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Published on June 19th, 2008 | by simeon

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Painkiller

Recently I had a chat with Adrian Chmielarz of People Can Fly. He was kind enough to tell me about his work, and the new 3D shooter PainKiller.

GVK: How did you get into the industry and what projects have the design team worked on previously?

AC:The first time I touched a computer was in 1985. It was a sci-fi convention, and one of the rooms was filled with ZX Spectrums. A bunch of guys played a Star Wars game – I don’t remember the exact title, but it was an action/arcade kind of game – and couldn’t beat the first level. When they finally let me touch the keyboard, I managed to reach level 2 in one go. Yeah, corny story, but I am still proud of it. From that moment on I knew I wanted to be involved in games. I started to learn assembler, etc. Seven years later I decided to write my first game and it turned out to be a great success (locally in Poland of course), you can imagine the rest.

Before People Can Fly I co-owned Metropolis, I think the best known games we’ve made are Odium (aka Gorky 17 in Europe) and RoboRumble. Then I helped Lemon Interactive make Project Earth (aka Starmageddon in Europe), but finally got back to my roots – meaning one team dedicated to one project at a time – hence People Can Fly.

There are 5 people on board who worked with me before, guys behind RoboRumble and Odium. They are extremely talented graphic artists/programmers and I am pretty lucky to be the part of such team. Other people are new, but every single one has a lot of experience either in CGI or programming, and it’s really the best team I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with.

GVK: Describe how the idea for Painkiller came about.

AC:Basically, we love shooters, and we think we know the difference between a good one and a bad one. The decision to make a shooter was not just commercial thinking, but also love and knowledge of the genre. We are players ourselves, and we believe we know how to make a game that pleases both newcomers and hardcore QuakeWorld gurus. But obviously there were business aspects of this decision too: after all, shooters are one of the most popular and beloved genres on the PC, and Painkiller’s theme and gameplay mechanics make it easy to port to the consoles.

GVK: What is the backstory of the game and the setting?

AC:The set up is that our hero, nicknamed Painkiller, is a mercenary dealing with the undead. There are places on Earth, where vampires and other unholy beasts have their nests: abandoned prisons, private castles, deep caves in the mountains, extravagant haciendas hidden in the jungle… “Cleaning” those places is good money, and our hero needs a lot of it, since he loves living the life to its fullest. One day he gets what seems to be a pretty simple job: to retrieve a religious artifact from one of the nests. After a furious battle he realizes he might have been tricked into the war between two competing clans of the undead, and he tries to play his own cards. Meanwhile, a young female journalist runs her own investigation and tries to find out who the legendary Painkiller really is.

GVK: Going into this game, what were the main objectives you wanted to achieve in regards to content and gameplay?

AC:Obviously the ultimate goal of any game is to give the satisfaction to the player. This satisfaction comes from outsmarting the opponent. In shooters, the opponents are either other people (multiplayer) or simply the monsters (single player). And, basically, outsmarting the opponent means you have killed him before he killed you. Therefore our focus is on this part of the game: to give the player many ways to act (various weapons, movements, level design) and to make sure that he is properly gratified when he wins over the enemy.

Some games don’t need fancy graphics in order to be loved, and some games rely only on spectacular visuals alone, sacrificing the gameplay. But because there is a lot of competition in the shooter market, no one is allow to choose visuals over gameplay or vice-versa. Everything has to be top notch. We realize that and that’s why I can’t show you any area we ignore or even just don’t treat as a priority. We want to have everything in the highest quality: single player, multiplayer, graphics, sounds, etc. Our goal is very simple: to make a game that players all over the world want to play. Of course I assume every team has such a goal, and yet many fail, so I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

GVK: What do you think will be the biggest obstacles in designing the game?

AC:Shooters can be very deceiving. They look simple: you have a guy with a few guns to choose from, then you throw a bunch of monsters at him and that’s it. Everybody gets the general idea. But what really makes the difference are all those small touches, those little details. A good example is… jumping. You may think: “ok, so when the character jumps, we should simulate the real jump, meaning he cannot jump too high, there has to be a little delay before the jump, and of course once he jumped he cannot change the trajectory”. And you end up with something realistic- and very, very boring. The players will have absolutely no fun with such jumps. But change it a little: make the jump higher, forget the delay and allow air control – and suddenly everyone wants to be a bunny rabbit.

In other words, the main problem is to really deeply understand what works and what doesn’t in shooter genre.

GVK: 3D shooters are a very popular genre, what was your inspiration behind the game, and what new features do you plan to include to set the game apart from others?

AC:Painkiller will have things never before seen in FPS games, but it’s too early to reveal them all. However, we are not trying to be original at all costs. Some things already work perfect in shooters and we’re definitely going to use them as they are. But of course this market is very demanding and we do have some never before seen features. Also, apart from a number of things that are entirely new and fresh, there are also some things that obviously are not revolutionary, but help the game to stand out in the crowd nevertheless. Let me name two:

First, the theme. In Painkiller you fight the demons, zombies, and other creatures of evil. Nowadays it seems that every new shooter is hard core s-f or reality sim. Painkiller’s horror theme is something unique. Also, we mix the reality (main hero, weapons, levels) with fantasy (monsters). We hope the players will find this mix interesting.

Second, the morph… Our hero has a pact with Samael, Demon Lord who grants him special powers for every 100 evil souls brought back to hell. With time, Painkiller will be able to morph into the demon himself and wreak havoc on the enemies using his special destroying abilities. It’s nothing that new, we have seen it in Devil May Cry to name just one game, but I think it’s a nice twist for a PC shooter.

GVK: What features are being included for multiplay?

AC:We have a lot planned, but the general idea is to keep it simple. We surely will have deathmatch and teamplay, and a few new modes. But our ideology is that MP should be a “jump in and play” kind of game, without long setups etc.

GVK: How long is the planned development cycle for the game?

AC:About 18 months.

GVK: What sort of weapons will the players have?

AC:Only weapons that really exist: shotguns, grenade launchers, chainguns, etc. – although admittedly some of them (that I didn’t list here) are still in the military labs. Of course we are not going for ultimate realism, that’s why for example there will be no reloading (which we find boring).

All weapons can be shot without stopping/pausing the game, because we want to promote fast action. That’s why we don’t have any kind of sniper weapons that require the players to stop, zoom in, shoot, zoom out. Action, action, action is what we aim for.

GVK: Will there be vehicles in the game players can use?

AC:Nothing like this planned, but we’ll see.

GVK: Will there be an emphasis on puzzle solving such as in Half Life?

AC:No. Painkiller is an arcade action game, and even though it has a plot that is important to the game, it’s not action adventure. If you need to compare Painkiller to anything, I think the Doom series is the closest (although of course it’ll be hard to reach its excellence).

GVK: What games are you playing now, and what would you say your all-time favorites are?

AC:I have two games that I play constantly: QuakeWorld (PC) and Virtua Fighter (consoles). I feel strange if I don’t frag someone at least two times a week, or if I don’t try to master my movies in VF. But the games that made me fall in love with computer gaming were old school adventures, especially LucasArts’ products like Monkey Island or Indiana Jones. Currently I play very little PC (only shooters and the biggest hits), but I play a lot of consoles (right now I am having fun with DoA3 Xbox and DMC PS2).

GVK: What would you say are the biggest problems facing game developers today?

AC:I think I might be the only person who believes that publishers are not sons of Satan, and that most of the game ideas some developers have are just bad. But of course publishers are not angels too, and I think the biggest problem with them is that sometimes they rush product to the market. I understand this when it’s mediocre game (so it doesn’t really makes a difference), I also understand various financial reasons, but sometimes there is a real gem that could shine (in sales too) if the developer had the time to polish.

On the other front, one of the things that bothers me most is the storytelling. Most developers don’t really care about the story, they think that players will just buy any BS thrown at them. And the problem is not a lack of interesting themes. We have seen thousands of gangster movies, yet Tarantino managed to impress us with “Pulp Fiction” – because he added all those little twists. Luckily, I think developers are starting to realize that an involving, original story is important, and we’ll see more of that soon.

GVK: How do you feel the gaming industry has addressed the issue of computer game violence and what further steps do you think need to be taken?

AC:I think the rating system is great idea. If we assume that TV ads work (meaning that if we see a handsome man picking up a woman thanks to his new fragrance, we want to buy this fragrance), then we have to assume that being rewarded for killing people in games also has some influence on inexperienced young minds.

But I absolutely do not believe that anything should be banned for adults. Most adults are able to choose right from wrong, and they distinguish easily between real life and fantasy. And just because some people don’t, we shouldn’t be punished for that.

And, finally, if violent games were banned – along with movies, books, etc. – it would absolutely not solve the problem of violent people. They can get fascinated with violence by watching a lion killing an antelope. The idea that removing the violence from games or movies will heal the society is just ridiculous.


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