One thing that I find cool about the video game industry is that we can nearly see anything brought to life. Outside of budget boundaries there’s not much holding back developers from seeing their dreams or vision come true whether it’s grounded in a sense of reality or is some flight of fancy that is entirely cartoony. Developers may still be beholden to publishing partners or what the industry climate is when it comes to developing a game, but sometimes a studio will simply go for what their passion project is and see it through to the end.
A perfect example of a game that embodies the creative possibilities that video games offers and the sheer dedication a studio has for a project is Deep Black: Reloaded. Developed Biart Studios which is partly based in Russia, Deep Black: Reloaded is a 3rd person shooting game. Yes that's something we see all the time, but it’s one defining factor is that it swaps out dry land for the murky depths of the ocean. Deep Black is a project that has had quite a bit high points and low points through various delays but now the game is finally set for release on the PC next month with a PSN/XBLA release later in the year.
The structure and gameplay of Deep Black: Reloaded may not be too different from most core 3rd person shooting games, but it provides a fresh setting that we hardly see touched upon and it shows the design skill of Russian game developers, a scene which is slowly starting to grow. I was able to chat with Biart CEO and Deep Black Producer Konstantin Popov about the history of Deep Black, the perception gamers may have on the project, and what sort of elements folks can expect from the game.
Ian Fisher: Deep Black is a game that some gamers may have seen or at least heard about a while back in some form or another. For those who haven’t heard of the project previously, can you give us a brief overview on the history of Deep Black such as how the initial concept first came to fruition at Biart?
Konstantin Popov: The project’s original title was U-Wars. Later we renamed it to Deep Black. It is a third-person shooter with key moments being fighting onshore and underwater. Special underwater mechanics, jet pack etc. The idea of the game appeared after I had read various articles about special underwater operation forces. We started doing a game about these special forces but then I changed my mind and we did it in the sci-fi genre, abandoning the previous script.
The project started in 2008, with active phase of development in 2010. At that time, we went into agreements with publishers and started working on PlayStation 3 version of the game. So we had worked on our own engine (biEngine) and the game for 3 platforms (PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3) during these three years. 2011 was the year of the technology’s optimisation and content polishing.
Ian: Originally Deep Black was scheduled to be released on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 at traditional retail via a Blu-ray and DVD format but now the game is slated to appear on the PSN, XBLA, and PC. Can you tell us why the release method was changed for the game and does this mean any content was cut, perhaps in an effort to keep the game below the size limitations that are present on the PSN and XBLA?
Konstantin: After some discussion with our publisher, we decided that the game would have better sales in digital format. Why? Because we don’t have lots of money to create a game like Call of Duty and only AAA titles have really good sales in retail format. Deep Black is a new IP and is the debut of our company in console development.
One of the reasons was budget, as we developed the game using our own funds. So it’s a true indie project. I think it’s the first multiplatform shooter, that was created by independent developer, who cared for the project funding ;)
We didn’t cut any content, that’s why the game has two Episodes for XBLA. As for PSN and PC, we have two Episodes in one package. It’s about 5GB of packed data.
Ian: With Deep Black now destined to the PSN and XBLA, just how many levels can gamers expect and roughly how long will the journey take gamers to complete? Also, with the release shift the game received, did Biart go back to revise any sections, perhaps adjusting them given how some gamers expect a moderately shorter experience when playing a game exclusively released via digital distribution?
Konstantin: The game is pretty long – 8 hours of gameplay, 40 levels, 5 acts. While we were working on our technical issues, our team would polish the content and tune AI/game balance every day. We spent 6 months polishing after beta. It was a hard project for us and we are sure players will like it. But it was a great experience at the same time. You probably have seen on our webpage that we are working on MMO game that is based on Deep Black. We are going to create the interesting multiplayer modes in our Deep Black Online project.
Ian: The narrative of Deep Black has the game set in the not too distant future in which the resources of the world are dwindling, a scenario that could become a reality at some point. Obviously the purpose of Deep Black is to entertain people, but will the game have a somewhat strong narrative sense that is very serious, or will it have more of a popcorn action movie type feel?
Konstantin: It’s something in between. We have a really great scenario writer – Rafael Chandler. He is the author of scenarios of SOCOM series, RAINBOX SIX: LOCKDOWN, GHOST RECON 2 and other titles. The story is quite interesting - it is not only popcorn … My personal opinion is that it’s 70% popcorn. I am always trying to be honest with readers :)
Ian: The most unique thing about Deep Black, which is why I found myself attracted towards the title, is that it’s set almost entirely underwater. A few games on the market may have brief sections featuring swimming or have that element play a key part in the action, such as Hydrophobia, but Deep Black is almost exclusively set in the water which is an aspect I find interesting. With that said, what has it been like to find the perfect way to convey the nature of engaging in water based combat, not only from a design perspective but from a visual standpoint? Are there any cool weapons or gadgets gamers expect to see besides traditional things like harpoons?
Konstantin: Generally, game levels have it 60% underwater and 40% on ground. But when in gameplay, it’s 50/50. I think we will dedicate ourselves to the underwater part and make it 80% in our next project – feedback from players shows that they like it more.
Speaking of weapon design, our approach to it is simple and has a logical ground behind it: we have tried to add some standard weapons to the Deep Black armoury: the machine gun, the shotgun and of course the sniper rifle. These have, of course, been modified, but in terms of fighting qualities do not differ from what you have seen before.
At the same time, we have added some uncommon weapon types (harpoon, stunner etc.). The design of each of them is unique both from the visual and military point of view. New weapon types should add some pepper to the gameplay and balance it in terms of “classical - innovative” point of view. Each player can find what he likes most: a classical shooter lover can choose his unique arsenal, a “something new” lover can choose weapon to his taste too. On the whole, there are about 10 weapon units in Deep Black. Plus each rifle has 2 shooting modes, which doubles its use variability.
Let me tell you about harpoon in brief. The harpoon is integrated into the hero’s suit.
To shoot it, one does not have to change the weapon, one can do it by just pressing a button. The harpoon use is one of the most unique mechanics in the gameplay.
It has several functions: firstly, it is a battle function. If you shoot the enemy, an arrow will enter his body, a returning device will pull the enemy to the hero and a mini game will start, where the player has to fight with the enemy using a knife.
The second use of the harpoon is required to pass some levels without using any
other weapon. A built-in electromagnetic module allows reprogramming some drones and breaking down enemies’ defence mechanisms.
One should note that each onshore weapon has its unique function when underwater – to cause whirls, attract or push aside objects etc. Always try alternative fire, when you are underwater!
Ian: What would be the best way to describe what Biart has done in the design of Deep Black’s gameplay? Is the game more combat heavy per say or is there an equal part of combat and general exploration, perhaps coupled with puzzle elements?
Konstantin: The game is a cover shooter. It is about shooting, running, grenade throwing, various enemies. Once you go underwater though, you are in a different world – there’s special physics of movement, and you use a jet pack to quickly move from your enemies.
Besides, there’s possibility to move in all dimensions. There is also a system of covers, melee fights, stealth elements, enemies retargeting etc. We have focused on combined levels - where there is both an underwater and an onshore part. This makes gaming moments diverse and allows to drastically change the environment in the frames of one level.
The game is 80% of combat and 20% of some puzzle elements and exploration. So you run and shoot, look at cutscenes and then run and shoot again ;)
Ian: As a developer trying to offer a game that is mostly familiar but has new elements, has it been difficult at times to either peg what people want out of an experience like Deep Black or at least hope that they give the game a shot? Action games are constant these days but even with a unique setting, some folks have brushed Deep Black aside or simply ridiculed it for the box art it had, an element that obviously isn’t indicative of the final game. So has it been tough to preserve and just hope that people will like Deep Black for what it is?
Konstantin: Yes, it’s really hard to promote the game. People try to compare the game with Gears of War, Mass Effect 3, Dead Space, HALO, Lost Planet, Vanquish, etc. I like all these titles, but there’s nothing common. Each of our levels was hard work, every character was brainstormed by our team… It’s hard to be competitive in TPS genre now and we have one main USP – underwater. If players like it – we will continue working to improve underwater combat features. Any feedback is very important for us!
I spent a year to promote the idea of this IP and collect the team who would like what they do and be inspired by the project. Finally, we are more than happy that the project is done. I hope that players will like our ideas and the setting – starting with the script and music and ending with the NPC and heroes. Speaking of the technical side of the project – I find it competitive and up to modern engines. Now we pray that players and the press will like it like we do!
Ian: With Biart being a Russian game development studio focused on offering notable experiences on home gaming consoles and mobile platforms, how long do you think it’ll be before the Russian development community gains more notoriety to a degree. Over the last decade or so Russia in general has shown that it has true creativity through films such as those from director Timur Bekmambetov and through the general growth of the Russian video game scene, which has proved to be rather profitable. So with all of those things in mind, do you ever foresee a point in which Russia becomes widely known for the contributions it makes in video games, perhaps being looked up the same way as some gamers do Japan or folks overseas may look at North America?
Konstantin: Russia has great potential and only time will show what it takes the Russian development community to become acknowledged worldwide. Personally, I think the government could do more to improve investment climate in the country and support game developers.
We are not only a gaming, but also a technological company and we have partners in USA, so we decided to move to Delaware, USA. So starting with August 2011, Biart is incorporated in Delaware, USA. It’s mean that we are not Russian company now. It is more convenient for us to have business representatives in USA and R&D in Moscow.
Ian: What can gamers expect from the online centric of Deep Black Online? Is such a thing still in the works and if so why was the decision made to create a separate game centered around online from the core single-player experience?
Konstantin: We are going to update our webpage in March. The game is in work. Fresh news – the game will be first-person. We have changed the concept of underwater multiplayer levels, based on feedback from Deep Black testers. DBO will have a strong upgrades system, new game modes, a lot of items and one of our features – each player will have his own avatar that he can control. We are working on our own cloud solution for free-to-play projects like this. The game will possibly be ported on PSN/XBLA, when Sony and Microsoft are ready to launch F2P with more easy submissions.
Ian: It may have taken a while to get Deep Black into the hands of gamers, but beyond the release of projects like Depth Hunter and Deep Black Online, what does the future hold for Biart? Can we expect the studio to continue making the push for console based experiences, specifically those with a water based theme?
Konstantin: We see our feature in F2P cross-platform titles. At the same time, we are working on biEngine 2.0 that supports mobile platforms. We have 2 free-to-play titles: Deep Black Online and one unannounced project in production. The second game is going to be announced next week, before GDC.
Our mission is to develop games that could run on any devices – from consoles to refrigerators ;) Original game + one server + cross-platform clients = Free-to-Play from Biart!
Deep Black: Reloaded is one of those games that could go either way in the quality department but so far it has shown a nice amount of potential. There may be bigger and more extravagant 3rd person action games on the market or bound for release in the next two months but Deep Black: Reloaded is one of those titles where the passion the developers have shines through and in the end such a thing is more important than how many particle effects or polygons are pushed out.
I want to extend my thanks to Konstantin for taking the time out to chat a bit about Deep Black: Reloaded and share a few details on Deep Black Online. Those who are interested in Deep Black: Reloaded can check the game out next week on the PC while a PSN/XBLA will follow later in 2012.