Alias Exclusive Interview
|Nick Harper and Ana Marsh, both of Acclaim Studios Cheltenham, took the time to discuss their upcoming release Alias.
|05.02.05 - 9:15 pm
XG: Could you please let our readers know your name, position on the team and a little history of your company?
NH: Nick Harper, Creative Director at Acclaim Studios Cheltenham. Acclaim itself has been in business for around 15 years now. Famously Acclaim published old SNES and MegaDrive titles such as Mortal Kombat, and developed classic titles such as NBA Jam. More recently Acclaim was famous for the Turok series of games, starting on the N64, and the Extreme G racing games, also started on N64. 25 former members of Psygnosis founded the Cheltenham Studio itself in 1999. Since that date the studio has developed titles for the PlayStation, PlayStation 2 and GameCube. The studio now has over 90 staff and we develop for all three next generation consoles. Since 1999 Acclaim Cheltenham has developed and published XGIII Extreme G Racing, the third in the Extreme G racing franchise, Crazy Taxi for PS2 and GameCube, 18 Wheeler for PS2 and GameCube and Dakar 2 for PS2, GC and Xbox. We have just finished Summer Heat Beach Volleyball for PS2 and are finishing off XGRA, the fourth Extreme-G racing game (for all next gen consoles) and, of course, extremely busy making the Alias game.
Also included in the interview is Ana Marsh also at Acclaim Studios Cheltenham.
XG: What is the story of the game? What situations will we see Sydney getting into (and out of)?
AM: Basically, the game story sees Sydney tracking down her arch rivals Anna Espinosa and Mr. Sark and finding out exactly what the mysterious "Machine" that they are working on is for, and then trying to stop them putting their nefarious plans into action. There are missions set in several locations around the world, including Romania, Brazil, Monaco and Saudi Arabia. In each mission Sydney will have different objectives to complete which generally revolve around the environment she's in. For instance, in Romania she is infiltrating an Asylum and one of her objectives there is to hit one of her arch-enemies with tranquilliser and then attempt to sneak him out of the Asylum by disguising herself as a doctor and him as a patient.
XG: With the market saturated in sexy heroines, what does Sydney Bristow have over Lara Croft and Buffy?
AM: Well I have to admit that since I'm a woman I don't particularly think of Sydney as being "sexy", although I'm sure some blokes might disagree with me. Just because a game character looks good it doesn't necessarily make the game fun to play - what's important is the actions that they can pull off regardless of their gender or looks. And our Sydney is a great martial artist, has lots of gadgets at her disposal, can use her cunning to outwit her enemies using disguises and stealthy moves, she's generally a pretty darn good all-rounder.
NH: Following Ana's comments, one of the things the team were very conscious of was capturing the feeling of improvisation that occurs in the TV show. For instance, if Sydney is in a fight she'll grab a chair, smash it and use a leg as a baton. In the game you can do very similar things. There are loads of different objects in the game environment that can be used as weapons, so much so that we're hoping people realise they have a greater purpose than just looking pretty! The great thing as well is that large weapons, such as brooms, eventually shatter and then become smaller weapons more suited to close combat.
XG: As it has been compared to the critically acclaimed Splinter Cell, what pressure has that put on you and, what similarities do they share?
AM: Its always difficult to work on a game which has been compared to something as successful as Splinter Cell - it puts a lot of pressure on the team to live up to that standard, which can be particularly tough when you're still in the development phase and trying to get all your features into the game. On the other hand it does give you a good benchmark to aim for. Alias is a bit like Splinter Cell in that it positions the player as a secret agent who can use stealth to solve missions. But we also have other features which differentiate it from Splinter Cell - Sydney has plenty of hand to hand combat at her disposal for example. Also, Splinter Cell was a fairly "serious" game, where as we have a lot more fun in Alias - the use of disguises, and being able to pick up objects in the environment and use them as weapons for example.
XG: How have you exploited Xbox's power? Any exclusive effects for the Xbox version graphics-wise?
NH: The technology guys have exploited as much console power as they could do in the time available, so to be honest there isn't anything specific to the Xbox version, but rather the power of the Xbox enables everything to be done so much smoother and efficiently. The game runs at 60fps and is rich with cool technology - we have environment mapping and specular lighting on the scenery and the characters, cloth effects (again on scenery and characters), atmospheric fog effects, mirror effects, and so on. Everything we could think of to bring the world to life, really!
XG: Will we see anything extra/better in our final Xbox versions that the other versions don?t have?
NH: Because we are releasing the game simultaneously on consoles, we want to bring the same excellent experience to all formats. We never want to produce a game which is inferior to another format. Each console has strengths and we maximise those when developing each version.
XG: So far, what is your favourite section/achievement in the game? Can you explain it to our readers?
AM: Probably the use of objects lying around the environment as weapons. We've got such a variety of locations in the game we've been able to have a bit of fun with creating the improvised weapon objects - some of the more unusual ones include woks and frying pans in a kitchen, a guitar in a nightclub and an electric bonesaw in a morgue. The sound effects for these are worth the price of admission alone.
NH: My favourite piece takes place in a section of the asylum. Above the corridor are support beams holding everything together. They look really innocent but the player can jump up and pull themselves up into the shadows, and then wait for the guards to walk underneath before dropping down and taking them out. I really like ways in which natural parts of the environment can be utilised for cool gameplay.
XG: What do you think of the Xbox from a developer's perspective? Which console do you prefer?
NH: The Xbox is a great platform to develop for. It's hugely powerful enabling great graphics to be displayed with relative ease. It's not up to us to pick a favourite machine. We want to produce the best games for the best consoles.
XG: What do you think of Xbox Live compared to the other consoles online packages/plans?
NH: Xbox Live is cool and we can't wait to utilise it in our games. We're already thinking about ways to take Alias Live (although sadly we aren't able to do anything for this version - sorry folks!).
XG: What is next for you guys? Will we see more Xbox interest from you?
NH: Once Alias is finished the team will be taking a hard-earned break and then who knows. As a studio we're always looking at new concepts and ideas so anything is possible. Right now, though, the plans are for all our future titles to be developed for Xbox, yes.