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How do you Re-imagine Syndicate? [Interview]

23 Oct 2011  by   Paul Younger
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Remakes and re-imaginings are not easy. No matter what medium you’re working in, fans of the original will always be reluctant to see the product they love twisted, morphed and transformed into something it originally was not.
We recently caught up with EA Partners’ Ben O’Donnell to talk about this, as well as why Starbreeze are the right development studio for a Syndicate re-boot, what elements of the original remain, plans for co-op and how you stand out as a first-person shooter in today’s market.
IncGamers: One of the recent trailers you’ve released for Syndicate refers to the original game, a title that many people still hold great respect for. How much of a risk is it to rejuvenate the franchise as a first-person shooter?
Ben O’Donnell: There’s always a risk of upsetting people that remember the original through rose-tinted glasses. But if we were to simply re-skin the original game in high-def then you’d probably get an equal amount of backlash.
The original Syndicate was of its time, I don’t even think the RTS genre had even been defined at that point – it was such a long time ago. We’re trying to key into the fact that Syndicate has such a great legacy and we’re trying to take inspiration from that and bring it into the modern age. Starbreeze have such a great history of making dark, dystopian first-person shooters and they seemed like the perfect fit for this project.
IG: Will any familiar characters and/or locations be returning?
BO: Definitely. With co-op we’re trying to use that as a way of tipping our hat to the original, because it’s four player and squad based. Also, EuroCorp are back in there, the weaponry is similar and Atlantic Accelerator (a location in the original) is in there. For Atlantic Accelerator we literally took the top-down map from the original and made a 3D version of it.
People that played the original will hopefully recognise much of this game as well.

IG: The co-op campaign is completely separate from the single player experience. How does that work? Is co-op still driven by plot and narrative?
BO: Yeah, it follows its own story arc. What we wanted to do was – instead of tacking on a co-op campaign to up the feature list – make it something that constitutes quite a big part of the overall offering, if not an equal amount to the single player.
The single player campaign follows the story of a single agent and that’s something very difficult to translate into co-op. We decided to set the co-op about two months after that campaign and use all the same gameplay functions, but with a brand new story arc.
IG: Does the co-op campaign take place in the same locations as single player?
BO: Absolutely. So, in the single player game you’re an agent working for EuroCorp who are one of three big organisations that rule the world. However, at one point in co-op you’re tasked with infiltrating EuroCorp – so the locations are similar but the maps are not exactly the same. You’re not simply playing the single player maps in co-op, the same locations have been redefined with new maps and unseen environments.
Co-op is really just based on the fiction of the single player.
IG: You can play as various classes in co-op. There’s space for up to four players, do they each have to take up a specific role?
BO: No, you can pick and choose and all be the same class if you like. It’s not a game that entirely revolves around classes. There are classes but players tend to fall into various roles naturally based on their play-styles – most of the time without even realising it.
We really wanted to leave those kinds of choices up to the player. It’s not just the classes, how you upgrade your chip depends on how you’ve been playing. So if you want to do a lot of healing then you upgrade your chip to allow that, but you retain the abilities and stats of the core class you’ve selected.
There’s no persistent levelling up between single player and co-op characters, we’ve kept those two elements completely separate.

IG: How do you upgrade your chip?
BO: There’s an XP system, but throughout missions you’ll come across various key enemies that have chips that you can extract out. That chip gives you a point that you can spend in the upgrade tree. There will be a cap on the amount of points you can spend, because there are limited slots, but it’s pretty high. For example, you can upgrade your weapons in 80 or so ways and there are more than 25 chip upgrades… there’s lots of possible variation.
IG: Can you explain the ‘Breach’ abilities. They seem to encompass everything from killing enemies to hacking computers…
BO: Your Breach abilities are, in effect, the visual interface of your chip. Everyone has a chip, most people in the world use it to access Facebook or order shopping or whatever. As an Agent you’ve got a militarised chip which allows you to hack other people’s chips, an ability that has a big effect on the game.
In single player there are three main chip abilities: Backfire which allows you to stun people, Suicide makes people kill themselves and Persuade allows you to influence people.
In co-op that’s expanded to lots of Breach abilities; both passive and aggressive. Virus, for example, allows you to slowly degrade someone’s health over time once they’ve been infected. Then there’s Force Breach which lets you break through a door quickly if you’re working against the clock.
There’s loads of stuff.

IG: The original was released on various platforms, but it’s largely remembered as a PC title. Are you looking at providing anything special for PC players?
BO: There might be, but we’re not ready to announce anything like that quite yet.
IG: There are a lot of successful first-person shooters and/or cyber-punk themed games out there. How do you stand out in a crowded area?
BO: There’s a lot of good stuff in the first-person market and things like Deus Ex have been getting some positive press. We just have to concentrate on making the best game we can.
I think having Deus Ex out there is a good thing because it draws more attention to these cyber-punk style worlds and fiction. The more people that are already primed for that kind of thing the better. Plus, it’s good to be in the same space as something else with such a good pedigree.
IG: And what engine are you using? Some of the outdoor sections look similar to those in Mirror’s Edge…
BO: That’s funny because you’re not the first person to tell me that, but this is Starbreeze’s own engine that we’re using. That’s how I think we get the really good gun experience because it’s an engine they’ve been able to perfect and hone throughout their work on previous FPS’. So, no, nothing to do with DICE (developers of Mirror’s Edge), but those comparisons are quite flattering.

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