'Quantum of Solace': Activision Bonds with 007

Jeremy Luyties, the lead design director of the new Quantum of Solace videogame, takes Peter "The Rizk" Rizkalla through the James Bond paces along with the virtual Daniel Craig.

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With Quantum of Solace, Activision focused on making the gameplay outstanding and built the game on the Call of Duty 4 game engine. All images © Activision. 

Let's talk a little bit about videogames that are based on movies. Movie games suck! It's a fact. Typically when a movie production house releases a new movie in theaters they also commission a videogame developer to create a game based on that movie. The hope of the movie production house is that the game will ride the coattails of the movie and create a larger cash flow. To be quite honest, this is great business but there is a big problem: the game developers have a limited time to work on the game because it needs to be released in stores even before the movie hits theaters. Developers are instructed that the game doesn't need to be good; it just needs to look good. It doesn't matter if everything else about the game is a pile of crap because the game will sell regardless due to the fact that it has the same name as the movie so what you get is a game that is unenthusiastic, slapped together and about as much fun as a spreadsheet.

You think to yourself, "There has got to be some movie games out there that are actually good," and you're right. Even though they have bounced around between different developers, the 007 games have always held a pretty high standard among movie games such as the absolutely legendary GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64 and the outstanding From Russia with Love that was released on the previous generation of home videogame systems. And Activision, which grabbed the license through 2014 to develop games based on all of the Bond movies as well as non-movie-based games, obviously has a special relationship with MGM Interactive and EON Prods. and doesn't have to worry about limited time or resources. So, the ridiculously hard working devs at Activision didn't have to churn out Quantum of Solace (streeting this week), which is a game based on the new, upcoming Bond movie of the same name (opening Nov. 14). I got to sit down with Jeremy Luyties, the lead design director of Quantum of Solace, to get a real good grip on the game's development and to see if it will be as marvelous as some of the other 007 games before it.

First and foremost, the devs at Activision are focused on making the gameplay outstanding. "The main goal is to make a game! The core mechanics, core gameplay and clever AI all work together to make the game as strong as possible; then all we have to do is sprinkle the James Bond universe on to it," said Luyties. To do this Activision has built Quantum of Solace on the Call of Duty 4 game engine. The absolute most popular first-person shooter (FPS) online right now is, of course, CoD4, which was developed by Infinity Ward and published by Activision so naturally the CoD4 engine is the perfect gameplay engine to make Quantum of Solace outstanding.

QoS is actually a hybrid of the two Daniel Craig 007 movies, Quantum of Solace and its predecessor Casino Royale. This makes perfect sense because QoS is a direct sequel to the Casino Royale origin story. As outstanding as the Casino Royale movie was, no one ever released a Casino Royale game, which is an absolute embarrassment. The story of the game allows players to start off in the events of QoS and then flashes back to critical events in Casino Royale, which the player also gets to venture through. The environments already look astounding with locales such as Venice and Austria. Marketplaces and watery caverns will house numerous firefights between Bond and legions of anonymous henchmen.

Speaking of henchmen, an interesting thing to note about the different difficulty levels in QoS is the fact that great care was taken to make the game challenging without being cheap. Typical shooter games create harder difficulty levels by changing nothing about the game expect for having the main character deal less damage and suffer more damage when attacked. In QoS, all of the difficulty revolves around the very clever AI system that Activision and Treyarch have developed. For instance, if you choose to duck and hide behind cover for too long the AI enemies will attempt to flush you out with a grenade or they will try to sneak around to your side to get a clearer shot at you. The harder difficulty settings make the enemies react even faster than normal and will also have them use other methods to draw you out of hiding. The devs would actually stress test the intelligence of the AI bots by creating simple, flat environments with three or four cover points and then fight the bots in these environments for hours and hours to really get an idea of how well their AI system was working. The goal was to make the AI characters fight as close to actual human opponents as possible and make it feel like a multiplayer, online game.

Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg helped with the facial animations and provided new techniques for applying textures to the 3D models, while design company MK12 helped develop a very simple story telling technique using game story boards.

Bond has always been an FPS (with the exception of From Russia with Love, which was a 3rd-person shooter) and QoS is no different. The FPS genre is very strongly rooted in the 007 games; not only is it like a tradition but the same devs who have spent their lives working on the Call of Duty franchise and other shooters before it have taken their knowledge of FPS games to QoS. However, third person view points are incorporated into QoS to let the user get a better understanding of Craig's Bond. "We wanted the players to really see Daniel Craig because he really redefines who Bond is," added Luyties. Craig and other actors from the movie not only had their heads scanned into the game but some also had their whole bodies imported into the 3D world. Players will catch a glimpse of the Craig-esque James Bond whenever players take cover or shoot around corners. Players will also get a great look at Bond when he takes someone down with punches and kicks. Melee attacks can be performed when players get close enough to an enemy, Bond can then put the hurt on enemies in many different ways and all of this happens extremely fast. Once the melee attack is done the camera instantly switches back to the first-person view. Luyties also suggested that "we wanted players to really get a sense of how Daniel Craig is always taking people down with melee attacks. Our attempt was to fully utilize all of Bonds combat abilities without attacking the integrity of the shooter."

The Activision devs also made sure that the multiplayer competitive matches had to very closely resemble what made GoldenEye for the N64 so great. There will be many different multiplayer maps to choose from and not only will the matches be online but there will also be the option to hold local, multiplayer, splitscreen matches which undoubtedly reach back to the days of GoldenEye. New and old weapons will be available in QoS, including the ever so loved and ever so cheap Golden Gun.

Activision received some help getting the facial animations just right from the German college Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg. Not only did they help perfect the facial animations of the 3D characters (developed within the research project "Artificial Actors"), but Filmakademie also helped with providing new techniques for applying textures to the 3D models throughout the game. Another studio that lent a hand to Activision is the graphic design company MK12, which helped develop a very simple storytelling technique for QoS that involved in-game story boards to help move the narrative along. MK12 was also responsible for refashioning the film's iconic main title sequence as well as MI6's graphic interface.

With all signs pointing in the right direction for Quantum of Solace, it will be very interesting to see how this title pans out. QoS has all of the traits of a great piece of work and hopefully if it does turn out to be a great piece of work that QoS will be received well by the always fickle gaming community. All of the developers that put QoS together, form a very tightly knit development team, most of whom who have been working together for many years going all the way back to the original Castle Wolfenstein. Let's hope that if QoS turns out to be a great title that it is not overshadowed by upcoming huge name releases like Call of Duty: World at War and Gears of War 2. Let's also hope that this extremely hard working development team gets some serious vacation time after this.

Peter Rizkalla is a life long enthusiast of videogames and the videogame industry. He has worked in various videogame companies such as THQ, Namco and 2K Games and avidly attends many game conferences such as E3 and E for All. Peter can be reached at PRizkalla@gmail.com.

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