Cryss sat down with Deep Silver’s Global Brand Manager Huw Beynon to discuss Metro: Last Light gameplay, working with Dmitry Glukhovsky and “one of the tragedies of the handover between THQ and Deep Silver.”
I’ve loved what I’ve played here today. I mean it was really tense! It’s that heart in throat feeling, which is amazing, because you don’t really get that anymore.
“Yeah, I think what you probably found as well; there are so many different gameplay styles within there. So it has that bit of survival horror, but it’s also got the more combat orientated bit. But fighting humans is different from fighting mutant’s etcetera, and then you have the on-rails bit. But when you get to swamp, it’s all of a sudden, oh shit like I don’t know, you get to explore, and that’s really key to the Metro experience. Really vary the gameplay up!”
“We’ve got really, really robust core mechanics that we support and remix, and reintroduce; you don’t know what the next level is actually going to be like. Once a game is set out in stone, it’s a scary game like ‘RARRGHHH!’ It works once and then you’re kind of ready for it all the time. What we can do with this is completely change the pacing, maybe make you forget there’s that element and then bring it back.”
What was it like working with Dmitry Glukhovsky? What insights did he have to offer?
“He’s been fundamentally involved over both games; obviously the first one was based on his novel. The studio had only just formed, this was 2006 and they knew they wanted to make a story driven game rather than the open world kind of stuff they’d been used to before. They found Dimitry’s novel online, it hadn’t been published in print yet, said look we think we can make a game based on this. They work really closely. I mean, Dmitry supplies almost all of the dialogue and all of the backstor¬ies and stuff that you overhear of the characters in the stations, it’s all written by Dmitry.”
“Then when we approached Metro: Last Light, the studio were like ‘we wanna make another Metro game, should we use your other novel or what should we do’ and he said ‘well I don’t think that’s necessarily suitable, but came up with a completely original plotline, storyline and a new cast of characters’. He took to the studio and said ‘how’s this?’ The studio said we’ll design some missions and scenarios that will form around the skeleton. You go backwards and forwards, so it’s been a really, really close collaboration throughout.”
“What he brings is the sheer amount of depth and detail. There’s so much material that’s been left on the cutting room floor that didn’t make it into the game. Characters and side plots and just backstories about people, that I think he’s thinking will become the basis of the next Metro novel that he’s gonna’ write, so yeah, it’s hugely important”
“What makes us different from a lot of other games when we say we’re a story driven game, is that the story comes first. You see a lot of games that say they have story, but what that means is we have a plot that explains why one minute your shooting people in the jungle, and then your flown by helicopter to the desert, where you get to shoot people there.”
“Our approach has always been very different, whereby the story and characters, all of the considerations that Dmitry had when writing the novel, in terms of what’s the narrative theme, what’s the underlying philosophical message I want here, what’s the sensation and experience I want to impart to the person who experiences the story. All of that thinking goes into the game, so yeah I think it kind of gives the story a real edge there.”
Weren’t there a couple of his novels on the table in the demo?
“Yeah, like a little Easter egg in there. Bizarrely ‘cause like the first game was Metro 2033 and you actually see copies of Metro 2033 lying around. 2033, 2034 and a poster for the novel that will destroy the world, Metro 2035, which is basically going to be based on Metro: Last Light.”
So there’s another novel on the horizon? That’s really cool! A lot of the recent survival horror franchises have taken flak in the media lately. How do you think Last Light sticks to its roots?
“We never set out to make a survival horror game with Metro: Last Light, and I don’t believe you can really pin it to any particular genre. We tended to draw inspiration from genres or gameplay devices that really support the story and the world. Because it is this bleak, it has this eastern European supernatural edge to it. It has supernatural scares, it’s populated by creatures and you have severely restricted resources, so there are lots of survival horror tropes that make their way in there.”
“So the first game was really well received by survival horror fans, even though I wouldn’t call it a survival horror genre game. I’m not a fan of genre games anyway, because there are so many rules that you almost have to adhere to. What we did was try and draw inspiration from lots of different types and pick the ones that were gonna best suit the world and experience.”
“I don’t know why horrors apparently out of fashion elsewhere, but if you like horror and survival horror then you should probably definitely try both Metro 2033 and this one because it still has that really strong horror element in places.“
From what I’ve played, the combat is a lot sleeker and more fluid than it was in Metro 2033. In the respect of transcending genres, are you leaning a bit towards being an action game?
“It was partly an intentional goal of the combat designer of the first game, because you’re not supposed to feel like a super soldier and that sense of the vulnerability is really important to the spirit of the game. It’s a really important crux of survival horror, making the player feel vulnerable rather than empowered.”
“I think we maybe made some wrong choices in the way we compounded that. The weapons are supposed to be inaccurate; they’re handmade, cobbled together and you’re not supposed to be able to just fire wildly. I don’t think we made the weapons as satisfying to use in the first game. There were some things like the tactile feedback that you need to get from a satisfying shooter experience, whether it’s seeing the impact of your bullets hit home, seeing the tracer rounds as fire comes towards you so you can detect the enemy, or all of the surrounding effects (that) were kind of absent from the first one. It just made the combat feel a little flat.”
“What we’ve really tried to do with Metro: Last Light is keep that sense of vulnerability. You can’t just shoot all your ammo away; it’s a precious resource, a commodity. The guns are inaccurate, like the recoil if you ever use the AK, it goes all over the place. You have to pick your shots. You have to be accurate. Some of the enemies are wearing armour, so you’ve got to hit the points between the armour. But it’s all of the tactile feedback that we give the player that I think means it’s more satisfying but it still feels Metro – it doesn’t feel like you’re an unstoppable killing machine. These weapons feel powerful and dangerous, but also unpredictable and unwieldy and I think that’s a really nice balance.”
There seems to be a lot of ways to play Metro: Last Light and you can blend action and stealth. During the escape section I played you could travel under the floor, shooting up at the enemies. They lost track of you, and this put the AI out of place.
“Yeah, you can hear them talking to each other, they switch their head torches on and start to investigate. A lot of the incidental dialogue really helps support that, like if you make a noise and one of them is suspicious, you’ll hear them say (insert cheesy Russian accent) “What is that, I think I heard something, maybe it’s a draft or something.” And if you manage to stay undetected (The accent strikes back) “my imaginations playing tricks on me,” you’re like phew and then you can move on.”
The European Collector’s Edition of Metro 2033 was fantastic; do you have any plans to bring anything like that to fans looking forward to 2034?
“Metro 2033, I think there was a German edition and it had like Artyom’s watch and some really funky stuff. For me this is one of the tragedies of the handover between THQ and Deep Silver, because we knew the fans wanted a really cool collector’s edition.”
“Back in THQ we were looking at these options, of like (a) super limited edition “one for every survivor in the metro system”, 20,000 whatever units worldwide and it was gonna come with a gas mask and all this stuff and we’d listened to the community. THQ went through this precarious financial position and basically couldn’t commit because it’s a substantial upfront investment to create a limited, limited edition and we just couldn’t bring those excellent ideas to fruition and then with the change to Deep Silver there just isn’t time. These things, you’ve gotta plan them so far in advance.”
“We’d have loved to have done something. We knew the fans really wanted something, we’re really sorry we couldn’t do something really, really cool. I think a game like Metro really deserves it and it has the fanbase that would really appreciate it. But yeah, it’s one of those things.”
What was it like seeing Metro come to life in the live-action series?
“We wanted to tell a part of the story that you tell and you don’t see in game, which is that moment. I think it’s been one of THQ’s most successful trailers ever, ‘cause it told a really human story and hopefully it set the scene and set the tone for Metro: Last Light. The end scene of the trailer is when he steps out in Moscow, that’s from in-game mixed with the live-action.”
“I think we’re really proud for first person shooter we created a live-action trailer. I’ve seen other live-action trailers where they’re made for TV, just people running around shooting each other. We made a live-action trailer for a first person shooter in which you don’t actually see anyone die, and I think for me that kind of sets the tone that we’re trying to achieve with the game. You can play it as a first person shooter but killing everyone is not always the answer, the solution, you can choose your own way through the Metro if you wish.”
Speaking about choice, will players be met with multiple endings in Last Light?
“There’s the infamous alternate ending to Metro 2033. We have this system in the game where choices that the player makes. These choices are never made obvious or apparent to the player as you’re playing through, but nonetheless just as you and I do every day, you make instinctive choices and the game is keeping track of every single one of those choices, judging you accordingly.”
“It’s not a morality system, because it’s not good or evil that it’s necessarily looking at. It’s not as black as white as its looking for acts of kindness or acts of evil, it covers a far broader range. And it’s really important that this doesn’t become an obvious mechanic, because then as soon as you do that, people will try and game the mechanic instead, so we’ve never talked about any of the specifics but yes, that system is there and it returns in Metro: Last Light.”
“And in the section that you played, there were probably 100 instances where what you did was taken into account, and I like to think that you’ll get the ending you deserve, rather than the ending you play for.”
Metro: Last Light is scheduled for release on May 17th, 2013 for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.