Building Bonds: Quantum of Solace Interview
We chat with Activision's own 007, Executive Producer Stuart Roch.
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While his silver screen antics routinely entertain, Mr Bond is a pretty inconsistent performer when it comes to videogames. On the one hand there's 1997's classic of classics, GoldenEye, whose Pussy-Galore-esque blend of Hollywood production values, a sizeable feature set and balanced shoot-outs would help give rise to the present, enormous industry hard-on for bullets and explosions. On the other, there's, uh, pretty much every other Bond game ever made. Ian Fleming's debonair assassin has seldom left us gagging - though Rogue Agent was a bit of a stinker - but in the harsh cold light of 2008 he plays a very definite second fiddle to the Sam Fishers, Master Chiefs and Solid Snakes of this world. We still would, mind. But only for bragging rights.
Activision's Quantum of Solace, which hits all home format consoles and PC alongside Daniel Craig's second cinema outing as 007 this November, intends to buck the trend by filching from that most comprehensively filched of entities - Gears of War. So it's out with shaken-not-stirred Martinis and in with cover mechanics, blind fire and enemies that flank your sorry arse. There's some stealth there too, and all of it ticks along crisply at the behest of a modified Call of Duty 4 engine (though not at COD4's or COD5's swift sixty frames per second). Throw in 12-strong online support and a plethora of multiplayer modes - some old, some new - and you've got all the makings of a winter chart-topper.
With no less than four developers - Treyarch, Eurocom, Beenox and Vicarious Visions - working on seven platforms, Activision has had its work cut out to keep all the plates spinning. Kikizo recently accosted Activision's Stuart Roch, Executive Producer, to discuss platform variances, Bond's newfound grittiness and whether Daniel Craig missed his vocation.
Kikizo: Will Quantum of Solace the game be as bloody as the new film?
Roch:Well, what we've tried to do is stay true to the franchise. We want to create a game that's not a mature title so we can't get too gratuitous with it, but the new Bond is definitely a grittier Bond. He's more human than the past Bonds - he bleeds, you know, he's not quite as polished in that first film as he was before so... The film franchise itself gives us good guidelines.
We don't want to get too gratuitous with the violence because that's not really who Bond is, but at the same time we think we've done a pretty good job reflecting the new Daniel Craig Bond as opposed to say, Roger Moore, who just karate-chopped everybody in the back of the neck, so it's falling along the same lines as the films.
Kikizo: Just how closely have you adhered to some of those cinematic sequences and locations then?
Roch: Not in all cases - we were making a game first and foremost, so what we don't want to do is just take an environment straight from the film and say "well, we've got to do this". We always think of the gameplay first.
That being said, we have a really close relationship with the filmmakers, so we've had situations where we've called on the assets from the film and just recreated a section very faithfully... and we've had other sections where we've [built on] the license - I can think of one where we wanted to know what the doorknobs looked like in this very small sequence of the film, and they were like "why do you want the doorknobs?" - "well, because it was a few minutes of your film but we're going to explore it in great depth for gamers, and we want to be true to that".
So sometimes it's an accurate representation of the level and other times it's pulling those assets and trying to really build it out, so that a Bond fan would still feel like it was from the film, but we have a lot more gameplay than you might see.
Kikizo: And you've worked with Daniel Craig, right?
Roch: Yeah, it's been really great. One of the good things about [working with this franchise] is that we've got all the major talent, so we have Daniel Craig as Bond, Judi Dench as M, we've got all the Bond girls and all the Bond villains from both films, really the whole major cast. We did voiceover recording with all of them, we did cyber-scanning with all of them on location, facial capture...
Daniel Craig specifically, the cool thing about him is that we found out in the process that he's a gamer! He plays Guitar Hero between takes of the film, and so when we first showed him his character and things he was actually really interested in the quality. He's played the game through from start to finish so far, and he's been pretty enveloped in the process.
So it was entertaining and also kind of shocking at the same time, because when you have talent that wants to play the game, it had better be good. All the talent's been pretty involved, it's been great. Even Judi Dench - when we got her voiceover in the game, it just totally changed the game. She's so distinctive.
Matt Hunt [lead producer on the PC version]: In terms of that aspect, let me tell one story in particular. It's not a specific part of the game, but we sat down and started playing it, and they were all set to do a regular demo and he just said "Give me the controller," and played for half an hour, an hour, and then said "Could you guys leave this overnight so I can show my friends?" So he was really into it instead of just doing his own part, he really want to get his friends round, check this out. He was excited.
Kikizo: Did he actually help shape the direction you were taking?
Roch: He gave us some informal feedback. I think the thing with Daniel... is that he had come out of the press centre earlier on, and because he's a gamer, he'd said "I don't want to be involved with games that are bad games." So he's been playing it along the way and I'm actually happy that he's played it and he's still as cooperative as he is, because that signals to me that he's happy with the quality of the title. He hasn't gone into the depths of saying "Move that cover node over there" or something, but in terms of his model and likeness he seems pretty happy.
Kikizo: Are you under supervision from the people who own the Bond license?
Roch: There's MGM that runs the license, but even more importantly there's a family-run company still. I work with them all the time, talk to them almost daily. It hasn't been limiting, I'll be honest with you - it's more about learning the rules of Bond. So to give you an example we just pick up things all the time, it might even be at lunch with them, and they'll say something like "There's nothing more deadly than an MI6 agent and his pistol" - well, that kind of lead our design decision not to send Bond into a level with grenades strapped to him and a machine gun in each hand. So you take certain cues from them and you build the game around that just to make sure you're respectful to the license.