Sep 17 2010

Keeping your head above water: Our interview with the Hydrophobia Team

To amp up everyone for the start up of Games Feast and it’s opening title Hydrophobia (review forthcoming) we have an interview with the team at Dark Energy describing why you should be excited for this slick looking new title.
All questions have been answered by Peter Jones, Creative Director for Hydrophobia.

HBHUD: Hydrophobia looks super slick, is just over a gig in size, and you’re claiming it’s more than seven hours long. Exactly what black magic are you using to make all that possible at once?

DE: It is indeed black magic – black magic from Dark Energy kinda got a ring to it. The black magic in question is called Infinite Worlds –

Funny thing is most people look at the very obvious tech of the game – the water – and marvel how that could be done on a games console, any games console, but the real magic is what is going on behind the scenes. To cut a long story short IW produces a game mathematically. By using procedural techniques. Immediately this conveys a huge productivity benefit. An environment which doing things the established way would have taken around two weeks could be constructed in hours. This also entailed a huge change in the way the game was put together. Specifically rather than artists building the world – game designers did it instead. Artists then conducted an ‘art makeover’. This in game development terms had more than a whiff of sedition.

But the biggest gain was that this technique produced a game to an impossibly small file size. Rather than the 10-14 GB that is major retail games Hydrophobia is as you mentioned under 1 GB.

It isn’t the whole story of course the water in the game is also incredibly efficient. It does things that should be impossible on a games console and yet it is incredibly small in memory overhead terms

HBHUD: Where did the inspiration for a game based on a suffocating underwater experience come from? Is there a secret hydrophobic on your team?

DE: Water can be terrifying. I could give an official spin answer but your question is quite insightful. There is a hydrophobic on the team actually – me. Perhaps that’s overstating my fear of water somewhat, I can swim but this still scares me half to death. Don’t really know why. I prepared the original storyline for Hydrophobia and perhaps I had this in mind.

HBHUD: A lot has been said about the custom built fluid dynamics engine you guys have created for this game; how will it change gameplay experience in ways gamers haven’t seen before?

DE: We call the difference flow combat. Hydrophobia is truly never the same experience twice. In virtually all combat experiences the player can release huge quantities of water. Early in the game water is contained (very visibly) behind windows. Later the player can use their mavi – an augmented reality device – to look for walls that have water behind. Essentially the player can choose to let in huge quantities of water. To the extent that the player can completely flood most locations. In which case the combat seamlessly switches to underwater combat. If you think through the implications of this statement our AI has by definition to be completely unscripted so they behave differently on each playthrough.

Flowing water changes everything. Water completely changes the cliché of explodable oil barrels in our world the exploding barrel creates an oil fire that is carried by the current.

Players beware; this is unpredictable the water flow may create unexpected eddies which may carry the fire back towards the player. Flowing water also allows us to be more creative with weaponry. Let me give two examples we have a so called sticky round. Think of this as a blob of plastic explosive which can be fired from a gun. The round can then be remotely detonated by the player. Suppose for example the player sees a box drifting in the flow. He / she may well fire a sticky round at it, wait until it drifts into his enemies and then detonate. Another unique round is one that creates a localized electrical field.

Hydrophobia is NOT a third person shooter. Flow combat is about using the environment to make kills. Water is very much part of the environment.

HBHUD: I notice your main character is rather under armored to be taking on a base full of gun toting bad guys, what creative ways will she have to deal with her enemies beyond just straight out gun play?

DE: This was part of the design from the beginning. When Kate gets her gun it initially only fires stun rounds. Before I move on let me just explain a little about the stun rounds. The stun rounds are very cool. They are actually a pulse round. In that the gun fires a pulse of pure energy – this can be used in many cool ways. For instance if an enemy is behind cover the player can shoot the cover itself. While this will do little harm to the enemy it will knock him out of cover so he can be dispatched by using an environmental kill. Secondly the stun round passes reflected energy through the floor. So shoot ahead of the Malthusian and the energy will be directed upward seeing him literally flying. This is particularly effective if the Malthusian is close to a large drop! It is actually a misnomer to regard the stun rounds as non lethal. A direct hit from three fully charged rounds will kill. The point is that this is a somewhat laborious way of killing someone. After a short while the player will soon use the rounds as they were intended to cause all manner of environmental kills. This is what it was intended to do. The funny thing is, personally, the more I play Hydrophobia – and believe me I have played Hydrophobia a LOT. The more I use the stun rounds. And this trend was also noted by our and Microsoft’s end user research. Bottom line is the stun rounds are cool but use them to cause environmental kills rather than using them in the manner of a conventional video games weapon. Go with the flow (sorry!)

HBHUD: It seems for most other media outlets the tech in your game has been the focus of their coverage but judging from the trailer video you have up on your website there looks to be quite a story in this game as well, care to give a brief synopsis of what we should expect from it?

DE: What we have created is a background world not just a narrative. But OK here goes. The story is set on a huge city sized ship. The term ship is misleading since this sucker is big. 2 miles long and 1 mile wide. This really is a floating city at sea. We have at all times tried to make the world believable. This is SO important. The player needs to believe this is possible, and plausible. The game is set in the near future we have followed UN population forecasts that in 30 years time the world’s population stands at some 9 billion people. And as countries have developed the pressure on resources has reached a breaking point. The most scarce resource is…fresh water. But other shortages phosphorus for instance (as the principal ingredient of modern fertilizers) is running short. World politics has condensed into two factions on one hand the Malthusians and on the other the Cornucopians. The former follow the writings of one Thomas Malthus a 19th century political economist and in essence they believe that the world’s population should be smaller – much smaller. On the other hand the conucopians believe that technology – science – will always solve man’s problems. Everywhere though as strains develop the cornucopians seem to be under attack as things get worse.

Finally the five biggest corporations in the world set about building the floating city. They call themselves the five founding fathers. Ostensibly the Queen of the World is a peaceful haven for the super rich. In reality it is a cornucopian fortress that, never sailing into territorial waters, never comes under any national control. As such they can persue their research unhindered. The game starts with the 10th anniversary sailing of the QOTW and the announcement by Nanocell one of the 5 founding fathers that it has cracked the large scale purification of water at the molecular level using nano technology.

This is the last straw for the neo Malthusians a radical branch of the Malthusian movement. They have infiltrated the ship for years and use the announcement and the party to mask their attack.

Kate (the protagonist) is caught behind enemy lines on A deck, the bottom of the ship. She is not a hero; she is a systems engineer that is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Initially all she wants to do is survive but somewhere along the lines things get personal.

Think this is all far fetched? – There are plans for such a ship in the real world; check it out. The population forecasts and resource shortages are taken from official forecasts. Thomas Malthus did exist and he did argue that left to its own devices population would expand quicker than its ability to feed itself. Finally there are proposals for using nano tech for water purification we have merely extended the existing science.

Well are you excited yet, I hope so because in a couple weeks Hydrophobia comes out on XBLA and we’ll be there with our review.

1 ping

  1. Review of Hydrophobia | HalfBeard's Heads Up Display

    […] revolutionary new fluid dynamics engine. A lot has been said by the developer about this game (all of which can be read about in our interview with them) and with Microsoft letting this title head its newest XBLA initiative  expectations have been […]

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: