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The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: Atari
Developer: Starbreeze
Release Date: April 7, 2009 (US), April 24, 2009 (EU)

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'Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena' (ALL) Developer Interview

by Adam Pavlacka on Dec. 19, 2008 @ 9:00 a.m. PST

The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena contains a brand new full-length campaign which will include the original game re-imagined for a whole new audience, an entirely new chapter in the Riddick saga and, for the first time, intense online multiplayer combat, making it a must-have experience for any fan of intense action gaming.

Previously announced as a remake of hit title The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay with added content, The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena contains a brand new full-length campaign which will include the original game re-imagined for a whole new audience, an entirely new chapter in the Riddick saga and, for the first time, intense online multiplayer combat, making it a must-have experience for any fan of intense action gaming.

In The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena the player takes the role of Riddick, as played by Vin Diesel, using stealth and action to overcome the merciless crew of the predatory Merc-ship Dark Athena which awaits its prey in the dark reaches of space. Cheating death through a series of spectacular battles and events, Riddick will fight for his life amid a storm of malevolence and horror. The Chronicles of Riddick series of games takes the player deeper into the universe of Universal Pictures' films The Chronicles of Riddick and cult classic Pitch Black, which first introduced Vin Diesel as enigmatic anti-hero Riddick.

WP: Who has the honor to speak with us? State your name, rank, and occupation!

I'm Ian Stevens, and I'm the head of game production at Tigon Studios.

WP: The game started out originally as a remake and has now expanded. Why the change in focus?

IS: Well, first off, it started as a remake for a couple of key reasons. One was that we weren't able to make the original game backwards compatible. We did some stuff with the hardware configuration on the original Xbox that was pretty crazy, and it just didn't play nice on the 360, given the change in video cards. That was a level of disappointment we had, that we'd made this great game that nobody could really play, and on top of that, there were opportunities on the part of Vivendi to go and make another Riddick game, but with there not being a film release, it sort of gave us room to kind of go and do whatever we wanted. So we figured we'd just pick up where Escape from Butcher Bay had left off and at the same time, go and remake that game so that we could get that back out to those gamers as well as to an entire audience that had never really played it before, with the PlayStation audience.

In terms of the ballooning in scope, I think a lot of that was due to the merger and a large period of time during which it wasn't sure when Riddick would actually ship or to what degree of scope anyway, so we basically had about a good year to sit there and just make a game while everybody was trying to figure out new business and what was going to happen to these two companies. In the course of that, what began as sort of a four-hour expanded content became something as large as that original game. We're very happy with that because we know that gamers are looking forward to something new, so it was a big win for us.

WP: Nice. Now when you jump into it, do you have to play through the Butcher Bay missions? Can you just start with Dark Athena? Are they unlocked? How do you present that to the player?

IS: So when you select "New Game" from the menu, you can start at either Escape from Butcher Bay, which is the proper beginning, or you can jump right into Assault on Dark Athena, and I think that even people who have played the original game are probably going to start at the beginning anyway because the scope of the remake is quite extensive.

WP: Vin Diesel has always been involved with the Riddick character, from the first appearance in "Pitch Black," the subsequent movie, heavily involved with Butcher Bay. What's his involvement with Assault on Dark Athena?

IS: Well, Vin of course founded Tigon Studios in 2002, and that's a production company through which he has a production and design role in several different gaming projects. With Riddick, he's been involved all along as a producing partner, helping us make some pretty key decisions about where we're going to take the story, what sort of characters we're going to introduce, and then as well, sort of helping us with some creativity and the design in the game — a lot of really key suggestions and direction in terms of what we do to make the game unique and interesting.

WP: Console versus PC — How do you optimize for the different system configurations on the PC, and what are you doing to make sure that PC players feel comfortable with the mouse and keyboard and Dark Athena on the PC doesn't fall prey to what some console-PC ports have, where it's "console-fied" with the control screen?

IS: To some extent, I feel we've already answered that question with the Developer's Cut that we did of the original game, where we did port that to the PC but we also added new content, which is part of this remake as well, and then did some heavy optimization for that PC version to make sure we took advantage of higher texture resolution and control screens that were appropriate for PC gamers. With this particular PC version as well, there's no way that we're just going to throw this over the fence and have you hook up a mouse and keyboard to it. We're going to give it the proper treatment, although from a content standpoint, it's not going to be any different at all.

We also have our CTO at Starbreeze, Magnus Högdahl, who is just a programming gem, and any opportunity he gets to do some high-end tricks, we just really can't tell him no.

WP: Engine-wise, is this using a custom engine, or are you using something off the shelf? How would you compare its performance to, say, the Unreal 3 engine?

IS: If you don't mind, I don't like to compare our technology to other stuff that's out there in the marketplace. I think it's a good story to tell, though, when we talk about this technology on its own. This, for us, began as the Riddick engine, and we moved that forward to next-gen when we created The Darkness and have moved it forward yet again, so what you're seeing with Assault on Dark Athena is really the bleeding edge of engine technology at Starbreeze. There are a whole lot of improvements in artificial intelligence, rendering, and especially our multiplayer pipeline that have not been a part of any game that we've shipped before, and I think that you'll see a lot of that obvious detail when you play it. This is easily going to be the most polished game that Starbreeze has ever shipped.

WP: What about multiplayer options for the game? Can you talk about that at all?

IS: I can't. I can't talk about multiplayer other than to tease you and say that we're really excited about the opportunity to talk about it pretty soon. You know, we've tried to focus on multiplayer that's unique to the Riddick universe, so we're confident that there's some gameplay there that's not to be found anywhere else, and we're looking forward to talking about that.

WP: As far as the story goes, obviously Dark Athena occurs after the Butcher Bay missions. With the end of Dark Athena, does that lead right into the beginning of "Pitch Black"? Or is there space between the end of this game and the first movie?

IS: There's still some space between the end of Assault on Dark Athena and "Pitch Black," so there's still plenty of room for us to play. When it does come time for us to do a proper sequel, we're chomping at the bit for that, so we'll wait and see what critics and gamers think of Assault on Dark Athena, and if they want more, we are certainly game.

WP: Is there anything about the game that we haven't talked about that you wanted to add?

IS: You know, we've sort of been under a bit of a blanket here in terms of talking about this game. I know that people have been wondering where it's at and if it got canceled and what's happening with it. We've actually been heads-down, quietly working away on this, actually really enjoying the fact that we've just been able to focus purely on making the best game possible and haven't really been distracted by any of the corporate business at all, so it's very much alive and well. Hopefully, you will be able to speak to what you see here today and give your audience some indication of whether or not you're looking forward to this. We can't wait to give them information and put it in their hands.


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