Genre: First person adventure
Platforms: Xbox / GameCube / PS2
Release Date: September 6 2002
I caught up with Acclaim's Ned Browning and asked him for a few words - which turned into a lot - on the imminent release of Turok: The Evolution and how the gaming industry was evolving.
UKG: So has Turok evolved? What features have been added to make it a more enjoyable game experience?
The main premise behind the whole game is that it's a culmination of the whole Turok brand. So the first game, Dinosaur Hunter, was the basic dinosaur hunting in a jungle environment, which kicked the whole thing off and it's progressed from there. The point of this release is that we've taken all of the best points from the last four games and made a game that really stands out. The Evolution takes more from the first game being set in the same jungle environment, but it's all the things we wanted to do in the following games, but either didn't have the time or the technology.
Feature wise, the weaponry has always been a huge part of Turok, if you ask anybody 'what is Turok?' Basically they'll tell you 'it's about blowing the sh*t out of dinosaurs'. So what we've done is really concentrated on making the dinosaurs and the indigenous life in the game very detailed: from butterflies to swarms of bees and mosquitoes. The animals that live within the game, you can blow them up, you can shoot them, you can kill them or you can let them live and get on with it. The realism of the actual animals I can honestly say I haven't seen in any other game, graphically they're very detailed. They actually live, breathe and hunt within the game environment. It's very, very realistic.
UKG: So they have their own existence effectively?
Yeah, and very rarely do they follow the same pattern each time, so as you go through a level they'll be doing different things and the environments themselves grow, the trees move in the wind and you can shoot the trees down. So if you've got say a herd of dinosaurs over there that you can't actually take out with a certain weapon earlier on, you can shoot down a tree and almost create a domino effect so they hit another tree and another - so you can actually kill dinosaurs by 'excess foliage'.
There's been a lot of thought that's gone into making it feels as if the setting is evolving, even when you're not playing, a major point is that when you turn it on something else has happened, so something may have grown or an animal may appeared.
UKG: But does this game bring anything new to the first person genre?
The first game and the second to an extent, were both in the first person shooter category and didn't do a whole lot more than be FPS titles, but now with games like Metal Gear Solid, Max Payne and Dead To Rights, we've looked at a lot of other games and taken the stealth element and puzzle solving, so it's not just a straight forward FPS. It's a mixture of stealth, action combat, which provides alot more weight to it.
UKG: What about sound? Have you used any special techniques in development?
The game supports Dolby Digital 5.1 in game. We collected sound bytes from animals, but it's always a bit tricky to captive an authentic dinosaur sound! The standard practice is to take a lion and drop it down three pitches or up the octaves, but the developers have been doing Turok titles..hang on I'm going to sneeze [that he did and loudly]! A bit like that, that's a raptor impression by the way.
UKG: Err, impressive
Thank you. Because there's been so much practice, we've been doing the Turok sounds for seven years obviously, we've built up a large sound bank, but rather than using old samples and slightly updating the sequences we've actually gone out and tried to capture different animals, after which they go through a lot of sequencing and filtering. The amount of dinosaur programmes recently have meant there are a lot more archives available, which are more authentic than say five years ago. I'm thinking of the BBC 'Walking with Dinosaurs', they farm out their sound libraries, which you can listen to get inspiration for noises. So each of the 16 dinosaurs has a distinctive sound and it's not just a standard growl. They each have at least six unique sounds, whether they're being attacked or being defensive. So sound is a key part of the game generally.
UKG: The observation that I have is that the game is all about immersive fun?
It's the state of technology, the gaming systems, every publisher has a game that is 'triple A' standard. Everyone used to struggle with time frames, but now when you do a FPS it's got to be special, the whole gaming experience that we have to provide means that we have to put alot more into it. So we couldn't just have great weaponry, where you go out shooting all the time. So you have to give more, whether that's by means of making environments that are more immersive or by offering other factors like stealth and puzzle solving, which add more to the gameplay.
UKG: Tell me about the multiplay features?
There are five different modes of multiplay and there's a basic two-player and four player split-screen - it's only two-player on the PS2, but the Gamecube and Xbox both allow up to four-players. There are a whole series of unlockable characters that are only available in multiplay, which you don't see during the game. So you can play as dinosaurs, say a raptor, which is very cool. To be honest we didn't see the multiplayer features until quite late into development, although we always had documentation expressing that it was a key factor.
UKG: So multiplay was there from the outset?
Yeah, we did Turok Rage Wars for the N64, which was just a multiplayer game pretty much and to be honest it didn't really work, but we saw the mistakes, mainly because the technology wasn't there at the time, so, again, everything we wanted to do we've now reboxed and put it into this game. So even though it's primarily a single player game. We've put in a lot of time and effort into creating a really good, fun, multiplayer angle to it.
UKG: So its strength is in the single play?
I would say that it's 85% a single player game, just because it's so immersive and involving: Something that you really only get in a one-player game. The multiplay is really good fun and in reference to the characters and environments it's really great, but It's a much quicker game. The main focus is the graphical detail and actual involvement in what you've got to do to progress, so we're talking puzzle-solving and stealth again, which is part of the single-player experience.
UKG: Multiplayer is often tacked on the end, because everyone wants to play games that way...
Yeah, it's alot like online, everyone treats that in the same way, every publisher feels they like they have to add that in at the end somewhere, but as I said, multiplayer wasn't seen a great deal in development, but it was always a healthy section in the design documents.
UKG: So what other Xbox titles should we be looking out for from Acclaim in the next six months to a year [Ed: brace yourself for PR spin]?
Pretty much everything that we're doing for the foreseeable future [Ed: I guess we asked for that really]. Vexx is another very big title for us; it's an original product that we're treating as a mascot game. It's an epic adventure with a younger character, which is very 'edgy' and that's multi-format. Actually, most of the games we're putting out will be for the PS2, Gamecube and Xbox.
UKG: So what kind of game is Vexx [ED: I actually saw it in the PS2 Experience later on and it seems to be a darker slant on games like Rayman, where your cartoon character can chop enemies' heads off and collect still beating hearts]?
It's an epic. What we're trying to do with a lot of the games is make them as close to movies as possible, because of the potential of the new technology, there's so much we have to get in there. It has a Lord of the Rings look to it, there's magic involved, revenge and although it looks fairly young it's targeted at 15+, so it's edgy and quite dark.
UKG: It's a 3D action adventure title then?
Yeah, it's in a third person perspective in the style of Jak & Dexter or Mario World, but graphically it stands out. There are, for example, certain levels where you go inside a piano. It feels a lot [Ed: He says 'a lot' a lot...] like Disney's Fantasia with some really, really trippy bits. We presented it to Sony, they obviously get loads of this type of game, every publisher has one, and they asked us what the hook was? We told them that there wasn't one particular hook; there are a whole series of different types of gameplay. After showing them through a few different levels, they looked at us and realised they didn't need to figure it out. It's the gameplay and the visuals that really set it apart.
Then we have Legends of Wrestling 2, which has 65 of the biggest wrestlers including Hulk Hogan, but this year we've added Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks. Although the US wrestlers are the main focus and targeted slightly younger, people who are 20-24+ will find it fun as well.
UKG: God, I remember watching Big Daddy on Saturday afternoon telly when I was a kid...
Yeah, exactly, it's gonna be really good fun and the weird thing is that Giant Haystacks just before he died was being sent over to the States to fight Hulk Hogan. He was billed as 'Loch Ness', as there was an American wrestler with a similar name, but it never happened, because he was diagnosed with cancer and died 10 months later. So it should add a real UK bias to the game for older gamers.
UKG: Okay, to close on a more personal level; what do you think makes a good game, I'm interested to see what publishers actually think ought to be involved?
Now, I would say it's becoming more and more difficult to get 'triple A' products. I think you have to spend the right amount of time developing. The days of spending nine or ten months on a product; trying to whacking it out to meet fiscal quarters, where you're trying to get five versions out in year on a license - I think they're dead and gone. I think you've got to spend a minimum of 18 months on a game to give it the justice it deserves. I think also the key thing is, especially with PS2, you look at the top ten games since the system was launched, they're not really in-depth character games, not Final Fantasy. They are games like Max Payne, all quick arcade games that you can actually finish in three or four days. If you can't get people turned on within five minutes from picking up the control pad, I think, then you're in big trouble.
UKG: So you think there's almost a five minute barrier?
Yeah, I think so, more so you can wow people with graphics and everyone can do it, but they have to grab you, games like Burnout [Ed: comes out in mid-October, Burnout 2: Point of Impact that is and looks very cool on the Xbox, although there are only PS2 shots available and I'm not putting them up here], there are hundreds of racing games. Burnout has a special quality though - you see other people playing it and you just want to have a go [ED: I hate to agree with the PR spin, but he's right, it's addictive]. Again, as soon as you pick it up, it's very easy to play and it's really rewarding and fun. That's a key thing - to get people involved from the first instance.
UKG: Okay, last question. What five words would you pick to nail down the Turok experience?
Okay, tough question - 'Involving', 'rewarding', 'impressive', 'fun', 'bloody', yes, it's very bloody.Interview by Chris Thornett