5 The War of the Worlds Preview/Interview

I don’t like to play favourites, but I’m going to lay my cards on the table, right here. Whenever anybody has asked me for my “highlight of E3”, Other Ocean‘s interpretation of The War of the Worlds has come out on the top of the list.

[img_big]center,8132,2011-06-14/WOW_Tripod_01_1920x1080.jpg,The War of the Worlds[/img_big]

For some, that may be a surprising choice – a 2D downloadable platformer, topping out all of the AAA titles and big-name franchises that were flashed at me over those hectic days – but from what I saw of the game, just a handful of us sitting in a quiet room, there’s no question that for me, at least, this one is the stand-out.

Mike Mika from Other Ocean recalls that Paramount called him into their offices, opened up a massive portfolio and said, “Here are all the IPs that we have. What would you like to turn into a game?”

Faced with such a wide variety of source material, covering more than fifty years of film development, Mika says the choice was simple (once he got over the desire to make a Barbarella game, anyway). He grew up with the 1953 film adaptation of War of the Worlds, loved the radio play, adored the book, and wanted to rid people’s minds of anything involving Tom Cruise.

The big question though: What sort of game do you make with such great source material?

[img_big]center,8132,2011-06-14/WOTW_Screen3.jpg,The War of the Worlds[/img_big]

Other Ocean‘s answer is simple, but surprisingly stunning: A cinematic, rotoscoped 16-bit style platformer, drawing inspiration from Out of this World, Flashback and the early Prince of Persia.

Just like these games, The War of the Worlds is a difficult beast, involving a lot of very deliberate play, forward thinking and strategy – your character is something like a chess piece in a world full of Martians. Mika chuckles as he explains that it’s a throwback to the old mentality where once you get through the game, you feel you’ve really achieved something.

Actually, Mika does a much better job of explaining things than I do – and he was happy to share his thoughts with us on camera.

You heard right – Patrick Stewart lending his voice, Chris Hülsbeck providing the music, and Christopher Fowler contributing the writing. The overall package, the atmosphere of the game, is simply gorgeous.

The game starts with the main character sitting by a window on a rainy day. Patrick Stewart begins to reminisce about the three worst days of his life, and the game unfolds as a flashback.

(In case you were wondering, yes, working with Stewart was a challenge. Mika explains that the legendary actor made the devs “up their game” – not necessarily by saying or doing anything, but just by being completely awesome. The imagery and the gameplay had to match the atmosphere Stewart was creating with his voice.)

[img_big]center,8132,2011-06-14/WOTW_Screen2.jpg,The War of the Worlds[/img_big]

Avoiding modern technology like mocap meant that creating the graphics involved going back to old-school film tricks – Mika recalls using baking soda in a fish-tank to create clouds, and dragging hundreds of friends and family into a green-screen studio and getting them to run around to create effective crowd scenes.

“The process itself is almost like a game in and of itself,” he says.

Even as I watched civilians being incinerated on the spot, taken out by a drone version of the Heat Ray, I was impressed. It’s everything it really needs to be, rather than some explosive over-the-top first-person shooter Spielberg drama. The aesthetic and the atmosphere are from 1953. They are from the radio drama. They are from the musical version.

[img_big]center,8132,2011-06-14/WOTW_Screen1.jpg,The War of the Worlds[/img_big]

We only saw one section, but there are eleven levels in the game, mirroring – but not matching – Wells’ story from the book. While the primary focus was obviously on the early film adaptation, the team at Other Ocean have also teased out elements from the book which may have been downplayed at the cinema. The Martian red weed has a “little more life” than in the movie, featuring in puzzles, and the black smoke makes a gloriously terrifying return.

The War of the Worlds from Other Ocean is due for release “by the end of the year” for Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, which will give you just enough time to catch up on the original book and sit down with the 1953 movie. We’ll forgive you for skipping over the 2005 Tom Cruise reboot.

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