Quakin' All Over
For years, LucasArts has tried to shed the stereotype that they only make games based on the films of their founder and namesake George Lucas. But following on the heels of 2005's surprise hit Mercenaries, Lucas and crew have another Wookkie-free offering, Fracture, a futuristic third-person shooter being developed for them by Day 1 Studios (MechAssault, the 360 version of F.E.A.R.). In it, melting polar ice caps have caused the Mississippi River to flood, splitting the U.S. in two and leading to Civil War. The Eastern side opts for cybernetically-enhanced soldiers; the Pacific side employs genetically-enhanced ones -- and both love weapons that can alter the ground in ways only Mother Nature could have done before. But according to LucasArt's Jeff Gullett, the game's assistant producer, there's actually a lot more to Fracture than just being able to cause a quake.
Crispy Gamer: Fracture, if I may be overly simplistic, is a third-person shooter, but one in which you can alter the ground.
Jeff Gullett: That is exactly correct. That is really the key mechanic of the game. It's really more of a terrain deforming game, as we call it, than just another third-person shooter.
Crispy Gamer: Where did the original idea come from?
Gullett: The original concept came from Day 1 Studios. Their president, Denny Thorly, came up with the idea of a game where you could deform terrain, and he went to his team and said, 'Let's build a game around this concept.'
Crispy Gamer: How exactly does it work? Do you have ground-altering grenades or do you have an earthquake gun?
Gullett: Well, the player always has this tool that can be used to deform the terrain. And it's unlimited, but it can't do any damage; it's not for combat. However, your regular weapons can also deform the terrain. So you have missile launchers, grenade launchers -- a whole host of different weapons -- and if you shoot your gun into a hillside, it'll actually carve out a bit. We have this one weapon called The Black Widow, which is kind of like a grenade launcher. The primary fire launches out the grenade, and then you hit another button to detonate it, which will create both an explosion and a huge crater wherever the grenade landed.
Crispy Gamer: So the terrain is both deformable and destructible. But how much of the time are you actually attacking with the terrain weapons as opposed to a regular gun?
Gullett: You could actually use the terrain weapons 100 percent of the time. In many parts, you'll actually need to use them to be successful.
Crispy Gamer: In what ways can you change the terrain?
Gullett: The primary ways are by raising it and lowering it, which you do to create cover, solve puzzles, and to navigate. But we also have other weapons, such as the Spike Grenade, which creates these molten lava spikes that jut up out of the ground; you can then stand on top of them or take cover behind them. We also have Vortex Grenades, which create this swirling mass of dirt and rock that sucks in everything in the environment. You can even shoot rockets into it, because when it reaches critical mass, it explodes and throws everything, including the rockets, all over the map.
Crispy Gamer: Can your enemies use their terrain-deforming weapons on terrain you've already deformed, say to destroy cover you've just made to hide behind?
Gullett: Yes, exactly -- this works especially well in multiplayer.
Crispy Gamer: Were there any other ways to mess with the landscape that you experimented with but either couldn't get to work right or couldn't get to be fun?
Gullett: I wouldn't say there was anything that we tried that didn't work, but we did need to tweak some of them to make them fun. For example, there's one weapon we're calling the Tectonic Grenade, which creates a little hill. When we put it into multiplayer, we found that people would take cover behind it, but then their enemies would jump on top of the hill and have a height advantage. We had to tweak it so when someone tries to run up the hill, it slows them down, which balanced things out.
Crispy Gamer: Are there any weapons or ways to deform the terrain that are in the single-player mode but not the multiplayer, or vice versa?
Gullett: Nope, everything we're doing in single-player mode is also in multiplayer.
Crispy Gamer: Why did you think this kind of shooter would work better as a third-person game as opposed to first-person game?
Gullett: One of the main reasons is that all the terrain-deforming is done on a pretty large scale, so by pulling the camera back behind the character, you get a much better vantage point of the surroundings and better situational awareness. Plus, story and character are a big part of what we do here at LucasArts, so we felt it was important for you to see the main character on-screen -- to see his face rather than just see two hands and a gun.
Crispy Gamer: Did you come to this conclusion after experimenting with the first-person perspective?
Gullett: We did, actually. For the first several months of the game's development it was in first-person, but we decided to try it out to see how it would work in third-person. Immediately, once we saw the results, everyone was onboard in agreeing that it needed to be a third-person game.
Crispy Gamer: What were some games that you'd consider an influence on Fracture's gameplay?
Gullett: I think a lot of the shooter games in general. We've definitely looked at all the best games in the shooter genre. And I know there have been other games out there that have tried to do terrain deforming, but I don't think any other game has really hit on it the way that we have or made it such a core mechanic of the game. Here, it's what the game is all about -- reshaping the battlefield. People have brought up games like Red Faction, but we're definitely taking it to such a different level that you can't really compare the two.
Crispy Gamer: How about the story -- what were some of the influences on it?
Gullett: Well, we wanted to take some of the hot topics of the day, things like stem cell research and global warming, and try to play them out to a possible end. That's where we came up with the genetics vs. cybernetics angle, as well as that of the war-torn nation with the Central United States having been turned into a wasteland by a series of earthquakes and floods.
Crispy Gamer: In anticipation of Fox News attacking you for being part of the liberal media pushing a pro-stem cell research agenda, I'll ask: Does the game take a position on this issue?
Gullett: Not really. In fact, the Pacific side -- the genetically modified side -- is actually the enemy you're fighting against. Though as the story unfolds, you'll definitely see that things aren't as black-and-white as they appear at the beginning of the game.
Crispy Gamer: How much of an influence did 'An Inconvenient Truth' have on the story?
Gullett: I wouldn't say it's been an influence on the story, though we did actually talk to geologists about what would happen if the Mississippi really were to flood -- whether it could trigger a fault line that lies underneath it and cause a massive earthquake.
Crispy Gamer: In what year is the game set?
Crispy Gamer: How did you come up with that year?
Gullett: I think it's actually a reference to the Civil War, which started in 1861 -- sort of an homage.
Crispy Gamer: Nice. Obviously, single-player mode is well thought-out. Are there any plans for co-op?
Gullett: You will be able to play split-screen co-op through the entire single-player campaign, but it's just split-screen, not online.
Crispy Gamer: So what kind of online modes will you have?
Gullett: Right now we're actually still working out what the different types will be, and how many players. But we will have some, and it's actually up and running already.
Crispy Gamer: How has the development been going?
Gullett: I wouldn't say it's been easy, because making a game where the player can completely manipulate the environment so extensively at will has definitely been challenging and has brought up a whole bunch of issues I don't think have come up before. It's also brand-new technology that's pushing the capabilities of these next-gen systems. We're really pressing the limits of all those processors.
Crispy Gamer: Speaking of which, for what platforms will the game be released?
Gullett: Xbox 360 and PS3.
Crispy Gamer: And is it safe to assume the two versions will be pretty much the same?
Crispy Gamer: Is there a release date?
Gullett: Right now we're saying Summer 2008.
Crispy Gamer: LucasArts' non-Star Wars games often feature unlockable characters from Star Wars; you could, for example, unlock an X-Wing Fighter in their World War II aerial dogfighting game Secret Weapons over Normandy. Now I'm not going to ask who it'll be in Fracture, since you'd never tell me, but which Star Wars character do you think would fit best in this game?
Gullett: If I had to pick one I would say Boba Fett, because of all of the different weapons he has on him. I also think he's the most resourceful.