We talk to Huw Beynon to find out why Last Light is going to set the FPS world alight.
After months of silence from 4A Games about their successor to Metro 2033, THQ finally blew the lid off this month by showing us the game’s latest build and releasing a new gameplay trailer that proved to the world that this mature shooter experience isn’t pandering to the more intellectually challenged elements of the shooter crowd. We had a chat with THQ’s head of global communications Huw Beynon to investigate how much the shooter series has really changed and how Artyom will fair in his second apocalyptic adventure. Here’s how the conversation went down…
Metro 2033 was a big success on PC, but that popularity didn’t seem to translate to the Xbox 360 version. If Last Light only replicates the sales of the previous game on PC and no other platform, is that a big problem for you guys?
I can’t imagine that we’d go backwards. The first one’s actually been extremely commercially successful for THQ – we have over a million sales on PC. What’s really interesting for me is that if you look at the Xbox Live stats, we’re at over a million players for the Xbox 360 version and presumable second hand and rental contributed to that. We have a significant install base on 360 as well, and actually I played through the original on 360 and I think visually and technically it stakes up really well on console. We’ve only improved that front this time around, and we have the PS3 SKU as well. I think we’d be really disappointed if it didn’t do as well as the last one given the extra marketing muscle that THQ has thrown behind Last Light. By their own admission they realised too late what they had with Metro 2033, and they didn’t invest a huge amount in the marketing campaign. It was really through word of mouth that it became the success that it did. It’s something that THQ is taking very seriously with Last Light, not least with marketing support but also production support. We’ve had additional development time and been provided with all the tools needed to bring the level of polish up to a higher standard.
Multiplayer was dropped fairly early on in Metro: Last Light’s development and it was one of those rare occasions that fans were actually happy that a major feature was being dropped. Did you guys get a sense of that relief from fans?
I think so and that’s an interesting affair in its own right. A lot of the guys at 4A are multiplayer fans, and there was multiplayer in the original story. We had lots of incredibly cool ideas with what we could do in a multiplayer environment with Metro’s weapon set, technology and particularly the lighting, the world we created, mask mechanics etc. We were working on some very promising prototypes, but it came to a crunch point where we had to think; what’s the best way to spend the time and the resources of what is a very small studio? It was a tough decision, because 4A don’t like to throw away work and maybe it’s something that may get revisited in some form in the future whether it’s something for Metro or a different project. The response from either fans or just observers commenting on the story definitely vindicated that decision. We feel very comfortable with the way that news was received and hopefully we made the right decision there.
You’ve tapped into an FPS market which is quite traditional in their mindset. People care about Metro 2033 a lot and they don’t want to see the core formula messed with, if anything they just want more of it…
One of the things I’ve seen with Metro, and I probably fall into the same camp myself, is that there’s an audience out there that didn’t just like the first game they absolutely loved it! They thought it was a hugely significant first person shooter and they were willing to overlook some of the mechanical flaws of the game which has been a huge focus of development for us this time around. One of the reasons it was so well received was because it feels so completely different to most other shooters on the market. We’ve seen the explosion of a relatively niche sub-genre [military shooters] become the definition of the genre. I think about the classic golden age of the FPS, where you had Half Life, System Shock, Thief – Bioshock probably counts within that tradition too – where you could be in the far flung depths of space or a medieval fantasy world. A time where if we look back we’re reminded that video games can and I think should take you to different worlds to explore. The world of Metro is probably one of the strongest characters itself in the game. It’s this sense of trying to take you to this game world, to explore and to give you a sense of this place that you’ve really visited it. I get that sensation from Rapture in BioShock and City 17 in Half Life 2, but that isn’t a concept restricted to just first person shooters, just look at Hyrule in Legend of Zelda when you step out into the field for the first time. It’s that escapism and being taken to another world however horrific in the case of Metro, that I think we really tapped into with the first game and why it was so well received. If we can recapture that and develop our craft in reference to the mechanics of the game as well, I think we’re on the right track.
In a lot of ways THQ has almost re-branded Metro in the process of pushing Last Light, in a way that almost makes it appear like a new franchise. Does the success of more mature experiences like Dishonored give you hope that the masses are ready for a more complex first person experience?
Personally Dishonored was the game I was most interested in this year. I’ve started to dabble in it and had some wonderful experiences already. I’m thrilled that they’ve had both critical and commercial success. Bethesda has already said that it has beaten their expectations and that’s great news for them, and great news for us as well as it shows that you don’t have to just follow the herd to get that critical and commercial success. I don’t know whether THQ so much tried to re-brand Metro, I think they’ve just tried to give it the exposure that it didn’t get last time. I’d hold up the live action film that they produced as almost case in point to that. It’s all in Russian and there are no subtitles, it’s a live action trailer for what is a first-person shooter, but there’s more to it than that. No-one actually dies in the trailer, well millions of people die but you don’t see it happen, so I think that trailer hopefully spoke to some of the emotional depth and maturity that’s present in this game – something that the ‘Yeehaw’ shooter commonly overlooks.
Do you think audiences are changing as military shooters aren’t as successful as they used to be? Are people ready for more mature experiences?
Well, gamers are growing up. I’m growing up and I’m finding that I’m becoming a bit jaded by a lot of immaturity that we see commonly with games. Again I think that’s why Metro also really struck a chord. The way that we dealt with choice and morality in Metro 2033 has inspired a heap of fascinating critical writing online, as people have gotten to grips with what was going on there. There’s a real cerebral edge to it in a sense, the storyline is a genuinely interesting kind of philosophical treatise for the player. One of the advantages of working with a proper author is that we have that additional layer of depth and meaning to the story. On the one hand Metro is an allegory for contemporary Russian politics seen through the lens of a Dmitry Glukhovsky book but on the other, rather than having a ridiculously convoluted plot that ultimately makes no sense whatsoever, we have a very focused story about one character Artyom and the two-conflicting voices of his mentors. There’s Hunter’s dogmatic “if it’s hostile you kill it” approach which is the guiding principle in the game, and then you’re given an alternate view from Hans which involves a much more considered approach. The player is then given these two contrasting world views and essentially asked to make the choice about which one they’re going to follow. I think that’s a layer of meaning which seems to be missing from a lot of game narratives at present.
In Last Light, the game world is beginning to recover from the nuclear destruction which forced humanity to flee underground prior to the first game. Players will start to see acts of spring and greenery to appear in the outside world. How do far do you take that transformation?
There’s a beautiful irony there because the broader context for the story is that Artyom by destroying the Dark Ones at the end of in Metro 2033 has really just, as Dmitry puts, stayed the execution of the stations and the people, but delivered a life sentence instead. They uncover D6 – a pharaoh tomb at the heart of the Metro system, full of weapons, supplies, weapons and technology. This glittering prize has been uncovered for the last 20,000 people and rather than figure out how this wonderful prize can help everyone, the three factions swing into action – who knows what’s actually going to happen? For me that’s not the story, that’s the context to the story, for me the story is what happens to Ayrtom which is something we’ve deliberately kept under wraps. He has a very interesting starting point, as he tries to reconcile himself with his actions in the previous game.
Thanks for your time Huy! Keep your eyes for a in-depth preview of Metro: Last Light over the coming days…
Tags: Metro Last Light
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