Aside from hyped games like ‚UT 2007‘ and ‚Enemy Territory: Quake Wars‘ there was one multiplayer game that really stood out at this year’s E3: ‚The Ship‘, once a mod for ‚Half-Life‘, now a full fledged game based on Valve’s Source engine. We talked to Chris Peck, managing director of developer Outerlight, about ‚The Ship‘ which is slated for release in September.
Chris, The Ship was shown at E3 this year. What reactions did you get from the people who saw it?
To be honest, I don’t really know! While the game was on the Vista stand for the three days of the show, I spent most of my time running around from meeting to meeting, so unfortunately I didn’t get much time to stand and watch people playing. It was also pretty nerve-wracking watching people play my baby, so to some extent I was glad not to be manning the stand! According to the people manning the stand there was plenty of interest in it, and we left piles of business cards and flyers at the stand, all of which vanished over the course of the show, which I can only presume was a good thing. We certainly got alot of kudos for being on the Vista stand, and were very proud to be selected for the Vista section, and would like to thank Microsoft for giving us the recognition and the floorspace.
The game started as a mod for Half-Life years ago. When did you make the decision to become commercial and how did that happen?
The idea was always to make a commercial title. The mod was made as a tool to show publishers how the gameplay worked, we decided to release the mod online to get some feedback from the public, and found that was amazingly useful in helping us refine the gameplay, although there were alot of great suggestions we didn’t have time to implement, as we shifted the game from the HL1 engine and onto Source (HL2). The other reason we made the mod was financial, at the time we had a small team and limited funds (being that the company is totally funded from money we raised ourselves, rather than publisher funds), and the HL1 engine was free and easy to use, so provided an excellent platform on which to make a demo.
From what I’ve seen so far, The Ship really stands out with its uncommon graphical style. Can you explain a bit how you came up with that look? What was your inspiration?
Well, when we came up with the idea we decided that it would be best set in the 1930’s, or thereabouts, as it seemed to suit the gameplay, and was a style and period that hasn’t been seen too much in games. The cartoon style was decided on as we didn’t want the game to be ultra-realistic, indeed we wanted it to be comedic, and the style we settled on suited that. We were also lucky enough to pick up an excellent concept artist, whose style totally suited what we had in mind.
Are you afraid that the unusual look of the game could scare off some gamers?
Hmm. Yes and no. Some publishers commented that the style may put off hardcore gamers, but also that they felt it made the game stand out, and that it suited the game. I think it suits the game, and I hope that it provides a refreshing change. I class myself as something of a hardcore gamer, and I like the style. I think it’s nice to see something different?
The idea behind The Ship sounds great, but it’s really hard to imagine how it works because it is so different from other games. Can you explain in a few sentences what a typical multiplayer match looks like? You are on the ship, Mr X gives you the name of your quarry… and then?
Hehe, too true. We had real problems with publishers because the game is so different to other games, that’s one of the reasons we made the mod. Hmm. Ok, you get someones name, then…you start to look for decent weapons, as well as start heading towards your quarry. You bump into other players, and always check their reaction to you…if they are fixated on you they are probably your hunter, so it’s time to get defensive…if they ignore you they are either professionals, or can be ignored.
As you look for your quarry you keep looking for weapons, and also take care of your needs, perhaps stocking up on some useful needs items for later. Once you find your quarry you have to be cool, try not to stare at them or follow them round like a puppy. With a bit of luck you can follow them to somewhere secluded (where there aren’t cameras or guards), and then kill them with a high value weapon. Often you will turn around to see someone else attacking another player, or someone behind you looming with a weapon. A few times you will probably not even notice the guy behind you, as they get busted by security in their attempt to kill you! Every so often you will be forced to defend yourself, either fighting back, laying an ambush, fleeing for your life, or running to the safety of the security cameras. Also, somewhat inevitably, you will find yourself caught by suprise, and killed when you least expect it…it’s the nature of the game!
How big is the ship itself? And, if the maps are big, how do you make sure that there’s enough action and your quarry can’t run away from you forever?
There are various sizes of ships, from two decks to seven decks, each one plays a little differently. Bigger maps play a little slower, smaller maps are a bit more intense. In that way players can choose to play on maps that suit the type of game they like. Players are given periodic updates of the location (deck and room name) of their quarry, which really helps to focus the gameplay, and helps hunters home in on their quarries. Players also have a sprint meter, which limits sprinting, and alongside that sprinting increases the players fatigue (one of their needs), which means they will have to get sleep more often (making them vulnerable for a time).
These mechanics also act as a check on people sprinting around from one end of the ship to the other. As well as hunting for their quarry, the players can search for items, weapons, and take care of their needs, which gives the players more things to do. Staying alert to being attacked by their hunter also should keep players on their toes!
What’s the ideal number of players for a multiplayer match of The Ship? I guess you need a lot so that it really works?
There isn’t an ideal number per se. It depends both on the size of the map, and also the type of game you want. We have recommended numbers of players for each map (which take into account AI passengers), but by varying the number of players on each map, the players can determine how fast or slow they want the game to be. Some people make the mistake of thinking that more players means more people to kill, but as you are only hunting one of the other players, it doesn’t make much difference. The game does work best with more than 4 or more players, as that way it is unlikely that your hunter is also your quarry. We are probably going to create a duel mode, which suits one vs one play, but I don’t think it’s the best way to play The Ship.
Perhaps the strangest thing I’ve noticed about The Ship is that the player not only has to eat but even has to use the bathroom from time to time. What’s the idea behind that?
The needs were initially put there to stop players camping in their cabins, or anywhere else for that matter. However, the needs also draw players into open areas (such as restaurants for food, or communal areas for social or entertainment needs), as well as quiet areas (bathrooms for pee, and cabins for sleep). This definitely creates some pretty unique experiences, for instance watching someone else go to the bathroom, or killing someone while they take a shower or sleep.
Items are said to be very important on the ship. Are they placed randomly every time you start a new match or can players learn where to find „the good stuff“?
Items are indeed very important on board the ship. Depending on the type of item, they can either be somewhere predicatable, or placed randomly, as both have their advantages. Needs items such as food are found in vending machines as you would predict, as well as places like ration boxes, and so on. Some weapons are linked to likely locations, for example tools are usually found in engineering, flare guns are on the deck, kitchen weapons are in kitchens. However, wardrobes and other containers on board can also contain random weapons, reflecting the slightly odd nature of the passengers on board The Ship.
The Ship will not only include multiplayer but singleplayer as well. Does singleplayer work exactly like multiplayer or are there differences?
We have two main forms of single player at the moment, Arcade Mode, and Story Mode. Arcade Mode is basically the online game but offline against AI. The idea behind this is to allow anyone who doesnt have a net connection (like who doesn’t?!) to play the game, as well as to allow players to practice offline against AI so that they can hone their skills before going online. In that sense, it’s a great training mode. The Story Mode contains both a basic tutuorial, as well as some missions which follow the more traditional single player mission structure you’d expect. The story mode allows us to use some nice ideas which are harder to implement in multiplayer games. We hope to expand on the Story Mode over time, though it may only fulfil its true potential when we make The Ship 2.
We’ve heard that The Ship 2 is going to be a dating simulation. Can you give us some insight in what we can expect?
Hehe, news travels fast! Well, the dating game is a great idea I think, and was always part of the original design. Sadly the constraints of time and money have meant we’ve had to leave it for the sequel. Without giving too much away, players will be awarded money by Mr. X for successful dates in key locations, e.g. $10,000 to the next couple who have a successful date in a hot tub. The dating game uses alot of the same mechanics as the hunt, but for different reasons. Costumes then become about style, while items players can buy such as chocolates, flowers, jewellery or perfume can be given as gifts to flatter a date. Restaurants, jacuzzi’s, nightclubs and other locations can be used for hot dates.
We’d also like to plug this in to some sort of real dating mode, as by collecting data on the players, in theory we can let people find their soul mate online…all we need now is to model up the chapel and we may have our first shipboard marriage!
Thanks for your time and good luck with The Ship!
Thank you! Oh, one more thing I’d like to say, is some people still wonder why we aren’t releasing this version of The Ship as a mod. The answer is simple, as a new development studio we raised the money (over £1,000,000) to make the game ourselves, and have used that money to recruit a team which has now grown to 16 full time members of staff. The reason this is a retail title is to make back the money we have spent on the game, which will then go into making more games, hopefully each one better than the last! Hurrah!  I should also point out that players don’t need a copy of Half-Life 2 to play The Ship, The Ship is a standalone product.