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SiN Episodes Interview
(hx) 09:04 AM CET - Dec,04 2005

Gameguru Mania got a chance to talk with Ritual's level designer Richard "Levelord" Gray as he talks about SiN Episodes, a self published episodic continuation of the franchise that will have its first episode released soon.

GGMania: Could you introduce yourself to our readers and tell them a little bit about what you do on SiN Episodes?

Levelord: I am the Levelord ;) We have more than one project at Ritual at any given time. I am on another project, not SiN Episodes. That will change soon, though, I hope. SiN Episodes is looking real good and it's very hard not to jump in on it.

GGMania: Levelord , you've come up with lots of great titles and ideas during your career, and I believe you are still going strong :) How do you do it? Where do you get your inspiration from? What is it that makes you keep going? .....and when you sleep? ;)

Levelord: Thanks, but to be honest, I have simply been very lucky. There are many, many level designers much better than I. Most of my ideas come from only a few places. As soon as I know the type of game I am going to work on, and its theme, I will rent movies on the same topic. I will also get books and search online for ideas. Most great ideas are stolen, and this is called "appropriation" in the art world. I also think of things when I am sleeping. The best time is when I am half asleep and half awake, either before falling asleep or when I wake up and can lay in bed before getting up.

GGMania: OK, now seriously. It's been 7 years since the original Sin game , and a _lot_ has changed in the gaming industry. So, apart from the technology, what are the biggest differences between making a game 7 years ago, making a game today, and - if you could guess - making a game in 7 years from now?

Levelord: The biggest difference is the time needed and personnel. Games today are 3-4 more times difficult to make. Everything is more difficult, too, from the code to the art to the levels. You can't just make rooms and hallways, and then place bad guys and guns. There's AI and so many things that involved with making characters act correctly. There are cinematics. The levels themselves are far more detailed and require much more time to simply lay out. Even the textures require 3-5 layers with normal maps and specular maps and bump maps and… …everything is much more difficult.

On the positive side, another big difference is the quality of the games today. Because of the end results from all the work mentioned above, games today are incredibly beautiful, detailed, and immersive. Characters act better, story lines are better portrayed, and the levels are stunningly detailed.
I can't imagine what we'll be seeing 7 years from now. If you had asked this same question back in the days of the original SiN, I never would have imagined then, too.

GGMania: What made you decide on an episodic format & what advantages and disadvantages have there been to this?

Levelord: Why use an episodic development paradigm? Because it makes brilliant sense with the new digital delivery system called Steam. Having the power and ease of releasing a game with the simple click of an upload-to-server button means that we do not have to wait for enough time to pass, nor provide as much consolidated content to justify putting the product on CDs and in a box and then in a truck and then on a shelf… …it's brilliant and it screams "Go episodic!".

Also, episodic entertainment is a proven model for storytelling. From printed media (books, magazines, comics) to electronic (television, movies), almost all forms of media have used episodic storytelling. This is not new for games, either. The word "episode" has been in our gaming vocabulary for a long time. Games have always been divided into episodes. Ritual Entertainment is only using the new delivery system Steam and increasing the frequency of releases.

We also believe delivering a game like SiN Episodes as an episodic series is a great idea because we intend to cast the story down a long timeline. When we say episode here, please remember that the most important aspect of this new paradigm is the partitioning of what used to be considered a whole. What would normally be delivered as a 3-5 "episode" or "mission" game as one piece, requiring at least 2 years to produce (and wait for) and around $60 to buy (not an insignificant price for most of us), will be delivered by us as the same content but in smaller, quicker, and cheaper parcels.

Also, let's remember the shareware model used by game developers not so long ago. It was actually an episodic delivery paradigm. With shareware, we would release the first episode, usually before the completed game was finished. Then the full game would be released, which usually was the second and third episodes. These would then, if the game was successful, be followed by a series of add-on packs, each of which to be called another episode. For the most part, this is the very same episodic delivery of a game that we are "starting" with SiN Episodes.

GGMania: How important is level design to creating a cohesive narrative?

Levelord: Level designing is always the foundation for the story line of the game. This is where everything comes together, from the characters to the cinematics to the gameplay itself. Games could live without art and code, but never without levels! …just kidding, maybe ;)

GGMania: Will a lot of the look and feeling be brought from Sin to SiN Episodes? How much the story continuity is there from the original Sin game?

Levelord: This really should not be considered a continuation of the original SiN. The technologies for both games, and hence the look and feel, are separated by almost 10 years. Many other things have changed, too, in basic gameplay expectations. For one, there was not so much imbedded story telling back in the old days.

The stories are linked, of course, through their shared characters and such. At the end of SiN, the villainess of the game, Elexis Sinclaire, managed to escape. Blade was left wondering what happened to her and if she would ever return. In the following years, John Blade and HardCorps unsuccessfully tried to bring down SinTEK Industries in a drawn-out legal battle, as Elexis Sinclaire quietly prepared to make her return to the public eye.

In SiN Episodes, she's back and firmly entrenched at the top of society, worshipped by Freeport's wealthy elite. As the mutant problem continues to plague the poorer parts the city, Blade is now obsessed with bringing Sinclaire to justice. Elexis, meanwhile, has her own plans for Blade, and their history is connected far more than he realizes. JC, who has grown up and matured a bit. We'll have a few new characters, including Jessica Cannon, a HardCorps rookie working with Blade.

GGMania: How interactive is the environment? What type of interactivity can players expect?

Levelord: SiN Episodes is definitely an action game, but there will be puzzles and adventure, too. It will have plenty of environmental interactivity and lots of cool stuff to do. Our AI is moving from a fully scripted system (as we had in the original SiN) to a more system-driven approach, in which the AI dynamically reacts and adapts to the player and his/her actions. Our characters will also react to each other, the environment, and the developing story.

GGMania: What kind of weapons will we get to use in the first episode?

Levelord: We're going to have about a half dozen of weapons in the first episode. Apart from Blade's signature Magnum pistol, they're all new to the SiN universe. We're really trying to make each weapon useful, even in the later stages of the game, so we're spending a lot of time tweaking and balancing our weapons and their abilities.

The game also returns us to SiN's trademark mix of human and mutant enemies. We're going to see the return of the SinTEK grunts, although they've received a substantial visual and AI upgrade. They now use cover effectively, and they even help fallen comrades to get back on their feet. Some are even equipped with jetpacks, so they can literally attack you from any angle.

We also have several new mutant enemies, and we're really trying to do new things with them. For example, the Leperkin mutant starts out as a tiny gib and keeps growing and growing until the player takes it out. It's best to dispatch of these as soon as possible, or you might be in for more than you asked for.

GGMania: How are you planning on captivating the playing audience yet again? (In terms of gameplay)

Levelord: We are going to use our original sense of gameplay and interactivity, most of which is described above ;)

GGMania: You claim (Ritualistic's FAQ) that each chapter of SiN Episodes will approximately take 3 - 6 hours to play through from start to finish. Isn't it a little too short?!

Levelord: That is difficult to say until we do our full playtesting with target audiences. We are estimating the lowest (fewest) hours of gameplay based on us being avid gameplayers and thus expect the normal play time to be more. We guarantee to please and will offer as much bang for the buck as is expected with any other contemporary game.

GGMania: Are there any Easter eggs and/or unlockable material in the Episode 1?

Levelord: Do you really expect me to answer that question? … ;)

GGMania: Currently what is the status of the first episode and when can we expect to see it in stores?

Levelord: Next Tuesday, sometime after lunch, maybe 13.00, maybe later ;)

related links: Levelord's homepage + Games Credited, Rituallistic.

genre: episodic first person shooter
release: 2005/12
developer: Ritual Entertainment
publisher: homepage

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