Blood Stone 007 preview and interview

We got a chance to get our hands on Bizarre Creations' eagerly anticipated James Bond game, Blood Stone 007, as well as a chat with level designer Peter Collier...

As you probably already know, this autumn Activision is readying two new James Bond games, which should effectively fill the gap left by the still-unconfirmed follow-up to Quantum Of Solace. On Wii, they’re rebooting the classic N64 shooter GoldenEye, while the other home consoles and PC are getting Blood Stone 007, an adventure-shooter-driving mash-up developed by Merseyside’s own Bizarre Creations.

In the posh penthouse of a Mayfair hotel, a legion of journos were treated to a short presentation and hands-on with both games. Regarding Blood Stone, the broad strokes are still the same, as Ryan reported back in July.

The game is an original production, featuring a strong cast of voice talent (Daniel Craig, Judi Dench), a story penned by Bruce Feirstein (who we interviewed not too long ago), and other Bond touchstones such as a bombastic theme tune written by Dave Stewart and Joss Stone (who also stars as the game’s own Bond girl, Nicole Hunter).

Ad – content continues below

The game harnesses action on a global scale, mixing up both over-the-shoulder and driving segments to best place the player in the shoes of Craig’s incarnation of the suave super-spy. The key terms at play in the creation of Blood Stone, popping up throughout the mini-presentation and overheard during idle conversation, included ‘visceral’, ‘brutal’ and ‘physical’.

The developers took great delight in highlighting the game’s take-down system, with a plethora or grisly animations modelled by stuntman Ben Cooke. Players are rewarded for these stealthy take-downs with quick-fire Focus Aim shots. There’s plenty of cover and, despite in this case being mostly bereft of gadgets, Bond is equipped with a super-versatile smart phone, which reads the environment, and calls up information on what weapons guards are carrying and how aware they are that there’s a half-monk, half-hitman in their midst.

This all sounded a little bit like Splinter Cell: Conviction, but then we were privy to an intense showdown between Bond and the big baddie on the side of a dam set deep in the Burmese jungle. Typically, the fight’s not very fair – Bond’s got his silenced pistol, and his nemesis is in an attack helicopter. That’s until you spot a crane…

There’s less strategy involved in the driving levels, which take up less than a third of the overall game. We were let loose on a short, but intense, sequence set in a Siberian industrial town, speeding after a train while seemingly everything – the factories, the gas tanks, fellow drivers – exploded spectacularly.

Unsurprisingly, coming from the developer behind Project Gotham Racing, the handling is tight and the pace is breathless. However, it is a little intriguing, considering this year’s rivalry between Bizarre Creations’ own Blur and Black Rock’s Split Second: Velocity, that the cinematic chaos of Blood Stone is closer to the latter.

Ad – content continues below

Eventually pushed off the road, Bond has to swerve over Russian ice, which would be a little easier if he wasn’t under constant fire from another chopper, breaking away the tenuous ground beneath your wheels. You have to think fast or die. I died. A lot.

Luckily, there were members of Blood Stone’s development team on hand to give us some handy advice and insight. I had a chance to chat with Peter Collier, level designer on Blood Stone and veteran of Bizarre Creations’ 2008 shooter The Club. We started simply, talking about the Bond concept and how the team got their head around Blood Stone, but I couldn’t resist picking his brains on the level design process – especially since he designed the dam level in the presentation.

It is always a joy to talk with the more hands-on members of the team, and to have Collier elaborate on his work methods is enlightening indeed.

How did you approach this game differently from other Bizarre Creations games, considering it is a huge media property and almost as big as a new Bond film in concept?

In some ways it’s a good thing, because it’s such a well defined universe, when you’re working with a licence as opposed to coming up with something yourself. So, creatively, for us it’s quite liberating, because everything’s laid out. So the most important thing for us then, is for us to authentic to that licence, for what people expect from that.

So for us it was all about delivering on that authenticity, and specifically to Daniel Craig’s Bond, and what he brings to the role. Because if we deliver Roger Moore, people would be like ‘yeah, that isn’t what we want from Bond films any more.’ So the dev team, we took a trip to the cinema at the start of 2008, like on a little school trip. And we watched it [Quantum Of Solace], then came back from it, and said, first of all, our central bit has got to be Daniel Craig’s Bond.

Ad – content continues below

But what is Daniel Craig’s Bond? What is it he brings to the role that is different? It’s brutal, it’s physical, it’s aggressive. He’s direct. There’s no faffing around with laser watches and stuff like that. It’s very efficient, and it’s more emotional in some ways. It’s more raw.

So then we had to look at how that would evolve into the game mechanics that we’d do. So what we wanted was, from that, we had to make sure we covered that physicality, and that’s what we’ve done with the take-down system. We have the full support of EON Production and Danjaq the licence holders for Bond, and they gave us access to the likes of Ben Cooke, who’s the stunt coordinator, and what he provided for us was a huge amount of different mo-cap take-downs, which were from the films, but also additional ones for us, original to the game.

And, then, allowing the player to get that experience of being Daniel Craig by doing those take-downs. And putting in game mechanics that reward you for doing them, like the focus aim, which also, in turn, reinforces the fact that you can be more efficient and swift through environments – you can take a guy down really quickly, focus aim the next guy, and then move through it really dynamically.

They all help to reinforce each other in that respect. But then, of course, you’ve got a broad audience because of the Bond licence. It’s not necessarily a hardcore audience, as well, so you’ve got to look at the different styles of play. Some players don’t want to be direct, and don’t want to be all-out, some players want to play methodically, more stealthily, so we’ve tried to incorporate that in our combat areas throughout the game.

So that’s why we’ve brought in elements like the Smart Phone, as an information gathering device that allows the players to strategise more, because they can see what’s happening in the environment, they can see patrol routes, they can see what weapons they’re carrying, they can see explosives that are near that can be used to your benefit.

At the same time, also, Daniel Craig is a very gadget-light Bond, he’s not Roger Moore, he’s not Sean Connery, so you’re limited just to that.

Ad – content continues below

Saying it’s a gadget-light Bond, one of the problems I had with the Daniel Craig films is that it was very much a post-Bourne Identity action film. It felt very different. As you say, it’s not Roger Moore or Sean Connery, but I felt that both Casino Royale and Quantum Of Solace had lost something of that identity.

And maybe once you’re adapting that into a game, when you’re going very physical, and brutal, with the take-downs and the focus aiming, you’re playing in a ballpark with Splinter Cell, and elements of Uncharted and Metal Gear Solid. Was that a worry in your mind?

In some ways it would actually have been easier if Daniel Craig’s Bond was a gadget-heavy Bond, because you’re going to have a lot more mechanics available to you with the gadgets. I’m not going to lie, gadgets would be awesome. Men love gadgets, don’t they? They’re brilliant! But, we haven’t.

We’re in a position where the films have established this new Bond, and people do love it. They’ve really taken Daniel Craig on board. So there’s obviously something about that that they can relate to. So therefore we can’t deviate from that, we have to deliver on that Bond experience.

But we’re lucky in the respect that it does lend itself more to where games like Splinter Cell are going, where it is more physical and brutal, so it does lend itself quite well to that. But that’s just coincidence, really. But, by the same token, it’s not a hardcore experience, some of those games are very technical, and they take a lot for granted about what the gamer knows, about how to play games like this.

But we’re a broad appeal game, the Bond audience is very broad, so it’s less about mastery and more about the aspirational experience of being Bond. That’s more important to us than, perhaps, if we’d gone down the route of going ‘x, y, z, combo for this particular take-down’,  because players would have been getting it wrong left, right and centre. Every single time that happens, you’re going to take away that experience of being Bond.

Ad – content continues below

I’d like to ask you about the driving aspect of the game. How does that fit into the project, and how, as a level designer, how does designing levels for driving differ from designing for third-person action?

The driving levels are very, very important, and our heritage with Bizarre has been about tracks and multiplayer, and that’s not something that the Bond driving experience is going to be about.

It’s more about delivering that edge-of-the-seat feel, you know, the driving sequence at the start of Quantum Of Solace, he was making mistakes and just about escaping, and at any moment, you thought he was going to spin out. It was almost like controlled chaos – that was part of the appeal to it! [laughs] And that’s something we’ve really tried to deliver on with our driving experience.

Like with the Siberian level, where everything seems to be exploding at once…

Exactly! But what I hope was conveyed with that experience, was that you were right on the edge of feeling out of control, a lot of the time. But you were managing to carry it off, managing to be Bond. Just about keeping it together. That’s what we wanted to convey with the driving sequence. Yes, there’s a certain level of challenge to it, but it’s more about the experience of getting through.

And the third-person levels?

Ad – content continues below

…It’s obviously very different to making a driving level! From my personal experience, with The Club, it was a very hardcore game, it was all about points and combos. But with Bond, it’s all about narrative, essentially. You’ve got to think about what’s happening with Bond and the character in that level.

So with the Dam level, he’s crashed in a swamp, right in the middle of a jungle, at a very low ebb. And you have this villain, Rak, who’s sending guys down to kill him, and he’s taken up a high position at the dam. So it’s all about the ascent for the player, so you’ve got to think of things in the emotive sense as well, and the journey the player’s got to take, and how that relates to what the character’s feeling in the narrative as well.

And then also things like the combat, and how the cover’s been laid out, and the take-down system. Perhaps in The Club, it would have been about stringing together cover for the player, but this is more about laying stuff in such a way where decisions are meaningful. Perhaps you have to sprint to this piece of cover to get that guy, but it is worth it to do that to get the focus aim, or do you just try and hang back and take them from there. Introducing a few strategic elements.

And you work in environmental, contextual elements like the crane in the chopper fight.

You’ve got to get in those things where he assesses the environment, and he does the most direct thing to take down the enemy. That was one of my levels, I designed the dam, and I needed to get Bond from in there to inside the dam. And I thought, ‘how am I going to do that?’ I could build a load of scaffolding, and you’ve got to make your way across, and climb ladders, and get there. But… what would he do? If there was a crane there, he’d get in it, and smash it into the Osprey! And make a bridge for himself to get across. It’s as simple as that, really. I just thought to myself ‘What would Daniel Craig’s Bond do?’

Mr Collier, thank you for your time.Blood Stone 007 is released on 2 November for Xbox 360, PS3, PC and Nintendo DS.

Ad – content continues below