The very first time I saw the Wii (of course, then the "Revolution") controller, I got very excited. It wasn't the idea of playing tennis, golf, Mario, or even Zelda games with the revolutionary looking controller that caused my skin to tingle. No, it was the thought of playing FPS games with it. For the very first time, I actually looked at a console controller and thought, without a trace of facetiousness, "This might actually work for the first-person shooter genre."
Apparently my genius views were shared by Ubisoft, as Red Steel was announced as one of the premier titles for the Wii. Developed specifically for Nintendo's newest console, Red Steel (along with other upcoming FPS-perspective titles such as Metroid Prime 3) will go a long way in determining if, in fact, a console controller has finally been invented that can at least keep pace with the PC platform's tried and true keyboard and mouse combination.
So how exactly is Red Steel supposed to work? How will it feel to bust caps and swing swords with the "Wiimote?" I spoke with Nicolas Eypert, Red Steel's creative director, to gain a bit more insight just a couple of months before the system and the game become available.
Shack: Who is the player character in Red Steel, and what is his motivation? (i.e., his reason for capping and slashing as many yakuza fools as possible)
Nicolas Eypert: You are an American guy who goes to a restaurant with his Japanese girlfriend to meet her father for the first time. The restaurant gets attacked. During the fight, the father gets wounded, you escape with him but your girlfriend is kidnapped. You discover that her father Sato is a powerful yakuza In Japan and that his enemies wanted to get his saber, the Katana giri, which is a symbol of power inside the yakuza underground. Before he dies, he gives you his saber. You will have to give [cut a path] inside the yakuza underground to find and free your girlfriend.
Shack: What exactly is the yakuza?
Nicolas Eypert: The yakuzas are the equivalent of the mafia in our country but their power and traditions are different. They are much more "integrated" into the Japanese society. By integrated I mean that they have more activities (gambling, financial investment, Movies and Television, harbor and docks, traffics and drugs...) and they do not hide their activities as Western Mafiosi do.
They claim that they are the heirs of the traditional samurais whose rule was to protect innocent people. That is why honor and obedience to the rule are important values to them. They also use ancient tradition like the use of katana or the sake ceremony to introduce a new guy into the clan.
It is a very fascinating world as they are so powerful that they can do incredible things. To give you an example, a few years ago, one of the most important yakuza clans went to a bank and asked them to create a special credit card with the logo of their clan on it. The bank accepted!
Shack: Where does the game take place?
Nicolas Eypert: You begin the game in a Japanese restaurant in Los Angeles. Then you try to retrieve your girlfriend inside the Japanese American community, so you visit a tuning garage, a massage institute ... Then you travel to Tokyo and will visit different [locales] where yakuzas have activities: the harbor, the gambling area, the geisha neighborhood...
Shack: Is choice an important theme in Red Steel? How so?
Nicolas Eypert: [The farther] you [delve] into the yakuza underground, [the more] we wanted the player to discover the values of a samurai. A real samurai is a guy who masters his moves and techniques so well that he can choose if he wants to kill his enemy or not. In the game you will have this choice when you shoot and when you fight with your sword. The more you act as a samurai the more respect you can get and the more time you will have to use your focus mode.
Shack: How large a roll do cut scenes play? Are they interactive, or have the developers gone for a more passive, "cinematic" experience?
Nicolas Eypert: At the beginning of each level there is a cut scene which [serves as a transition between each stage]. While you play, there are a few short cut scenes to stress important events but they are [not very long]. The idea is not to cut the intensity of action and your immersion [in the game world].
Shack: How was the decision reached to exclude gore from the game? Seems kind of natural to assume it'd be there, given that we'll be wielding swords and guns.
Nicolas Eypert: The decision comes from how we understood the console. The Wii is made for fun and for everyone. As it is very accessible, anyone can play: a gamer, a kid, a non gamer, a grand father.... And a large majority of them do not care about gore ... they just want [to have] fun! That is why we removed the gore. It is as if you were directing an Indiana Jones movie: people want to enjoy the action but they do not want to be disgusted by gore. So we [chose to omit] the gore.
Shack: What sort of guns will be available in Red Steel?
Nicolas Eypert: You have all the standard weapons you like in a shooter: shotgun, assault rifle, pistols, grenades...
The thing is that we adapted the controls for the Wii. So now you can directly launch a grenade as if you had it in your hand. You can launch it from above or roll it on the floor. That completely changes the way you enjoy the weapons
Shack: So let's say I'm holding a standard pistol. How do I fire it, aim it, move around the game world with it.... How does everything work?
Nicolas Eypert: That is very simple indeed. You target directly on screen with the Wii remote. To shoot, you press B, (the trigger on the Wii remote). If you want you can zoom by pressing A and by moving the Wii remote closer to the screen. If you press A when you target an enemy, the camera gets locked on to him. To reload your weapon, you just have to shake your nunchuk controller.
Shack: I'd heard that originally, the general setup for Red was supposed to mimic a PC FPS setup, but this scheme was later rejected. Why was that?
Nicolas Eypert: We discovered that you do not manipulate the Wii remote [similar to] a mouse on PC. First of all, your hand shakes and your moves are more extreme. If we had kept the PC FPS setup (Camera and weapon are linked together), you would have a very shaky image on screen. Moreover we wanted to give the player the feeling of having the weapon in his hand. That is why we added other controls for targeting, reloading, zooming...
Shack: How does the nunchuk portion of the controller work? It has motion-sensing capabilities as well, correct? How are those used?
Nicolas Eypert: The Wii remote is about the weapon, the nunchuk is about your move. So with the analog stick, you move your body and with the 2 buttons you jump and crouch. You also move the nunchuk for all interaction with the environment like pushing button, opening doors, knocking over tables. You also use it to launch grenades and to reload your weapon.
Shack: How customizable will things like the control scheme and Wiimote aiming sensitivity be?
Nicolas Eypert: You will have access to a special menu in the option with 3 sensitivity [settings]. One is more for people who want something stable but less reactive; the second is for people who wants something very reactive; and the third is a mix of both.
Shack: Is it better to whip the controller around wildly to bust some caps, or are subtle, more refined motions better?
Nicolas Eypert: When you have sword fighting, you can do small or [large] gestures; the important thing is that you make them fast and short. When you shoot, you have a zone in the middle of the screen where you can move without moving the camera. So, inexperienced players can move around without losing control. If you want to turn you target the sides. To turn faster, you just to twist your controller.
We have discovered that everyone moves his own way, which is why we decided people can customize their controls.
Continue to page 2 where you'll learn more about how the nunchuk and "Wiimote" function. _PAGE_BREAK_
Shack: How accurate is the onscreen character as far as mimicking what I choose to do with the controller? Will my avatar hold the gun the exact same way I do, stuff like that?
Nicolas Eypert: Yes, the hand follows exactly the move you do with your hand. So you can go left up right or down and even twist the controller, your hand on screen will follow.
Shack: What other sorts of game play options (such as jumping and crouching) will be available?
Nicolas Eypert: You can jump and crouch, you can also knock over objects to create cover like a table. And you have also all the moves you can perform during sword fighting
Shack: What is the focus mode mechanic, and how exactly does it work?
Nicolas Eypert: The focus mode enables you to freeze time and to lock multiple shoot on different enemies at the same time. To get into focus mode you have to lock an enemy and zoom [in quickly] on him. Here you can also choose whether to shoot on [your enemy's] weapon to disarm the guy or elsewhere to hurt or kill him. [Filling] the gauge for focus mode depends on how much you behave like a samurai during the game by neutralizing people.
Shack: And now, perhaps the make-or-break aspect of Red Steel: swordplay. How does wielding a sword work? Is it all freehand, or specific motions, or a mix of both? Please go into as much detail as you can.
Nicolas Eypert: With the Wii remote you control the katana and with the nunchuk you manipulate a tanto which is a very small sword. The idea is ... to give you the feeling of having a real sword in your hand. So you can slash on any direction and the sword reacts the same way. The challenge will be to do it on the right timing versus your opponents. The tanto will be used to block an attack.
Shack: Explain to us the process of executing a specific move with the sword (such as the downward slash).
Nicolas Eypert: You will learn some special attacks using your 2 swords. For example, if you move your swords vertically you perform a hammer attack which is very powerful.
There are also some attacks that will require you to dodge with the analog stick. In fact by mixing simple moves, you have a wide array of attacks and defenses that stay accessible but [are] really fun to play
Shack: Is there a lock-on feature for fighting enemies with the sword? Do you have to lock-on?
Nicolas Eypert: The camera is directly locked on to the enemy. You do not have to worry about the camera.
Shack: Do you face just the enemy you're locked on to, or will there be instances when the player will find him/herself facing multiple foes?
Nicolas Eypert: No, we design the sword fighting as a duel. So you only face one guy at a time
Shack: What about other crucial mechanics such as block, parrying, and dodging? How are those performed when locked in combat?
Nicolas Eypert: You block and parry with the tanto by moving your nunchuk. The challenge is to block at the right time so that your enemy loses his balance. And if you counter attack at the right time, you can even disarm him!
Shack: Can you tell us anything at all about the multiplayer portion of the game? Anything, man!
Nicolas Eypert: I know you're dying for [info]. I can confirm you that there will be deathmatch and team deathmatch. For the rest, you will have to wait.
Shack: What's it been like developing for the Wii?
Nicolas Eypert: I think that for any developer, it is so exciting to be part of ... such a console. I remember the first time we discovered the concept of the controller, we were so surprised and also so enthusiastic about the new possibilities it conveys. Then you also explore all the challenges of such a controller: as it is completely new, there are no standard so you have to set them up to people. That is a huge challenge!
Shack: How about working with Nintendo? It seems like Ubi and "The Big N" have a great relationship, seeing as how there are so many titles planned for the Wii.
Nicolas Eypert: Ubisoft has always [invested in new formats], which is why we approached Nintendo very early on to [procure] info on their new console; at the same time Nintendo was really interested in having fresh ideas for their line ups. When Ubisoft understood what Nintendo's plan, [we] immediately saw the opportunity in creating different games. By the way, the console is really easy to [develop for], so it was easier for us to [quickly] produce.
Shack: Tell us about how Red Steel performs as far as graphics are concerned. Did the design team feel held back at all developing for a console that doesn't really compare (as far as graphical horsepower) to the 360 or PS3?
Nicolas Eypert: Ah, the usual question about graphics. It is funny, every time I have an interview about Red Steel come this question. Imagine you are developing a DS game. Would you say that the team has been frustrated by the graphics versus the power of the PSP? No, because the focus for the console is the interactivity and it does not prevent [Ubisoft] from [developing] fun games ... whereas the focus of the PSP is different. We will not have full next-gen graphics with shaders and other effects but [those] do not limit our creativity.
Shack: Thanks so much for your time! Anything else you'd like to add?
Nicolas Eypert: It is very difficult to express [in] words but [the Wii] controller is so different and cool. So if you are still puzzled by it, I recommend you try [Red Steel] when [the game launches].
Red Steel will be available on November 19, 2006 as a launch title exclusively for the Nintendo Wii.