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Fracture/Day 1 Studios Interview

Game: Fracture
Company: Lucas Arts

We recently got a chance to play LucasArts' and Day 1 Studio's new earthshaking third person shooter, Fracture at the LucasArts facility itself, and along with that opportunity came the chance to talk to several of the developers at Day 1 Studios. Below is our discussion with Senior Producer/Art Director Dan Hay, Single Player Associate Producer Deke Waters and Designer Tony Huynh.

GV: What were some of the biggest balance issues that come from a game that has Terrain Deformation?

Deke Waters: As far as weapon balancing goes - that stuff just worked itself out as we were dealing with the game itself. The single player experience is all about learning to play multiplayer. We wanted a lot of campaigns that give you an idea of how everything works and a lot of the balancing for weapons fell naturally out of that.

Dan Hay: A lot of that can be seen in the playground. Building that playground was necessary for the designers as far as balancing is concerned. We wanted a place where we could spawn in A.I. and see how it reacts to each weapon. Let's take a vehicle out and see how it reacts, and how different types of weapons work. The Playground allowed us to create scenarios in advance of building the actual levels to create the building blocks. And then you get in there, you make mistakes; you see what works and what doesn't.

GV: Along the same lines, designing multiplayer maps and games probably had to be looked at in a different way. How did you handle that?

Dan Hay: It was pretty unique. We started with single player and started talking about how we crafted certain experiences and then we would craft something and say "That would be awesome in multiplayer" and that becomes the hallmark of a multiplayer map.

If you're working in [Washington] D.C. and you are in a map dealing with a lot of homes, its house-to-house fighting, and you think to yourself, "This is a pretty cool map." It allows you to gain different levels and get verticality, or what if you could even fight against the Dreadnaught [an 800 foot robot featured in Fracture] in multiplayer? Part of it was, Design knew what it wanted to do with some of its multiplayer maps, and part of it was just inevitable discovery that comes from getting in there and trying different things.

When creating maps like "Burning Divide," a map where literally the ground is fractured in two and there is this massive swath of lava in the middle and it becomes a chess match, you have to use the Manipult to get across. You get inside this thing, and you have the ability to use the kinetic energy of TD [Terrain Deformation] to jump clear across the map, and that's the type of thing TD allowed us to do. And when you discover that feature, the designer gets a hold of it and comes up with some pretty cool stuff. We had designers that knew what they wanted to do and they did it, but TD allowed them to make it even cooler.

Deke Waters: As we were designing the single player campaign, we would find things in single player that, when put into multiplayer would be either helpful or hurtful. A good example of that is lava. In the single player campaign, you use TD to make a land bridge across the lava and it will slowly eat away at your land bridge. It's really helpful in single player because it allows you to get through large areas of this deadly liquid. In the multiplayer however, you still have that ability, but there are a lot of people around that would like to see you get in that liquid. So they can lower that ground right out from under you.

Dan Hay: Exactly, you see that all the time in multiplayer; there are no assumptions. I see the Vortex, and I know I want to get it, and I think, "I know the map. I know it very well." And then someone comes in with the Entrencher and changes the map I am comfortable with, or all of a sudden, the ground is covered in ice and I can't use TD, or someone has seeded the entire area with the Black Widow and is just waiting for me to go after that weapon. There are no assumptions, in multiplayer; the gameplay experience is written by the different types of people you have playing.

GV: What was the design process for coming up with the different TD weapons?

Deke Waters: Back in the early days, we were looking at a lot of different shooters, and we wanted to make sure we didn't fall short with the core staples of a shooter. When we first started, we had basic weapons, but we had alt-fires that allowed you to use TD. At that time, the main way to raise or lower the ground was with grenades, but we wanted to make sure our core feature had plenty of opportunities to be used. That's why we came up with the Entrencher, which is the augmentation that is on your arm throughout the game.

Once we got that going and saw how simple it was to use that anywhere, we carried that ability into weapons and took away the alt-fire for every weapon. We just made those abilities available as separate weapons. And for the most part, I think we did a good job to make that easy to pick up and play, but also difficult to master.

Dan Hay: If you play as a shooter, and you're comfortable with shooters, then you pick up a weapon that has a little TD to it. The Black Widow has some big explosions but it also has some TD. Then you go to a weapon that is all about TD, and then you take the car, the TDV-1, which is a weapon in itself.

Deke Waters: There was a philosophy that every weapon we developed had to do Terrain Deformation. But at some point we asked, what if they just interacted with gravity. What if they stick to things? That's where we came up with some other interesting weapons. The Black Widow was just a sticky grenade launcher, that wasn't sticky for a while, so you would throw multiple grenades, but what if you could stick it to the walls, or the A.I. Nothing is like sticking a grenade to the Hydra and watching him jump up and seeing him explode mid-air. There's not really a lot of TD associated with that weapon, but at the same time, you can use it to seed the ground, and create a huge trench.

Dan Hay: Or even in multiplayer; a guy's not paying attention and you put a round on his back and you wait. Invariably, he is going to be around a bunch of his own guys, press the button and instant satisfaction.

GV: Can you talk a little more about the TDV-1?

Dan Hay: It's designed to be an all-terrain vehicle and deal with Terrain Deformation specifically, but it's also designed to bring TD into the thrust of weaponry. We wanted you to be able to shoot a ramp, or at least create a mound in front of you and that way gain access to stuff you wouldn't normally be able to. But it is also explosive, so you will have the ability to control this thing omni-directionally.

Deke Waters: Another cool thing is the ability to grind. I don't know of a lot of other games that give you this ability. Think of it as a drill bit on the bottom of your car. You go up to a wall and can't go over it, but you do see a crevice, so you know you can dig under it. You see a hill that's just a bit too steep, so you reshape it, and you climb up there.

GV: How much influence did LucasArts have over the dev team at Day 1? How much creative freedom did you have?

Dan Hay: What was really good about the relationship with LucasArts was their ability to tell a story, which is what they are really good at. We used that as a chance to focus on the gameplay aspects and the specifics on how to make this new mechanic, and have LucasArts really direct and call out story elements. They helped us by bringing out the writers of Jericho to talk about crafting stories and hitting the right elements.

Deke Waters: LucasArts also really helped us out with the music side of the game. They got Michael Giacchino, who did music for Lost and a ton of movies, and that was something that really added a level of quality and polish to the game.

GV: How did the story come about, how did the idea of East Coast versus West Coast Civil War develop?

Dan Hay: It was a conversation. No question about that, but when it comes to the hallmarks, and how to craft it, LucasArts definitely took the lead role.

GV: If you had more time to work on Fracture what would you improve, change or enhance?

Dan Hay: That's a tough question, but I think we would want to just do more. The game is big, and it has a lot of fun to it. We feel pretty good because we were able to put in a lot of what we wanted to put in there. In terms of enhancements and things we would want to change, we are proud with how it works and we think it will stick to people. We think people are going to like it and the vehicle we have in the game, they are going to like the bosses and the fact that there are a variety of bosses. We have one of the biggest bosses, this 800-foot robot that you get to get inside.

Deke Waters: Personally, I would really enjoy working on making more enemy characters and weapons. Not necessarily because it needs that. It's just a fun process to explore what you can do with TD. I would definitely do that again in a second.

Dan Hay: It was about discovery, and it's a pretty big sandbox to play around in.

GV: Speaking about that sandbox that is included in the game, it isn't an uncommon practice to create a developer's sandbox to test features. But a lot of developers don't include that in the actual game. What made you decide to give that to the players?

Dan Hay: That was a no-brainer - it was something we spent so much time doing and working on. It was important because everyone knows what Fracture is, until they get their hands on it. "Oh you just move the ground up and down," well you also use it to get to new areas, and it's got cool weapons to it, and then there's the multiplayer, and then the 800-foot robot. It just never ends. The sandbox is an opportunity to let people get in and see some of the stuff we did. They get to see and try different tactics. It's what we did to make the game. It really was a no-brainer, get it in there, and make an unlock component to the thing. There are collectibles hidden throughout the game, and if you get those assets, you unlock features of the sandbox and you see what we were playing with.

GV: You touched on this a bit. At first glance, it appears to be a standard shooter with this Terrain Deformation gimmick, but once you get into the game, you see that it's much more than a gimmick. What steps did you make to make sure it didn't just become a gimmick and it was a part of the whole experience?

Deke Waters: It was integrated into the design of everything we did in the game. We knew that we had a lot of heavy competition as far as the genre goes and we didn't want to just layer this on top. Everything we did comes from being able to move the ground. If you play through a multiplayer match and just look at the ground when the match is done, and just look at what's left in the wake, you will see that it isn't just a gimmick. I don't know of many other games that have the ability to so completely reshape terrain and the level.

Dan Hay: What I would add to that is, you're playing a multiplayer game in Fracture and this whole new mechanic, and you are enjoying it. It's easy to discount it as a gimmick, until you go play a different game. And you hit the TD button, that's not a gimmick; it's a pretty solid feature that you've learned. It's a full mechanic that you wanted and it's a request that you are making of that other game. When people go out and play the demo for the first time, we get pretty good feedback and then they make a comment about the second, third, fourth or fifth time they played the demo, and you realize it really sneaking up on you.

GV: When you first came up with the idea of Terrain Deformation, and you wanted to pose it to LucasArts, how hard was it to convince them that it could be done?

Deke Waters: We weren't sure it could be done. We came up with the idea that we wanted to move the ground and we brought that idea to LucasArts and they said "That sounds great, prove it." So we went back to the engineers and had very long and direct conversation with them. They answered the call, stepped up and provided a demo that's pretty close to what you see today as far as quickness, size and ability to do it anywhere. We brought that back to LucasArts and it was pretty much a standing ovation.

Dan Hay: We kind of thought about the legacy of what we wanted to do and what we accomplished. Okay, we want to make a solid third person shooter, and we want to make sure we don't offend the core audience, and then we wanted to come up with an entirely new mechanic and we wanted to deliver that and have it be AAA and really work. We described it to the engineers and they say, "Are you kidding me" How are we going to do that for lighting, animation, rendering, and everything has to be reactive and move?" The key thing about Fracture is tactics. You become the level designer; you choose how you want to do it. Watching people play today, there are so many things people did or didn't do differently; that's the legacy of Fracture.

GV: Before coming up with the TD idea, were there any other ideas that you were toying with?

Deke Waters: We were pretty direct in the direction we wanted to go. We came from Mech Assault 2 and F.E.A.R. and knew that we wanted to do an action shooter, and knew we wanted it to be something we were good at. We also had a lot of destructibility going on in Mech Assult, but that was kind of the thing we nailed really well in that series. We felt like that was our strong suit.

Dan Hay: We were really focused and I think that focus allowed for our feature set to be as big as it is. And it could have been easy to let those ideas erode, but we stayed focused on being able to move everything dynamically and that's what we are putting out there.

GV: What were some of the difficulties that came from creating an A.I. that could handle the ability to change the terrain?

Tony Huynh: It gets back into our design philosophy. In a shooter, a lot of times you give your A.I. an area where they will be successful. There's a box, there's a table to tip over, there's a corner you can hide behind. You build all the animations, you know exactly where they are going to be, and you know when you will be exactly within X units of something to change their behavior. Now take all that away.

We had to make an A.I. that could account for, and make a smart decision based on whatever the terrain is. It was a lot of pain, but we kept asking ourselves what a soldier would do in this situation. If a hill came up in front of you, what would you do? If you're an A.I., and you've taken some damage and created a hill, you are probably going to stay behind the hill to recharge your shields, but if you are shooting someone and they make that hill, you will probably charge it or rush over it because you don't want them to recharge their shield. When you start adding multiple A.I. types and skills and weapons, you can get all sorts of scenarios. One guy might charge over the hill, another might run around it. It really depends a whole lot on the conditions, and it really had to be fun to the player and it involved having a lot of people playing it and a lot of feedback. Especially when a tester shows the A.I. doing something really dumb and you need to find out why he did that. Then it's 3 A.M., and he doesn't look dumb anymore, but you've got to move onto the next issue.

GV: Are there any features that you would have liked to implement but didn't? This goes in hand with the enhance and improve question earlier, but were there any features that you simply said we can't do because of time or resource constraints?

Dan Hay: I would say this team and project was more about, "we can't do that, but we are anyway" than anything I've worked on before. Sure we had a ton of conversations where we said, "We can't do that," but we did it, so I wouldn't say we missed anything. We put a ton into this game.

Deke Waters: One of the first things I would probably put in there is about how we handle water. It's funny how we approached that. It's done really well. We are in the future and in the Bay area, but the circumstances you find yourself in, is a place where there is no water in the Bay. As it turns out, you do run into some fluids. Your run into some water and a liquid we have called XP61.

Dan Hay: But I guess if you are asking, ?Is there anything that still keeps us up at night that we didn't get to put in??, we were kept up at night by the stuff we?did?put in.

GV: Where did the idea of TD come from? That seems like an odd direction to come up with. Was it inspiration or conversation?

Deke Waters: Not really sure where the initial spark came from. We were looking at a lot of other shooters and wanted to bring something that changed the way players look at shooters. We wanted to give the players the ability to make their own cover, and we wanted to expand on that feeling you get when you throw a grenade and leave a huge crater behind. It's really as simple as that. The ground was the next logical step for us, and we knew we had some engineers that could pull this thing off, and they wanted to do it and bought into the idea after some long conversations and pulled it off in a tech demo. It was a really focused process.

Dan Hay: It was really a "What If?" You play a lot of other shooters out there and the cover mechanic is, you hide behind a static or a piece of geometry. It's very standard and almost scripted. You know what you have to do and you need to follow this path.

Deke Waters: Back then, there weren't a lot of cover mechanic systems. It was pretty much just run into a room and shoot. Even Gears of War wasn't out when we started this, so even that game's cover system wasn't available.

Dan Hay: The focus was, what if we could allow the player to create cover for themselves and how they worked through a level and what they explore. You can see it on YouTube right now. There is some exploration going on that has us still learning what the game is capable of.

GV: What is your favorite Weapon and why?

Dan Hay: I am partial to the Black Widow. It's cool to see the torpedo and stuff like that, but the range of the weapon and your ability to do sequential detonation and watch the rag doll of guys flying all over the place. It's really satisfying to seed an asset or A.I. with the Black Widow and watch them try to run back into a bunker and watch the guys fly out of the bunker because they have a grenade stuck to them. Its sick, but I like it.

Deke Waters: I'd have to go with the underdog, I really like the Mine Gun. It's pretty fun in both single player and multiplayer. The core aspect is that you spit out these mines that they drill into the ground. They don't just explode; they actually seek in on you. So as you get within a radius of them, they will find you. It's really fun to watch the A.I. react and to see it in multiplayer.

-J.R. Nip, GameVortex Communications
AKA Chris Meyer

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