Painkiller is one of those games. People Can Fly's intense shooter gets name-dropped every time someone suggests that games are becoming too involved with exposition and QTEs, acting as a bastion of big guns, ridiculous action and a blatant disregard for realism in the name of pure entertainment. With Hell & Damnation, Nordic Games and The Farm 51 plan on bringing that outrageous gameplay-driven fun back with retooled visuals, redesigned content and a powerful new weapon.
Keen to learn more, I sat down with producer Reinhard Pollice in the crypt beneath St. Andrew's Church to discover what the project will bring to newcomers and fans alike.
Jonathan Lester (Dealspwn): Thanks for talking to us, Reinhard. First things first, could you introduce yourself to our readership?
Reinhard Pollice: I'm the producer of the game at Nordic Games - so I go to The Farm and make sure that everything is in place and good quality. I put together the scope and content - what new models, what new guns, etc.
Dealspwn: We love Painkiller. It's a game that's attracted a vocal fanbase and is continually cited as an example of ridiculous action gaming done right. So... why now? Why re-release it now?
Reinhard Pollice: I think the market has changed. There hasn't been a game like this out since a year. The last one was Serious Sam 3 - it wasn't the best, but it was cool...
Dealspwn: We liked it.
Reinhard Pollice: Oh, cool. But we feel that it was time for a new Painkiller. In all other shooters, they try to follow the path of Call Of Duty. Call Of Duty made this path for one specific reason: for a wargame, you expect it to be realistic. We didn't have the burden of realism, we don't need to have loads of talking and all that bullshit involved.
Part of our game, on top of that, we're going to have an emotional story around the gameplay. But it's after you kill a boss or when you start the game or at the end; you're not distracted from the action.
Dealspwn: Right. As a revamped version of the original Painkiller, I saw a lot of fairly familiar content in the review build - what's new?
Reinhard Pollice: We have a completely new weapon, the Soulcatcher. We have the story wrapped into cutscenes. We have the new co-op mode, which is really cool, because you can play the campaign - with cutscenes - with two players. How cool is that? We brought it visually up to date, so it looks great on big screens.
We have body dismembering effects and a lot of tiny detail, and new secrets to discover. We have achievements there, and leaderboards, which Painkiller is a lot about competition
Dealspwn: I was wondering if you could tell us more about the Soulcatcher, which is our new starting weapon.
Reinhard Pollice: The Soulcatcher is a really cool weapon. It fires blades and can suck out souls, but it has a third attack mode - when you collect enough souls and the skulls are glowing, you can shoot and enemies fight for you.
Dealspwn: Do you think that its ability to suck out healing souls with unlimited ammo could make things easier?
Reinhard Pollice: It could make things easier, but we've balanced it. In the higher difficulty levels, like Nightmare, when enemies attack you they just will kill you! It's really hard to play with the Soulcatcher on the higher difficulty modes, so it's better to go for instant kills with the stake gun.
Dealspwn: Hell & Damnation looks fantastic - you've clearly put a lot of work into prettying things up. How much work has gone into bringing all the characters and levels up to current standards?
Reinhard Pollice: We started work on the whole project last year, but we started in full force from January. Upgrading characters is the really difficult part because we have to start completely from scratch. With the levels we could take the geometry, basically how it was, because it was really high quality for the age and we could upgrade it by placing new objects and materials using modern shading techniques. Levels are easy to upgrade, but for the characters, you need one to three weeks depending on how detailed you make it. You need to model a new character, rig it and make the animation for it.
We actually made all-new animations using motion capture. Because in the original Painkiller, you were never able to see Daniel - there was no model of him!
Dealspwn: I had a good go at the competitive multiplayer, which is slick and slippery with loads of bunny hopping. It's very old-school, a bit like Quake III Arena. Do you think it will be difficult to get players off Battlefield and CoD?
Reinhard Pollice: I think once you try it, then it's a challenge. You want to be better, you want to know the levels to find weapons and powerups. You'll want to improve yourself. I think, once players try it out, they'll find it's very different to any other recent shooters on offer. They will like it. But if they don't like the PvP modes, they can go for survival modes, which is a bit like what Gears Of War did to make it popular. It was made on the thinking of having a co-op mode, because you can cooperatively fight with up to eight players (though the campaign is only two players).
Dealspwn: How involved has the fanbase been in developing Hell & Damnation?
Reinhard Pollice: We have a couple of fans who are really close to development, who were involved in PK++ and the eSports stuff. Some of the smaller expansions were also involved. We've tried to get valuable feedback out of them.
I think the market has changed over the last 3-4 years away from big AAA games like, let's say, games with too much content. Creating them is very cost intensive because you've got to develop them for years, which, for us, we want to make a base game and then support it with constant updates to react to player feedback. When you're three years in development, it's hard to get feedback and react accordingly. It's why so many projects never see the light of day: they get some very focused input and change the whole focus of the game, but they get some from the other side and say "oh, we have to go in that direction." For us, it's easy, because we know what the fans want.
Dealspwn: Okay, here's a hypothetical poser for you. Say I already own Painkiller, Painkiller Black and the expansions; actually, I do. Why should I buy Hell & Damnation?
Reinhard Pollice: Because it's the next generation of Painkiller. It brings Painkiller into the 2012 shooter experience. I'm sure you've always dreamed of playing the campaign with a friend, showing him how cool Painkiller is and discovering secrets with him. Or fighting hordes of demons in survival mode. You've never had the chance to do that, but here, you can do it, you can climb leaderboards, there's a lot to discover. We will continually update the game and bring you new content, so there will be a constant flow of new stuff
Dealspwn: Will The Farm 51 be developing new content in-house or working with the modding/fan community, which helped drive the original Painkiller's expansions?
Reinhard Pollice: We'll do both! For the first couple of months after launch, of course The Farm will be doing most of the work. But we've already got in touch with the old community and we'll probably bring some classic fan-made maps back. You know, as soon as it's released, we plan to have a constant dialogue with the fans and see what they like and try out new ideas. We've also got some crazy new ideas that go a bit beyond the normal first person shooting experience, but we've made some experiments and we'll bring in something totally new - like a new map of game mode. It'll be really entertaining.
Dealspwn: We can't wait, but then again, we're already big fans of Painkiller. Do you have any tips for newcomers who, perhaps, haven't played an old-school shooter before?
Reinhard Pollice: I think the best thing is to start with the story mode to get familiar with the weapons and the setup. Then I would say just grab a friend and play deathmatch, survival, and you'll see it's fun! It's quick and easy fun, it's not like you need to sit down for hours. You just start the game and it's even fun. If you've only got twenty minutes, just go ahead and do it!
Painkiller: Hell & Damnation releases on PC on October 31st. PS3 and Xbox 360 versions are slated for 2013. We'll have a review for you in the next week or two, but in the meantime check out Brendan's hands-on preview.