November 02, 2006
Summary: JCal interviews the Collective about their AMAZING-looking vampire game, Harker.
Bram Stoker's novel Dracula remains one of the most influential and adapted pieces of literature of all time and now game developer The Collective takes one of the novel's supporting character and put him in the spotlight with Harker, an upcoming vampire themed action game that is early in development. FiringSquad got a chance to chat with the game's senior producer Nigel Cook to find out more about their plans for Harker.
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FiringSquad: First, The Collective has been very busy this year with two games (The Da Vinci Code and Getting Up Contents Under Pressure) out earlier this year and it was recently announced that it would merge with Shiny Entertainment's team. How do you feel about the current state of The Collective's team?
Nigel Cook: The Collective is now stronger than it's ever been. We've had steady growth over the years, and this is especially important recently given the increasing size of teams to reach the Xbox 360 and PS3 platforms. We have fully made the leap to these consoles, and are prepared to make great games!
While The Collective and Shiny will do a lot more collaboration in the near future, and will be co-located, we will remain as separate development teams, each with our own personalities and our own strengths. Our two groups have a lot of respect for each other, and feel we can both benefit from this collaboration.
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FiringSquad: How did the idea for Harker come about?
Nigel Cook: As a successful independent studio we reached a point in the growth of the company where we wanted to try something new. Rather than working on another movie license, which of course has its own challenges, we chose to develop a series of internal game ideas for next generation consoles. Out of the top few, Harker stood out from the crowd, not only as a title that has its own segment; being a Survival Horror game with a heavy Melee combat, but also is a game that has Action Game content that is something the Collective Studios has gotten really good at.
FiringSquad: Of course, comparisons will be made between Harker and an early Collective game Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Was there a worry that the team was doing something that was the same as the earlier title?
Nigel Cook: Buffy was developed many years ago and has a combat system that was an excellent mix of ranged and melee combat in a very action orientated game from which we have learned a lot and enjoyed developing in the process. What we learned from developing Buffy does not mean we will replicate any content directly into Harker. Rather, we are taking our knowledge and learnings from Buffy to create an all-new combat system for Harker that heavily focuses on the up-close brutal punishment and execution of Vampires.
FiringSquad: What can you tell us about the storyline for Harker and its main character?
Nigel Cook: Harker is a character from the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker. In the novel, Jonathan Harker is written as an attorney who, though ill equipped, is forced to battle evil. In Bram Stoker’s novel, Jonathan Harker is portrayed as an ordinary man who in spite of himself, manages to survive. In Harker the game, we’ve taken our inspiration for our main character from the novel, but we are casting him in an entirely new light.
For the game, the motivation for Harker attacking and killing Vampires is still in an attempt to save his wife Mina; however, we’ve decided that the forces he faces have made him into a hardened, ruthless hunter, a flawed character.
Harker’s sole reason for living is to kill every single last Vampire. His poor wife Mina is hovering somewhere between life and death. The actions of the Vampires have literally thrown Harker into a rage, an all consuming passion for vengeance.
The story revolves around Harker’s search for each and every Vampire involved. During the course of the game, there will be a number of surprising twists to the plot that will keep the player guessing just what the motives of the enemy are and, indeed, who can be trusted.
FiringSquad: What can you tell us at this time about the combat system that you are developing for the game?
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Nigel Cook: Harker is a survival horror game with a heavy melee action content. This is not about a one-shot kill like other games, this is about causing suffering and pain to all vampires in a very up-close personal way.
Harker’s combat focuses on the up-close punishment and execution of vampires in the most brutal way possible. Cameras will be much closer than other games, bringing the detail and vibrancy of the characters to life. Highlighting the ‘Struggle’ mechanic, as Harker slowly drives a stake through the vampire’s heart, only to have the Vampire fight back with its last remaining strength. Pull an arm off a vampire and watch as it attempts to skitter up a wall, only to loose its grip and fall back down. In Harker the AI changes depending on the type of punishment you unleash on your prey.
Overall Melee is approximately 80% of the combat system, with the smallest portion being Ranged Weapons. Ranged Weapons are used to slow-down fast moving Vampires and knock them down from ceilings and walls. For example, use a heavy duty crossbow to pin creatures onto the surface they are climbing on. Once you have a vampire pinned, move up-close to punish them with Melee combat moves, but be quick about it! Our vampires have dynamic healing and a pinned vampire will begin slowly pulling itself off the stake and heal itself.
Unlike all other vampire games, which often make it easy to kill a vampire, Harker, will take the time to breakdown an enemy, causing them as much pain and suffering as possible, before executing them. But be careful when you do this, the stronger vampires can enter into a ‘rage’ state where they dynamically transform yet again. Firstly from Human to Vampire Form when you unmask them, and then later during combat, when causing them enough pain and suffering they can suddenly transform into their feral form. While in this animalistic form, they become less intelligent, but much more direct and lethal, like a wild animal. It will give you much more satisfaction killing say 1-2 vampires in our game, vs. a large group of weaker enemies that die with one hit like so many other games.
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FiringSquad: What sort of vampires and other enemies will the player face in Harker?
Nigel Cook: Harker will be squaring off against a considerably more diverse set of vampire demons varying dramatically in anatomy, abilities and sheer size than ever before in a vampire game/fiction. We have approached the design of Vampires from the standpoint that all creatures have the potential to become twisted vampire versions of their normal selves.
An example of this is Jack the Ripper, an influential character from the Victorian era. In Harker, he is the first person bitten by Dracula when he arrives in London, turning this intelligent and well educated serial killer in one of the most difficult Vampires to hunt and kill in the game due to his ability to transform into multiple human variations, making him difficult to track and locate.
FiringSquad: What sort of missions and locations can we expect in Harker?
Nigel Cook: We will be using some sections of the game with a Hub format, giving the player the ability to choose which segments of the game to tackle first. Other sections of the game will follow the more traditional sequential linking of missions. The locations will not be limited to those found within Bram Stoker’s novel. We will be interacting within an 18th Century World; visiting places such as London, Paris, Budapest and the Carpathian homelands.
We are also exploring other areas to use that will allow creation of an appropriate setting specific to the atmosphere we want for Harker. For Harker, it’s not sufficient to simply find Vampires whilst blindly exploring likely lairs. Harker must hunt the hunters. In doing so, Harker is exposed to great risk; Vampires are deadly prey who can kill the unwary with ease.
Hunting involves deciphering clues in the form of evidence, such as forensics taken from the sites of recent victims, ancient documents that trace bloodlines back through history, and even using ancient alchemy to a Vampire's identity and location. These elements form part of the hunting process. The climax of hunting is the alchemical process that involves using the blood of a recent victim and mixing it with a powder that takes Harker on a vision quest. This quest creates a temporary link between Harker and the Vampire responsible for the corpse lying at Harker’s feet. During the vision quest, Harker can witness the last few moments of the victim from the eyes of their killer.
The hunting is designed to lead into the combat, providing the player with the survival-horror tension before Harker is finally able to confront the demons.
In the process of killing Vampires Harker is ‘Purging the Bloodlines’ of the infestation of evil. This forms the larger framework of the games structure. A twisted genealogy tree of the infestation of evil represents the breadth and depth of the Vampires hold over man. Harker slowly uncovers through his hunting, just who and how many Vampires there are. As each Vampire is killed so the numbers on the family tree dwindle. Harker is purging as progresses.
FiringSquad: Will there be any multiplayer features planned for the game?
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Nigel Cook: We are currently designing a number of multiplayer features for consideration. One that stands out is that fact that the Vampire Hunters in the single-player experience would be great fodder for a ‘Hunters vs. Vampires’ mode of play.
FiringSquad: What other unique features will Harker have?
Nigel Cook: Real time day-to-night lighting will enable Harker to use sunlight and sun beams to bring pain and suffering to Vampires. Enter into a dark eerie location, and open up spaces to allow sunlight in through boarded up windows and cracks in the walls. Beyond the releasing of sunlight into a once darkened space, Harker also gains various upgrades such as a special Gauntlet that allows him to stand in a beam of light and reflect it across the room burning all vampires on contact, making them suffer as they slowly burn as the Sun quickly sets in the sky outside.
Harker’s killer vampire hunting gear is designed to be used so that the player can adapt to the different displayed behaviors of Vampires within the game. Harker has tools at his disposal that allow him to cope with the freedom of movement Vampires possess. The crucifix will ignite a Vampire if Harker has managed to trap them long enough for the effect to take hold. Holy Water is used to immolate flesh on Vampires, and is also useful for bringing them down from the rafters.
During the game, other Vampire Hunters may aid you during a particular quest, or moments in the game. Here they can either aid you in fighting a certain Vampire, or later, you actually get to take control of the other Vampire Hunter for a period of time.
FiringSquad: What can you tell us about the graphical features that Harker will have?
Nigel Cook: All the graphical features in Harker are created to ‘Scare the Audience’.
History books are full of details of life in the 18th Century. The areas we don’t see very often are the underbelly of life - places where people feared to go - a side of life that few people witnessed and even fewer who strayed, lived to tell the tale. Crime was common and murders hard to prosecute. It was a place full of despair. This is the side of the 18th Century world that Harker will depict.
Though combat plays a very large part of the game; Harker will spend some time during the hunting phase exploring lairs in an effort to uncover final resting places for the Vampires. This part of gameplay is where the game will concentrate the fear aspects of Harker; skillfully weaving tension and narrative before the inexorable climax of combat approaches. The strongest elements of the game needed to produce these moments of fear are the pacing, lighting and sound.
Vampires are a cunning prey. This cunning is reflected in the enemy AI. Rather than simply being an ambush specialist, or even a direct attacking opponent, Vampire AI will be based upon their character type. For example; a humanoid vampire will display all the cunning a player would expect from a human. On the other hand, a feral version will attack in a blind rage, using brute force and ignorance to overcome its prey.
Using a cutting edge form of goal-based AI gives the enemy natural variation of how to behave under given circumstances based upon available choices. The player will need to adapt to this variation in order to overcome the enemy. There will also be some controlling enemies that alter the complexity of some simpler AI creatures into more organized forms of attack, destroying the controlling enemy will force the simpler AI creatures back to their normal AI patterns, making them easier to defeat.
FiringSquad: What game platforms is The Collective targeting for the game?
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Nigel Cook: We are targeting all the Next Generation Platforms.
FiringSquad: What is the current status of the game and how far along is the team in search of a publisher?
Nigel Cook: It's still in pre-production but things are looking so good that we wanted to start showing it, and our new next-gen engine, off. We hadn't made any attempt to show the game to publishers but since the announcement on Friday we've already been contacted by a number of them.
FiringSquad: The Collective is also working on Dirty Harry and at the San Diego Comic Con there was a comic book published with another Collective proposed game property called Silencers. What can you tell us about the status of those games?
Nigel Cook: The Dirty Harry game is our first outing on Next Generation Platforms, and is now progressing very nicely. We're very happy with the shape it's taking, and we're going to have a great game coming soon!
As for Silencers, this is another Collective original, and we aren't able to share many details about this for the time being.
FiringSquad: Finally is there anything else you wish to say about Harker?
Nigel Cook: Be warned!
If you are a Vampire and you do not like having your arms ripped out of their sockets, your skin burned to a crisp, and being impaled onto a protruding spike, only to have it pushed through your body, deeper and deeper so you die a very slow and painful death, then Harker is not the game for you.