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Highlander: Q&A With Gilles Barril


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353w ago - In Highlander: The Game, you play as Owen MacLeod, son of a tribal chieftain whose village was destroyed by the Roman Empire. Scheduled to release in August 2008 on the PC, XBOX 360 & PS3, Highlander: The Game enables gamers to exploit the powers of immortality and manipulate situations that death would normally prevent in order to combat the forces of evil.

We had the opportunity to talk with Gilles Barril, Producer at Widescreen Games as he discusses some of the gameplay elements and storyline packed in the title.

What is it that attracted you to developing Highlander?

One of the most fun aspects of developing Highlander is getting to work with Immortal characters, giving us massive scope in what we can do in terms of the gameplay. The idea of having Immortals that could have had roles in key events of the past is something that really excited us in developing the game, particularly that these Immortals could have potentially shaped history.

What is it about the Highlander franchise that you think still makes it so popular today even 20 years after the first movie was released?

One of the things we have found that is as compelling today as it was in the original films is the idea of Immortality - this really opens up some cool and unique gameplay opportunities. For example, if you get impaled by a sword, you can pull the sword out of your stomach and use it against your enemy! Working closely with the original writer from the Highlander TV series, David Abramowitz, ensures that we are in tune with what both Highlander fans and newcomers want and expect.

How many people are currently working on the game? Can you tell us a little about the team and what stage of development they are currently at?

The Highlander development team is around 65 men and women. We have several teams of developers all with leads associated: artists, programmers, animators, designers, model builders and level builders. These are the key teams, but of course to manage the whole process we have a Producer and a Project manager.

Can you tell us about your inspiration for the game? Are there any other similar titles out there that you really admire?

There are many games out there that have given both Widescreen and Eidos inspiration for Highlander. It is crucial in a busy genre to keep one eye on the competition. Creating a unique feature then realising weeks later another game has beaten you to it is easier avoided by good research and development.

Please describe Highlander the game in two sentences.

Play as an Immortal battling through the ages from Pompeii to Japan in search of the truth behind the recent events turning New York into a devastated city. Stunning environments, engrossing combat and an immersive story combine to bring Highlander to life for PS3, Xbox 360 and PC.

Could you please reveal the beginning of the game's plot, just a glimpse of the story?

The game starts in New York - large parts of the city are being evacuated but nobody knows why. The hero, Owen McLeod, is about to leave the city when several heavily armed men burst into his loft apartment. As the story unfolds, Owen finds out that a powerful immortal is the leader behind the attacks, searching for a mysterious artefact which was broken many years before into three fragments. Owen sets off after the fragments, sensing that his destiny is closely linked to this ancient artefact, he racks his memories for clues... memories which will plunge him into three different key periods of his past....

Can you describe the different environments on the game and where it all takes place historically?

The game takes place in modern day New York where Owen must sift through his memories in order to unfold the story. These memory flashbacks take place in:

Pompeii in the 1st Century AD, where, as a young gladiator, Owen meets his mentor who teaches him of his true nature and of the rules to the Game.
The Highlands in the 9th Century where, in search of his origins, he befriends a fellow Immortal named Ryan, with whom he fights side by side against the Viking ravagers allied to the powerful Pict sorcerer Barak.

And finally, Japan in the 14th Century, where, with his ally Methos, he protects the sanctuary of Kusanagi-no-tsurugi, a legendary blade, and fights Shinu, Lord of the Tengus, who seeks to make off with this sacred artifact.

How is your game going to look? Are you spending a lot of time working on the graphical elements of the game?

We're using the Unreal 3 Engine so we've got a great basis for making the graphics of the game look great and our artists are really using the engine to its fullest potential. Also we have four totally different environments and time periods in the game so that allows us good scope for graphical variety.

Will the game be historically accurate? Did your team spend much time researching the different time periods to make the game more authentic?

We've used a little artistic license, but we haven't created anything wildly inaccurate and used a lot of real-world history to inspire the game levels. For example, we have the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in Pompeii in one of the levels which causes the town to be in mayhem with fires breaking out all over the place.

In the game will you leap between different time periods in history? Will the game also include an RPG element as you progress?

The game moves between New York to Owen's memories in past time periods so you'll be moving between different time periods as Owen tries to discover the key to what is happening to him in New York. We've kept to a good balance of navigation, combat and story. Each environment varies in terms of balance of these three elements. This is a tricky balance to get right but we're happy with the outcome. There will also be an element of RPG to the game as you will be able to upgrade Owen's combat and Quickening techniques as you play through the game, depending on the choices you make as you play.

Can you explain how you will be able to upgrade your character?

The player can upgrade their player character, weapons and immortal Quickening techniques in two ways - by spending experience points earned in the game and by finding secret bonuses hidden in the levels. The player can earn extra experience points by using more skilled combat moves to finish off their opponents and by completing secondary objectives in the levels (for example, saving all the innocent Scottish villagers from being slaughtered by the Vikings in the Highlands). Upgrades enhance the strength of the weapons, the power and scope of the Quickening effects and increase the abilities of the player character.

We understand that you can move both on rooftops and on the ground in the New York part of the game. Can you explain how this happens?

The game features levels where navigating deadly heights is crucial. One of these levels features a wind effect which will blow the character off unless the player is careful. The New York levels are pretty vast and do feature gameplay on the ground and higher levels/roofs, however we also have to take care to ensure the player doesn't get lost, so there are some limits.

How does the combat system work?

Each weapon has its own set of attacks and the player can create their own combos. This evolves further when Owen is in Fury mode which gives him much stronger attacks. Using the Weapon Mastery Quickening technique each weapon can also become even more destructive. We're very confident that the combat experience will be easy for players to pick up and play and will also provide a real unique Highlander flavour.

Will you fight other Immortals?

There are boss fights with other Immortals but we wanted to keep the Immortal fights special so in many parts of the game Owen will be fighting mortals. Some of the mortals are aware that Owen is an Immortal and have been hired to kill him, like the men invading his apartment in New York at the start of the game, whereas others are just generally up to no good like the Vikings invading the Scottish highlands in later levels.

How brutal is the combat in your game going to be?

True to the Highlander franchise, decapitation is crucial when fighting against other Immortals, as I'm sure you can guess, but we also have decapitation moves against mortal enemies. Owen can also be impaled by enemy weapons which he can then remove and use himself. But there's nothing ridiculously gratuitous like gushing blood, we didn't feel that we needed it; we've stuck to nice, painful looking animations!

Can Owen steal powers from other Immortals like in the movies?

Yes, Owen can learn Quickening powers from other Immortals as when he kills them he takes their skills. Some of the Quickening powers can even allow him to add elemental attacks to his weapons. I can't reveal any more at this stage but the Quickening powers are integral to the gameplay, so you'll need to hone how you use them if you're to have any hope of staying alive.

Can you describe what your vision is in the character of Owen McLeod?

Physically Owen appears to be in his early 30s but in reality he is actually much, much older than that, about 2000 years older! With this in mind, we really wanted to create a character that looked relatively young but wise at the same time. We've also spent a lot of time creating his appearance for the different ages the character travels through in the game, so you'll see lots of interesting changes in how he looks through the differing time periods.

Any last words on Highlander?

There can be only one.... ;-)

The game is hitting store this summer 2008. But, before that, be sure to check out the screenshots in the link at the top of this article.



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