PlayStation Universe talks with Nordic Games and Farm 51 about its upcoming first-person shooter, Painkiller Hell & Damnation.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with PSU. Could you first introduce yourself to our readers…
Wojciech: Hi! My name is Wojciech Pazdur, and I am the Project Lead at The Farm 51, the development studio of PKHD.
Reinhard: My name is Reinhard Pollice and I am the Producer at Nordic Games the publisher of Painkiller.
‘Pain,’ ‘Killer,’Hell,’ and ‘Damnation,’ that’s four very strong words in the game’s title that immediately evoke a feeling of fear. Is Painkiller: Hell & Damnation as scary as it sounds?
Wojciech: Not at all. Painkiller is a fantasy horror, packed with gore and killing, but everything here has a slightly twisted sense of humour, over the top weaponry and is all cobbled together in a truly far out setting.
The Painkiller franchise has been running since 2004 with numerous games and expansions. Does this latest iteration follow on from the storylines of any of its predecessor or is this a brand new narrative?
Wojciech: We've written a completely new story for Hell & Damnation, but this is a tale directly connected to certain events from the original game. Daniel is trapped somewhere between Hell and Purgatory and is being punished for his sins by having to encounter the same bad things over and over again. It gives us the opportunity to tell the story showing the same heroes and events in a reimagined way.
Gameplay looks very much like fast-paced, twitch-based, first-person shooters in the same mould as Quake and Unreal Tournament. Is that a fair judgement?
Wojciech: Fair and square. Thank you for this comparison. These titles, especially Quake, were the source of inspiration for the entire Painkiller universe.
The graphics on the PC version were praised by critics. Can you tell us a little about the artwork and the type of environments that we’ll be fighting across?
Wojciech: Back in 2004, Painkiller raised the bar with respect to the creation of environment graphics, by showing the incredibly detailed levels, each with completely unique textures, architecture, style, and mood. We got the best of these sceneries and thanks to modern technology, covered it with even greater details and effects. However the key to this great look lies in the general level of “licenced” insanity (By this I mean, the fact that you spend your time in Purgatory opens up a huge window of creativity so basically nothing is too insane), the character design and the variety of enemies and maps. You visit a ruined cemetery, then you move to an abandoned cathedral and suddenly you're pushed to a deserted opera house or a Victorian train station – and it all makes some twisted sense, as in Purgatory anything is possible
Some of the gameplay we’ve seen shows fast and frenetic shoot-outs with lots of monsters attacking you from multiple angles. Is it simply a case of blasting away, or do weapons and monsters have different strengths and weaknesses?
Wojciech: A bit of both; enemy types as well as Daniel’s (read: the player’s) arsenal become more powerful from map to map, and also the player’s skills are being upgraded with the Tarot card system, so you can (and sometimes you have to) play each level very differently. Every weapon has two shooting modes (one of them is always a bit over the top, like freezing bolts or flying saw blades) and there is also a special combo attack for each gun (like throwing a grenade in the air and shooting it with a wooden stake to make it fly further). When combining this with lightning fast movement (that’s right, I am looking at you, bunny-hopping) , there are multiple tactics to beat each map and you can also try out new approaches when replaying levels to receive special rewards.
We love a challenging big boss battle. Can you give you us a sneak peak at what we can expect from the tougher enemies in Painkiller?
Wojciech: First of all, even if you're fast and skilled and you know how to kill legions of demons, you should still be prepared for the big guys - and we are really talking about big here. Every boss has different weak points and fighting him will provide a huge challenge.. We wanted the boss fights to feel truly epic in Painkiller, and spiced them up with some puzzle elements. I personally love the design of bosses in Painkiller, they're probably the biggest, baddest mofos you’ve ever seen in first person shooters, and on top of that, who wouldn't like to kill the Grim Reaper himself?
Can we upgrade or power-up weapons?
Wojciech: Painkiller has a special power-up system based on Black Tarot cards, which can be obtained by completing different challenges throughout the game. They upgrade the player and also the weapons in different ways, like increasing your firepower or reloading time. They also give you special movement abilities, enabling bullet-time or turning into a demon. Before each level you can configure a custom set of cards to give you permanent boosts of skills and also triggerable power-ups.
We understand there’s a co-op mode. Can two players play through story mode? Also, are there any co-op modes outside of the main campaign?
Reinhard: Yes and Yes! First there is a story coop mode that can be played both online and on one console as split screen coop mode. We have created a co-op experience that is as fantastic as the single player mode even down to the point where all cut scenes are included in coop for both players to view . In the multiplayer mode we have a Survival mode that is for 4 players. Here you can fight hordes of enemies together.
What challenges have you faced bringing Painkiller: Hell & Damnation to console? Is this a straight port of the PC version which was out last year or have you made any changes for its console debut?
Wojciech: From a strictly technical point of view, as always we had to fight with memory limitations and some other performance capabilities. But fortunately we had great technology (Unreal Engine) that is capable of moving content from one platform to another without sacrificing quality. The greater and also more interesting challenge, was to tweak up controls and game pacing (including AI behaviours) to make it enjoyable on consoles. We were playing all prototypes on a gamepad from the very beginning of development to make sure that we were not disjoining the PC from the console experience and we know that even now many players are using a pad to play the PC version as they find it more comfortable.
Reinhard: It’s not a straight port. At the beginning of development it was clear we would also aim for consoles and therefore we organized content creation in a way that it also feels like a balanced experience on console. We paid respect to that in the field of controls, general gameplay, difficulty, enemy AI and game progression. In addition, we polished a lot of small details more toward consoles and even did some new and exclusive console unlockables. Furthermore, there is a unique map for every platform (i.e. we have one exclusive map for PS3, one for X360, and one for PC).
Following the much-publicised Connecticut school massacre and how some media channels have linked it to the fact that Adam Lanza liked to play Call Of Duty, where do you stand on the whole violence in videogame debate? Do you think that developers have a responsibility in society to tone down the violence in their videogames?
This is a very difficult question, and definitely one which could spark off a totally separate interview on this topic alone. The question raised very good internal discussions on both ends so we will provide you with a somewhat collective answer here:
In general, society has a big desire for explanations. The simpler these explanations are, the easier it is for people to use them to make political statementsand propaganda. In our opinion it is very dangerous to draw these kinds of “conclusions” (ie that every FPS-game/gamer is a potential killer) out of a gut-reaction and not based on empirical data and knowledge. We read hundreds of articles (by serious and well-respected media) and studies on this topic, and there is no statistically significant connection between these terrible acts of violence and gaming/gamers.
What’s your view about videogames becoming solely available via digital download in the future? Do you think the days of being able to down to your video store and buy a game are almost numbered?
Reinhard: I don’t think that this will happen. Of course there is a shift from off- to online and this most probably will further increase, but we here at Nordic Games are also strong believers in physical extras. I want to see more figurines or other cool stuff that is physical extra content based on a game. In my opinion, that is the key to keep the physical selling business going. Publishers and developers need to think more in that direction I think.
Looking towards next-gen consoles, do you think the Painkiller series has a future here, or perhaps one of your other franchises, such as Aquanox?
Reinhard: We are not thinking too much about next generation consoles just yet. With our size, we are in the nice position of not having to be among first-movers with regards to new platforms. Once the hardware installed base gets to an attractive level we will evaluate respective new projects/sequels/reboots etc. There certainly lies some really exciting times ahead of us. Generally speaking, our approach now is to prepare some cool high-level concepts that could work on any platforms
Painkiller Hell & Damnation is due for release on PS3 and Xbox 360 on April 5, 2013.