There are already massive expectations surrounding Shiny Entertainment's first new game since MDK. Never one to shun publicity, Shiny's main man Dave Perry is understandably very excited about his latest project. In fact, if there was a donkey with us right now it probably wouldn't have any hind legs at all.
"There's already been a lot of talk about Messiah and we've got burnt a little bit already by the press over here in the US," he explains. "People thought we'd gone a bit crazy. I mean, we're doing a game where each character is made up of half a million polygons. The main character is a baby - but not just a baby, a chubby, waddling angel.
"Our technology really is two years ahead of anything else out there at the moment. You've gotta admit, it all sounds just a bit too weird. And then we tell people a bit more and they start to understand what we're doing and they think ifs actually pretty cool.
"There might not be any weapons in the normal sense, but you actually get to possess people and you can make them do really crazy things."
It certainly is a bit of a weird concept, and something that Perry - for once - isn't too keen to talk about. "It's still at that stage where we haven't really decided yet," he says. "Basically, you assume the role of a 'good' angel - we've called him Bob - who's sent down to the planet to thwart a plot by the Devil to unleash Armageddon on an unsuspecting Earth and therefore gain an advantage over the forces of God. Your overall goal is to find Satan and rid him from the planet. The trouble is, like you, he can jump into other people's bodies and control them, so finding him isn't going to be easy."
So where did the initial idea come from?
"We wanted to do something exciting and fresh," beams Perry. "I need something to get me out of bed in the morning. Messiah isn't just another Quake-style shooter - it's different, dark and totally 3D.
"We're a totally 3D company now. We're also really concerned that so many games are 3D accelerator card-only now. You're really cutting down on your audience if you go down that road. According to our own research - stuff we've been doing on our website - only one in eight people have a 3D accelerator card. We're very committed to developing games that run in software and hardware. That's the real challenge - developing a technology everyone can use."
So what's so special about this new engine and how exactly does it work? Unsurprisingly, Perry isn't too keen to go into any real detail; not that the average PC games player in the street would understand anyway.
"It's actually a very simple concept," he claims. "You've just got to approach the problem in a new way and think differently. The problem with current systems and games is that the more stuff you've got on screen, the greater the strain on your system. We've come up with a way to stop that from happening."
Okay, we're all ears. Just give us a bit of a clue, for Chrissakes! "Well, you know how your word processor stores all the fonts you use on your PC? nodding heads all round. Well, it doesn't actually store each pixel - that's the way they used to do it - it stores the shape and then, depending on what point size you want, it scales it up or down. We've taken that idea and transposed it to 3D.
"The result is that we've developed an engine that can handle a lot of detail, and it's completely scaleable. We tell it what shape the models are and other information - such as the skeleton, muscles and skin - and then, depending on what machine you're running or whether or not you have a 3D card, it works out what to draw on screen.
"We actually design each character in about 500,000 polygons - now bear in mind that each character in MDK used about 150 to 300 polygons per model - and then we scale them back from there, depending on your hardware.
"The trick is that we compress the data and store it as a shape, and then take out or add polygons in real time. Because of the way it works, the frame rate will stay constant throughout. You can even type in the frame rate you want and it will just lose polygons to compensate. We're actually creating real-time tessellated worlds. It's given us a lot of freedom to design and create a very cool game. At the end of the day, we're not interested in designing an engine, we're interested in designing a great game, and our new engine 4 allows us to do that."
When you see the game running, it's clear that what Shiny have is very little short of " amazing. The character detail is unprecedented, and according to lead programmer Michael 'Sax' Persson, you'll be able to have up to 20 characters on screen at one time without any noticeable slowdown. "We can simply change anything we like in real time. There's no fogging, so you get a very high perspective, and there's no clipping or pop-up.
We can even have movies running on video screens within the game, as well as real-time distortion and shadows," Sax claims.
As he guides one of the characters featured in the game - a scantily clad prostitute - through an early level, Sax demonstrates how the volumetric lighting works. "In other games with real-time lighting, the shadows don't actually work properly - a character is either lit up or they aren't. Our engine allows us to light individual parts of a character or object, so if a character's arm is not in a shadow you'll be able to see it.
"And that's just one of the really cool things about Messiah," Perry chips in. "This engine just breeds creativity - the game starts to design itself. That's the definition of a good game. We've only just started throwing ideas around, but now when you kill someone, hiding the body will be a big issue. There's a huge lump of strategy in there for the player. Remember, you're a baby angel - although you're very powerful, you're actually very vulnerable. You've gotta be careful who you kill and where or you'll be discovered, and then things could start to get very messy."
There's no denying that the technology is amazing, but what about the game? What exactly do you have to do in Messiah?
Well, for starters you don't pick up weapons k la Quake. You possess people by diving through their shoulder blades. This means you have to get behind them, so you're going to need a strategy. You've got to create a diversion, and you can only fly around for short distances at a time. Just look at those little wings and expansive gut. Messiah uses realtime physics, remember.
Once you're inside someone, however, you can control them completely. If they have a weapon, you can use it. But the real fun comes from getting other characters to do your dirty work for you.
"You're gonna see a lot of very hurt people in this game," quips Perry, with a demonic smile. "You can be as bad as you like. If you need to get past a guard, you can possess him, make him leap off a ledge and break his legs, then force him to keep on walking or crawling. He'll be screaming in agony, but you are controlling him. Just make sure you leap out before he dies, otherwise you die.
"Essentially, the player can do whatever they want. We haven't really decided on the specifics yet, but we're having new ideas for levels and puzzles all the time. There are going to be 400 areas altogether - MDK had 60 - and around 35 characters. They will be able to communicate with each other and they'll all have their own agenda. If you use their bodies, you'll have to play by their rules or be discovered. We're creating a realistically populated world that the player can interact with and be very bad."
It's clear that Shiny are in the process of producing something very special indeed. The technology is undoubtedly very impressive, but as yet there's no evidence of what the actual game will be like. So far, though, the signs are good. If Messiah manages to live up to the massive expectations surrounding it, and Shiny can really deliver what they're promising, there will be a lot of happy, sick and twisted PC gamers out there come Christmas. Here's hoping.
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features: Single game mode
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