In: Articles by Nick "Alsop Live" Dinicola18 Apr 2011
Recently, we sat down with David Pellas, design director at High Voltage Software, to discuss the sequel, Conduit 2, which releases tomorrow, April 19 in North America and April 21 in Europe.
GameHounds: The first Conduit ended on a pretty big cliffhanger. Are we going to see what happened to Michael Ford?
David Pellas: Absolutely. In fact, Conduit 2 picks up the very second that Conduit 1 ends. In a cinematic in the very beginning, we’re going to recap the things that happened in Conduit 1 just to give the player a refresher, but then we’re going to take you right into what happened and let the players experience it pretty much from the get-go.
GH: Are we going to learn more about the aliens [The Drudge]?
DP: Well I’m not going to give you specifics on what you’re going to see as far as the alien stuff, but I will say that there’s a deeper truth behind the Drudge, and there’s actually a lot more information we’re providing to the player as to the motivations behind the creation of the Drudge, where they come from, what are they based off of, what maybe their home world is, and maybe even the masters of the Drudge and what does that mean, who those people were, and so on and so forth. There’s a lot of information we’re giving to the player in Conduit 2 that’ll flesh out their history and background.
GH: What about the Trust? Are we going to get the same background on them?
DP: Yes we are.
Actually, one of the things that we did in Conduit 1 was that we were a little too clever for our own good. There was a lot of story in there but we kind of left it up to the player to figure it all out himself. And what we found is that a lot of players, while they enjoyed the story, were really just scratching the surface and not digging into the meat of it. So in Conduit 2 we integrated the storytelling mechanisms into the gameplay. Gone are the little cinemas and conversations in between levels, all cinemas are in the game, everything is taking place as you’re playing, and you’re seeing the action as it’s actually happening, so it’s much more immersive.
GH: So will the Masonic Conspiracy get fleshed out some more?
DP: We’re going to talk about the origins of the Masons, who was actually behind the Masons, and we’re actually going to talk about a lot of other global conspiracy and global organizations like the Illuminati and how they tie in to the Masons.
GH: Do we still have the A.S.E. (All-Seeing Eye) in the single-player?
DP: So the A.S.E. is returning from Conduit 1, and in Conduit 1 it was involved with puzzles and opening doors and locks and scanning objects. Well, now it does all that and more. We wanted to make the A.S.E. feel more integrated, like it was a natural part of Michael [the main character]. sS what happens is — and I don’t want to give too much away of the story — but the A.S.E. is used for a very specific reason, for collecting a very special collectable. This is a collectable that other factions within the game are also trying to collect.
GH: So you’re delving more into everything overall?
DP: Yes, absolutely. We have more weapons, more maps, more interactive NPCs, we have a much larger story with better level designs. Our art direction is way beyond Conduit; our multiplayer has more modes, more maps, and a lot of everything. We’re just doing more, more, more, but at the same time we want to really refine it to make it a better game. Because for Conduit 1 we were working on the Quantum [game engine] at the same time that we were making the game, so we were really held back a lot of the time because the cool functionality that the designers required didn’t come online until later in the process, so that meant we had to go back and rework levels to implement a lot of those features. It was just a time sink for us because we spent a lot of time reiterating and re-implementing new ways of doing things.
For Conduit 2 we had that entire basis to work from, so we were able to hit the ground running. We knew exactly what the engine was good at, how we could further exploit it, and we had already made significant improvements on the engine before we even started.
GH: Many of the guns from The Conduit were really fun to play with, what are some of the new ones?
DP: We’ve got different weapons for different factions. We’ve got human weaponry, Drudge weaponry, and Atlantean weaponry, which is a new faction in the game. The big improvement is that they all have a secondary fire now. The human weapons will bring up an iron sight for you, so you have a more controlled firing ability.
The weapons we have returning are the USP45, MP5, the Spas Shotgun, the SCAR, the rocket launcher, and the HVS45. Some of the Trust weaponry we have coming back is the atomizer, and the TCP launcher, which shot these fiery grenades at players. Its secondary fire, which is a great addition for me since I really loved GoldenEye, is the proxy mines. It fires these sticky proximity mines, so if you enjoyed proxy mines in GoldenEye you’re going to love that gun.
GH: What other secondary fires are there?
DP: A great one is the AR-C Eclipse. It’s designed to be a long-range energy gun that heats up as you fire it. However, if you hold down its secondary fire it turns you invisible. If you’re familiar with how the Predator bends light, it works in a very similar fashion in that it doesn’t remove you from the scene but cloaks you with your surroundings. But what you have to watch out for is that if you’re invisible it starts cooling the gun down, and if the gun gets too cold it’ll actually freeze up and reveal you, and then you’re exposed and you can’t fire your gun.
GH: Does all this carry over into multiplayer as well?
DP: Absolutely. Yup, everything.
GH: You mentioned Atlanteans, are we going to see or shoot or go to Atlantis?
DP: We haven’t really talked about the story behind it, and how it’s actually connected to the Conduit universe, but for us Atlantis is a major component because it’s your hub. We’re not the linear game we were in Conduit 1. Whenever you find and discover Atlantis, you’re not going to be able to use all of the tech there, yet. Through the single-player experience you start unlocking new things, and one of those new things is our mechanism for allowing players to choose which level they go to next.
GH: Can you revisit level you’ve been to before?
GH So this is a full-on hub world.
DP: Part of Atlantis is. Part of Atlantis is a hub environment because Atlantis is big.
GH: So between Atlantis, the Masons, and the Illuminati, how many more myths and conspiracies are you combining together?
DP: We didn’t approach it as saying, “Hey, what are some crazy, big conspiracy elements out there we could combine together to make this interesting?” We had our talented writers come up with the story arc, and then we did a lot of research with those writers to figure out how best could we integrate conspiracies into what we already had because we wanted a very cohesive story, and we wanted to be able to tell it in a very interesting way.
So going back to your statement of the Illuminati and the Masons and Atlantis and what do they mean, well, they are connected, and we do explain how they’re connected. We’re not hiding it all from the player at all, but there’s also a very deep background story that we’re not telling yet. By the time you’re done with Conduit 2, you’re going to have a lot of questions answered, but it wouldn’t be Conduit if there weren’t still questions to be had.
But we’re also not leaving it with the type of ending that we had with Conduit 1. You’re definitely going to get a more complete sense of closure. There’s going to be a resolution that you’ll be happy with, that you’re going to feel like it was a great accomplishment. But at the end of Conduit, your actions started something that you’re going to wish you never started.
GH: So are you already thinking ahead to a third game?
DP: Well, we’re planning for a lot of things; we never sit still. You’ve probably heard or seen Eric Nofsinger out and about, showing off some of our 3DS technology. We did a tech demo for the 3DS and we’re really excited about that platform. As far as the Conduit universe goes, we don’t really know yet. We don’t feel like we’re done with it, we feel like we’ve got a lot of great gameplay and story to tell. We’ll see based on how Conduit 2 does, where that takes us.
GH: What are you doing with the multiplayer?
DP: There were nine modes in Conduit 1, and there are 14 in Conduit 2. There were seven maps in Conduit 1, and there are 12 maps in Conduit 2. In Conduit 2 we have all free-for-all, team-deathmatch, and team-objective game modes. Those are the three big ones, and within each of those there’s a series of new, individual modes. So some of them are deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture-the-flag — things you’d expect — but that’s not really Conduit. That’s something every game needs to ship with or fans will just go crazy.
One returning favorite from Conduit 1 is Bounty Hunter. What happens in Bounty Hunter is that you kill an assigned player for points, or kill the player hunting you for points. So it’s a fun little strategy game because you get people who start to feint. People will walk past you and you’ll be like, “Is this guy hunting me or is he hunting someone else?” because no one wants to kill the guy they’re not hunting or being hunted by because then you’ll lose points. For me, I was really bad at this mode because what I’d try to do is get people to kill me so then I’d be bolstered up when they start losing points.
We also have Balloon Battle, where each player has a series of A.S.E.s floating above them, and for every death they lose an A.S.E. balloon. When you lose all your balloons you turn into a living bomb that can run around and blow up. So if you’re familiar with Balloon Battle from Mario Kart that was a major inspiration for us.
GH: Are you taking modes from other games and giving them a Conduit twist?
DP: Some of our modes are like that, yes. Balloon Battle is a “Hey we love that in Mario Kart, how can we make that work in Conduit?” kind of mode.
But there’s also, A.S.E. Basketball. The way that game works is there’s one A.S.E. ball in the field, and you pick it up, and you run it around, dodging fire, your teammates will generally protect you, and then you have to throw it into your goal. So think a combination of football, rugby, and basketball, it tosses them all together. It’s probably my favorite mode we have so far because it’s so unique and so different that it really stands out on its own.
GH: You’ve talked about the competitive modes. What cooperative?
DP: We have four player split-screen, competitive, and cooperative. You can play any game modes online or offline, and if you play them offline there’s only four player split-screen. But for cooperative you can also play our Team Invasion mode. It’s very similar to Horde mode in Gears of War. It’s you and up to three of your friends fighting off waves of enemies; the longer you last the more intense the waves get, and it’s a fight to clear the level and survive.
GH: Is it hard getting four player split-screen to work with everyone pointing their Wiimote at the same screen?
DP No. Each individual Wiimote has its own wavelength that it communicates with the sensor bar, so you’re not crossing streams like Ghostbusters. If our streams are pointing in the same direction there’s no fighting of the reticules.
GH: What kind of customization options are there?
DP: In Conduit 2 we have every level of customization we had in Conduit 1 and then some. So on the control side of things we have the Wii MotionPlus integrated into the game so you can tweak out your MotionPlus settings. I personally believe it’s a better experience with it. The offscreen tracking, the reticule motion, it just makes for a much cleaner experience. But if you don’t want to play with the Wiimote and Nunchuck you don’t have to. You can play with a Classic Controller or Classic Controller Pro. It’s totally up to you.
One thing we weren’t able to do in the previous game is we weren’t able to remap motions, and that was a little annoying. But in Conduit 2 you can remap these things now, so you can truly get the complete customized controls that you want. For me, I’m not a big fan of shaking my remote to melee somebody, I prefer to put that on a button because when you’re playing an intense multiplayer game, waggling is not really the most responsive way to do it.
Now the other customization stuff we have is that we introduced a store and an in-game currency. Through the store you can buy weapon blueprints or suit upgrades, which are another new feature for the game. They work similar to perks in a Call of Duty game, where they modify not just stats but also the way that you play the game. We have armor pieces and color changes, so there’s just a lot more available to the player to create the kind of character that you want: Choosing the model, the color, the armor bits, and then also choosing the suit upgrades to maybe make a brand new class. That’s something that a lot of the guys on the team are doing right now, figuring out what’s the most fun class and then how to beat that class.
One of our lead designers is incredibly strong with his — I’ll call it the Ninja Medic class — and I won’t reveal what that is because I feel that I’m the only one right now that has a way to beat him pretty consistently and I’m going to keep that one in my back pocket because on day one we’re going to be out there playing. We’re doing a big 24-hour live event, and I fully intend to be blowing him out of the water using my customized loadout.
GH: So are you trying to urge the competitive community to focus on creating a new class and trying to beat each other with their new creations?
DP: When we set out we didn’t have that intention, but what we did set out to say was, “What do we like about the modern FPSs out there, what are they doing right?” We really like the perks in modern FPSs, but what we didn’t like is that perks are generally just stat modifiers, and they become pretty redundant after a while. Once you figure out what the best loadout is, everybody online has that loadout and that’s just where you’re going to go. For Conduit 2 we’re trying to be a fun, enjoyable, fast-paced shooter that has a lot of character and personality, and to that end a lot of our suit upgrades are really redefining upgrades.
I use the term Ninja Medic for that one loadout before, and there’s a reason why I call it that. There’s a series of perks that go together that allow you to personify a ninja: Someone who can move around silently, blend into the shadows or not be seen easily, and everyone knows what a medic is, you’re able to heal your friends or yourself. You’ve got four suit upgrades, whereas most other games only have three, and you can have a series of upgrades that go together to allow you to redefine your play experience because with these suit upgrades you’re no longer playing the same kind of game that everybody else is going to play. So you’re going to have much more buy-in for your character, and we hope that what with all these options players are more invested in their character and they spend more time playing and start making requests like, “We’d love some DLC.”
GH: How do you unlock these perks in multiplayer?
DP: Through that in-game store. You earn credits for doing just about anything in the game. So if you get an Achievement in single-player or complete a level, you’ll get points.
GH: So you can earn multiplayer credits in single-player?
DP: Absolutely. You can earn these credits from anything, and anything you unlock or purchase in the store, you have available to you in single-player, co-op, or competitive.
GH: So everything crosses over?
DP: Yes. If you say, “I’m going to buy the Ninja Medic build,” and you do, your suit upgrades to account for that. You can go into single-player as the Ninja Medic.
GH: The first Conduit was very linear, what went into the decision to make Conduit 2 so open like this?
DP: It was a tough decision to make. Thankfully, we did it early enough so we were able to balance things out.
It turned out to be one of those things where we didn’t want to define how the player could improve themselves. That’s really a High Voltage mantra these days; that you can customize your character any way that you want, but we also want you to be able to earn that ability to customize through any way that you play. If you’re a fan of split-screen competitive and you just want to play with your friends, you can do that. If you’re the kind of guy that only plays single-player, that’s totally cool. You’re still going to earn credits, you’re still going to earn enough upgrades that you feel like you’re getting more powerful every time you do something in this game.
GH: You mentioned DLC earlier, what are your DLC plans for Conduit 2?
DP: DLC was a big thing that we really wanted to do in Conduit 1, but we just weren’t familiar enough with the limitations and technology that was in place on the server side to be able to get something through that would be meaningful for the player. I can’t reveal any specific plans as far as where we are or what we can do, but I can say that we would love to do them. And as long as we can get all the ducks in a row, I think that that’s a distinct possibility.
GH: Did having the MotionPlus change the way you designed encounters?
DP: No, and the reason is that we knew the MotionPlus wasn’t going to be a pack-in. The game had to be designed with that in mind. If we were able to ship with the MotionPlus then we could guarantee anyone who plays Conduit 2 would have one, but unfortunately we couldn’t do that. I still feel like you definitely want to play this with the MotionPlus. If you’ve played Conduit 1 competitively you know that jerking around and being pretty quick and reactive can sometimes lead to reticule loss. With the MotionPlus that doesn’t happen, and with the improvements we’ve made to the game it actually limits how often that happens even without the MotionPlus. The subtle improvements we’ve made to the reticule motion and tracking and whatnot are going to be big positives to anyone playing the game who’s familiar with Conduit 1, but with the MotionPlus, I think you just get a much smoother experience. If you have one, there’s no reason not to play with it.
GH: With Xbox and PS3 now having their own motion controllers, do you have any desire to port the game to them?
DP: We haven’t really discussed particulars, but we are very familiar with the Move and the Kinect. We’ve had internal tests and small projects that we’ve done ourselves to see where we can push the technology, what we’d think would work best on the technology, and that’s where we are right now. We’re definitely not committing to anything, but we’re not saying no to anything either.
We think the IP is a strong IP, a very well-defined IP with two games under our belt now. If we were to take this game to another platform, it would have to have a very particular gameplay reason and motivation behind it. Because this is our baby, this is our very first original IP at this scale, we’re very proud of it, and we want to make sure that the gamer who plays this gets the kind of game that want them to and that it fits within the box we’re defining with the Conduit universe. Right now I’m not able to say if that would be possible on the other platforms, but I will say that I really am impressed with the other platforms and that I’d love to do something on them. I just don’t know what that is yet.
GH: And when does the game come out?
DP: Tuesday, April 19. You can still get the collector’s edition. I think Aussie’s have the statue; the artbook for America is incredible if you get a chance to see it.
GH: Is this the only Wii game to have a collector’s edition?
DP: We did a special edition for the first one, and this is going to have its own version. But I can’t think of any other ones.
GH: Thanks for your time.
DP: No problem, thank you.