“Red Steel 2” Director Jason Vandenberghe Talks with Kevin Ohannessian About the making of an action game with detailed motion controls and shares his enthusiasm for PlayStation Move and Microsoft’s Project Natal.
Western-meets-Samurai Anime game Red Steel 2 takes a giant leap forward in translating players’ movements into epic on-screen swordfights.
Kevin Ohannessian: Tell me about Red Steel 2.
Jason Vandenberghe: Red Steel 2 is a first-person sword and gun-slinging action game, with the Wii Motion Plus required. We have broken through the first-person swordfighting barrier and have created what I affectionately call a first-person brawler. The game is played fast and furious at a close range. We started over with the franchise, the setting and the world; a new hero, a new look, a new style. It has more of a graphic novel look this time, in a world more fitting for swordfighting gameplay.
How is making a game with such detailed motion control different than a typical game?
It’s revolutionary. We are one of a small group that can say that. Are you familiar with the “Wii Waggle”? The style of gameplay that’s become common in many of the games–you can’t play Red Steel that way. You have to treat the Wiimote like a sword, like you are holding a katana. The goal we had was to give you the sensation that the Wiimote you are swinging is a blade and when you make contact with your enemies you’re really cleaving them. With the Wii Motion Plus, we can do it. It lets us take a first-person shooter, Red Steel, and turn it into a first-person fighter, Red Steel 2. We have been able to finally satisfy the promise of swordfighting on the Wii.
Wii Motion Plus at its core is a gyroscope. It tells us at all times what position the Wiimote is in, what angle is space the Wiimote is pointing. This turns out to be very useful for a few key things. Imagine your Wiimote is a sword and you are going to whack some dude with it. What’s the first thing you do? Generally the first thing you do is pull back for the swing, you ready the swing. Well, if you holding the Wiimote like a sword that means the Wiimote isn’t pointing at the sensor bar. Without the Motion Plus, the Wii has no idea where it is. With the Wii Motion Plus we know all throughout: drawing back for the swing, the moment you begin to accelerate, and we know that you’re doing that and we know what direction you’re moving; we can calculate the arc of your swing.
Without the Wii Motion Plus you swing the Wiimote and a half-second later it goes “Boom” on screen. With the Wii Motion Plus it’s simultaneous; there’s no lag. The difference between that half-second of lag is the difference between frustration and immersion. It’s the key difference. And that why you haven’t seen this kind of gameplay prior to the existence of the Wii Motion Plus, because it is not satisfying without it.
When making action-based motion control games, players’ actual physical capabilities become more of an issue.
This is the core issue with human interface. We solved it in a whole bunch of ways, through experimentation and play testing. We looked for as many problems as we can find and looked for clever solutions to them. In Red Steel we have different difficulty modes. What we demand of the player, in terms of challenge and thinking, shifts. We found that humans are not as equally accurate with the blade. Almost everyone can be fast, which I was surprised by. You can ask people to swing that thing pretty quickly and they will go ahead and do it. It’s the accuracy that’s the issue. The thing that is really hard for people is understanding that there is someone next to them, knowing how to block and parry, how to respond to someone that is attacking them–these are the things we found that are really challenging to be in an action-style of play.
We found that really clear tutorials, we have these lessons in the game when you learn to do the actual motions, everyone seems to get that. If you are an Easy-level player, you are going to have to think about only one enemy at a time, even if you are surrounded. And the number of times you have to parry or block accurately is less. We scale down the type of skills we ask the player to do and let them focus on Conan-ing their way through the game. Everyone can do that; that’s a human ability, to run in and start swinging. It’s doing it with accuracy and grace that is the hard part.
When you are playing on a higher difficulty, you really have to focus on the motion, and you got to be moving–being surrounded is really dangerous. Combat in the real world–this is what we are discovering–if you get surrounded, you are screwed; it doesn’t matter how skilled you are. In our game you really need to think about that: thinking about isolating your foe, diving in and then stunning them so they can’t attack, taking advantage of that opening, and then getting the hell out of there. The game on Ninja difficulty is pretty challenging. But you know what? Our game is kind of like Guitar Hero, in that by the time you get down with Normal, you are ready for Ninja. It’s a learnable skill; it’s been a really fascinating study for us.
It’s thrilling; I’m very, very excited. I’ve been wanting to make a swordfighting game my entire career; I’ve pitched a swordfighting game at every studio I’ve worked at. And now that I’ve made one, my primary ambition in life is to make another one. I really want to keeping doing it–the technology is just going to keep getting better and better. I learned a huge amount about what it takes to do this–the human interface part is the hard part. We overcame a lot of those challenges with Red Steel 2. I want to keep going.
As far as what’s going to happen with Red Steel, Red Steel 2 is Wii exclusive and always will be. As for the future, we are all waiting to see what happens when the game comes out: is it well received, did we do our job, is it a good thing, is there a demand–do people want to play this way? I want to play this way–but I need facts and statistics to back me up. Do me a favor and buy a million and a half copies. And tell your friends to buy a million and a half copies. And their friends too.
If you have been carrying around a swordfighting fantasy, if you were a kid that wished they were a samurai or a pirate and swinging a stick around in the backyard, you have to try this game. Pick it up and give it a chance; it’s a lot of fun. It’s something that the industry has been missing.
Ubisoft’s Red Steel 2 for the Wii will be released March 23.