Recently, through an interesting twist of fate, I managed to secure an exclusive interview with Andre Emerson, Producer of Namco's new super-charged Hong Kong style action title Dead To Rights. To say myself and the rest of the editors here at Gaming Target were thrilled to get the chance to speak with the creator of the game would be an understatement. Andre's a huge fan of HK action films and it shows in the finished product. Enough of my rambling though, let's get to the interview and see what it takes to create a killer action experience like DTR.
Gaming Target (GT): DTR features shoot-outs that play like scenes from Hardboiled or Romeo Must Die. Can you describe some of your favorite film shoot-outs and the process of transforming that onscreen action into playable game mechanics?
Andre Emerson (AE): Some of my favorite gunplay scenes include the teahouse, warehouse and hospital sets in Hardboiled, the church and beachfront in The Killer, the shoreline finale in A Better Tomorrow, the mansion in A Better Tomorrow II, several scenes in Desperado and the old motel finale in The Way Of The Gun is pretty entertaining as well. I actually have a ton of favorites but these come to mind without much thought. Turning this inspiration into gameplay, well? Our goal was intense action, at a rapid pace with a high bodycount, and on those counts we met our goal. Game features such as Disarms, Human Shields and flammable canisters that you can toss-n- shoot go a long way in giving the player the creative tools to recreate the type of stylized gunplay found in these cool flicks.
GT: How did screenwriter Flint Dille get involved with penning the DTR script? Also, did you work directly with him on the story?
AE: I worked with Flint in the past and he was my first choice for DTR. His understanding of story structure combined with gaming knowledge is just awesome. Flint and I worked for months in pre-production ensuring that the blending of story into gameplay was just right for the Action Noir game we wanted to create.
GT: How did you come up with the concepts for the minigames?
AE: The minigames fell naturally out of the game/story script. There were various narrative events that we wanted to get across and turning some of those events into puzzles and minigames allowed us to involve the player a bit more than watching non-interactive sequences.
GT: Who came up with the concept of Shadow? Was he included early in development, or added later?
AE: Shadow was the end product of several brainstorming sessions early in development. He was planned rather early and implemented rather late. We decided that giving Jack a K9 partner further punctuated that fact that he was a loner and helped establish his character. Shadow is a great ?smart-bomb' that should be used as often as possible. Not only does he kill his target but retrieves the enemy's weapon for Jack. Not a bad deal overall. We'd like to expand his role in future games.
GT: Since you built the game engine from scratch, please tell us a bit about that process. Also, why weren't you satisfied with licensing an already existing engine?
AE: Building a new design on what was a new platform at the time, with an evolving engine is quite a daunting task. It's always tough at the beginning of a new platform cycle, everything is brand new. Using an existing engine wasn't really possible at that time as the choices were extremely limited and it was felt that none would deliver the bodycount we absolutely needed. There are some great solutions out on the market now that have evolved over the last few years.
GT: Dead To Rights is unforgiving to the impatient player. Disarms, taking cover, and judicious use of the Dramatic Dive are critical to survival. How do you approach the level design, taking into consideration that you want the gamer to take full advantage of all the play mechanics?
AE: If a player expects to jog down the middle of a fully populated enemy scene and be successful without using cover or the game mechanics, they'll have a rough time. Our goal from day one was to create fun game mechanics that would be critical to survival, and as such you need to use them. If the player manages their health, explores for flak jackets and uses Human Shields, they should do just fine. Also there are tons of ?crouch-high' cover objects spread liberally throughout the world. It's a wise idea to crouch behind them, quickly rise-target-shoot, then crouch again. Due to DTR's extremely high enemy count and smart AI, you can't just run-n-gun in every situation. It can be stressful at times, but damn gratifying.
GT: I know that you wanted to bring movie quality action to the game. What was it like working with outside production houses for stunts and special effects?
AE: I was fortunate enough to work with incredibly passionate and talented people. Kevin Manthei at KMM Productions, who composed the entire 75+ minute musical score, Gordon Hookailo from GDH Digital who supervised/created the sound/foley, House Of Movies who introduced us to the wire stunt team from the Matrix 1,2 & 3, Flint Dille who was key in bringing DTR to life and many, many others who I cannot thank enough for their enormous contributions.
GT: I know it's a wee bit early, but will there be a sequel to DTR?
AE: The team and I would really like to do it and take advantage of gamer feedback and all we learned building the original. We already have a story outline and many new game mechanics designed.
GT: I understand that you're a musician. What instruments do you play and how does that musician's sensibility help you in game production?
AE: Yeah, I was way into the whole Yngwie Malmsteen craze and played guitar in lots of rock and funk bands in my time. I eventually went one-man-band MIDI, but that just didn't have the impact of playing live. I don't play much anymore as my creative challenge shifted to games several years ago. It's very interesting actually; I would say the experience has been very helpful. Appreciating and understanding arrangement and composition helps considerably when thinking about game design. I don't know why exactly, but it just does for me.
GT: Please tell us about working with the Xbox hardware. How did your team feel about the Xbox architecture?
AE: Developing for the Xbox was a piece of cake. The learning curve was low and we got an even larger bodycount. We switched to Xbox in the Spring of this year and it would have been great to get more time with it.
GT: Was it voice actor Roger Rose's idea to give Augie Blatz a voice that resembled a certain movie star? Say Christopher Walken? Or was that your influence?
AE: Roger was awesome; he had us rolling on the studio floor. He can do anything. We let him have fun and improv a bit with the Augie Blatz character and we ended up with a unique character. Quite often players will visit a game over many days/weeks/months, we wanted iconic and memorable character personalities that would assist the player in following the tangled noir storyline. The same goes for the comic book-like names.
GT: Please#AF0F0F tell us a bit more about your team and describe a typical workday creating Dead To Rights.
AE: DTR features the best team I have ever had the pleasure of working with. Namco was extremely patient from the start and allowed us to carefully hire only those folks with the necessary talent and passion for the DTR concept. Having a team that really wants to make the game is a gigantic bonus. Our day typically starts around 10:00 and ends ???. What happens during the day is really dependent upon the phase of development we're in. Early on, we'll spend hours brainstorming, planning, designing and documenting. Then we'll enter a lengthy period of content/asset creation. During this time we're creating the worlds, characters, story-script, casting/recording voices, music composition, etc. It gets really exciting when it starts coming together and is playable for the first time. We were extremely excited and proud when we got DTR playable for the first time at E3 2001. I can't explain the feeling, but it's very special seeing someone playing and enjoying the game. I know what's behind the curtain, so I don't have that much fun playing games I work on. My reward comes in the form of seeing others have fun.
GT: What's going through your mind right now? At this time the game has gone gold, advance copies are out to the press, the reviews are starting to trickle in, and your baby is 2 days away from retail release. So, how are you feeling?
AE: I'm very proud of DTR and also of my development team. The vision for the game was realized and virtually nothing was cut from the design, which is rare. Thus far, the feedback has been extremely positive. The game ships tomorrow and I'm anxious to start hearing the gaming audience's feedback.
GT: How about leaving us with a good war story. You know: Late nights, deadline crunches, 2:00 am pizza runs or anything else interesting during the production of DTR?
AE: I don't mean to be a bore here, but Namco was very flexible with DTR's production schedule, so the typically horrendous ?crunch' wasn't too bad on DTR. I will say it took a lot of hours and effort to get the game ready for the last two E3 shows. We've got an experienced and mature team, so the sailing has been rather smooth.
GT: Andre, myself and the staff at Gaming Target thank you for your time, it's been nice talking to you.
AE: Thanks and I hope you're enjoying DTR!
Well there you have it, a look behind the scenes at the creation of a monster action title. If there's one thing that's clear, it's that Andre and his team are committed to making the best gaming experience possible. These guys truly love what they do, and the final product speaks volumes about the passion that went into this project. Don't worry Andre; we're thoroughly enjoying DTR!! Please be sure to read our full review of Dead To Rights, which can be found here. Keep your eye out for big things from these guys in the future; they seem to have all the right stuff to keep us gaming for a long time.