Way of the Warrior's Code

Producer Rob Hill discusses how the new Untold Legends game addresses its predecessor's faults: sluggish loading and blandness

Even with its drawbacks, last year's Brotherhood of the Blade gave PSP fans some decent hack-'n'-slash action in the vein of Champions of Norrath and Champions: Return to Arms, which makes sense, because Hill was producer for Norrath, and helped out with Return to Arms as well.

Some reviews called this game's predecessor, Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade bland and generic. What have you done to give The Warrior's Code more personality?

One of the primary things we did was totally invent a new art style for not only the player characters, but also the creatures and such. So, the goal was for players to be able to immediately recognize any monster or player that they saw on a magazine or a website or whatnot, and think, "Hey, I know where that's from, I've seen that style before and I know it's from Warrior's Code." So that's one of the things we did to inject more personality.

We were also able to enhance the engine quite a bit to add lighting, interactive water, particle effects, that kind of stuff. We also added quite a bit more to the story-telling mode. You have voiceovers for all the characters, you have the in-game cutscenes, you have the video, all sorts of stuff like that. And the quest will be more interesting. We added quite a bit to all of that.

How much more important is the story in Warrior's Code compared to Brotherhood?

This game is a bit more linear than the other game because we really wanted to invest in the story, so it's definitely very important. Because it's being told in a more robust way, we really put quite a bit of time into this, and it's integrated directly with the quest system.

Do you think it's hard to develop a story within an open-ended game?

We decided to do the more linear gameplay because the story is so important. Everything that happens in the game is dictated by the main storyline. I think you can do games that have multiple storylines, but the main storyline has to get a little bit diluted. I have nothing against open-ended games though. I love them, but again, we really wanted to stress the story.

Why did you decide to drop randomly created areas for The Warrior's Code?

What it allowed us to do is make the environments more detailed. It also allowed us to add a lot of depth. Since we don't have a horizon play like a first-person shooter where we're looking out over the horizon, instead being top-down. In other words, you may see water flowing way down in pits and stuff like that, you can go down long flights of stairs. It just added a lot of depth. Plus it let us add the real-time lighting, which would've been more difficult to do with random dungeons. The environments just look and feel a heck of a lot better.

Tell us about the quest system...

Essentially, we've added a bunch of features, such as escort quest, which lets NPCs follow you and fight with you if you escort them through various zones, depending on what the quest is. We've also added triggers, so for example you may have to plant some bombs throughout a level and get out before the bombs explode. It's just a nice departure from the typical, "Kill this monster" or "Talk to this NPC" gameplay that some of these games have.

Were there any points in development of The Warriors Code where you stepped back from the project and just thought you were trying to be too ambitious?

Actually, we pretty much planned all the stuff from the beginning, so we built the feature set based on what we intend to release, how many team members we have and the hardware. We really don't have many surprises during the actual development cycle.

Were there any PSP-specific limitations or hurdles that you ran into?

Any time you develop for a console, you have to develop to the limitations of the console itself. In particular with the PS2 and PSP, it's the memory. We basically had to make all our decisions based on how much memory on the PSP was available. That would be, I would say, the primary restriction.

But, the thing about this development cycle is that we've had a bunch of experience with this hardware now, so people can actually fully take advantage of it. That's how we're able to have the lighting and interactive water and all that stuff. Interactive water is something that I don't think another other PSP game has right now.

Would you say that the development for this title, since the groundwork has already been laid down, is easier at all?

I would definitely say it was easier. For one thing, we had the hardware for the entire development cycle this time. With the previous version, we were making a lot of guesses based on information we received from SCEA or from the Web, to be honest. When we got the final hardware, we were able to actually re-evaluate a few things. We had the hardware for the entire development cycle, so it was certainly easier from that standpoint.

Plus, we were able to take feedback from players, editors and just about everybody from the first game, and add that to the game design as well. One of the examples is the combat system. We added quite a bit to the combat system to make it potentially more interesting to the players. At the same time, it takes the basic hack-'n'-slash that players like from the previous game.

What about the long load times of the previous title? How have those been addressed?

They're actually quite a bit better. Again, we had the hardware from the very beginning, and we knew the UMD seek and load times. We were able to organize that data on a disc, and how that's loaded into the game much better than the previous version.

Do you think the rush for the first one to get out hampered the development?

I would say mostly no, because we were being conservative with not having the hardware, and we were basing a lot of our decisions on that fact. But, when we got the hardware, we did much better than we thought initially, but I don't think that the fact that we got it out when we got it out hampered anything really.