: When I spoke to you last, we were talking about the live action teaser, and the quality level there, and what that represented for the brand moving forward. I wanted to get you to elaborate on what that meant for you guys, and the team, and for the Metro IP.
: It’s been hugely important. I think we said last time around, on Metro 2033, that THQ came to realise a little too late, that it had this unpolished gem on its hands. And for whatever reason, that meant that the first game didn’t quite get the production support from THQ that could have raised the polish and quality level a little bit.
It obviously didn’t get the lasting support at the same time, but despite that, it went on to become a significant success -- it’s referred to as a cult-hit still. But we sailed past a million sales on PC alone, so I think we can stop calling it that, and actually call it a bonafide hit.
This time around, they were aware of what the potential could be, so we’ve seen that extra support, both in terms of focus from them in assisting production -- generously giving the studio a little more time to get the quality that we needed. Given THQ’s situation, that was obviously a big decision, but I think one that’s going to pay off. Then obviously, with the live action trailer.
We didn’t want to just put out a trailer of men running around shooting guns, we wanted to create something that maybe spoke a little bit more to the emotional depth and maturity of the Metro story. So we couldn’t be happier; it’s really kind of catapulted the game back into the public consciousness.
We’ve obviously got the previews from what we showed to you from our E3 event, and we’ve got a campaign planned out between now and launch, so everything is set up to make this game a substantial success, I believe.
: With a lot of trailers that other publishers do, I’ve noticed that, especially Blur, the CG studio, they get given a gameplay demo and they go off and make their own interpretation of it. How much of a hand did the dev team have in the writing and production of that live action trailer?
: To be honest, the studio are mostly focused on the game. We worked with a bunch of guys in the studio and Dmitry [Glukhovskyas - Metro 2033 author] as well, in terms of the overall concept of the trailer, but the production was predominantly led by THQ’s side, with the help of what I believe is an astonishingly good creative agency based in London.
We actually have a making-of trailer that we have released that gives you a much more in-depth look behind-the-scenes into how it all came together, which you might find pretty interesting.
A lot of the guys in the studio are extras in the movie that. It was filmed in Kiev. Basically, they all wanted to be involved, so we cleared out the studio and made them all run around screaming, which they liked I think.
: I know the point here is that you guys are just focusing on getting the game out, but obviously as you say, that trailer really resonated. I don’t want to stay on the trailer for too much longer, but can you foresee a time when Metro will maybe become more than the book, and more than the videogame? Specifically the kind of direction that you guys have taken it, from a narrative perspective? It seems ripe for some sort of short-film or a feature film.
: Well, I think one thing’s for sure: that trailer has put the IP very much on the map for people beyond games and books now. And Metro is Dmitry’s world, and he has always been very proactive in electing other people to explore the world that he has created in different forms. After his original book, he allowed other writers in Russia, but also other countries as well, to create additional Metro stories, based in the Metro world. There’s even a book based in the UK.
With the game, obviously it’s really up to him what he does next. He commissioned a Russian artist called Anton Gretchko to work on a series of oil paintings, inspired around the world. So he’s looking at everything, but that’s really his decision of how he wants to take that on board, rather than ours.
: How much of a hand has he had in the direction of Last Light? Because I know -- once again, as I mentioned before -- this is kind of the team’s own interpretation or Artyom’s story.
: It’s been another really collaborative process, because with the first game obviously we had the book already fully written. If you read the book and played the game, there aren’t a lot of huge differences there. It’s an adaptation, but it’s an adaptation to make a fun and enjoyable game, not to try and retell the book -- otherwise there would be lots of sitting around contemplating, rather than running around and shooting.
For Dmitry’s involvement in the first one, he lent us the whole story. We tried to stay true to the major plot; all of the key characters, and then a lot of the thematic sentiment within there. The story of the first one is really Artyon’s coming of age story, where he starts. He’s a young man who’s never moved more than 200 yards from the station where he lives, and he’s trusted with this huge responsibility of which he’s not even sure of the importance of.
He has these two kind of conflicting dogmas -- the one that Hunter leaves him with: if it’s hostile, you kill it; and then he meets Khan along the way, with the much more reasoned, almost spiritual, take on things, whose warning him to think before he acts.
The book takes the more cynical ending, and that’s the canon that we progressed for Metro: Last Light, but obviously in the first game, we gave the players the opportunity to interpret what they’d been told throughout the game, and make that alternate choice.
So when we approached Metro: Last Light, there is no continuation of Artyon’s story. Dmitry wrote 2034, and it’s a different style of book entirely, and really not suited to a videogame adaptation. We worked out that we wanted to continue telling Artyon’s story, so we went back to Dmitry and he basically came back again with a completely new story and plotline, to take Artyon’s character further in a really interesting way.
We explore some slightly different themes in Metro: Last Light, which starts in a very different position. He’s a little bit older and wiser; he’s also trying to live with the consequences of his decision from the first game, and there’s some really interesting stuff to explore there.
So having laid out the plot and story for us, Dmitry continued to contribute on specific story design elements, provided additional dialogue for the game, and let the studio focus on, I guess, the scenario design. So the process isn’t really that different from what it was with 2033 -- Dmitry’s been very involved in it.
: Apart from the experience garnered from working on the first game, and taking in all the feedback from the community and fans, how has the team grown? From a resources level and a financial level? How many people are there working on the game? Is it pretty much the same team?
: It was a team of around 50 for 2033, and I believe we’re around 80 now for Last Light, and I expect a few more will be added to that towards the end of the project. But you add on top of that, a lot of resources that THQ has been able to bring to that -- whether that’s testing, or usability; all these additional resources that can help you polish and develop the game.
So it’s a significantly larger development effort this time around, and another virtually full three-year development cycle on the project, so it’s quite a step up.
: You guys were arguably part of a greater movement to shift the first-person action genre out of the Call of Duty-esque corridors, and into something a little different. I like to call this -- a little of last year, this year and next year -- somewhat of a renaissance for first-person action.
Because it’s always been first-person shooter, and it seems like that’s almost a bit of a redundancy now, because not everything is about shooting anymore, and you guys have really tapped into this concept of emotion, and exploration, and the survival-horror stuff, and the mysticism.
Does the team take in influence from other games? Are they playing other games actively and looking at ways that they can improve the genre, or things that they think would be a good fit?
: Yeah, of course. You’ve probably seen -- almost subconsciously really -- some nods to some other games out there. It’s kind of inevitable, I think maybe more on a mechanical level rather than anything else; tonally, Metro is very much a big step out. I think a real big focus for us this time around was our actual combat mechanic in the game.
We had this interpretation of it that we wanted our player to feel underpowered and vulnerable, and there’s some very hardcore systems in the shooting mechanic, with the armor etcetera on the enemy soldiers. But even with that, I think our implementation wasn’t ideal. The weapons felt a little underpowered; we just hadn’t put enough tension into that shooting experience, and that’s something that we’ve obviously really tried to tighten up for this game, without turning it into a... without making shooting the primary focus; just bringing that part of the game up to par with people’s expectations.
: What else with you guys, from a cadence perspective, has changed from the first game? The last few times I’ve seen it and spoken to you, you’ve touched a lot on the whole concept of survival-horror. There was a lot of that stuff in the first game, but it seems like there’s a bit more of an emphasis on it this time around.
: It’s tough to say, because you’ll remember the last thing that we showed. We definitely do have that survival-horror vibe. We’ve probably dialled up the supernatural aspect a little more this time around; it came at the end in 2033; you might see a few more instances of that in Last Light.
We take the player above ground probably more often this time, and one of the other things that we wanted to do -- both from a thematic perspective, and so we could do some fun things with the tech as well -- was, by moving the story on a year, we’ve hinted that the first buds of Spring are appearing; a few rays of sunshine are breaking through the clouds; you see a little bit more vegetation; a little more water, and all of a sudden there’s then a much richer colour palette to play with outside.
Because we have have, however brief, sunsets through the clouds, and bits of green foliage -- it’s not all snow and ice on the ground, you have different environments out there. And that’s enabled us to do more interesting things with gameplay with outdoor environments, as well as enriching the look of the game. Because our outdoor environments in 2033 were very bleak and brutal -- they were all uniformly this patch of grey, which I think lent them a certain charm as well, but we just thought we’d try and do something a little different this time around.
: From a visual perspective, we’ve talked in the past how 2033 was a bit of a poster-child for DirectX 11 at the time, and every time I talk to you it sounds like the guys are pushing more and more out of the visual engine there. Can you elaborate a little bit on implementations and what people can expect on high-end PCs?
: I’m not massively technical, and I can’t give you a feature by feature of what we’ve improved this time around, but we’ve done a lot with our lighting, and we’ve implemented a lot more destruction in the game. I think one of the most dramatic effects that you probably saw are our weather effects, and as I say, combining those with a slightly different art direction for the outside levels has made a significant visual jump I think, over 2033 -- particularly when you compare those outdoor environments.
The engine has always been designed to be incredibly scalable. We’re pretty much working with whatever hardware we have at the moment. When we showed the demo to you, I think that was running off a single GeForce GTX 580 at the time, so not even a 590 -- which would have been the best Nvidia card at the time we were putting the final touches on the demo.
Obviously Nvidia has now released their 6 series of cards, and I think we’ll see some more developments over the next 12 months. So the studio is always going to be determined to see whatever we can do with whatever power is made available to us, and I think you’ll probably see the fruits of that closer to the end of the development cycle.
: It seems like the team are a pretty PC-loving studio. Will there be any differentiation between the console versions and the PC versions aside from visuals? Will there be any bonuses for the PC audience, or is the rest in a platform-parity direction?
: We’re going for platform parity. Obviously the PC will have full mouse support and etcetera. There are a few little bits of balancing that we need to do depending on the control input, but we’re not planning on implementing any specific gameplay features that are available for one platform and not the other. The experience will fundamentally be the same across both.
As we get closer to launch... we’ve not talked about anything in our multiplayer at the moment, but I think the studio will be pushing to take advantage of all the luxuries that PC development has versus the third-party platforms.
: That was actually going to be final question Huw, before I let you go, which is: I know you really can’t talk about it, but at the very least can you give us an indication on when we’ll learn more about multiplayer?
: It’s going to be later in the year. We’ve kind of been deliberately clear upfront that it was something that we’ve been doing. We’ve also tried to be very clear that it was something that the studio wanted to do -- it’s not something that’s been forced on them. We had prototypes up and running for 2033, and it was really resources more than anything that prevented us from realising those things in the first game.
They all have a very strong interest and background in multiplayer. It’s also really important for us to... Metro got to where it was because of the campaign. We’ve got an extremely passionate fanbase, and I want to be absolutely clear to you that we’ve not forgotten that that’s why people loved the first game.
Our commitment is to create a campaign that’s as long, and ideally significantly better -- certainly much more polished -- and you will absolutely get that from the game. So that’s why we’ve focused on campaign and story so much so far, so when we do finally show you the multiplayer, hopefully it will surprise you. You’ll have to wait and see.
: Ok, well I’ll leave it there, but thanks for taking some time out today to talk to us.
: You’re welcome.