Back in June of 2009, developer High Voltage Studios released The Conduit for the Nintendo Wii to general critical approval. The game was mostly well received, though the game was not regarded as a slice of gaming nirvana, as critics pointed out issues with the narrative, the mechanics, and the visual style on more than a few occasions. Diehard GameFAN reviewers Matt Yaeger and J. Rose both regarded the game as being better than average, noting the game seemed like something of a technical demo of the engine HVS had created rather than a full fledged gaming experience. The game was, however, highly praised for its ambitious efforts and excellent online play, and with a sequel coming this year, it seemed a good time to speak to the developer and see what they’d learned in the past two years and how they had applied it to the development of Conduit 2. So we talked with David Pellas, the design director of HVS, about the game, in hopes of getting an idea of where the experience is heading and what to expect out of the game when it is released.
[DHGF]: In promotion for The Conduit for the Wii, the assessment was made that the game would be a visual powerhouse, and in some respects it delivered on that claim. This being the sequel, what do you hope to improve on in this regard to take advantage of the Wii’s capabilities?
[DP]: Thank you, we are honored to have received such positive feedback on the visuals of The Conduit. With regard to what we hope to improve upon, one of our primary goals was to make the world more memorable through better art direction and level design. For example, we wanted to create more unique and open levels while providing players with more memorable landmarks by which they can navigate the world more efficiently.
[DHGF]: Many of the Wii’s best third party exclusives have failed to find an audience on the system, and the original Conduit was no exception, as it sold less than half a million copies worldwide. With console exclusivity becoming a rarer commodity, why the continued loyalty with the Wii for this franchise when the series could potentially find a much larger audience on the 360 and PS3?
[DP]: I say why not? We believe that Wii gamers deserve an exclusive FPS. Additionally, had we developed the game for 360 and PS3, it would be one of hundreds of FPS’s whereas it is one of only a handful on the Wii.
[DHGF]: The concept behind The Conduit was promising, but the game world itself seemed somewhat underdeveloped, and the storyline was poorly received. With the framework for the experience established, will Conduit 2 feature some expansion of the game world and the concepts in it?
[DP]: We agree, it is a promising concept and in Conduit 2 we wanted to blow the lid off of it. We understand that some fans were disappointed with our use of mission briefings to tell the story in The Conduit, so we spent a significant amount of time developing a more compelling narrative and integrating that story into the game experience. What this allows us to do is to immerse the player in a more meaningful way, which is a big improvement that we believe fans will enjoy.
[DHGF]: Looking over High Voltage’s game roster, many of the games produced by the company are licensed titles in some capacity or another. With The Conduit being a fairly large original product from the company, what sort of challenges come from trying to create a new IP from scratch that don’t come up when developing licensed titles?
[DP]: The single biggest hurdle to overcome is defining the IP. When working with a licensed property, the IP is defined. You typically know who the hero is, what he does, who he fights, and why. For an original IP, this web of reason needs to be created from scratch. We spent an enormous amount of time creating our characters, world, and lore. We also spent a lot of time integrating conspiracies into the universe in a way that enticed players to want to explore and collect the hundreds of secrets strewn through the environments.
[DHGF]: One thing that was very well received was the multiplayer component, with some reviewers comparing it favorably to Halo and its ilk. What additions and improvements can we expect to see to keep the multiplayer fresh in the sequel?
[DP]: Thank you, we are very proud of how The Conduit‘s multiplayer was received and it is an honor to be compared to those other games. I must say that while we were excited by the press we received on this feature, we knew we wanted to do even more. We also knew that due to some creative hackers and nasty griefers, we needed to rework the ways that our networking solution dealt with data. We add several new modes, refined the network code for performance, changed our weapons code to help reduce the hacker issue, and implemented several other systems that would allow us to patch or extend the game post-ship. On top of all of that, we added a completely new Suit Upgrade system that allows players to purchase power-ups for their avatars. Many of these Suit Upgrades are designed to define roles on teams or change the way that players enjoy the game. There is so much variety in this system that we believe fans are really going to enjoy. We also worked very hard to include four-player splitscreen mode where players can enjoy all the online multiplayer fun with up to three friends locally. Every element from the online multiplayer is included in our local splitscreen.
[DHGF]: Initial reports indicate that we’ll be seeing the return of Michael Ford as the main character for Conduit 2. Michael came off as somewhat one dimensional and underdeveloped in the previous game. Will there be any efforts to develop his character and personality further, or will the game be more focused on developing the game world using Michael as a silent, Doom marine- style protagonist?
[DP]: Yes Michael Ford returns as the hero in Conduit 2, but this time he has received some serious redesigns. From his personality to his armor, we wanted to make him stand out as someone who players want to be. In particular, he is no longer the strong, silent type. Now he is aggressive and makes himself heard. For the sequel, we hired professional writers to write all of the dialogue in the game and what we have now is much more raw and brash that the previous game. We want players to laugh, so we added in some one-liners akin to an action movie. We want players to be entertained through the dialogue as well as by playing the game.
[DHGF]: The customizable sensitivity of the Wiimote controls and the controls in general, of The Conduit have been both praised and bashed in the gaming media. What sorts of lessons have you taken away from developing the controls for the first game that you intend to implement into the second?
[DP]: The controls were a huge success for us with most gamers. For the first time on the Wii, players could map the controller to what felt best for them. We did not want to dictate to gamers how they should play our game, instead we gave them the option to remap the controls to how they see fit. For Conduit 2, we wanted to take it all a step further and include support for Wii MotionPlus, Classic Controller, and Classic Controller Pro. Wii MotionPlus provides more precise reticule tracking and off-screen tracking. Classic Controller and Classic Controller Pro give more control options for those gamers who prefer the dual-analog control scheme over the Wii Remote and Nunchuk.
[DHGF]: The All-Seeing Eye was an interesting gimmick, but it seemed underutilized in the campaign. Can we expect any development of its capabilities and additional uses for it in the game?
[DP]: The All-Seeing Eye is one of our favorite features in the game. The alien device has become a staple of the IP and it is definitely returning in Conduit 2. For the sequel, we wanted to make it more prominent in the single-player experience so we added some new bells and whistles to make it more interesting to use. One such addition is the inclusion of a manually triggered sonar-like tracking mechanic that allows the player to “ping”Â the world for secrets. This makes searching for hidden items and lore much more interactive and fun for players than it was in The Conduit.
[DHGF]: The Wii MotionPlus was supposed to be compatible with The Conduit, but this functionality ended up being shelved at some point prior to release. What sort of technical issues prevented it from being usable in the first game, and with the confirmation that it will be functional for the sequel, what can we expect the functionality to add to the experience?
[DP]: It was time that really prohibited us from including the Wii MotionPlus in the first game. When designing The Conduit, we made many decisions on how to architect our game code. Some of these decisions meant that it was extremely difficult for us to change how the game was communicating with the controller. Implementing the Wii MotionPlus would have caused a serious delay or would not have provided the player with a meaningful improvement, so we decided that it was best for the product to hold off until the sequel.
[DHGF]: Finally, the announcement of split-screen multiplayer is fantastic. Will we be seeing any sort of co-op campaign play, or will this be exclusively for deathmatch style gaming?
[DP]: Thank you, we are very excited about splitscreen too! Without a doubt, it is the most played game mode here at the office. Our splitscreen multiplayer includes every game mode that we offer in online play but also includes a 4-player cooperative mode that we call “Invasion”Â. This is a big feature for us and we are very proud of how it has come together. As I mentioned before, it is a very intense game mode that requires team tactics and coordination.
Conduit 2 will be released, as of this point, April 19th, 2011. We’ll keep you up to date on its progress as it develops, and stay tuned to Diehard GameFAN for the review when the game launches.