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Gaming Interview

Rob Nicholls ('The Conduit')

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Rob Nicholls ('The Conduit')
Despite its market leading sales, revolutionary control system and cross-over into the main-stream market, Nintendo's Wii console still has a few glaring holes in its considerable armour. The primary gripe endures about a lack of games aimed at hardcore players, notably the distinct absence of quality and original first-person shooters. Sega and High Voltage Software (HVS) hope to change this with The Conduit. Ahead of the game's release, Digital Spy locked and loaded with lead designer Rob Nicholls to find out more.

Established 15 years ago, HVS has previously made licensed titles "on time and on budget" for third parties. However, studio founder and chief executive Kerry Ganofsky decided it was time to move from "good to great" and so secured funding to create intellectual property of their very own. Nicholls explains that upon considering the format for their debut game, it was a "conscious effort" to bring a quality FPS to the Wii.

"We could easily have made a game for the PS3 or the [Xbox] 360, but we realised that the Wii was horribly under-used," he says. "Everyone was doing stylized or cartoon graphics, but not really pushing the boundaries of what the Wii can handle. Plus, it has this excellent motion control scheme that no-one had yet seemed to master. These controls beg to be used for FPS and since no-one else seemed up to the challenge, HVS picked up the gauntlet."

In The Conduit, players take the role of Secret Service Agent Michael Ford, who is recruited by a mysterious character named John Adams into an equally clandestine agency known as The Trust. His new employer is investigating an unusual outbreak of infection and disappearance in Washington DC which leads to a terrorist clique called the Prometheus. After Ford helps to recover a recently stolen top-secret prototype from the group, he discovers that the terrorists are actually an alien race known as The Drudge, intent on invading America's capital city. Who'd have thought it, eh?

The team took inspiration for the game from Metroid Prime 3: Corruption and Medal Of Honour: Heroes 2 on the Wii, alongside the Halo series on Microsoft's Xbox and Rare's GoldenEye and Perfect Dark. But how testing has it been to bring a quality FPS experience to the Wii's relatively unique system?

"It’s been quite the challenge, but well worth the time and effort," says Nicholls. "We thankfully had a number of other titles to look at and see what they did right and what they did not so right. With that data to work from, it was easier to visualise what we wanted out of our controls. But we have succeeded even beyond our own expectations; we have a game with smooth motion controls that even casual gamers can pick up and get right into the action."

Despite this, the FPS genre has been rather saturated over the years, which makes bringing fresh ideas to the table a challenge in itself (see Call Of Duty: World At War for evidence of that). The Conduit will feature the same destructible environments and fast-paced action that FPS devotees have come to expect, but Nicholls admits that the "resource limitations" of the Wii compared to other next-gen platforms has complicated their quest for a truly distinctive experience.

"You obviously have to have guns or else it isn't a FPS," says Nicholls. "So your game has to be 'guns and…something'. However, we didn't want to go the usual 'guns and vehicles' route that so many FPS games use. We wanted our 'something' to be different."

This quest for that something special has led the team to develop a few primary innovations. Alongside the usual destructive FPS arsenal, the game also features motion sensitive weapons, including guns which are able to "wrap around objects based on how you have rotated the Wii Remote". However, the biggest (ahem) eye-catcher will be the All Seeing Eye (ASE); a handy piece of kit which is claimed to add a new layer to the gameplay.

Nicholls explains: "The Drudge has a variety of invisible and intangible objects. In the game, the ASE brings those hidden enemies and hazards into 'phase' so that they can be dealt with. Otherwise, you will just get munched. We also use the ASE to access hidden weapon caches, find hidden collectibles or gather information from computers. This allows us to put in a deeper level of puzzle solving gameplay compared to most FPS games."

Another headline-grabbing innovation is the wholly customisable control system. Other games offer controls that can be finely-tuned, but The Conduit is particularly innovative. Camera style, bounding box/dead zone and even single player run speed can be altered to each player's taste (these settings can also be shared with other gamers). Button configuration can also be dictated, alongside the heads up display (HUD) for single and multiplayer games. This means that the health meter, radar and ammo indicator can all be placed anywhere on the screen and modifiable transparency of the display icons also means that the HUD can also be completely removed if the player so wishes.

After its recent launch, the Wii Speak function will also be supported in The Conduit's multiplayer modes, which Nicholls claims will bring this experience "closer to what gamers have already enjoyed for years on other platforms". However, despite it being previously mooted, the game will not feature the new controller add-on Wii Motion Plus. Nicholls reveals that incorporating this function into the game was an "interesting quandary" at early stages of development.

"It allows the Wii Remote to smoothly do certain motions that it cannot do without Wii Motion Plus," he points out. "However, we had avoided all of these motions in our initial development for just that reason. So when we added Wii Motion Plus, it didn't really enhance anything in our game because we weren't relying on such motions. So anything we put in to use it would be an add-on just for Wii Motion Plus, which we ultimately decided not to do."

The Conduit is currently at post-Beta stage, which means the team is focused "mostly on play balance and bug fixing", as well as "squeezing in" any other "low hanging fruit" along the way. This is all gearing up for a release at some point in spring/summer 2009. All the early signs are looking promising to the depth and scale of this predicted eight- to ten-hour action game. However, only time will tell whether hardcore Wii gamers will truly get the quality FPS experience they have been waiting for.

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