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Interviews

The man who's rebuilding Halo: Combat Evolved

Dev Saber Interactive breaks its silence on the pressures of remaking a classic

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In the past you've shared strong opinions on the merit of smaller game releases, such as the Battle: LA tie-in you did for XBLA and PSN. How does that tie-in with the two massive games you're working on in Halo and Inversion?

I think there's a future for both things. We like to continue to work on big games. We like them because they give you the opportunity to get out there. When you get a publisher behind a big project and the publisher allows you innovate you can do really cool things. I think Inversion is the perfect example of that - I think Inversion is going to be very solidly received. Whether that's a 95 or an 80... I hope above a 79. That's my hope. But I like the fact that we're being given the opportunity to innovate and that's one thing we're good at. We're not doing sequel after sequel and I like that.

However, I still think there's a future, maybe it's not the next round of games and consoles, but the one after that or maybe as part and parcel of the next round there's going to be a much larger, 'smaller game' component as part of it, there has to be.

Zoom

I love what we're doing on Halo Anniversary because the innovation there comes from the challenge of taking an old game and making it look and feel like a new game. That game's being sold - I believe - for £35. That's obviously still not £10 but it's still less than a lot of other games and there's a lot of value in it because it feels like a brand new game.

There's a big multiplayer component to it, there's co-op over Live... it feels like a full featured game. If you haven't played the original or even if you have it will feel like a new game. It's fairly modern for £35.

Do you think the exposure gained from Halo will help Inversion?

I hope so. I think it will. I think what it will do is give Saber a little more credibility. We did Timeshift, which was good, a solid first game. There was a lot of scepticism since it was a Vivendi title first, another shooter coming out opposite Call of Duty.

Kyle Peschel was the producer. He's phenomenal. He works at Crystal Dynamics now on Tomb Raider. I'd hire him this second - he's one of the better producers we've worked with, probably the best. He's super-passionate, good in front of a camera, has his own style, you're not going to forget him once you see him. We miss him; we'd love to be working with him again.

With Timeshift it came out and I don't know what the expectations were but for some people we matched them - for those that didn't think we'd be the next Halo. For others we didn't and couldn't with a relatively low budget first shot out there on console.

With Inversion, even within the publishers we're working within we kind of had to overcome that, 'oh your last game was Timeshift, what's going to make this one better?' Well we're a more experienced team, we have better technology, we'll build off the experience of the previous games to make this a better game and ultimately that will get us better results.

Zoom

This idea in Inversion is a better one than it was for Timeshift. We'll have a better game just based on that. The other aspect is the profile of the developer and being able to... I don't want to say piggyback off Halo because we're working on Halo, but in people's eyes it validates us.

Games publishers seem to pay more and more attention to review scores and Metacritic. We imagine that was frustrating post-Timeshift?

I can't stand the Metacritic thing because there's nothing which regulates how people feel about games. With Timeshift we had people saying 'I haven't played the multiplayer, but it looks ok' and they give us the score. And I'm thinking "what you're saying is I spent two or three years of my team's time working on this feature and you're mentioning it as a 'I haven't played it, but...' really?".

The other problem is - and I'm not complaining because I understand that it's just part of the game and it's why I like our affiliation with Halo, because I think it's going to help perception on Inversion - but in order for Inversion to review what Gears reviews the game would have to score 10 to 15 points higher than Gears to get the same score.

So in other words if we made the same exact game as Gears and it was every bit as good in all respects, it wouldn't be perceived as well because it's not Gears and also it's derivative.

I don't know why derivative is always necessarily bad - if you put out a game that's as good as Gears, who cares if it's not original? If people are having fun that's what should matter right? But if it matters, it should factor in somewhat and 'okay I'm going to take off a point because it's not original' but if it's fun and people are having a good time... Call of Duty came out after Medal of Honour. Really - it was derivative, right?

You're in the UK to record voice acting for Inversion - how important is it for you to get that cinematic feel right?

Zoom

It's super important. We kind of overlooked it with... well I wouldn't say we overlooked it with Timeshift, I'd say the problem we had is that we simply didn't have the resources to pull of a real story. With this we do. We have really good actors, we have motion capture actors, we're at one of the better voice over studios with Audio Motion in Oxford, it's a real focus for us. We look at games like Uncharted, which do it really well, and we're trying to emulate them as much as we can.

When you play Inversion there are some really nice cinematics in there. There's some good acting, it's a fun story. Is it far fetched? Yes. But if people buy into it they'll have fun, that's what we want, it's not grounded in reality. But we've taken it very seriously, you don't want to turn people off with bad acting or bad dialogue or poor cinematic sequences connecting the gameplay experience. People look to those cinematics as a break from the action, the eye-candy, the payoff so it's been a focus for us.

We've looked at Gears also, where - I think the story is ridiculous - but the cinematic presentation is good. What they did with the camera and the way they kept dialogue to a minimum, the cuts short and fast, was really well done.

Once Inversion and Halo are out what do you want to do next?

I like doing one of the bigger projects. Like I said, it's exciting, it gets the team engaged, so we want to work on a big project. We'd like to continue to work with Microsoft. I think there's a very good shot at that and I'd like to do some significantly better versions of the Battle LA stuff that we did [on XBLA and PSN]. There's a lot of opportunity out there.

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