Offering an original storyline and an off-the-wall cast of characters, Eat Lead features the return of classic 80’s videogame action hero, Matt Hazard, and parodies some of the most beloved genres of games and pop culture.
In Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard, videogame action hero Matt Hazard gets his chance to prove once and for all that he is the king of shooters when the new owner of mega game publisher, Marathon Megasoft, gives Matt his comeback role starring in a new title for next-gen consoles that pits him against all of his memorable foes from videogames past. In the world of Eat Lead, however, everything stops being a game and becomes reality when it is clear that someone is using the new game to bring about Matt’s death once and for all. With only the mysterious “QA” to help him, Matt must fight against a legion of Marathon Megasoft catalogue of videogame characters to keep it from being “Game Over” forever.
WP: Who has the honor to speak with us? State your name, rank, and occupation!
I'm Brian Etheridge, and I'm a producer with D3Publisher of America.
WP: Matt Hazard makes fun of a lot of genres. How did the idea come about, and how did you pick and choose which genres and specifically which characters to give a starring role in your satire?
BE: The idea for Eat Lead really came about when we decided that we wanted to do something totally different. Part of the inspiration actually came from the movie "Semi-Pro" with Will Ferrell, and some of the interview footage that they did with that was they had gotten real basketball players to come in and interview and pretend that Will Ferrell's character was real. So we thought that that would be a great idea as a way to sort of build up the history, and we had the idea of parody already in our books.
The parody elements that we chose to use were really just based off of some of the gameplay mechanics. So for instance, the Secret Soldiers of the Wafferthinn, we wanted to have a 2-D enemy, and we wanted to do it because then they could turn on their side, and they'd be completely flat and invisible and you'd get a laugh out of people. It also turns out to be a pretty interesting gameplay mechanic.
Some of the other things that we wanted to do, like Japanese RPGs, I think that idea just originated from we wanted to have a guy that was turn-based. Matt would fight in real time, and the other guy would be turn-based. Of course, we'd need to have the ellipses on the screen when the guy was talking, so that's where the idea came from.
WP: As a Western-developed game that's owned by a Japanese publisher, is there any sort of pushback or the sense that you're making fun of classic art?
BE: No, definitely no pushback on that. We have pretty much free run of what we want to do in terms of the titles that come out of D3Publisher of America. Of course, we collaborate with them extensively, but I think they get the sense of humor on that side too. They've seen the game, and they've laughed at that part specifically. I think they know that those are clichés, things that have been done over and over and over again, and they can appreciate the sense of humor in that as well.
WP: The game works with a real-world mechanic versus a computer game character mechanic, reminiscent somewhat of "Tron" and other sci-fi. What was the inspiration for that, versus making it set entirely in the game world?
BE: A lot of people have actually compared us to "Tron," but the way we try to pitch it is, when you think of an actor that, when you yell, "Cut!" and he goes out and has a beer with the other actors, that's sort of the mentality behind Matt. When they stop playing the games, Matt is a normal guy who goes and has a life, but he just happens to be a video game character. I think we really wanted to utilize the inside and the outside and the whole meta "game within a game" element to just bring a little more to the story. I can't say too much, but that's part of what the story is about.
WP: What about Neil Patrick Harris? He's been getting more and more popular lately, both in film and games. His last major title was Saints Row 2, and now you've got him in your game. When did you bring NPH onboard, and why choose him for the main villain?
BE: We actually brought him onboard right after we found out he was doing Saints Row 2, so we didn't know that. That was actually great for us because he had done some work for games and he knew what it was like and what it was about. The inspiration for using him was really the character Wally. Wally's character — his full name is, of course, Wallace Wellesley III — is a rich kid who happens to inherit this video game empire from his daddy, and that's sort of the backstory with him. We thought that the stuff that Neil Patrick Harris had done related pretty well to that, namely "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" and his character from "How I Met Your Mother." We really had him at the top of the list for a good guy to play a somewhat snobby rich kid-turned-evil game producer.
WP: What about voice acting for Matt? How did you go through the process to pick your actor for the hero?
BE: I had a text document open on my desktop for about three months, and on that list were tons of people. I don't know if I should say them because we had talked to some people at some point, but as the list got whittled down, we realized who we needed, and that was someone who could deliver a funny line totally straight and also had kind of a gruff voice, and Will Arnett's name stayed at the top of that list forever. We had looked at other people, sort of talked about other people, and none of them had fit the bill perfectly. We also wanted someone who had some contemporary flair about them. Will's been doing a lot of stuff lately, and everyone loves his character on "30 Rock" and, of course, Gob from "Arrested Development."
We just thought that he had that voice, and that voice is just [deepens voice], "Matt's kind of a tough guy." Matt has been through everything and he's seen it all and he's been around for so long, so we wanted that voice. We wanted somebody who could deliver something funny but deliver it totally straight and at the end of the day, we never, ever took Will Arnett off the list. We never even thought twice about taking him off the list. He stayed on the top, and that's how we got him.
WP: How does that work? Do you just call up the actors and say, "Will, Neil, we want you?" Do you ask them and a whole bunch of other actors to send in audition tapes and you listen to tape after tape before you find "the guy"? What's the process? How does it differ from a standard audition?
BE: Usually for standard auditions, that's where you get the tapes or takes. People go in and do auditions and you get some VO files, usually MP3s, of them reading maybe 10 lines from the game or something. With people like Will Arnett and Neil Patrick Harris, it was really us seeking them out. We knew who we wanted, and we approached their agents through a casting director who helps us out, and he gets in touch with them. At that point, we discuss the contract, amount of work and pay, that sort of stuff. It's an interesting process because it can take quite a while to nail everything down, even though you know that you have exactly the right person that you want.
WP: Humor aside, at its core, in order for the game to succeed, it still has to be a good third-person shooter. With so many different elements — different enemies, different weapon types, always bouncing back and forth — what challenges have you run into during development trying to ensure that the gameplay doesn't suffer for all the creativity?
BE: Well, gameplay has been at the forefront from the beginning. The first thing we did was prototype the third-person shooter, and it was the Vicious Engine 2 that led the charge, and that was sort of our project at the beginning. When we decided that we wanted to take a humorous route, it sort of ended up being the bread and butter of the whole franchise — the humor, the story, the parody and the good quality of the writing — and the gameplay, we just sort of tried to keep solid throughout.
Some of the difficulties that we found are definitely balancing. Keeping in mind that you have enemies from so many different genres of gaming and all sorts of different AI behaviors and weapons, we had to make sure that it didn't feel too spread out or putting too many in the same room at the same time, which would be kind of cluttered. You also have to deal with each enemy type differently, so that could sort of be confusing to the player. Making sure that we pace that correctly was probably one of the biggest challenges.
WP: I love all the different characters in the game. You've got a carpenter who jumps down pipes like a mysterious plumber. You've got generic Space Marines, and you've got a Final Fantasy clone character. Are there any shout-outs to any D3 titles? Are we going to see an old knight on a horse from Puzzle Quest? Do the Onechanbara bikini babes show up anywhere?
BE: We talked about that at the beginning. We thought that would feel maybe a little contrived or forced. We didn't want people to think that we were pushing our own stuff. We had talked about the possibility of bringing Fred from Dead Head Fred into the game, and there are definitely D3 titles that fit within the genres that we parody. You mentioned Final Fantasy to us, but it's really just a general parody of the Japanese RPG style, with the gigantic, androgynous, good-looking guy with a gigantic sword and text boxes filled with ellipses and those kinds of things. There are D3 titles that would fill that category as well.
WP: Aside from gameplay balancing, which you had mentioned earlier, what was the biggest challenge in trying to make it all work?
BE: The biggest challenge in making Eat Lead was probably weeding through all of the ideas that everyone had. All the people on the development side and all the people on the publishing side have contributed ideas, and of course everyone thinks that their idea is the best. Getting through all those and breaking it to people was tough. We had so many different ideas thrown on the table, and we threw away a lot of good ideas that we definitely want to see come back at some point.
WP: Well obviously you can't tell us everything that made it into the game because that would spoil the surprise, but can you tell us some of the ideas that didn't make the cut but were genuine suggestions?
BE: I think the one thing that everyone wants to see that did not make it into the game was Haz-Mat Karts. That's not to say that it's not going to appear at some point somewhere else because it may very well, but it's not in Eat Lead.
WP: What about downloadable content? Are there any plans for that? I know that we looked at single-player today, but will there be any DLC, online multiplayer or anything of that sort?
BE: There's no online multiplayer. It's a single-player game. We really wanted to focus pretty heavily on the story, which is our biggest point. In terms of downloadable content, we don't have anything planned yet so I think that people should definitely keep their ears peeled for different Matt Hazard titles or things along the Eat Lead line in the future.
WP: Is there anything about the game that we haven't talked about that you wanted to add?
BE: Eat Lead is going to be coming out March 2009 on Xbox 360 and PS3, and if people are looking for something that's different and has a whole lot of variety to it, then Eat Lead is probably the title that they're looking for.
Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard, developed by Vicious Cycle Software using its new Vicious Engine 2, is currently rated “RP” (Rating Pending) and scheduled for Q1 2009.
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