How Bethesda Made Rogue Warrior More Like Duke Nukem and Got WET with Elder Scrolls Novels

During its press event in London last week, Bethesda not only cleared up the status of its long in-development project Rogue Warrior, but also announced it would be publishing A2M's action shooter WET and licensing a series of Elder Scrolls novels.

Rogue Warrior, a shooter based on the exploits of Navy SEAL Richard Marcinko, was originally announced in 2006 as a Zombie Studios project. The game has since been scrapped, and the core project turned over to Alien vs. Predator developer Rebellion.

"Suffice it to say, we were not happy with what the direction of that project was," said Bethesda marketing VP Pete Hines during the event.

Zombie's ambitious multiplayer plans for Rogue Warrior have been scaled back to deathmatch and team DM, while the singleplayer component is now a one-man affair that focuses more on Marcinko's unique personality. This focus is marked by an amusing, curse-laden Mickey Rourke voiceover, Dick's incredibly brutal "kill moves," and a general atmosphere reminiscent of 80s action movies. It's due out this fall.

Meanwhile, Bethesda also announced a duo of Elder Scrolls novels. The books are being penned by fantasy and science fiction author Greg Keyes (The Age of Unreason, The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone) and published by Del Rey. The first novel, "The Infernal City," will be out this fall.

And if that wasn't enough, Bethesda also picked up A2M's WET, the stylish, Kill Bill-esque shooter based on slow-motion acrobatics. Attempting to get a handle on the developments, I sat down with Hines to get his take opics related to the three projects--including whether WET's sexually-charged marketing would be carried over, the origin and canon of the Elder Scrolls novels, how Rogue Warrior's Marcinko is now more like Duke Nukem, and just when the Bethesda behemoth is going to stop growing.

Shack: With respect to the two Elder Scrolls novels by Greg Keyes, is Bethesda looking to increasingly leverage its franchises in this sort of way?

Pete Hines: In so much as we can find stuff that feels right for whatever particular brand or series we're talking about, in terms of what it is and how it's executed and stuff, yeah, I think so.

This was something that was born out of a conversation I had with folks that work on our strategy guide. They're also owned by the same parent company, and they eventually put me in touch with some of their book folks. And I talked with them a bit, and talked to a few of our guys on the dev team about it.

It was an initiative that really [Bethesda senior designer] Kurt Kuhlmann and I sort of ganged up and hounded [Elder Scrolls director] Todd Howard like, "We really need to do this, you need to let us do this." And Todd finally sort of came around. It's not that he didn't want to do it. He just worries about distractions to his team, and getting away from the focus.

But you know, we talked to him about it, and worked through a long list that they had suggested, and ones we had suggested to them. And we read Greg Keyes' book, and just loved it, and were like, this is the kind of guy who in our world could do some really great stuff. So not just doing the book, but doing it in the right way with the right author.

So in so much as we find opportunities like that where it just feels like a good fit--the right person doing the right project for a game--then, yeah. But at the same time, we're pretty selective, so if we don't find any of those, then there won't be any. It's not like go find five projects like this in the next year. We evaluate each one as it comes in and see whether it's worth doing or not.

Shack: These will be books that stand alone, but use the Elder Scrolls world as their setting?

Pete Hines: No, actually part of our thing is, if you're going to write it, then it needs to fit into the Elder Scrolls lore and canon.

Shack: So future games will take this fiction into account?

Pete Hines: It's hard to say. Hard to say, because we haven't gotten to future games yet. Certainly the reason that these two key guys--well, three: Bruce [Nesmith], Kurt and Todd are all involved in it--is to make sure that [Keyes] doesn't write anything that messes with the lore. "That race would never do that," or "those guys would never work together"--everything has to fit. But beyond that, we are doing it as if it's part of Elder Scrolls lore and canon.

Shack: Was A2M's WET a game that you actively sought out?

Pete Hines: Yeah, I mean we had known about it for a while. Todd Vaughn, our VP of development, it was on his radar for a while. He had talked to me about it, he had seen it, and then mentioned it to me. And they wanted to come down and show it to a number of us who hadn't seen it, and so--it's one of those things that probably wasn't, from a negotiating standpoint, my finest moment, because I was like, "Yeah, we should totally do this." Vlatko [Andonov], our president, was like, "Wow, okay. He wants to do it, now I guess we gotta figure out how to do it."

So um, yeah, I didn't really have a very good poker face. But it was one of those--I saw it, and I was just enjoying myself in the demo. I thought it was cool, and unique and had style. And style isn't necessarily a quality you get from a lot of games this day and age, and I just felt like that one had it.

And it's not like something that nobody's ever done before, completely revolutionary--but it had an edge, and it was a bit different and unique. It was the kind of thing that I was like, "I would play that." It was just fortuitous. We're very glad to be working with those guys. I have expectations that folks, the more they see and find out about it, the more they're going to like.

An early trailer for A2M's acrobatic shooter WET.

Shack: You talked earlier about the sexuality of WET, in terms of getting away from the standard gratuitous female protagonist. Is that something you came to A2M with early on, and said, "If we're picking your game up, we are not doing this"?

Pete Hines: Well yeah, not just them, but also internally. [I said], "So everybody understands, this is a hot button for me." Even the name WET, for a while we were like, is that--are people going to miss the connection to wetworks?

And I was like, you know, I like it for the same reason I like the game. It's got a bit of style and it's cool. But yeah, I was pretty adamant from the beginning that we were not going down this route. Don't ask me for costume changes for Rubi for packaging or ads. And by the way, everybody across the company was totally on board with that. It wasn't like it was a fight.

But I wanted to be very clear with everybody from the beginning: I am not doing this. I see other companies do this, the gratuitous female protagonist thing, and I am not doing that. So if that's what we are expecting, then we should not do this, because I don't want to have anything to do with that. But everybody was on board with it. It needs to be treated just so, and it's not like we're embarrassed of her and want to cover all of her bare skin. But we think she can be kind of cool and hip and do it without being gratuitous or sophomoric or whatever you want to call it.

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Shack: Is there an element of risk in taking away some of the sexuality, in the sense that gratuity is the easy path?

Pete Hines: Well, I guess there's [also] an element of risk in that people could jump to the conclusion that that's all the game is. That it's just a game with a female protagonist with outfits that are going to get more skimpy as time goes on. For us, it doesn't really matter who you're playing as in the vibe of the game except that she adds a bit to it through her personality and her style and her mannerisms. She does look a bit disheveled, and she's all tatted up, and I just think that adds a kind of cool Kill Bill quality that might not otherwise be there if it was just another male protagonist.

So certainly I think you have people who might lump it in with that, but I just think the more people find out about the game and what it is, they'll be willing to give it a chance and try it. And if they do I think they'll find it's a good game.

Shack: Switching gears to Rogue Warrior: when it was first announced in 2006, it was a squad-based tactical SEAL game. Shifting to a more one-man, personality-driven approach--was that something you guys imposed on Rebellion to streamline the project in its second incarnation?

Pete Hines: Yeah, that was what we felt--not necessarily streamline, but we felt it needed a change in scope and a change in focus. And we felt that that was the focus that it needed. That the sort of squad-based, tactical--in a sense I guess it was turning into a bit of a Navy SEAL game, and it was less of a Dick Marcinko game.

And I think we just felt like, he's this really cool personality, and that personality is in a sense getting a bit lost in the mix here. How do we pull him out, and pull his personality out more? And so changing the focus of the story and the mechanics of the game is one way. Having Mickey Rourke come in to do the [voiceover] was another. How do we really make his performance stand out and lend a voice to this character.

Shack: How are you planning to bill this game from a marketing standpoint? You could certainly go the action-packed, Gears of War route, or more towards the Tom Clancy, military shooter.

Pete Hines: Sort of a cool, personality-driven shooter.

Shack: So it's all about the character. He's almost like a Duke Nukem-type character in a way. Not quite that over-the-top, but..

Pete Hines: I think the comparison is fair in that Duke Nukem is one of the few shooters you can point to where it's focused around that guy, as opposed to, "I don't remember the name of the guy that I played in Call of Duty 4. It was friggen awesome, but I don't remember who it was." The point of the game wasn't about being those guys. It was a great story, but it wasn't focused on, here's this person, here's what it's like to be this person. So we felt this was just more like, here's this cool guy, here's what he's going through, and here's what his personality is like.

Shack: I always found it strange that more shooters didn't explore that style of first-person character. There was something to that.

Pete Hines: It worked.

Shack: Yeah. Speaking of the first-person perspective--was that something you guys considered switching to third-person? Because to some degree, third-person is more in vogue now for this style of action game.

Pete Hines: Yeah, we did. For a while there we toyed with it being first and third. And so we finally said, figure out what you're going to be, don't try and be everything. So we said it's going to be first, but we are going to use the cover mechanics, so you'll be in third in those situations.

But you know, I think to your point, every game that people buy doesn't have to be the single greatest experience of 2009. There's something to be said for, it's just a fun, personality-driven shooter that's got these ridiculously brutal kill moves. And it's very profane and colorful, and it's got funny moments, and it's got well-paced action, and some unexpected twists, and all of those things. And hey, I played it, I had fun, I laughed some.

Every game that comes out doesn't have to be a 99. I think it's going to be a good game that does what it does well, and is true to its core experience. I think there's a big audience out there for that.

Shack: Todd Howard's team has Fallout and Elder Scrolls now, and those are very comfortable, successful franchises. But does that team have a desire to branch out and try something new? Does spinning off Fallout to Obsidian with New Vegas give them any breathing room?

Pete Hines: We'll see. Honestly, the sky's the limit for those guys in terms of what they can do and what they can work on.

Shack: I'm wondering if you can talk about Bethesda as a company, and more specifically speak to its trajectory. Bethesda's been around for a while, but it wasn't anywhere near the juggernaut that it became after the Oblivion explosion. Now you have these announcements, and the MMO going on at ZeniMax Online, and more Fallout and Elder Scrolls down the line. How big are you guys looking to get, ultimately? Is there a size you're comfortable with?

Pete Hines: To answer your question, I think we do have a size that we think is ideal to grow to. We don't think a model of, we're going to put out 30 or 40 or 50 games per year, or a quarter, or a week, is the model that we want to follow. We want to stick to what it is we've always done, which is, if you can give focus to a project, we can make it successful.

And then just figuring out how many of those that we can do. Is it three a year? Four a year? Once every quarter we've got something going on--potentially that might be what we're looking to do. But we've been working on some of this stuff for a while now. The MMO stuff has been in the works for a while through ZeniMax online, Matt Firor's group. And Todd Howard's team has continued to be built up. You know, I'd put those guys up against any developer anywhere in the world. They are as good, if not better than anyone else out there. They are amazingly talented.

So let those guys keep doing what they want to do, give them the resources to do what they want to do, and then look for external folks that we can get excited to work with--A2M, Splash Damage. Like I said today, there's a number of other folks that we are working with that we haven't announced what games they're making.

But I'll say this, to answer your question about what's our trajectory: I'll bet if you and I are sitting here having this conversation at the end of the year, I'll bet you're saying, "Wow, it clicked up another notch from when I talked to you in April." Knowing what I know about stuff that's going on, I would say by the end of this year we will have more people's attention than we have now. Not by changing who we are, but by getting even better at what we think we do well--which is smart titles that have a quality to them and that we can execute to a certain level.

Shack: Thanks Pete.

Now developed by Rebellion, Rogue Warrior hits PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 this fall.

A2M's WET arrives in PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 form this fall as well.

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