Last month, we were treated to a tour of Vivendi Games Mobile's Paris studios and, once passed by the significant security, were given an exclusive insight into the making of its eagerly upcoming 3D shooter, Urban Attack.
What we witnessed there was undeniably impressive, with numerous fancy technologies employed, such as the neat 3D models transformed into vector graphics and a development cycle over twice as long as the average mobile title, to say nothing of the extensive marketing activity planned.
Vivendi clearly has high hopes of the title. But are they justified?
We asked the game's senior producer, Vincent Dondaine, to explain where all this work has gone and why pocket gamers should be getting excited about his team's creation.
Pocket Gamer: There's quite a dark backstory to the game, with KGB involvement and so on. Can you tell us why you chose this approach?
Vincent Dondaine: It's mainly because our game designers have Russian origins and like stories with a dark background. We had to chose between pure science fiction (the first draft was more like Doom on another planet) but we thought it would be more immersive to have a reality mark.
The story takes place in the immediate future with an alternative reality in which the cold war is reviving in a totally different form. There is a deep background behind Urban Attack. We worked on each character, their story, nature, and relating interactions with the Urban Attack world. In fact, we probably have enough material here to make a movie!
[But] I can't really say anything about the hero; you have to discover it for yourself. Who is Yuri? That is the main question.
What were your inspirations for the game?
We had many inspirations, but one of the strongest was Tron (the Disney film from the '80s). At the time it came out, this movie was really different, standing apart from other science fiction productions with a totally new visual style. We wanted to do the same with Urban Attack. Now when you see the kind of graphics we have, you can instantly recognize it among all the other mobile games.
The other main inspiration is Xiao Xiao, who is a simplistic character but with so many fluid movements. It's incredible to see this character fighting like Neo in The Matrix. We thought that having simple characters like Xiao Xiao was the best way to maximise the user experience on mobile, and a great way to have a huge number of character animations.
Finally, the whole team are game addicts and we like the cel-shading style you can find on classical console titles. We've made the bet that there will be an 'Urban Attack style' and, who knows, perhaps mobile gaming will enter the next generation with Urban Attack.
Eighteen months in development (seven planning) is a long time for a mobile game – do you think it's a timescale all mobile titles will eventually follow?
It depends on what we want to provide to the consumer. At the moment many games are 'made to fit the style of console games' ported to mobile. We don't have this in mind anymore. We want to create games which are thoroughly enjoyable to play on a mobile. If you want to be different you need to take a long time to offer the best experience, the best quality you can find on the market.
With our new advances in mobile gaming we hope to give the feeling that the mobile is now a viable gaming platform and real entertainment medium.
The game is reportedly compatible with 300 handsets. That's a considerable number – is this the main advantage of Java based games?
Here we are not really talking about the Java technology but more specifically about the engine we've created: the 'vectorial graphic engine'.
Currently, the 3D games you can find on mobile are not really enjoyable because of the poor graphics quality, awkward control systems, and the very limited handsets supported.
With our engine you can have effects that are simply not allowed or not really efficient with classical mobile 3D on more than 300 handsets. I can't reveal to you how it works but our programming team had a brilliant idea on how to manage these kind of graphics to allow the player to focus on the gameplay and have fun with Urban Attack.
The game has a distinct retro feel about it, no doubt given by the wire-frame animation. Presumably this was intentional?
I would say that we have a 'neo retro' style rather than just retro. We use the vectorial graphics to serve the storyline and the gameplay.
For this project we had an immensely strong and senior graphics team which has already achieved success on many old, well known games (for example, on the SNES). The vectorial graphics are easy, understandable and mass-market friendly.
The neo retro style is the new fashion. Sony had a similar idea when they presented Echochrome on PlayStation 3 at the last E3. On our side, we'd been thinking about it since 2004.
Will there be an enhanced version at all for the N-Gage or other formats?
No comment at the moment.
The real-time zoom in the sniper-mode is very impressive. Was it hard to achieve this?
Yes, it was a real challenge to do it efficiently. We worked very hard to achieve it. We had to find the best aiming shape to allow the player to have a good overview of the game scene, and to quickly find opponents he needs to shoot.
The most difficult part was to have a smooth effect like we are all used to on consoles. I think the programming team has made an excellent job of this – we're particularly proud of it.
But as ever, the best way to know how it feels, is to try it out directly on phone. I'm sure you will enjoy it.
The targeting system seems so simple and effective – why do you think it wasn't done before?
At the moment all FPSs on mobile are converted from a PC or console game. This is simply not the way to proceed – on a phone you don't have a pad or a mouse to play.
We had to reconsider all the ergonomics on Urban Attack and start from scratch. Now we think we've succeeded in having the most efficient FPS system on mobile.
Finally, is there anything that you wanted to include but weren't able to, that maybe we'll see in the sequel?
Yes, we have plenty of things we wanted to add, but we needed to release the game at some point! I can't reveal what we have in store but it's gonna be a good surprise.
Our thanks to Vincent for his time. Urban Attack is due in November.