Q Entertainment's James Mielke Talks Child of Eden, Kinect and Spider-Man
Written Wednesday, March 16, 2011 By Dan WebbView author's profile
Have you ever wanted to be Iron Man firing his repulsor blaster around or Spider-Man flinging webs? Well, stuff that. Play Child of Eden instead, which is just the same, according to James Mielke, Child of Eden’s Producer from Q Entertainment... Okay, so he didn’t say that specifically, but he totally mentioned Iron Man and Spider-Man in respect to the control system... so it counts.
We caught up with Mielke at Microsoft’s Spring Showcase in San Francisco recently to talk all things Child of Eden, asking the Producer how they plan to market such a convoluted premise without visual aids, how Kinect became an integral part of the experience and what the hell is the plot really about.
Yes, there’s a plot...
Was Kinect always a part of the Child of Eden concept or was it something that was added at a later stage in development?
We began development on Child of Eden, a little under a year before Kinect was announced, so we didn't actually know about it until it was formally announced. We did begin designing Child of Eden as a standard controller-based game, where you'd play with a regular Xbox 360 controller, but once the Kinect technology was made available to us, it became a natural fit, because unlike some things like a racing game or a traditional first-person shooter, it's not like you're trying to create a surrogate for holding the gun or holding the steering wheel, because whenever you get into a real car, you're actually getting hold of a real steering wheel, so it's not like being hands-free makes the most sense, but in something like Child of Eden, where you're using your hands to aim and fire, it's like being Iron Man shooting a repulsor beam or it's like being Spider-Man, shooting web out of you wrists. It feels very natural; it's just an extension of yourself, so the concept really supercharged the whole development of the game. Before we first started dabbling with the Kinect hardware, I would have said that I'd prefer to use a controller and Kinect is good for when I have friends over and I want to show them something cool, but now I honestly feel that Kinect is the way to play.
In Child of Eden, you might say that there's obviously a lot of Rez in there, but there's also echoes of Flower and perhaps even Panzer Dragoon. Would you count these as influences and what other influences have you taken into account for Child of Eden?
What's interesting is that because of its similarities in some ways because of the techno-organic nature of particular scenes, which is called Beauty (one of CoE's 'archives'). I can definitely see the comparisons you might make with Flower because even Rez was very similar in concept to Panzer Dragoon, but the way Mizuguchi works is he's inspired by things that are not specifically game-related. He doesn't play a lot of games, although he's aware of a lot of games that are out there and what's cool and stuff, but what he draws inspiration from is usually really really disparate, like the sound of the breeze blowing through the trees in Tahiti or some tribal music he might hear while on safari.
His travels take him to a lot of places, so that's where he gets his inspirations from and those are the things that find their way into the game. Plus, he's a very optimistic individual and what he always wants to convey is a hopeful, happy, optimistic atmosphere. Whereas Rez was very dark and minimal with heart-pounding techno, it was a little bit on the aggressive side and although the game mechanics are very similar, the overall feeling he wanted to create for Child of Eden was very different. He wanted it to feel uplifting and euphoric.
It seems that the Kinect stuff has really snapped into focus on Child of Eden recently. Is that because you've been getting to grips with the technology or is it updates and help from Microsoft?
It's a combination of various things. Any time there's hardware announced and then released, and dev kits are sent out to developers; it's all embryonic, things are still being made and it's always a process, you know? I'm sure Microsoft is going to continue to iterate until the end of its lifespan and beyond. For us, what we've been doing and the reason why this version of Child of Eden is light-years ahead of what we showed at TGS is because we've been receiving the direct hands-on assistance of Microsoft's Kinect team. The guys who built the hardware and programmed it, came to Q Entertainment and spent weeks with us, working side-by-side with us to ensure that it's as fluid and seamless as possible. That's been a super big help.
Child of Eden isn't really a traditional game as such and most of what Kinect has offered so far has been casual fare, although we're starting to see more core games coming through. Where would you place Child of Eden's audience??
I think Child of Eden is definitely more of a core game and a lot of people consider it to be the first big core game that's coming out for Kinect, which is really great because both core and casual gamers have embraced Kinect, and there's so many out there right now. Core gamers are really looking for the next big thing for Kinect; something that they can really sink their teeth into, but because Child of Eden has a relatively simple control scheme and there's only three different weapons – the tracer, which is the rapid fire, the lock-on shot and euphoria, which is basically a screen-clearing smart bomb – it's very simple, so anybody can play.
If you're the core gamer in the house, but maybe your wife isn't really much of a gamer, this is the perfect gateway in. If you show her all of the cool effects and so on, she'll really want to try it, because it doesn't require sixteen buttons, it doesn't require complex input, it simply requires you to aim your hand at the screen. So in that way, I think it's the perfect crossover game for the mass market, but I think it's going to be the core audience that'll evangelise this title.
Is it hard to sell or pitch a game like this to the general public though? If someone were to walk in off the street for instance, they'd probably wonder what's going on and find it hard to grasp what the game is about.
Yeah, I totally get that. It is a big challenge to convey what the concept is about, because it's a very high-level concept. Eden, the future, the internet... And you're trying to resurrect Project Lumi; the scientists in the future are trying to reconstruct her saved data, a virus invades the the system and it goes all Matrix-y, right? So, it's hard to do the elevator pitch on Child of Eden. However, when somebody stands in front of the game and actually plays it, that's when it all clicks into place, so in terms of how to communicate that on the box cover, how do we get across the experience for the person who looks at the box for five seconds? That's tough and we're still trying to work that out, but I think because of the success of Kinect and the fact that it's such a different-looking game - it's not aggressive, it's not dark, moody and gritty, bloody or gory - I think that opens it up to a wider audience. And we have to rely on folks like yourself to evangelise the game and convey what Child of Eden is about, because it's musical, it's so uplifting, I think if people see it and try it, that's the best way to discover what the game is all about.
The environments we played today we're quite nature-based with flowers, butterflies and insects. What are Child of Eden's other environments going to be like?
If you look at the Beauty archive, you'll see the metaphors and analogies of all the beautiful things from the history of the world, like butterflies, flowers, sunshine... The sounds also reflect that as well, beyond the visual element. We have other archives like the Matrix archive, which is more of a traditional Rez-style archive with a lot of vector graphics and a lot of cool special effects, but then we have the Evolution archive, where there's things like sea creatures and phoenixes, and it shows stuff developing from single-cell organisms to more complex lifeforms, then we have the Journey archive, which is the final stage of the game and we also have the Passion archive, which is very cool and very different to anything you've seen here. We haven't shown a lot of that, but when it comes out, you'll really understand what I mean when I tell you that it's a very big shift from what we've shown so far.
What's the response to the Journey Project been like?
The response to the Journey Project has really been great, so now the challenge is whittling down the sheer number of submissions we've gotten from people and clearing them legally, so we can get them into the game. Every picture we approve, we then have to send out a waiver to people and they have to send it back in, so it's kind of a long, complicated process that's very involved. But the response has been phenomenal and the implementation, when you see it, the way we're using the photographs that people have submitted, it's very, very cool.
You've praised Kinect very highly, so do you ever see yourself potentially just focusing on Kinect as far as Xbox 360 is concerned, especially if Child of Eden is successful?
As a small developer, one of the things that we have to ensure is that our games can reach the widest possible audience. If possible, we'll always try and implement motion control for whatever system we're developing for; Kinect especially. Kinect is a very special thing because it's the only motion control gaming platform that doesn't actually require any kind of peripheral, so you can't just make a game for it and expect to port it over. Of course, we want to be able to approach the widest possible audience, so we'll probably design almost every game with regular controller compatibility, but if the motion-controller is there, we'll also make use of that.
What about using the two together?
Using the two together might be a little bit difficult and I haven't really thought about how to do that, but I'm sure there's a way.
In Child of Eden there's a symbiotic relationship between the music and the visuals, so how did you manage to marry each component to make it a coherent whole, while still making it look and sound good for someone that might be bad at the game?
One of the things that we do with this game that's unlike other games, is all the music is quantised, so no matter how you play, whether you're using lock-on for the majority of the game or you're using tracer for the majority of the game, everything's quantised and synchronised in rhythm. If you play poorly, you'll never know you're playing poorly in terms of the game response, because it makes you feel good and it sounds good, and that's part of the synaesthesia experience: constantly giving the player positive feedback for the way they play.
You're evaluated at the end of the game and it's possible not to pass through the entire game, because you do have a life bar, but we think because of the positive feedback, the music and the visuals people will still be encouraged. We don't want to create a game where if you die it says 'game over'. We don't want to chastise the player, have them turn the game off and trade it in to go get something else. We want them to feel encouraged to keep playing and that's part of the whole synaesthesia experience. Of course, if you play very well, the music will become more rich because of your expert use of the sound effects and switching weapons, and so on. It's built to accommodate all kinds of players.
As far as Kinect is concerned, having worked with it extensively, can you see the potential to perhaps create a new genre of game that couldn't otherwise exist?
Yeah. It's kind of hard, because when you're designing games, you usually think along the lines of 'how can we apply this for a racing game' or 'how can we do this for a platforming game', 'how can we apply this to an air combat game' or a fighting game, right? One of the most interesting developments in gaming over the last few years has been that portable handheld space, with people using an iPhone, Android or a Windows Phone. You've got touchscreens, accelerometers, tilt control, GPS, and people have done some really innovative things.
I think what Microsoft had to do with Kinect was release safer titles that people could understand and it made sense as a good strategy. You want to get it into the hands of as many people as possible, so appeal to the widest number of people, but Microsoft had the advantage of knowing about this hardware before anybody else, so they were able to prepare these things. As we start going forward with E3, TGS and Gamescom, I think you'll see that developers have had more time to think about the concepts of what they can do with the hardware and that's when you're going to see the really innovative games coming out.
There's going to be a lot of surprises and I can't wait to see them. Somebody is going to create a game that starts a whole new genre, something like Guitar Hero or Rock Band that never existed before, and when you see it, you're going to go, “oh my god, why didn't I think of that?” I don't know what it's going to be, but it's going to happen.
Child of Eden is quite rare and unique, although it's the spiritual successor to Rez. Are you surprised that more developers aren't following suit and taking a few more risks in this way?
As the games industry becomes bigger and bigger, and the hardware becomes increasingly complex, it's really hard to get away with making rhythm games, because like the blockbuster era after Jaws and Star Wars came out, all movies had to be blockbusters, and it became harder and harder to make a low-key movie. Nowadays, we've got these huge franchises and the game industry if very predictable. Somebody creates a hit like Tomb Raider and all of a sudden you see twenty Tomb Raider clones as people try to follow that formula and put their own spin on it.
Coming up with something really new, unique and fresh is so tough, so that's why we're really lucky that Ubisoft has really embraced this as more than a publisher. They're like a development partner and we have a very strong relationship with them and they've been so supportive of Mizuguchi's vision.
As pretty much the first truly core title for Kinect, is there added pressure to deliver a unique experience with Child of Eden?
Because we're not following too much of a legacy – and I know this is a spiritual successor to Rez – and it doesn't come just a year and a half after Rez, there isn't a serious expectation. Rez was a cult hit, but it wasn't a huge mass market thing where we can't mess with the formula like a Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest. It's ten years later, it's a very fresh audience. All of the gamers who are looking forward this now, probably didn't play Rez like the experienced veteran gamers like us that remember Rez and are really looking forward to this. New gamers who grew up on Xbox 360 and Kinect, this is a really fresh thing. So, there's not really pressure to repeat successes of the past. We can do things that are fresh and exciting, and if things don't work, that's cool, we'll learn from that and if some things are cool, that's great, we'll build on it. At Q Entertainment we really like to try new things with every project. Our next project after this will be very different and the one after that will be very different to the previous two, and that's something we want to keep going.
Child of Eden is scheduled to release on June 14th in North America and June 17th in Europe.