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Interview: People Can Fly's founder tells us more about Bulletstorm

In 2004 a small game developer called People Can Fly released Painkiller, a first person shooter that had wild looking enemies and elvels, impressive physics features and an overall frantic gameplay style. After completing an expansion pack, People Can Fly left the Painkiller franchise although the game's publisher Jowood pressed on with two more sequels developed by others.

After a project for publisher THQ was canceled, the studio showed off a game proposal to Epic Games. It impressed Epic so much that it bought a controlling interest in People Can Fly. That game was Bulletstorm, a title that hopes to combine fast past shooter gameplay with "skillshot" features and a pulp sci-fi storyline. Big Download got People Can Fly's founder and creative director Adrian Chmielarz to give us a little more info on Bulletstorm which is schedule for a February 2011 release from publisher Electronic Arts.
First, Bulletstorm seems to stick with the big and crazy first person shooter gameplay that People Can Fly first started with the original Painkiller. Is that a fair comparison?

The spirit is there, yes. Painkiller was the old school's swan song, though. Bulletstorm is a bit more modern in design, with sidekicks, dynamic in-game dialogue, advanced AI, heavy scripting, etc. But for me, personally, the most important thing is the story. In Painkiller, it was clearly an excuse to just mix all these crazy levels together, while in Bulletstorm the story comes first, and the game is built around it. People who – based on a few core gameplay movies we have released – think that Bulletstorm is just a "mindless shooter full of toilet humor" are going to be in s shock when they experience the full game. The good kind of shock, that is.

We have to ask: What does People Can Fly feel about all of the other Painkiller games that have come out after their original 2004 title?

Painkiller sequels were surprising to me in a way that was like, 'Hey, here's the original, here's the mission pack, take this, take the engine, and either continue the experience or add a few of your own twists, voila.' Every team doing the sequels had access to the source code and game scripts, so you'd think that it would have been fairly easy to just copy the formula, expand on the design, and just have a solid sequel.

But that's only a theory; things don't work like that in real life. It would be easy to criticize the sequels - I know what the review scores were and what some Painkiller fans thought – but you never know what problems the development teams faced. How many people worked on these sequels? How much time, money and resources were they given? How much freedom did they have?

I'm trying to give you an honest answer here, and I'm trying not to dodge the question. I know that people who pay their hard earned money for a game do not need to care about what's happening behind the scenes, but I am looking at these things from a slightly different perspective.

But in a twisted way, I loved the sequels. Their existence means one thing to me: that someone thought there's a market demand for more Painkiller, meaning we've done something right with the original.

The glimpses we have seen of Bulletstorm show some truly massive battles with huge enemies. How hard was it to get the kind of battles you wanted in the final product?

Insanely hard. For example, with Painkiller we did not really have to worry about the memory limits. But obviously the consoles have limited RAM, and you have to do a lot of voodoo to squeeze the craziness in. It takes as much creativity as it does technical wizardry to have the more over-the-top sections fit in and work on the consoles.

Bulletstorm's storyline has a bit of a sci-fi pulp magazine feel. Is that intentional?

Oh yes, definitely. We wanted that from the start. The thing that fascinates me about pulp is that no one cares how the spaceships work; the only important thing is that they can reach any corner of the galaxy in a matter of hours. Pulp is the sci-fi without the sci and with a lot of fi.

How did you come up with the idea of Skillshot points for unlocking of features?

Doing cool kills is fun in itself. Seeing GAG REFLEX +50 when you shoot a guy in the throat is fun. But there should a point to all that, right? The fun factor is a reward in itself, but we think that's just not enough. We want to give the players an additional motivation to go for the Skillshots rather than to play the game the safe way. So with the unlocks we're basically saying, 'Hey, here's cool stuff you can do. And we have even cooler stuff that'll become available to you if you decide to reach for it.'

This is actually a pretty important element of our design philosophy. You don't start as a weakling who then becomes a powerful man. You start as a human killing machine who then becomes a destroyer of worlds. Metaphorically speaking, of course - you don't really annihilate the universe in our game.

What are some of your favorite enemies in Bulletstorm so far?

I like the mini-bosses. These are the enemies that are stronger than regular baddies, but are not your good old end of level bosses. The thing is, there are a lot of ways you can deal with such an enemy, and it's fun to discover all these nasty kills. For example, we have shown the FIRE IN THE HOLE Skillshot when you kick a stunned enemy in the back and then shoot him in the ass while he's in slow motion. But that's just one of the many ways you can deal with a mini-boss. There's much more in store and it's up to the player to discover all these finishers.

What are a couple of your favorite weapons in the game?

Adrian: A great thing is that my favorite changes from week to week. As it was the case with Painkiller, we don't do guns that are clearly better than others, like an assault rifle being better than a pistol. Every single weapon in the game is powerful and useful, and it's up to you to choose which one to use. It's all about your personal preference.

There have been hints of some kind of online multiplayer support. Can you give us any more info at this stage about these plans?

Sure. Here goes. WDHOMS&IF.

In terms of the PC version what can PC owners expect in terms of improved graphics and extra features?

Adrian: The game is still a work in progress but there will be clear benefits in terms of higher resolution, more advanced texture filtering, etc. If you got yourself that big fat video card and a ninja PC, you'll be able to justify the spending with Bulletstorm.

Any plans for a demo or post release content for the game?

Adrian: What we want to do is... Wait, what's that red dot on my forehead... Oh, hi, marketing people. I guess I'd better shut up now.

Finally is there anything else you wish to say about Bulletstorm?

Adrian: I hope that people who expect a "mindless shooter" will not be disappointed when it turns out it has depth they were not expecting, both story and gameplay-wise.

I keep repeating that and I know that at the moment it's nothing but promises, but I hope when the previews of the full game hit the presses people will be able to see a different side of Bulletstorm – a side that's really going to surprise a lot of players.


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