Interview – The Bourne Conspiracy PS3, Xbox 360

With The Bourne Conspiracy now hitting store shelves in Europe, we thought we’d take the time out to have a chat with High Moon about the work that has gone into making the game. Thankfully, Meeland Sadat, the Director and Product Researcher at High Moon Studios, was kind enough to answer some of our questions on the game. Read on for details on why they chose to heavily use QTE’s in the game, why they decided not to add multiplayer, and if Bourne will ever be back in video game form again.

DarkZero: Hi, can you tell us a bit about yourself, and the work you do at High Moon. How would you best describe The Bourne Conspiracy in your own words?

Meelad Sadat: I’m the head of product of product research & globalisation at High Moon. That’s a fancy way of saying that I oversee consumer testing at the studio and also work with our publishing partner on PR and marketing strategy for our games. The Bourne Conspiracy is, simply put, a video game designed to bring together all of the signature elements of the Jason Bourne series in an action title. The experience is meant to be one where you become this perfect human weapon that is Jason Bourne, both reliving moments from the books and films where he is this amnesiac ex-government agent on the run, and going on past missions that show the ruthless assassin Bourne was before breaking down and going on the lam.

DarkZero: Were there ever any other ideas touted before settling on the third-person approach on show in current version of the game?

Meelad Sadat: The game took different forms, namely from a sub-genre perspective where our developers were breaking down the property to determine just what defines Bourne. From the onset it was going to be a third-person game, and given the way the property is treated in popular culture through the films, the framework for the game play ultimately became high-intensity action.

DarkZero: The fighting mechanics certainly look like the most polished and unique aspect the game. How much work went into getting the speed, feel and tempo of that correct?

Meelad Sadat: Hundreds of hours of motion capture with Jeff Imada, one of the most instrumental people when it comes to what defines Bourne style action. Imada and his team of expert stunt coordinators and martial arts choreographers are responsible for how Bourne fights and even moves in the films. We were fortunate to have his complete involvement. There are also other factors at work that affect the feel of those fight sequences, one key effect being the way the game camera behaves to add tension and heighten the pace by recreating the stylistic cinematography seen in the films.

DarkZero: Speaking of the game’s cinematic feel, was there ever a reluctance to use QTE’s, as some gamers feel they’re far too harsh in the way they punish you for one mistake in particular sections?

Meelad Sadat: It was a design decision centered on recreating hectic, pulse-pounding moments that are distinctly Bourne, yet keeping them interactive and keeping the player as hyperaware as Bourne would be. It’s all part of making you feel as if you’re Jason Bourne in your very own Bourne film. I think we’ve done it successfully because there is a philosophy behind them that stays consistent throughout the game. You may be surprised by the first one or two in the game, but you soon learn that what in other games would be segue into a cut scene is not going to be a passive experience in our game. And I have to laud our designers for being careful with checkpoint placements so that these aren’t unfairly punitive.

DarkZero: What’s the approximate breakdown between the fighting, driving, and shooting sections of the game?

Meelad Sadat: It’s tough to break down the game play between hand-to-hand combat and shooting, as there are numerous stretches in the game where the player can choose which to use. For driving, we’ve recreated the infamous Paris chase scene from The Bourne Identity into a fast-paced, arcade-inspired driving level that’s introduced right between acts two and three in the game. It’s a rewarding ‘sit back and be thrilled’ experience.

DarkZero: Is the XBL.PSN demo based on the finished product? Should gamers expect any more changes if they pick up the final product?

Meelad Sadat: We made sure to create a demo that captures what you can expect in the game from a game play standpoint. I think the biggest surprise when you play the whole game is how that intensity and ‘whoa moment’ heavy experience in the demo is maintained over the course of the entire game. I’ve seen the word “relentless” used by a lot of press to describe the game play.

DarkZero: We already know there is no multiplayer included, but were any ideas ever tossed around?

Meelad Sadat: Of-course there was plenty of discussion about multiplayer. What ultimately led to the decision not to include it was that it would mean forcing our design scheme into some multiplayer formula. That is, taking this high-intensity single-player experience where these context-sensitive environments factor into combat, and this stylish camera gives you the perspective of an action-film hero, and all of the various features such as takedowns and escape and evade moments that set the game apart, and stripping it all down or even out to tack it on.

DarkZero: The Bourne trilogy brought a sense of realistic espionage and deep politics to the spy film genre. With so many movie video game tie-ins being released at the moment, what would you say The Bourne Identity game brings to the party that should make us sit up and take notice?

Meelad Sadat: The Bourne films have introduced certain very powerful techniques to the genre of contemporary action films. The cinematography, pacing, visceral treatment of the action, even the use of audio and music has a distinct style, one that in my opinion venerable franchises like Bond and even Batman have since flattered with imitation. The Bourne Conspiracy brings all of these together to be the first to recreate that same distinct style in an action game.

DarkZero: Matt Damon recently voiced his opinion on the game stating that he felt unhappy about the overall mixture of content, finding the game lacking in espionage elements and focusing heavily on action sequences. What do you guys have to say on the matter?

Meelad Sadat: I believe he said he would’ve liked to see a puzzle-solving game along the lines of Myst. While I can’t speak for Sierra, I don’t think we would’ve taken on the property at High Moon if that was the direction it was going to go. Our pedigree is action games.

DarkZero: Speaking of Mr. Damon, the fact that he’s absent from the game was a big talking point. Were you guys surprised by his reluctance to partake? Was there much wrangling to try and change his (or his representatives) mind? Should Sarah Silverman or Jimmy Kimmel bear the brunt of the blame?

Meelad Sadat: I was never involved in the decision to bring him in or not so I can’t talk to it directly. I know from the consumer research that we did that it quickly became a non-factor. To be fair, it needs explanation because Damon has done a great job with the character’s screen portrayal. But it just doesn’t affect the experience once people pick up and play the game, and we’ve had that reinforced repeatedly.

DarkZero: Is Bourne’s in-game character model based on anyone in particular?

Meelad Sadat: You always want to use a real face model for realism, so we cast an actor for that. But we really made this Bourne stand out as our own, and that’s a credit to the many talented modelers and animators we have at High Moon.

DarkZero: The Ludlum Estate seems to be very exact in the way the Jason Bourne character is portrayed. Did they ever insist anything be removed from or perhaps added to the game?

Meelad Sadat: It was a very collaborative relationship, especially in areas such as our treatment of the story and the general direction of the game play. So of-course they influenced the game. They also directed us to another influential Bourne mantle-holder, the films’ screenwriter Tony Gilroy. Our construction of Bourne as an action game hero is very much drawn from deconstruction of what Gilroy and the folks at Ludlum define as the character’s modern mythos.

DarkZero: We’ve seen many recent PS3 games have lengthy pre-game installs. Should we start setting aside a few gigabytes to play the PS3 version of the game come release?

Meelad Sadat: There is an install required, so as one web site put it, we seem to have joined the “mandatory install club.” But if you look up ‘the club’ we’re in pretty good company.

DarkZero: Speaking of the PS3 version, recent reports have cited it’s harder to work with the Unreal Engine 3 on that console. Did any issues pop up during development?

Meelad Sadat: We had the benefit of a technical staff that knew exactly what the requirements would be for developing with UE3 on PS3, so nothing came up that to my knowledge had a major effect on the game’s production. That know-how came with great support from Epic, and we even organised a Cell programming summit with IBM very early into PS3 development to create a knowledgeable PS3 programmer core team in the studio.

DarkZero: Also, in regards to the PS3 version, was any of the extra Blu-ray storage space on offer taken advantage of?

Meelad Sadat: Our 360 and PS3 versions are identical.

DarkZero: With both the films and novels to draw inspiration from was it hard to narrow down what elements to focus on in the game?

Meelad Sadat: I think once it was all said and done – that is once we’d done our due diligence on the breadth and depth of the property – it came down to what would translate into a fun interactive experience. Not surprisingly, for that we looked more to what the films have done in defining Bourne-style action, and our focus went to translating that into game play. That’s why the framework for the game is what we call signature Bourne combat, where you use your environment to get the upper hand and overcome enemies both in fighting and shooting, along with relentless pacing and this sense of ever-present danger. And all of this is framed by techniques designed to recreate the look and feel of the films.

DarkZero: Are there enough of these elements left over for Bourne to make a second video game appearance?

Meelad Sadat: Whether there’s a sequel to a game will always depend on how the first title is received. If it’s well-received, there’s no shortage of ideas within the Bourne universe, and for that matter within High Moon.