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Interview: Alone In The Dark

Nour Polloni talks about Resident Evil 4, no keys and why it took so long...

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How hard was it to create a videogame fitting a structure tailor made for TV?
Well, it kind of changed the perspective on how we developed the game. It's not about I do my level design and then I just put my cutscenes in. It's okay, I have situations where I want the players to live and I want to tell a story throughout the game. The level designs had to have in mind all the time that this is a situation where they'll need this character, there needs to be a revelation of the character here, there's a plot twist at this section, so this is something they maintained throughout.

For example, you have cutscenes in the game but also characters who live their story while you're playing the game, and that was thought of from the beginning when they started designed. So it's a completely different way of thinking.

Development has taken four years so far, right?
Yeah.

Why has it taken so long?
Well, there were a lot of things actually. First of all, it was in terms of technology. This is our own proprietary technology and we knew straight away that this would be the next generation of next generation games. So we had to think ahead and say okay, what are we expecting ahead of time, what kind of games should we have in terms of rendering, capacity, interaction, even the real-time lights. This is something in terms of technology we had to develop, to have as many real-time lights as we wanted in the game. When usually with most engines, it's a maximum of three real-time lights, if possible. Here, we can have as many as we want, and they are really a part of the gameplay.

So we have a technology challenge to push, to push and build our game engine and build our rendering engine. And then we had our innovation challenge, in terms of gameplay. We had to say, okay, how do I interact with my environment? I want to really feel like I'm picking up a chair and using it. How can I get that feeling? What we did was get a prototype of each of the different features. We did a prototype of fire, prototype of combat and we worked it out, iteration by iteration, until we got what we wanted right.

Then we had to combine all those things together. Now it's great to have an object you can interact with but if it doesn't react with fire... so we had to make sure that all those different features combined together so they felt coherent in terms of the gameplay that you can get. Actually, you get a lot of surprises, incredible things that are happening, real emergent gameplay in some sense.

Like the day when we put sticky tape on the bottle and said, let's stick it on the wall... okay, it sticks! And there was an enemy walking around so, let's see if that works... we throw it and it works, so it's those kind of things that are incredible. So we had to develop that.

There was also the challenge of how do we make everything harmonious, paced with rhythm, and make sure it goes fluidly throughout the game and feel that you're immersed and not get taken out of the game. What we did is that we did groups per sequence - for each group there was a level designer, programmer, an artist, and they worked together to bring the level of quality for their sequence. Then we put the whole game together and did major focus testing. So a lot of situations to get the final result.

With such a long development time, were you worried another game would come out and beat you to the punch?
When we started four and a half years ago, Resident Evil 4 hadn't come out yet. We were working on a hero and we know we wanted our hero to be fluid and all that. And then when Resident Evil 4 did come out, it was like... argh! Damn, you know! [laughs] But it was great because we saw their success and we knew we were going in the right direction.

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