Levine & Ahern Interview Practicalities

On to Insecticide. Introduce it in your own words! Where did the idea for the game come from? It's very original!

Mike Levine: Well, I was really into (and still am) really good cop shows, and films. I am not talking Law and Order crap – but the good stuff that was much more real and less sensationalized. I watched 8 years of Homicide in less than 6 months when I moved back to the east coast, and then got into the show The Wire on HBO (made by the same people). Then there were classic films like Dirty Harry and The French Connection – all this left me with a burning desire to do a game that took into it the real life things cops did. But of course we weren't going to make a real life game about human cops ... That was way too boring. Initially it was a "Clown Cop" in a weird circus town of freaks. (we still may make that game someday!). But then I had this idea about a young girl, and an old grizzled veteran cop. Sort of turn the Rookie cop thing on its head. So I took that crude idea to Larry, and we also worked with Dave Grossman in the early days, and started to flesh out what Insecticide was all about.

Larry Ahern: So, then I ignored everything that Mike told me about cop shows, since I only ever watched Baretta, and proceeded to make up a bunch of crazy stuff about bugs. We wrote several rounds of story development, did a short film script for the IP, and even developed a TV series pitch, all while shopping the original game design concept around. It took awhile, and we got our fair share of rejection (including one publisher that even hired an outside consulting group just to tell us that they loved our idea and were big fans of our work...but that the game probably wouldn't sell). Until finally Gamecock came along and said, "Let's make it!"

I would have to say that the idea came from a group of games industry vets that got fed up with the status quo enough to finally stop worrying about market trends and just try to make something fun.

Tell us about the main characters, such as Chrys, and the world itself.

Mike Levine: Chrys, we like to say, is "Dirty Harry" in a young girls body. Now aside from the fact that sounds a little disgusting, the point is she is the strong silent type. She is a young detective under the tutelage of her partner, Roachy Caruthers, who basically narrates the story, which is his story, as well as Chrys'. Roachy is your basic, grizzled veteran detective whose seen it all, is near retirement, and has been given a mission to put this new group of young detectives to use. Troi is crime ridden, the Police department has no funding, and this is one last chance for them to fight back.

How about the story? (Not to spoil anything of course)

Larrh Ahern: Well, it was a dark and stormy night. And lots of other cliché's. In fact, that could be a fun bonus drinking game to Insecticide: find all the noir detective cliché's. We tried to take as many of those gems as possible and then turn them on their ear. So, we have a young detective with a mysterious past, a grizzled old partner (just about to retire), a suspicious corporate executive with possible ties to underworld characters, a screaming Police Chief, and a bunch of others all tangled up in the story.

Otherwise, I can give you the basic setup (which you may have read a few times before). It's your standard film noir comedy insect detective action adventure story about a young rookie with a mysterious past and her veteran partner who are pulled into an epic mystery of power and corruption at the deepest levels of society after investigating a murder in the city of Troi. But, one of the key elements of Insecticide is its dark and twisted plot, so we hate to reveal too much. The fun is in exploring all the elements and trying to guess what's going to happen next.

I think things will start to get interesting once we consider some cool peripherals...say, a Guitar Hero-style bug sprayer for killing creepy-crawlies. Just tell Gamecock you want more Insecticide!

There has been some confusion as to how the game is actually going to play. Can you make it clear to us?

Mike Levin: Its literally what we say it is - "Action-Adventure" - its just that so many games use that term that AREN'T that, they have made the term meaningless. Insecticide IS a pure action adventure, with equal parts action (3rd person shooting, platforming, etc), and equal parts adventure. The adventure sections are self contained classic adventure situations, where you talk to suspects, find clues, collect things, etc.

How much of the game is adventure-style, such as puzzle solving and talking to characters?

Larry Ahern: Well, like Mike said, half the levels are adventure-style gameplay. The puzzles aren't insanely complicated with tons of inventory to collect or hour-long nested dialog trees, but we do have all the basics there. You will examine items in the environments, collect some into inventory, use the items on other things in the world, combine items together, and talk to characters using dialog trees. We've just made sure to keep these sections focused on the story needs at the time, and not let them get too rambling (like my interview answers) while forcing players to run some long errand or combine some obscure items, killing the pace of the whole experience.

How hard will the game be, either in shooting or puzzle solving? Will there be difficulty levels?

Mike Levine: We feel it's very playable. We didn't want to make a "hard core" game on the action, or adventure side. We wanted to make something fun, first and foremost. So many people never finish games due to frustration. We wanted people to be able to play through this game to the end. They will want to finish it to see what happens. That is not to say the game is easy – its not, but its not hard to the point where people will be cursing our names (we hope!).

The choice of platforms as just Nintendo DS and PC has surprised some people. They seem to be wildly different platforms, so why just them and not PS2, 360, Wii, or PSP?

Mike Levine: It amazes us how often we get this question. But I guess it shouldn't. There just aren't many full, real-time 3D games still on the DS. We are one of the first we have seen that is a 3rd person, real-time 3D action adventure on the DS, so given that, we had the basics to make it for the PC as well. The two are very similar really with the mouse being like the Stylus.

Larry Ahern: And we've got nothing against the idea of doing versions of the game for other platforms. If players like Insecticide, there's always the opportunity to bring our bug-eyed vision to another machine. Really, I think things will start to get interesting once we consider some cool peripherals...say, a Guitar Hero-style bug sprayer for killing creepy-crawlies. Just tell Gamecock you want more Insecticide!

The DS does not seem to be the natural home for a 3D 3rd-person action/adventure. Not that Insecticide isn't extremely welcome – being a DS owner myself I'm annoyed that so many companies just stick with 2D games when the DS is capable of so much more – but how did you decide upon that platform as the main one for your game?

Mike Levine: Pretty simple – it's the cool platform and we had the tech, working with our partners, Creat Studios, to pull it off. We were going to make a PSP game, but our publisher wanted DS, and we were big DS fans, so we weren't going to argue!

How will it control on the DS? This is probably the biggest hurdle to making a 3D action game work on the handheld.

Larry Ahern: We think it controls quite nicely, and we're sticklers about that kind of thing. The DS controls certainly aren't as ergonomically pure as the full consoles, but for anyone used to the DS as a platform, it's pretty easy to pick up. We have dual control schemes available for the action levels, depending on player preference. If you like to use the face buttons, you can navigate with the D-pad, shoot with the shoulder button, and use the various others for jump, dodge, target lock, etc. With target lock in this mode, it feels really comfortable battling the bugs.

Then, if you want more of an analog feel to your character navigation, we have a control scheme that lets you fluidly steer with the stylus on the touch screen. It just depends on what feels good. Some players even like a hybrid of both, putting it into stylus control mode, but using some of the button controls in certain situations. Then, in detective mode, the stylus pretty much allows for all the control you would get from a mouse in a standard adventure game.

It's not Shakespeare with bugs or anything (although, that might be good too)... I would say the tone is in the Full Throttle, Grim Fandango territory of funny, as opposed to Monkey Island or DOTT.

Is it still being released on February 26th on DS? Is that world-wide? At the moment your pre-order site is strictly American, and being British that's a bit of a worry for me after the Psychonauts European release fiasco...

Mike Levine: You will have to talk to Gamecock. They keep changing the date on us, and we aren't sure why. It now sounds like it will be early March. And I just found out it won't be at Wal-Mart.

What about the PC version? Can you tell us how that will differ from the DS version, when will it be released, and whether you're still planning on a two-part digital distribution first?

Mike Levine: The PC version has a lot more room to spread out, as it were. So, the visuals are flashier, and some of the story elements will have full FMVs, whereas a few on the DS are shortened or conveyed via text (the less critical ones). And the PC version can throw around a lot more polygons, so we have the ability to feature more enemies and do a few more interesting tricks that you won't see on the DS. The current plan announced by Gamecock is a March release, and it will be a "bi-sodic (is that a word?) downloadable" title. Yes, two-part digital distribution first.

Which is the best version to get? Will there be enough differences between the two to warrant getting both?

Larry Ahern: Really, the only way to get the experience as we intended it is with 8 machines surrounding you running separate copies of the PC version while holding a DS in both hands and feet. But, if you don't have that many PCs, or you're not as good with your feet as Daniel Day-Lewis, then maybe one version for each of the two platforms would be okay. Trying to decide which of the two versions is better, though, feels a little like Sophie's Choice (but without all the murder and Nazis).

However, if I can wipe away my tears long enough, I will say that they both contain the same storyline. It's not like you'll buy the PC version and discover a new twist ending (assuming our funding isn't cut in the 11th hour). On the other hand, the strengths of each platform, hardware limitations, etc. are giving each version its own personality.

Will the game be humorous (if that's not a stupid question)?

Larry Ahern: God, I hope so. Didn't we send out that memo? The one that says it's about detectives...who are bugs?! It's not Shakespeare with bugs or anything (although, that might be good too). I guess it is a pretty dark story, but the characters and situations are fairly preposterous, and we play a lot of stuff for laughs. I would say the tone is in the Full Throttle, Grim Fandango territory of funny, though, as opposed to Monkey Island or DOTT. It's not really slapstick...maybe more like "pokestick."

No news post