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Interview: Bodycount creative director Stuart Black


Codemasters' upcoming Bodycount is a rather curious project, building upon the foundations of last generation's Criterion Games-developed FPS Black with inspirations as varied as Alias, Star Trek and Lady Gaga. The eccentricities of Bodycount appear to be a reflection of its creator, Stuart Black -- a man that shares his game's energetic, in-your-face attitude.

Joystiq: First off, the title: Is there a deeper meaning behind the obvious implication of the name "Bodycount?"

Stuart Black: You shoot a lot, a lot of people. You're going to kill a lot of people in this game, achieving that body count. We're not going to be apologetic about it. That's not what the game is about; it's about firing guns -- and what are guns for? Killing people. We want you to understand that everyone you kill in this game ... they deserve it! They're all nut-jobs.

I didn't actually come up with the title Bodycount. It was actually one of my other designers in the studio, and soon as he said it, I was, "Of course, it totally fits."

Gallery: Bodycount | 2 Photos

"Gun porn" became the catchphrase to describe Black, the FPS you co-created at Criterion. It appears Bodycount features that same kind of attitude.

If I'm going to make a shooter, I like a very particular kind of shooting. If I'm going to make a shooter, there's going to be a lot of Black in that DNA. That's the kind of shooters I like to make; hence, why Black came out that way. I was reticent to make another shooter, because I didn't want to make just a Black 2, and EA owned the rights to Black, and Black is very much Alex Ward's baby. I helped him make it, but it was his thing.

So the challenge is: "How do I take the gameplay that I infused in Black, and set that in a new, different framework?" The world's moved on a lot since the days of Black, and that kind of story was very driven by 24. We were big fans of 24 and Alias, and we didn't get that Alias stuff into Black. And so I thought, I was always a bit sad that we didn't get that sense of fun into that. With the world the way it is now -- there's enough of bad stuff happening in the world -- I don't need my games to remind me of that. I want my games to escape, make me feel good and empowered, and give it that light, glossy J.J. Abrams chic to it.

What lessons did you learn from Black?

Make sure you actually have a story. (Laughs.) Have a better sense of progression. It was the first shooter for all of us making that, so it was a big, big learning experience for all of us. I think we were right to be very focused on that core shooting, but we could have done more with that sense of progression, more sense of a journey, and pacing to the combat. So we're very conscious of doing that here. We started with that foundation of "here's all the things we learned from Black," so we can focus on that progression, that sense of story, and create a more holistic package than before.

FPS games aren't really known for their stories ...

And I think that's right. First, games in general, it's about the doing. It's the interaction that makes it special. And interaction and story aren't very good things to match up. There needs to be enough story to justify what I'm doing, gives me a reason for what I'm doing. I think a lot of stories get caught up in plots and being convoluted. It's about characters. It's about identifying somebody and going on a journey with them. It's about the arc of Jack and Melanie and what happens to them as characters throughout the course of the game.

You mentioned (in a pre-interview demo) that Bodycount will feature television-style storytelling. Does this mean we can expect something similar to Alan Wake's between-level presentation?

Um, no, really. Interesting, Alan Wake. I loved the little movies they did. Brilliant. Loved those. Not quite sure how well those worked in context of the game experience overall. Hopefully, we'll give something with a little more dynamism, a little bit faster pace to it. We're not going to let the story slow us down. The story has to keep up with the action.

So, what exactly are the inspirations from television that are being applied in Bodycount?

There's a sense of ambiguity and mystery within the plot. You don't have to answer every question. Leaving questions unanswered is good. Not everything has to make sense. People do things that don't make sense! People fuck things up! These organizations have goals, but that doesn't mean they're going to achieve them; it doesn't mean they're not going to make a mess trying to achieve them. Some of those goals might be flawed. Putting human flaws on the situation, and focusing on the characters, what drives them as people -- that's the important part. Hence the emphasis on characterization.

There's clearly a vision you have for these characters, these organizations. You have a "Season Two" in mind, no?

Yes. We know what our "Season Two" is. We know where we're going both in terms of narrative and gameplay. We're quite excited about it. I can't say too much. What I will say is that there will be a strong multiplayer focus.

What about multiplayer in Bodycount "Season One?"

There's drop-in co-op and deathmatch. For co-op, we were originally going to let you play the campaign with a buddy. But it became sadly obvious that, from a narrative point of view, it was very important for the player to be absolutely alone during key moments in the campaign. The player had to rely on nobody at all, and to have another player in the experience undercuts that. So sadly, we couldn't do the co-op as part of the campaign.

Instead, we have so much back story. Because the campaign is told entirely from the player's point of view, there's a lot of stuff that we never get to see. So in our co-op mode, we'll look at events before and after the player was in that part of the world. You'll play as a more generic asset and see the world before Jack, and the consequences of Jack's actions after he left.

More coverage of Bodycount, including our hands-on preview, will be featured during E3.

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