As one of the first major game developers to turn to episodic content delivery (via Valve's Steam) as a viable alternative to the time-honoured box and shelf form of publishing, all eyes are on Ritual Entertainment's SiN: Episodes - particulary with Valve's forthcoming Half-Life 2 continuation following a similar route.
Of course, that's not the only reason interest in the title's so high. As the direct sequel to Ritual's original 1998 FPS debut - a game ironically overshadowed by the swell of admiration surrounding Valve's classic game, given that the new title utilises Ritual's one-time competitor's impressive Source engine - there's plenty of reasons to be excited about its successor. SiN was one of the most frenetic, inventive FPSs to hit PCs at the time and plenty of us who remember the first game are hoping Ritual can pull off a similar feat this time around.
As anticipation for SiN: Episodes continues to mount, we sat down with Ritual's Shawn Ketcherside - Lead Game Designer and Writer on the series - to find out exactly what's in store come the first episode's release.
How will Blade's character be developed in the upcoming SiN: Episodes?
Shawn Ketcherside: Well, I don't want to give everything away, but I can give some set-up. Blade has fallen to his own obsession with bringing down Elexis Sinclair, and now he's willing to risk everything to take her out. Right, wrong, legal, illegal - none of these things mean anything to him anymore. He's got one goal, and he'll do anything to accomplish it.
Sounds serious. And we're guessing that Jessica Cannon is more than a tasty bit of arm-candy as well...
Shawn Ketcherside: Absolutely. Jessica has some very important ties to the lore we're developing - we're going to be layering in these elements across the episodes, so as the story arcs progress, you'll begin to understand just how critical Jessica is to the game world.
So what's the trick to writing a good game script?
Shawn Ketcherside: Outside of gaming, I've written a few screenplays and a couple of novels I'm currently shopping to publishers (You can follow the progress, or lack thereof, of my current work at www.shawnketcherside.com). What I've learned is that despite many similarities, screenwriting for movies and games are two different beasts. In movies, the viewer is told a story. In a game, the player tells the story. They're very, very different mindsets. In good game dialogue, the lines help frame the world, establish characterisation and give some direction. Other than that, it stays out of the way. I've also learned how critical it is to keep the lines short - especially in a game like Sin: Episodes where we don't have traditional cinematics. Basically, no matter how great my dialogue is, no matter how compelling the story framework is, it just can't compete with slinging bullets into bad guys. This is exactly how it should be - after all, it's a game.
SiN was famous for its level of interactivity - fiddling with ATM machines and the like. How are you continuing this tradition?
Shawn Ketcherside: Well, we've got the stellar physics-related interactivity that comes from the Source engine, and we've designed with that in mind. For example, we spent a lot of time working on our explosives. In addition to the standard 'exploding barrel', players can shoot oxygen and acetylene canisters, and these will then take off and kill any foes they collide with before exploding. You can use this in any number of different ways: you can simply enter a room, start firing and unleash chaos, or you can be more strategic, picking up and placing explosives for tactical advantage. We were careful to try and ensure there was no 'right' way to play with this system.