I've been excited about "Mirror's Edge," the upcoming console and PC first-person parkour game from EA's DICE studio, since I read a cover feature about it in the magazine Edge. Just look at the screenshots!
Last month at GDC, EA hosted an event showcasing DICE's work, which included a live demonstration of "Mirror's Edge." The sight of the game's heroine running through a stark, gleaming city, leaping from rooftop to rooftop, taking enemies out with her hands, was impressive. Seeing it all in first-person was exciting. But, watching what it looks like when she tumbles forward into a roll and the game stays in first person was... disconcerting.
I wondered if presenting parkour in first-person might be asking for trouble. My head was spinning:
- Is this game going to make us all sick?
- In the era of "Assassin's Creed," what's the point of having a parkour game played from a "Halo" perspective?
- Where did the color green go?
I had to talk to the developers. EA PR obliged, setting me up with two quick, on-the-spot chats. We talked about several key issues and I got some intriguing answers...
(Warning to EA marketing team -- there's a possible surprise in here for you...)
Topic #1: The Game's Name
Multiplayer: Can you explain the game's name?
Owen O'Brien, Senior Producer, "Mirror's Edge": The Mirror refers to the city, the city that's a very unusual city. It's a city of very tall gleaming skyscrapers and empty streets ... Over the years people have been giving up more and more of their freedoms for this comfortable life, this utopia. But some people didn't want to conform and they were pushed to the edge of society. They exist on the edge, which is where the mirror's edge comes from.
Topic #2: The Name Of The Game's City
Multiplayer: I kept waiting for you to say the name of the city. Are you intentionally not naming it?
O'Brien: I've deliberately not named it, because it's nowhere and it's everywhere. It's an amalgamation of lots of different cities. And it's an amalgamation of lots of different things that are happening around the world.
Multiplayer: You're not saying you haven't named it to me. You're saying you haven't named it in the game.
O'Brien: We've deliberately not named it.
Multiplayer: Just refer to it as 'The city'?
O'Brien: Just refer to it as 'The city.'
Multiplayer: How did that go over with marketing people?
O'Brien: I haven't told them yet. [Laughs] I think they're going to have to be fine about it, because it's something I really strongly believe in. I think the thing is that once I start naming cities I always find that they sound sci-fi for some reason. I don't know why. It sounds weird. I'm a big fan of "Payback" from Mel Gibson. And one of the things I like about the film is that they never name what the city is. They always refer to it as "the city" …
Topic #3: Mixing First-Person And Parkour
Multiplayer: How did the idea come together to do a combination of first-person and parkour? Did one precede the other or did they both come about at the same time?
O'Brien: We definitely wanted to do something first-person because that's what DICE has a lot of experience in. But we wanted to go right back to basics and do something different from "Battlefield." We didn't want to do just another "Battlefield." So the first thing we looked at was first-person games. And first-person games aren't about people at all. They are about guns, weapons, armor. They've just forgotten the "person" in "first-person"…
If you're going to execute on that you've got to be able to move as a person. We find that there's a lot of common wisdom that you can't do these things in first person. But people haven't tried to do them. They build a first-person shooter and then they try to add movement to it. We developed movement from the word go.
Multiplayer: Right. I remember trying to platform in "Turok" on the N64 and it was a nightmare. "Metroid Prime" was the first time I felt people were beginning to get it. But now I've done parkour in "Assassin's Creed" and I've come to assume that I need third-person to do parkour well. I'm sure you've played "Assassin's Creed" ..
Multiplayer: As a player, what do you gain by having that in first-person? How is it different for the player?
It's a very different feeling. It's a very immediate, visceral experience. It is you. You're there doing everything. You feel every impact. You feel when you've been shot. You get the vertigo, the dizziness. We often say it's the difference between watching an action film and being the star of one… From my point of view, because I've played "Assassin's Creed," is that it just feels very different to actually be the person rather than controlling an avatar.
Topic #4: Getting Sick From This Game
Multiplayer: What kind of issues have you guys run into in terms of disorientation and motion sickness or anything? That seems to be a risk with the design you're taking.
O'Brien: My producer who was playing the game tonight suffers from -- it's actually called "Simulation Sickness." Motion Sickness is something you actually get from motion. You have to be on a ship or something. … We've been very careful with that. Simulation sickness is when you get a difference between what you see and what you expect to see. So there are little things. Like the little bit of HUD [heads-up-display] that we have is a small reticule that gives you a focal point. If you take that out of the game, you do start to get ill. A bit like a ballerina doing pirouettes -- if they focus on something, then they're fine.
Also, the camera in our game does quite a lot of clever things. It's simulating your eyes rather than your head. I think what a lot of people have done in the past is they've stuck a camera in the person's head and they move around like robots….The field of view is very important. A lot of first-person games have a very claustrophobic point of view, usually to create tension or scares. We've got a very wide field of view which gives you much more peripheral view of the city. And you get much less disoriented.
Topic #5: The Missing Color Green
Multiplayer: The visual design is very interesting. But what did you guys do with the color green? Is it gone? Is anything green?
O'Brien:No. Actually, when you play the game and look at it more closely, even things you think would be green are not, like plants and trees. They're all white.
Multiplayer: Is that the visual design? No green?
O'Brien: Well, the visual design isn't that we targeted green to take it out. The art direction grew out of the gameplay. We wanted to give people a sense of the world very quickly and move through it very quickly. We initially stripped out all of the colors and then just put in red [to guide people to objectives]. But we needed more colors to break it up and also [because] the colors tell you how healthy you are. The brighter they are the healthier you are. When you start to take damage they start to de-saturate. So we needed more colors in the world. But it's a very restricted and deliberate use of strong primary colors and orange.
So we haven't got an anti-green policy. We're just not going down that route. We're also trying not to look like every game out there. I wanted a game where I could look at a screenshot and say, "Hey, that's 'Mirror's Edge.'" A lot of games are tending toward grim or grays and we wanted to avoid that.
Topic #6: Green-Lighting "Mirror's Edge"
Multiplayer: Was "Mirror's Edge" a hard sell internally? Did you have anyone asking you where all the grit was? Where the Unreal 3 Engine was? Did you guys have that same look from the start? And what challenges were there for you to overcome for you guys to convince yourselves or the powers that be that it was a worthwhile approach.
Sean Decker, Studio General Manager, DICE: John Riccitiello gave a speech at [the] DICE [gaming summit] in which he talked about [EA development studios] as city-states. And DICE [the game developer] has been lucky for two reasons. One, because we're out in Sweden, so -- we're out in Sweden and people don't hop in as much and say, "Hey, what are you working on?" The other thing is that it's really true. If you look at all of DICE's games, and you take all the games, every single one is in the top five percent of Metacritic.
Multiplayer: So it's capital.
Decker: John Riccitiello says, "If it works for you, do what you think is right." And that's allowed us to be able to have this leeway, try things out and say, "Look, this is what we want to do."
That's all I got on "Mirror's Edge." Check back next week for a little more from that DICE GDC event: a chat about "Battlefield Heroes," EA's free re-interpretation to its popular PC multiplayer first-person war series.