Exclusive: F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin Interview

Nathan Grayson

F.E.A.R. was, without a doubt, one of 2005's best first-person shooters -- deftly mixing balls-to-the-wall, head-exploding action with pee-your-pants level horror. Even better, its sequel, F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin, is poised to top its award-winning older brother in every conceivable way. We were lucky enough to engage in a quick email exchange with Craig Hubbard, F.E.A.R. 2's Principal Game Designer, and we're posting it here for you today.

MPC: Is this the end of the F.E.A.R. story? Are we going for a trilogy?

Craig Hubbard, Principal Game Designer: As you’d probably expect, our immediate focus is getting the game done. Beyond that, who can say?

MPC: Was the story arc planned from the beginning, or has it evolved as it’s moved along?

CH: It evolved quite a bit, but that’s normal. What works on paper doesn’t always pan out when you implement it, so you have to make adjustments and do what’s right for the game. We also decided to take out the subplot about the unicorn who lost its horn. It was very emotionally resonant, but didn’t really fit the tone.

MPC: What’s the biggest problem you had with the original F.E.A.R.? How do you aim to correct it in the sequel?

CH: The biggest complaint people had with F.E.A.R. was that the environments were repetitive and bland. The sequel has much more varied and interesting settings.

MPC: Are you developing the game simultaneously for consoles and PC? What’s the game’s lead platform?

CH: The team knew how to make PC games but hadn’t done a console title before, so it was easier to ensure that decisions made for the consoles would work on the PC rather than the other way around. When the project started, we didn’t have our tech up and running on PS3 yet, so Xbox 360 ended up being the lead platform by default but we are still developing for all three platforms at the same time.

MPC: Three words: digital rights management. How big of a concern is PC piracy? If not DRM, how do you think piracy should be dealt with?

CH: Anti-piracy measures are a publisher decision, so our only real involvement is doing what we’re required to do by the people calling the shots. I personally haven’t done enough research on the subject to have an opinion on potential solutions.

Although I am fairly familiar with methods the British Empire used to combat piracy back in the 1800s. Maybe an occasional public flogging or slow, agonizing death by hanging would help…

MPC: Why go with a proprietary engine? With development costs as high as they are, wouldn’t Unreal 3 or something of the like make more sense?

CH: The costs are astronomical whatever route you go. Either way, you’re starting off with a tech foundation that you have to modify to achieve your goals. For us, the cost/benefit ratio has been better with our own tech than with licensing, but who knows what the future holds? Personally, I just care that we can continue to make competitive games.

MPC: Your game is generally classified as a horror title, or some variation on the theme. Most horror titles thrive on taking power away from the player (through limited ammo, bad camera angles, etc.) to create a sense of fear. Why give so many potent abilities (slow mo, mech piloting, plentiful ammo, etc.) to players in F.E.A.R.? How do you intend to keep a sense of trepidation alive when the game’s main character is such a badass?

CH: Well, Aliens features a bunch of bad-asses with powerful weapons, but it still keeps you on edge. I personally feel that good horror is more about fear of the unknown than fear of death. The thing that makes a serial killer scary isn’t so much the act of murder as the senselessness of it. Things that defy understanding can get under your skin even if you’re packing a missile launcher.

MPC: In the original F.E.A.R., it seemed like you’d either be fighting, or getting the crap scared out of you – but not both at the same time. How will F.E.A.R. 2 make these disparate elements more seamlessly intertwined?

CH: The trick was making sure you fight some things that scare the crap out of you.

MPC: These days, with games like Far Cry 2, Crysis, and Rage on the rise, linear shooters seem to be fading into the background. Sure, linearity allows the developer to tell a tighter, more focused story, but openness allows the player to create their own. Why go the linear route with F.E.A.R. 2?

CH: It’s not really about the story so much as a tighter, more focused game experience. The great thing about Far Cry 2 is that you can decide where to go and what to do, while the great thing about Gears of War 2 is that it plays like a tightly paced action movie. Each is fun for different reasons.

MPC: F.E.A.R. was one of the first FPS titles to give the player a real sense of body in the game world. If you looked down, your character actually had legs! Legs that could kick people! What do you think about games like Mirror’s Edge, which have taken that concept to the next level?

CH: I’m really impressed with the Mirror’s Edge demo. They did an amazing job. Obviously, it’s imperative to have a sense of body in a game where your body factors into the game experience, so it makes sense that a game about free-running would raise the bar in that area.

MPC: F.E.A.R.’s A.I. was lauded for its craftiness and realism – three years ago. Yet here we are now, and few games have passed or even approached F.E.A.R.’s lofty heights. Why is that? Do game developers care more about tightening up the graphics on level three than improving NPC intelligence?

CH: After Shogo, we decided AI needed to be a much higher priority. If you’re making a game based around fighting NPC enemies, the only way that’s going to be really fun is if they present a suitable challenge. Part of it is making the enemies tactically smart and showing them coordinating with each other, but you also want to feel like they have a desire for self-preservation.

MPC: If you could fix one thing about the FPS genre as a whole, what would it be?

CH: It’s a pretty rich and diverse genre, so I don’t think there’s anything fundamentally in need of fixing. Obviously, individual games have individual issues, but that’s not the fault of the genre.

MPC: Thanks for your time, Craig.

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