SiN Episodes Interview

SiN Episodes returns us to a reimagined Freeport City.
A new SiN game? One that might even change the way games are distributed? Naturally, we had to find out more about SiN Episodes, Ritual's upcoming episodic first person shooter. Luckily, we were able to abduct a few of the Ritual guys long enough to answer our questions about the game.

Let’s start off with the fact that SiN Episodes is not going to be a traditional retail title. Instead you’re using Valve’s Steam service for direct distribution from the developer to the end user. Why did you choose to go this route and what are the advantages?

Moving to an episodic model for distributing games makes sense for a lot of reasons right now. Many consumers are saying that they don’t want their media in traditional chunks and some people may not necessarily want to go out and spend $49.99 for a long game that they are not even sure they will like. Being able to pay less than $20 for a game that you can complete during the course of a week should be very popular for a large audience.

Since we’re self-funding this project, we also have complete creative control, which allows the team to come up with great ideas, quickly test them out and to keep only what works. We like to follow an iterative design approach and everything moves more quickly when the company can make final decisions instead of having to wait for feedback from the publisher.

Related to that, games of traditional length have become very expensive to make over the last few years, while sales have not really increased that much. Very few titles actually make money and the situation is not improving. Going episodic allows us to get a game out with a lower development budget, while at the same time having a much better chance of being financially successful if the game is popular.

Another big advantage is that we can dynamically adjust our content from one episode to the next, depending on the feedback we get from gamers. This really allows us to tailor the experience to what the gamer wants.

What do you say to those who claim that Steam is the wrong tool for getting SiN Episodes to gamers?

We have been looking at Steam as our distribution system for years and it really makes a lot of sense for SiN Episodes. The HL2 launch proved that Steam is very capable of handling large scale releases and we will be able to reach a large number of gamers worldwide immediately with Sin Episodes. Steam will provide a distribution route for non-traditional projects that might not appear to make sense in a publisher’s greenlight meeting and Sin Episodes is the first game to take advantage of that.

We’re also talking to retailers about getting a boxed release out there, most likely containing several episodes at a more traditional price point.

Mutants wreak havoc in a secret laboratory.
In previous interviews you said that you were “targeting a sub-20 dollar price point” for the first episode. Can you be a bit more specific about this? To most people, sub-20 dollars means 19.99…

We’re going to offer several packages similar to what Valve did with Half-Life 2. The basic package will definitely be well below 19.99 though.

Any hard feelings at Ritual about working with Valve? SiN was, after all, in direct competition with Half-Life when it came out in 1998.

On the contrary - after working with Valve on Condition Zero and Counter-Strike for the Xbox, we’ve built quite a good relationship with them. The Valve guys are actually huge fans of SiN, so being able to work with them on this game, as ironic as it may seem, is a great opportunity for us and the franchise.

Now, what has Blade actually been up to ever since he busted that mob operation in Wages of Sin? What is the general story setup for SiN Episodes: Emergence and how does episodic distribution affect the way you tell the story?

SiN Episodes is set about four years after SiN. Players will find in that Elexis Sinclaire is very much alive and kicking, despite her unorthodox escape at the end of SiN. She actually managed to entrench herself at the very top of Freeport’s society and is nearly worshipped by the wealthy elite, despite the fact that HardCorps tried everything to take down Sinclaire and SinTEK Industries. Blade has become nearly obsessed with bringing Elexis to justice and his actions and attitude in SiN Episodes will reflect that.

Episodic distribution makes it harder to tell your story in the sense that not everybody might play all the episodes. So we decided that each episode would feature a self-contained story in addition to contributing to the overall story arc. So it’s definitely possible for somebody to go in and get any one episode and enjoy it on its own. Of course, to get the big picture, you should play all the episodes.

The grunts have been updated for SiN Episodes.
Things like interactive environments and Action Based Outcomes made Sin pretty distinct from other shooters of its day. What can we expect from SiN Episodes in this regard and how are you leveraging the built-in physics engine?

SiN Episodes will feature the same amount of interactivity and a little extra, since we now have a fully-fledged physics engine to play around with. So not only will you be able to blow things up, but it’ll happen in a physically correct way!

We also have quite a bit of vehicle-based combat in the first episode, which is another very popular feature we had in SiN. Again, we’re going to expand it by making it more interactive. We have one sequence in the game where Jessica is driving the HardCorps car through a docks district, while the player picks off bad guys. During this whole thing, you’ll be able to switch positions in the car, open the sunroof and all the windows, and even lean out of the car to get a better shot.

In the original SiN, we got to visit a huge number of unique environments, ranging from Freeport City Bank and the dam to Elexis’ exotic island and her private mansion. Tell us about the locations you have planned for SiN Episodes – are we going to get to see more of Freeport?

Emergence takes place in various parts of Freeport City, so you’ll definitely get to see a lot more of the city this time around. We really want to showcase Freeport City in this game, and we’ve actually updated its look somewhat to reflect the fact that the game is set in the future. Freeport as a city has many layers, starting with the older, poorer districts, and going all the way up to the modern high-rise buildings of the wealthy elite, and the level design will definitely mirror that.

Next: Weapons, Enemies, and more! >>