In 2013 the world was devastated by an apocalyptic event, annihilating almost all mankind and turning the earth’s surface into a poisonous wasteland. A handful of survivors took refuge in the depths of the Moscow underground, and human civilization entered a new Dark Age.
You are Artyom, born in the last days before the fire, but raised Underground. Having never ventured beyond your Metro Station-City limits, one fateful event sparks a desperate mission to the heart of the Metro system, to warn the remnants of mankind of a terrible impending threat. Your journey takes you from the forgotten catacombs beneath the subway to the desolate wastelands above, where your actions will determine the fate of mankind.
WP: Who has the honor to speak with us? State your name, rank and occupation!
I'm Luis Gigliotti, and I'm an executive producer for THQ.
WP: How did THQ come to find out about Metro 2033? Did you come across the book and wanted to find a developer to make the game? Did the developer come to you? What's the story behind this?
LG: We already had a relationship with some of the guys on the development team, and they actually approached us and said, "Listen, there's a book, Metro 2033," and the author, Dmitry Glukhovsky, is actually part of the development team now. He's actually at the studio. When you read about the fiction, it's just tailor-made for a great video game, so they actually approached us, and once we got a backdrop of the story and realized how popular it was — it's actually one of the fastest-selling novels in Russian history, and it's getting released in all different languages, including English, this month. We really think it's going to translate to a global audience.
WP: Obviously, THQ has made licensed games based on novels, movies, TV shows, etc., but it's usually after the book or movie has hit the U.S. What's it like making a game that's based on a novel that's well-known in Europe but no one's really heard of it in the U.S.? Is there any sort of risk involved?
LG: Yeah, I think at the end of the day, even though it hasn't been released outside of Russia, you know good literature when you read it, and we do have a translation. It's not the final translation, but really, there's always risk. The best thing you can do to mitigate any risk of a creative endeavor like this is to recognize that we've got a great foundation. It's the same way that we experienced it was great to have a guy like Joe Madureira be part of Vigil Studios, one of the founders, and make Darksiders and have him there on the spot. You benefit from that creative vision. Well, this is the same situation. We've got the author as part of the development team to really make sure that the fiction, the character development, story outline and standpoint are correct. We've got that advantage.
WP: What about the style of gaming? When you bring any sort of media into gaming, you've got a lot of options. You can go first-person, you can go strategy. How did you guys decide to go with the story-based FPS? Is that something that was driven by the author? Is he a big video game fan? Or was that something that was driven by the development team?
LG: Primarily the development team, but that's also something that's just discussed. Decisions like that don't get made in a vacuum, but ultimately, the thing that really drives it to an FPS is that the game itself has this incredible sense of anxiety. It causes anxiety; there's a claustrophobic feeling. For 70 percent of the game, you're in the subway systems, and it's tight, it's confined and things jump out of nowhere. Nothing really sells that sense of anxiety of things coming out of nowhere than that first-person perspective. When something jumps out at you, it's not as if the camera is pulled back and you see an avatar of yourself in the world. It's your eyes looking at it. When you're looking around the corner and something jumps out at you — man, for all genres, whether it's action, suspense or horror, first-person is always the best to translate that anxiety.
WP: Is the playable character in the game the same as the protagonist from the novel?
LG: Artyom is definitely the lead character in the novel. What's great about the book is that it's not your run-of-the-mill postapocalyptic story. This isn't Mad Max, where you just fight to survive. It has an incredible mystical side to it, and there are these characters that are integral to the fiction who are called The Dark Ones. Unlike the humans or even the mutated creatures that tear you to bits, they're actually attacking the human race underground in a completely different way that's just so frightening. They attack psychically. If you come across an area where The Dark Ones have been, instead of finding bodies strewn about and parts everywhere, which you actually grow accustomed to after being underground all those years, people have actually disappeared. There are only a few people left, and they're in this insane state of dementia. Two to three days later, they end up dying.
What really separates our hero is that while everybody seems like they can be affected by these psychic attacks, our hero is the only person left in humanity who is immune, apparently. While other people are hurting you, there are these sequences in the game, these constant visions you're having, and they progress from small visions in the book to being interactive experiences in the game. You actually are solving puzzles while you're in this crazy dream state. Being the only person immune to them, that makes you a very special person. I don't want to give away too much of the story, but it's actually the reason why this game makes sense as a linear experience.
WP: Let's talk about the fact that this is heavily story-based. With a lot of big games, like Call of Duty and Modern Warfare 2, the big push lately has been toward multiplayer. THQ's last big game, Darksiders, was well-reviewed but heavy on the single-player story. Metro 2033 is also heavy on the single-player story. What makes good single-player game, and what makes a bad single-player game?
LG: Personally, and I've been around a long time, and I've made all kinds of games — single-player, multiplayer, open world, you name it — it's just about picking and choosing your battles. The benefit of a single-player game, if you're leveraging what its strengths are, is leveraging things like character development and story and immersion into a fiction. This game was tailor-made. Why? Because it's based on a great piece of literature, a great piece of fiction. Otherwise, it wouldn't make sense that our hero is the only person left in the world who apparently isn't affected negatively by The Dark Ones. Well, that's part of the book, and that alone lends itself to a single-player experience.
Darksiders is a little bit different. The decision was, "Let's get War from the Four Horsemen, and let's just really nail down this character and gameplay, and maybe in the sequel, we'll add multiplayer with the rest of the horsemen." With this game, it was definitely because the fiction just perfectly lent itself to it. When we get that, from a development standpoint, we say, "Let's leverage the strengths." The strengths are that with single-player, if you play your cards right, you get the level of character development and story development and immersion in the fiction that you just can't get in multiplayer, much less an open-world game.
WP: Even though this is based on existing literature, it is something that's unknown in the U.S. How is it different when you're creating a game with characters and properties that the audience knows, versus when you're trying to introduce a brand-new character, a brand-new property and a brand-new world?
LG: When you're dealing with an IP that's already well-known, like a film or something like that, you focus on different things. Your need to really, really get into the development of the character, into the game, into the interactive experience is less important because everyone knows who that person is. When you make a James Bond game, everybody pretty much knows, "Shaken, not stirred," and that kind of stuff. (laughs) When you're bringing something that people maybe haven't seen yet, you have to make sure that through the actual interactive experience — not just through cut scenes but through the actual gameplay — everything you do is helping to tell the story of the character. The development of the character, why he is who he is, what makes him tick, and if you rely on only cut scenes, you're never going to get it done. You need to do it through cut scenes and through the actual interactive experience, the gameplay.
WP: If you had to sum it up in two to three sentences, what really makes Metro 2033 a game that's worth playing?
LG: There are a couple of things. The story behind this thing, the strength of the fiction behind it, and the character development — I think people are going to pick it up and really empathize, which happens very rarely in games. It's hard to empathize with a character, but we've got the benefit of having an incredible amount of background for this guy. I also think that the appeal of the story is pretty universal. It's about being human. Even post-blast, when there are only 40,000 people who managed to get underneath the metro system, they still do everything they can to create a semblance of normality. There's also the negative side of humanity. Even after a nuclear war where billions of people have died, they go underground and they still can't get along. I think people will be able to empathize with the humanity of the story. On the other side, from a gameplay perspective, though it's a linear, scripted cinematic experience, there is also a ton of things that you can do. Explore around, go off the beaten story track and have some fun. Mechanically, it's a very sound game. It's doing some amazing things as far as immersion and world interaction that you maybe don't always see in first-person shooters.
WP: Is there anything about the game that we haven't talked about that you wanted to add?
LG: The book is coming out this month, and the game is coming out March 16. We just hope that everybody gets the chance to check it out and experience it.
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