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Q&A With 'Deathrow' Developers - Screens

by Thomas on May 26, 2002 @ 9:30 p.m. PDT

Deathrow, a fast-paced team combat sport where full-contact aggression is not only legal, it’s required! Combining the lightning-fast gameplay of a third person action game and the cooperative team play and gritty roughness of rugby, Deathrow is a groundbreaking title offering a unique gaming experience. Deathrow is an Xbox exclusive scheduled to ship to retail shelves worldwide in Fall 2002. Check out Q&A to Anders & Daniel Jeppsson below!

1. First of all, can you tell us more about Southend Interactive?
SouthEnd was started in late 1998 by 5 friends who got tired of their day jobs and wanted to pursue their childhood dreams of making computer games. In early 1999 we started the development of the concept Blitz – Disc Arena, now known as Deathrow. SouthEnd is still a very small team, only 9 full time employees, working hard to create the games we would love to play ourselves.

2. Is Deathrow the first game you ever developed?
Yes it is. Several people involved in Deathrow have worked on other games but Deathrow will be the first game released by SouthEnd Interactive.

3.What games have you and your team worked on before?
Although this is our company’s first game, we have of course developed many smaller games while learning the ins and outs of game development. But Deathrow will be the first full-scale game released by us!

4. Should you describe Deathrow in a few words, what would you say?
Deathrow is a game of furious close combat and relentless action. Getting an hovering disc through a small goal might sound easy but trust me, it isn’t!

5. What are the rules of this game?
Basically the game has no rules. You can stomp or punch players that are lying down, fill the arena with blood and gore, you can even eliminate the entire opposing team without a referee calling you out!

6. What are the main values of this game?
The high paced action and the very fine trimmed game play (we have been tweaking the game play for almost 2 years). Also the game is easy to play and enjoy, but the more experienced you get the more the game “grows” on you while you learn new ways to play it.

7. Could you give us an example of a typical Deathrow gaming sequence?
The round starts with the disc teleporting into the middle of the arena. Both teams will rush and try to get to it first, often resulting in carnage, especially when playing the more aggressive teams. Once holding the disc you will have little time to spare before someone tries to grab, punch or kick you so passing the disc quickly is very important. You can try to evade incoming attacks jump above them or even block them.
Getting close to the enemy goal with the disc is not easy since the enemy team will try to cut you off and only with great skill will you be able to fool them. Their goalie will also attack you if you come too close or jump and save your shot unless you curve it around him.
There are many things to master in Deathrow, and every team you meet is different!

But the fun doesn’t stop there. You can buy new players between matches or train the ones you have. Special events might happen and you could even get missions to complete if you play the full conquest.

8. Where have you found your inspiration to create Deathrow?
We have been playing games since the first home computers so we had a list of games we would love to recreate and refine upon. But finally we decided to throw many of our ideas together and create what is now called Deathrow. It’s a blend of Speedball for the Amiga, Unreal Tournament, Tekken3 and many other games. We took what we believed was the best parts of these other games and created something new and unique! The world of Deathrow is influenced by movies and books such as Bladerunner, Neuromancer and Blood of Heroes.

9. Will there be any multiplayer features in Deathrow?
Yes, Deathrow supports up to 4 players on the same Xbox or linking in a LAN for 8 players to enjoy the game at the same time.

10. How many teams will feature Deathrow?
Deathrow has 13 teams plus some hidden ones we can’t tell you about. These teams each have ten unique players that can be bought and upgraded. Each player has many different statistics such as strength, speed, aggression, ego and stamina. Also each team has a unique setup of animations and special moves they can perform.

11. Where did you get the inspiration to create the look of the teams?
From many different places actually, some from movies, some from books, but most from our artists own imagination. The teams are influenced by the great corporations sponsoring the game within the game world. For example, there is a team called Sentinels that consist of warlike robots, manufactured and created by a corporation selling these to the army and other corporations.

12. How many moves will the players be able to perform?
Deathrow has more than 800 base animations evenly divided among the different players. There are punches, kicks, grabs, combos, evades and more.

13. How many stats are actually ruling the behaviour and performances of your player?
We have strength, speed, health, energy, health regeneration, energy regeneration, pass/shoot, fighting, catch/intercept. ego/teampley, aggression and many more as well as a complex AI emotion system that makes bots remember other players actions. If for example one of your players continually harrasses the other team’s goalie the other team will be really hostile towards him and will want to take revenge ! The same goes for a player that scores a lot etc.

14. Will there be special tricks according to the team you play or the level of the character you handle?
Depending on the team and player there are different fighting moves/combos available and the star players on each team has their own special combos.

15. In terms of number and quality of offensive moves, how would you estimate Deathrow against a classic fighting game?
Deathrow is not quite a fighting game, but still has an impressive setup of animations and offensive moves. Both combos and grabs exist and the collection of these moves is different for each team (although some moves are common for several teams). For example, the Crushers, a team consisting of BIG humans, genetically engineered to work as miners, has a setup of grabs and combos that only someone exceptionally strong could perform; such as picking up an opponent by the legs and throwing them far away. In contrast the female team, SeaCats, perform moves that only their extreme agility could allow.

16. What are the rewards for winning a game?
In Deathrow you will unlock teams, players, arenas, and more.

17. Will the game emphasize on violent features?
Oh yes!

18. Will the game feature side-animations to make it more alive?
Before each match there is an intro with the teams taunting each other. Between rounds there are replays etc.

19. What was the point using a 3rd person subjective camera?
The use of a “trailing third person” camera is ideal for this game because you have the same power of control/view of the 3D environments as in an fps game but with the added advantage of being able to see the actions you perform. Imagine an fps with the camera put a meter or so behind and above the character.

20. Does the camera always follow the player closely?
There are several camera angles to choose from, from the really close immersive ones to more zoomed out ones for more overview. It is up to the user’s preference.

21. Is there a replay capability so you can see a goal or fight again?
After each round you will be able to watch the most spectacular fights and goals. There are no interruptions once a round starts, it is 100% action until the round is over or all players on a team are down!

22. What does the pass system you created for Deathrow look like?
Since the switch to the Xbox (from PC) we have been developing a new pass and shoot system that will allow for the high paced action in Deathrow. For example, when you pass the disc to a teammate the camera with smoothly move with the disc during the pass and once received you will take control of the new player. When approaching the enemy goal with the disc you will have a shoot-line that will lock onto the goal eventually, depending on how well you aim, and depending on the stats of the player you control at the moment. The whole system works exceptionally well now, and enables a whole new gaming experience for this genre of games.

23. When playing alone, how will your bots react?
The user has 5 different strategy modes ranging from “all out attack” to “maximum defence” to control the overall behaviour of the team in certain situations. After that, the bots adapt to what the user is trying to do. All depending on the overall nature of the team you play. Some teams are more prone to fighting and some to team play.

24. How far will the arenas be differentiated? Will they all own a specific tactical advantage?
Some arenas will give advantage to quick teams that are good at passing and some require more brute force than anything else. But in all of them it is about survival!

25. Will the gameplay stay open to both aggressive or tactical game styles?
Yes, depending on the team and arena you play the game will be quite different.

26. Did you create your own 3D engine for Deathrow? If so, what influenced your designs?
We have been developing our own 3D engine and animation system for several years and Deathrow will be the first game using it. Our main focus has been on the character system and on geometry lighting.

27. How far will Deathrow take advantage of the technical advance of the XBox?
We are using advanced vertex and pixel shaders for amazing environmental bump mapped texture effects as well as for the whole character animation system. We are trying to cram the most out of the power of the Xbox.

28. How detailed will the character models be and how will they be animated?
Our character meshes have about 6-7000 polygons in-game. They are controlled by a skeleton system with more than 55 bones running any number of animations with arbitrary blending between them per bone.

We use a mix of motion captured data and key framing. We have found that a skilled animator can be quite an advantage compared to using only edited mo-cap data.

29. Do you think your game could possibly become the new technical benchmark of the XBox?
That will be up to others to decide, but we are quite proud of the overall visual quality and technical features we have been able to implement in Deathrow. We are a very small team and this is our first game!

30. How long has Deathrow been in development?
Deathrow started its development in May 1999 and was initially scheduled to be an online PC game. In June 2000 we received our first Xbox dev kits and have been working around the clock since then to morph BDA into Deathrow making it a solid game taking advantage of the incredible power of the Xbox.

31. What has been the biggest challenge during the development of the game?
The biggest challenge, apart from learning the ropes of game development has been working on a small budget with a really small team and still trying to compete with the best.

32. Which parts of the game are you currently working on, or will you be working on before release?
Right now we are still adding special effects, fine tweaking game play and coding the network support, as well as adding the last teams..

33. What is your favourite game and why?
Anders favourite game is probably Diablo2 played online and Medal of Honor. Daniel’s favourite right now is Diablo2 online and older games such as Speedball2 on the Amiga and Counter Strike.

34. What was the last game you played and how much did you like it?
Medal of Honor, which we really liked.

35. What is your favourite book, album, film and comics of all time?
Lord of the Rings, and Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time for books. For movies it must be Fight Club, Aliens, StarWars and Split Second.

36. What game would you most like to have worked on?
Too many to count! We just love games.

37. As newcomers in the videogames industry, what are your greatest expectations about the market and the future games it may bring?
With the coming of the Xbox and the rapid evolution of graphics boards we and other developers will be able to create games closer to what we originally envisioned. The future looks very bright!

38. Finally, could you give us only 2 words to describe the kind of emotion Deathrow will provide?
Adrenaline kick!

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