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Planet Moon is most famously known for Giants: Citizen Kabuto.  And for many, there hasn't been more than a handful of games that have matched its balance of action, strategy, and humor.  With Armed & Dangerous, Planet Moon is offering another riotous romp and we talk to Aaron Loeb, Producer, about the project.  From how the relationship between LucasArts and Planet Moon began, enemy AI, weather effects, a female protagonist who may or may not exist, the feedback generated from E3, and who's behind the script, we cover it all in a nutshell!  Thanks for your time, Aaron!

 

Related Links:

Preview: Armed & Dangerous (PC, XB)

Interview: Bob Stevenson

Interview: Nick Bruty

 

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Armed & Dangerous Q&A

with Aaron Loeb Conducted by Omni

 

Not that I’m expecting concrete details and financial figures, but how did the relationship between LucasArts and Planet Moon start?  Who approached whom?

We actually met at a little nightclub in Paris owned by a mutual friend. It was a blind date, and LucasArts came in dressed in this really expensive outfit, like total uptown gear, so we were all, like, “Woah! Way too uptight.” But after a few drinks, a nice dinner, we found we had a lot in common. For instance, LucasArts really likes long walks on the beach under the moonlight, and we really like drinking four pints of Guinness at a friendly football match and head butting the guy next to us. It’s a match made in heaven (or Paris. Whichever is closer).

 

How much does Armed & Dangerous owe to Giants?  From the screens, gameplay, and humor, the two seem quite similar (at first glance).

Every game you make owes immeasurably to the games you’ve made before (or should). You learn from your past triumphs and your past mistakes. The neat thing about our team is that we’re made up at the core of the same team that made MDK together. And then this whole team went on to make Giants together. It’s rare that you get the same team working on three games in a row – there’s a lot of turnover in our industry. So, we’re really excited to be able to hone, to sharpen the ideas we’ve explored in our last two games together. As to Giants specifically, we have improved upon the best elements of that game, discarded the parts that weren’t so much the best, and added a whole series of new gameplay and graphical elements that are unique to Armed & Dangerous.  

How long has Planet Moon been working on Armed & Dangerous?

We really went into full development during the Spring of 2002. We were in pre-production starting in Winter of 2001.

 

Armed & Dangerous is being produced for PC and Xbox.  Is one easier to develop for than the other?

In our case, the Xbox is because it’s our “lead” platform – meaning, our core development is done in an Xbox environment. If we had chosen to make the PC our “lead” platform, the PC would have been easier to develop for. Both are very good platforms for developing games and, in both cases, that’s thanks to excellent developer support from Microsoft.

 

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Was the graphics engine developed in-house or licensed?  How flexible is it?

The graphics engine was developed in house. Our full engine is called the Amityville II: The Possession engine (because it’s a sequel to the Amityville engine with which we built Giants). Its graphical pipeline is called the Prince Albert, and it’s quite robust. There are two areas we’ve honed with the Prince Albert – maximizing polygon throughput while maintaining the ability to 

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use lots of special materials on them (like environment mapping, bump mapping, etc.). Essentially, there are sequences in Armed & Dangerous, particularly the Base Defend, where we need to have a huge number of guys rendered on screen at once, looking really good, without it tanking the framerate. Our co-art directors (and founders), Nick Bruty and Bob Stevenson, and our creative director, Tim Williams, really envisioned for Armed & Dangerous a game where you could be swarmed by enemies – just more guys than most engines could possibly manage at a playable framerate. To do this, our tech team (led by technical director, Scott Guest) really had to utilize the engine to its fullest. At this point, due to the power of the engine (and the Xbox’s GPU and high-end PC graphics cards), rendering is only a small portion of our processor time. So, it’s pretty darn flexible.

 

Will the enemy AI operate on a sliding scale (i.e. easy, medium, hard) or will the difficulty be set?

There isn’t a difficulty setting on the game that affects AI, but AI certainly does alter based on in-game conditions. To give you an example, the Grunts, our rank and file enemies, are much stupider and easy to defeat when they lack a Captain leading them.

 

Who is the chief writer for the character dialogue on Armed & Dangerous?  Or is it a collaborative effort?

Our cutscenes are all written by Tim Williams, who also wrote all the cutscenes in Giants. There is collaboration between many people in finalizing the scripts, and that goes like this: Tim writes a script, everyone reads it (here and at LucasArts), Tim then receives notes from everyone about what must change, Tim then ignores those notes, Tim and Shawn (our animation department) then animate the scene as originally scripted, the lines everyone thought Tim should change turn out to be great and everyone then takes credit. We’ve spent years perfecting this system.

 

Everyone who remembers Giants, remembers the Sea Reapers.  Are there any female protagonists in Armed & Dangerous?

Ah, there is… but no one knows about her. She’s a secret. So, uh… no. No, there isn’t.

 

The Topsy-Turvy weapon.  Was it designed after (or during) a few rounds at the pub?

That’s Tim again. There are a number of big turrets in the game you can enter and bombard enemies with (like the Stig Machine Gun Turret and the Forge Cannon), but we had a bug in the early stages of developing the game that messed these turrets up. Namely, when you left them, the world started rotating until you were running upside down. Tim looked at this and, because his brain works this way, thought it would be a good weapon. It actually came together very quickly; it’s one of those things that always surprises me. You figure you say to the engineers “make a bomb that turns the world upside down!” and they’ll say, “That’ll take weeks!” Topsy Turvy was actually implemented in its basic form in a day or two. It’s things like making a menu button glow that turn out to be hard. Who knew?

 

Has increased computing power made it easier for game development?

No. It’s made it about a thousand times harder. Because it has (rightfully) increased expectations. Look back to the days of the Atari 2600 and the Commodore 64. A single person could make a game all by him- or herself, sometimes even ship it out to the world him- or herself, etc. Now most teams are at least 30 people, with many exceeding 100. Increased computing power has made so many things possible that it usually takes an army of people to meet those possibilities.

 

There will be a variety of different environments but will weather effects affect gameplay?

Yes, particularly wind (which will affect airborne enemies like the Zeppelins) and rain, which will affect your and your enemies’ visibility.

 

How long was spent developing the main characters in Armed & Dangerous?  Were there many character designs that were scratched before finally settling on Roman, Jonesy, Q1-11, and Rexus?

It’s neat watching Bob & Nick work on character design. Sometimes they know exactly what they want and it happens very quickly. Q and Rexus have changed very little since the beginning (Q’s gained a more Roman Centurion look over time, though), while the early sketches for Roman look nothing like Roman today. Sometimes you just have to try something, leave it alone for a little while, and come back to it.

 

How is teamwork incorporated into Armed & Dangerous?  Will gamers play as Roman the entire game or will there be character switching?

You will be able to order your teammates about the place, getting them to support you or take out distant enemies while you take care of others. In certain missions, you will need your teammates to take out one group of foes or use their special abilities while you tackle a different threat. You always play Roman.

 

Will Armed & Dangerous come loaded with a lot of extras and unlockables?  Or is the effort being firmly placed on making a compelling story-driven experience?

Yes, there will be loads of replayable missions that are unlocked. We haven’t talked about those yet and will be revealing them more in coming months. And yes, we are placing our effort firmly on a compelling story-driven experience. That’s our absolute primary focus.

 

What kind of multiplayer modes are being implemented (if any)?

As above, our absolute primary focus is on a compelling story-driven experience through the single-player game. We will support downloadable content through Xbox Live for the Xbox and through this Internet thing everyone’s talking about these days for the PC.

 

There’s a growing trend for game properties to be made into action figures and collectibles.  Are there Armed & Dangerous figures in the works?

We’ve actually hired four actors to be sort of “living” action figures of our heroes. They lounge around our office, get us drinks, occasionally say one of the lines from the game. Come to think of it, that’s probably creepy and I shouldn’t mention it to other people.

 

Is E3 a working holiday for game developers?  How valuable was E3 in terms of getting feedback on Armed & Dangerous?

For some it’s a time to hook up with old friends (everyone in this industry knows each other, it seems) and poison their bodies. For others, it’s all about demoing, which is genuinely hard work, so there’s no holiday aspect. It is an invaluable experience in terms of feedback, though, both verbal and subtle. When you demo a game over and over again, you start to get a strong sense for what the best parts of your game are, what’s really exciting people, and what’s not working yet. You then have the opportunity to go back and capitalize on the successes and improve the weaker parts. E3 is tops!

 

(June 18, 2003)

 

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