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PDZ.com interview with Chris Tilston

Original interview transcript from PerfectDarkZero.com.

Lead Designer and Project Lead Chris Tilston has considerable experience as a member of Rare's design team. His credits include Donkey Kong Country, Killer Instinct, Killer Instinct Gold, and Perfect Dark. Now his sights are trained on the multiplayer features for Perfect Dark Zero. Read our Operative's exclusive interview with Chris to learn about distinctive PDZ multiplayer features!

ID Confirmed: Begin Transmission

Operative: Tilston, C.
Classification: Lead Designer and Project Lead
Team: Rare
Mission: Perfect Dark Zero
Mission Parameters: Multiplayer Design
Mission Hot Zone: United Kingdom

MGS Operative - Hello Chris, and thanks for granting us this interview. Please tell us a little about yourself, your role at Rare, and your work as the Perfect Dark Zero Lead Designer and Project Lead.

Chris Tilston - I’ve been at Rare for 13 years in various roles involving design and gameplay programming. At the moment I’m unofficially PDZ’s cup of tea making expert, with the rest of my time devoted to lead designer and project lead duties.

MGS Operative - What gameplay innovations will we see in PDZ multiplayer? What elements of the PDZ multiplayer experience are truly distinctive?

Chris Tilston - I’m going to be boring and skip the exciting stuff like the weapons and the new moves the players can do – some players probably know a bit about these. Let’s go over the basics and see how they differ from the previous games and the foundation they provide.

Armor system
In PD 64 and Goldeneye, the armor protected the player fully and acted like a second health bar, so the best tactic would be to kill the enemy and get the armor and repeat. In PDZ most guns have bullets which go through armor and do a little bit of damage to the player’s health which gradually wears away at the player. This means when someone kills you and you have damaged them a bit you can come back and they aren’t at full health, even if they replenish their armor. For them to dominate you they need to be really good so it’s a fairer system. Sure, a more skilled player is probably going to win but he might win 10 to 1 instead of 10 to 0.

Health system 
Health has two parts: permanent damage and temporary shock damage.
- Bullets do some permanent damage, but also some temporary damage. So you might get hit by a sniper rifle and lose 90% of your health – if you back off and run away for a while you will regain half the health you lost.
- Melee attacks that you can do with all weapons do temporary damage. So, if someone comes in and bashes you, if you can get away you will recover all the damage they did to you.
- Fall damage is also temporary – jump from a high height (taking that short cut) you might lose a lot of health and be vulnerable for 5 seconds, but all that will be regained.

Damage system
The damage system is similar to that in PD which is a locational damage system. Shooting someone in the head does more damage than shooting them in the body. Shooting the limbs does the least amount of damage.

The players speed is altered by the weight of the weapon they are currently holding.
- Unarmed is fastest, but also the most vulnerable
- Pistols and thrown weapons are next
- At the bottom of the speed pile are the big guns like the rocket launcher and sniper rifles. Hold one of these and expect to run slow!

Inventory is controlled now. The players have 4 slots in which to carry weapons and each weapon can take up 1, 2 or 3 slots depending on how powerful it is. We wanted to balance what the player could carry so that they would have trade-offs. We didn’t want situations where you could have a rocket launcher which is great at range and a shotgun which is good close up. Now you have to sacrifice a bit if you want that big gun, so if you do get close to that guy who has the sniper rifle you know the most he’s going to be packing is a pistol.

Map system
Every multiplayer level has a small radar map on screen to help show the player where friends and enemies radar signals are. Each area is named to help co-ordinate between players.
A large map can be brought up and this shows things like respawn points of weapons and objective markers. Beginners can bring up the map on an unfamiliar level, put a waypoint down on a weapon or an objective point and waypoints will show them the shortest way there.
Advanced players they can place waypoints down to key points that team mates can see, or on themselves to act as leaders and co-ordinate the teams more. This is particularly useful in the Dark Ops mode.

Radar system
We wanted to try and capture the visibility you get when you play at home with someone sitting next to you and taking that online and also give a gameplay representation of what the player should hear when a gun goes off, so when the player fires they appear on radar.
- Louder more powerful guns stay on for longer.
- Silenced weapons are invisible on radar but don’t do as much damage.
- There are some guns in there that allow radar to be manipulated so you can never run straight towards the radar signal and be sure an enemy is there.

Team colors
Red is the enemy, Green is the friend. No one gets an advantage because they are a hard to see color on a certain background. And everything is consistent – take damage from an enemy and the hitflash is red, if it’s green then it’s friendly fire and time to start shouting “stop shooting me” at your teammate. Same goes for radar. Simple. Unless someone has been hit with the psychosis gun, where it gets a little more complicated….

MGS Operative - Do the single-player and multiplayer aspects of PDZ have a lot in common? How did the development of one affect the other?  

Chris Tilston - The single player and online share a lot and there’s even a little connection between the Deathmatch mode and the story for some consistency. Backgrounds in multiplayer are based on or inspired by the ones in single player, the weapon mechanics are the same, the health systems also.

The multiplayer side of the game was up and running quite quickly and a lot of weapon balancing has come about from playing large scale matches on Xbox 1. Any evolutions of the mechanics would make it back into single player.

From the control side, everything has been done from the point of view of being effective in multiplayer so we were very aware of the cover move not being useful at all if it was slow and it’s been polished and honed so that it’s useable in a fast paced multiplayer environment.

MGS Operative - What can you tell us about your approach to designing the multiplayer aspect of PDZ? What were your goals at the outset, and how did you work through them?

Chris Tilston - We wanted something that was fun but balanced – it needed to be balanced to survive in a live environment where exploiters would continually use the most powerful weapon. So a lot of the weapons are balanced based on a lot of factors other than the damage and fire rate, with some of these being the accuracy of the weapon, the reload times, the ammo capacity, the range of the weapon and how good it is against armor.

We also wanted to keep fans of the original multiplayer from PD happy and give them something familiar, which we do in our Deathmatch mode, but also to try and take the game into new territory with Dark Ops. Unfortunately, that means multiplayer is really two different games — which is bad from an amount of work we need to do side but great for the person who buys the game. (Actually it’s maybe three different types of games if you include the bots, which can be played offline and online.)

Deathmatch is very similar to PD 64 in that a weapon set (that can be fully customized) is picked and players respawn when they die. Dark Ops on the other hand is round based and players have a single life. Dark Ops is tenser and using the secondaries well really can make or break a round. With Dark Ops we wanted to explore the uncertainty you get by not knowing what weapons the players will have until they come ‘round that corner.

When we added the secondaries on top of these weapons we wanted the weapons to move the gameplay sideways and give the player more options. We didn’t want secondaries which just made the gun fire faster but secondaries which allowed the player to play in a different way. They give the great deal of depth and when used in the right situation can tip the balance in the firefight. This was an iterative process where things that didn’t make the cut were replaced by better ones.

If a player is a really good tactician, or has got a good feel for the guns, they’ll figure out the best time to use the secondaries. Take something simple like a secondary which attaches a silencer. A good tactic in Dark Ops would be to have one or two allies with silenced weapons race forward to get into a good position and have the main force take a different route. The scouts can then take silenced pot shots at the enemies using the element of surprise and not show up on radar (apart from the person who they are hitting).