I think we have a button to spare on all the different controllers.
6. What is the TUSK engine and did its implementation provide different challenges on the various hardware?
The TUSK engine is 3D rendering technology that can handle huge interior and exterior environments, and manage seamless transitions between the two. It was developed entirely here at Warthog. The biggest challenge was that we set out to do the game only on Xbox and PC to start with, then halfway through were asked to fit it onto PS2 and Gamecube as well. This has been done very well, but did involve extra work. Apart from having a lot less memory to play with, many of the graphical effects had to be done quite differently on Ps2 and Cube.
7. The Gamecube has Metroid Prime and the Xbox has Halo, both wonderful titles and the Playstation 2 has Headhunter. How will Mace Griffin stand out from such competition?
The obvious answer is that you can also jump into spaceships in Mace and fly them, which adds a huge extra dimension. Aside from that, the overall scale of our game is much bigger with less repetitive use of level geometry than the games you mentioned, it has a greater variety of characters and the story is far more detailed and intriguing.
8. Console exclusives are becoming a thing of the past with the multi-format approach proving more widespread. Do you think this division of labour increases workload and dilutes the actual game?
Not if it’s managed correctly. The extra revenue should pay for additional staff, and I think a lot of developers are now building in-house technology that works under the hood of multiple platforms. It makes economic sense. In my humble opinion, the Xbox is a great platform to write big games on like ours, and the PS2 is a little bit weak on memory and hardware rendering. I’m just hoping that the next generations of these platforms have plenty of processing and memory muscle so that developers feel less bound by these constraints.
9. Will you be taking advantage of the online capabilities of Xbox or Playstation 2? If not, is that a consideration for a sequel?
No, and absolutely Yes!
10. Warthog has given us Starlancer and Star Trek – both futuristic titles set in space and Mace Griffin continues this tradition. Is there a fascination with space or the future within the studio?
There’s a small core of us here who worked on Privateer 2 years ago at EA. When Warthog was starting up we decided to make the first title something we were strong at, so Starlancer was born. I think it’s an interesting genre, but for me it has to be ‘arcadey’, rather than a full space combat simulation. We have certainly made the space sections in Mace very accessible and easy to pick up.
11. As internal producer what is your role with Mace Griffin: Bounty Hunter?
Planning and managing the project. Game design, script writing, level building and interface design. And at the end, talking to the press and fan community, which is probably the fun part.
12. What other names for Mace Griffin did you consider?
Butch Slaughter, Jake Chance, Ned Dundee and Hugh Jarsole. I’m glad we settled for Mace.
Mace Griffin: Bounty Hunter
1. How did the involvement of Henry Rollins come about? Are the team fans of the influential Black Flag?
Henry was chosen by Vivendi’s marketing team and luckily he was willing and available to do it. A couple of the team are big Rollins fans, and were delighted to hear he was doing Mace’s voice.
2. Did Henry come into the studio to record the dialogue and he offer any suggestions to developing the Mace character?
I wasn’t at the recording as my first child was being born at the time, so I’m really not sure if he offered suggestions as such. What I do know is that he delivered the lines in a style all of his own which I think greatly added to Mace’s character.
3. How pleased are you with the results?
Very pleased. Obviously Henry is an interesting and highly credible celebrity to be linked with our game, but most importantly his voice and delivery suit the lead character perfectly. What is strange is that the artist who built the Mace model was actually influenced by a picture of Henry’s face, months before we found out he would be doing the voice. Spooky.
4. One ambitious feature is the smooth transition from FPS to flight combat. How important is this to the game and was it difficult to achieve?
It’s intrinsic to the gameplay, in all the missions you will find yourself switching between the ground and space to complete objectives. I can’t really comment on how difficult it was to write the code, you’d have to ask our lead programmer, but let’s say it was more than a couple of weeks work. What it did throw up was a bunch of logistical problems, like having to make tunnels down to hangars very wide so that you weren’t bouncing your ship around like a nickel in a can.
5. With Warthog having experience in developed space combat games, how does the combat system differ from previous releases?
There is no ship management in Mace, there is less chasing an enemies tail, the hostiles do more formation flying, they take less hits to kill; basically much more ‘arcadey’ and accessible to the first time space combat player.
6. Can you leave the flight controls at any time and wander around the ship?
Anytime you like. At some points you will be carrying passengers and you can go to the back of the ship and talk to them.
7. The main problem with games set in space that involve flying is a sense of position and direction. How have you attempted to overcome such problems?
We were aware of this right from the start, and designed around it. Our space environments are cluttered with asteroids, space junk, stations, lot’s of ships, and there is a constant array of space dust and nebula gas to fly through, which gives a constant sensation of movement and direction. Our space missions are also confined to relatively small action spheres, so if you wander too far from the action you will be automatically flipped around back at it, in a similar way to Rogue Squadron.
8. How many planets are involved in Mace Griffin, and how much freedom is there to travel to various locations?
There are 13 main locations in the game, spread across planetoids, space stations, nebulas and large carrier ships. You travel to each one in turn, as dictated by your nav map. On a couple of occasions you will return to a location more than once.
9. An impressive aspect is the variety of missions and locations within the game. How important was it to deliver varied and challenging environments? Do you have a particular favourite mission?
Something that I feel is weak in many other games is the lack of variety when it comes to environments and mission objectives. I’m not sure if this is because people lack imagination, or are just playing ‘safe’. With Mace we threw away the rulebook, and if someone had a good idea for a level or mission then it would be in. Thus we have missions set on alien cattle ranches, in a futuristic temple, on a luxury nebula liner, and of course in a strip club. I think people are going to be staggered by the scale and diversity of the game.
10. What form of save feature will the game utilise – automatic save points like Halo for instance?
There are a number of automatic save points positioned throughout each mission. You will also have one autosave at the last checkpoint you crossed.
11. Instead of just including corporations, with the Order of Virtual Light you’ve created a futuristic church, which embraces technology in the 27th century. What role does the church play in proceedings and is it based on scientology?
It is not based on scientology in anyway. Within the game the Order of Virtual Light plays quite a central role, but this does not become obvious until much later. This religion is based upon people’s gullibility, and eagerness to be brainwashed (which is stupid) and their need for faith, or some explanation of why we are here (which is natural, and in many cases healthy). I personally sit on the fence when it comes to religion – I’ve seen good things come from it, but also a lot of ugly stuff. In the case of the Order of Virtual Light, it’s actually not what it seems, and is not set up in the best interests of it’s followers.
12. The proliferation of story-led games has led to a situation where gamers often play to see out the story, rather than because the game play is particularly enjoyable itself. How have you overcome this hurdle with Mace Griffin?
By keeping the gameplay solid and challenging right to the end and introducing some new and surprising levels, characters, ships and objectives throughout the game.
13. What level of interaction is there with environments and residents within the game?
The environments contain a lot of machinery and equipment to manipulate; you can blow up bridges, shoot down stalactites, use floor-mounted guns, and use security cameras, to name but a few things. The characters will interact with you depending upon whether they are friendly, neutral or hostile, and obviously what you do to them. The permutations are vast, but for every action there is a reaction, with no NPCs standing around likes statues.
14. Will Mace Griffin follow a predetermined route of bounty hunting, or will the player have the freedom to pick and choose targets out with the main story?
The player is presented with a number of missions in a preset order, some of which will help to move the story along and others that will be more incidental.
15. Do you have the choice to bring in wanted felons dead or alive?
Yes, and you will also have the choice to make mercy killings.
16. Is the reward purely one of satisfaction and revenge, or will Mace be rewarded in credits that can be spent on upgrades?
The primary motivation will be to find your persecutors and exact revenge on them, but you will also be rewarded with both ground and ship weapons and upgrades as well.
17. Although set in the future several of the weapons in Mace are very familiar familar (shotgun, assault rifle etc), how many weapons are there in total? Will any offer a dual purpose?
There are 11 ground weapons, all with a secondary function. There will be 7 ship weapons, but these are single function. Along with the traditional weapons you will also find some more unusual ones like the sonic shock cannon and the plasma machine gun.
18. How many weapons can Mace carry at any one time? How easy it is to scroll through options during combat?
If you manage to get them, you can carry all 11 at once. It is very easy and quick to scroll through the weapons with a couple of button presses.
19. Enemies react realistically (like Goldeneye) to being hit on various parts of the body with some smooth animation. Is this intended to promote more tactical thought from the player, rather than just running in, all guns blazing?
The smart thing is to hit the head or chest for maximum damage. Alternatively you may want to hit the arm holding a weapon to stop the NPC firing at you.
20. AI is becoming more realistic and challenging with each release, what steps have you taken to ensure Mace Griffin can offer a demanding experience?
Our AI will use different tactics depending upon species, bravery, weapon carried, ammo carried, health, if in a group and environment, which obviously creates a lot of possibilities. The major strengths of our AI are the variety, the realism and the ability to use cover.
21. How long do you envisage Mace Griffin will take to complete?
The XBox and Ps2 should hit the shelves in late June in the US, then July or August in Europe. All the versions have either passed or are in submission now, so for us it’s pretty much finished.
22. Are there any in-built features to increase replay value?
There are some cheats which will be announced after release, and as the levels are so big, you could play the game several times taking different routes through the levels.
1. Now that Warthog have reached the end of the development cycle have you achieved everything you set out to accomplish? Is there one feature you wish you could have included?
Yes, we have generally fulfilled all our initial objectives and stuck to the original game plan. There isn’t anything major that we didn’t realise.
2. When a project is completed what are the general feelings of the team?
Relief at seeing our loved ones again! I can’t wait to see the title out in the shops and see what kind of response we get. We have worked on the title for a long time and you can’t help but become emotionally attached to it. We are also doing post mortems so that we do things even better and more efficiently next time.
3. What games would you like to play now that Mace Griffin is finished?
Half Life 2 and Red Alert 3
4. Have you decided on your next project?
There are a few possibilities, which are confidential at this point, but a sequel to Mace would be my preferred option.
5. What do you think will be the biggest development in video games over the next five years?
Photo-realistic rendering and industry standard game development software. One of the most expensive (time, money and sanity) parts of game development is writing technology, which does the same thing again and again with an incremental improvement in performance or features. We need to get to where the film industry is, with standard tools readily available and relatively accessible, so that more time can be spent on the gameplay and content, and less time re-inventing the wheel. The process has already been going a while with world building tools for the mod community – it’s only a matter of time before stuff like physics engines and AI scripting will be as user friendly and modular. If that hasn’t happened in five years I’ll eat my hat.