Something wicked this way comes. A portal to hell is soon to open in the centre of old London town. Residents will be killed, the Knights Templar resistance will be forced underground, the mad Liverpudlian who stands at Oxford Circus asking everyone whether they're a 'sinner or a winner' will be proved to have had remarkable foresight. Put simply: we're up shit creek. Why us? Why us Flagship Studios? What have we done to anger you?
"London is perfect for the sort of game we sought to make," explains Max Schaefer, chief operating officer of London's imminent destruction. "There are centuries, aeons even, of history beneath the streets of London. From druidic sites to plague pits to Victorian era sewers, to WWII bomb shelters and factories, to the modern Underground system: there's a whole host of locations that make for great, creepy, spooky gameplay." So, in short, we're the quaintest of the quaint and the spookiest of the spooked - in a nice fuzzy historical way. "But the single biggest factor would be the historical fame of the Underground," chimes in Dave Glenn, art director on the project. "Most major metropolises have subway systems, but none have the recognition or historical significance of the original one. The iconography, the mix of old and new, the varied historical uses, even the construction methods of the tube gives us a bottomless well of history from which to weave our own unique story."
The thing about your progress through Hellgate, however, is that it's all randomly generated - the idea being that every gamer will effectively travel the same journey through Underground Stations, Roman aqueducts and dilapidated subterranean mail trains, but each will have different tales to tell. As Bill Roper himself explained to us earlier in the year (for it is he of the likewise randomly generated Diablo heading up the project): "It's like players hanging around the water cooler, sharing their unique experiences even though they were all on the same basic path to the same destination."
This concept of random generation spreads to the very streets themselves, so anyone hoping to shoot at demons while window shopping in Carnaby Street or even visit the sparkling new CVG/PC ZONE towers (to their inevitable disappointment) could perhaps find themselves frustrated - although Flagship firmly believes that it won't matter. "Fortunately, London has a distinctive look that people will recognise," explains Schaefer. "The literal layout of London isn't necessary to capture this, and frankly most Londoners can't even keep track of the labyrinth of London's streets." Clearly he's heard that my regular excuse for being late for work is that I got lost on the way.
"Currently, the surface levels are very much just an interpretation of what the streets of London 'feel' like to us," adds Glenn. "Our aim is to include a few points of interest in each area to really give them a sense of location. But our priorities always lean towards gameplay over realism. If a level including, say, the British Museum is too big or small or confusing then we'll make adjustments until it feels right according to our gameplay goals in that area."
Let's face it, a few hands of 'Mornington Crescent' were never hurt by a bit of tube-stop randomization (reverse-shunting withstanding), so perhaps the feel of the game is more important than being a direct port of the London A-Z (and remember too that the PS2 Getaway games were rubbish despite their street-map accuracy). "Our randomised layouts will contain reproductions of actual buildings, signs, and the familiar icons that make London look like London," continues Glenn. "And what's more the major landmarks, like Big Ben and the Thames, are fixed in place. We've also tried to capture the traits of each area such as the width of streets, the style of buildings, the number of parks, and the density of buildings to make the neighbourhoods feel like they should, even if the street layouts aren't strictly accurate."