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Interview: Enslaved's Tameem Antoniades


Ninja Theory's on the up and up. Despite failing to break even on Heavenly Sword two-and-a-half years ago, the British developer's working on two new projects in Enslaved: Journey to the West and a secret game, which may or may not be a collaboration with Capcom on Devil May Cry 5.

The former is a futuristic version of the classic Chinese Monkey legend, Journey to the West, "the West" being something ravaged by World War III, as we were shown in Spain at a Namco press event earlier this month.

We were in Barcelona to talk to Ninja Theory boss Tameem Antoniades at the European pre-E3 bash to talk about Enslaved, a little bit about the secret project and more.

Get it after the break. New shots here.

[Interview by Johnny Cullen]

VG247: To start with a basic thing: why did you go for a futuristic version of Journey to the West?

Tameem Antoniades: I guess the simple answer is that we just finished Heavenly Sword and we didn't want to do another ancient setting. Our artists wanted to try something totally different, so we went for a futuristic setting.

VG247: You brought on Alex Garland to write the story, and you brought back Andy Serkis, who worked with you on Heavenly Sword. What brought that about?

Tameem Antoniades: Andy brought a lot. He taught us so much about storytelling, about characters and how to work with actors. He introduced us to WETA [Peter Jackson's mo-cap company] and we all worked together to introduce performance capture to games, which we were the first to do. And I think it worked; like when the cut-scenes work, they worked really well.

We wanted to work with him again and he was happy to work with us again. Same for Nitin Sawhney, the composer.

And then we wanted a good writer on board, and I met Alex through an agent and had coffee with him. I didn't realise how much of a gamer he was. He was looking for a way into games, and we offered him full collaboration. That just organically grew. First, we co-wrote the story and stuff, and then he started to look at the game like he would look at the movie - he's also a producer of movies. He looks at how the cameras are done, the dialogue, the tone, the editing, even the in-game stuff: the in-game atmosphere, the moments that you pick out.

He just started naturally to look at everything. And we've now been working two years together, like at least once a week or once a month. He'll come in and spend all day with us and he'd work to it. He's a workhorse; when he works on a project, he's committed to it. It's been really fun, really eye-opening.

VG247: Correct me if I'm wrong, but you did mention a while back you didn't do too well as far as sales or profit went with Heavenly Sword? Obviously, you'd like to see an improvement with Enslaved?

Tameem Antoniades: Yeah, obviously. If a project is successful for you as a developer, it gives you more chance to experimentl, to fund your own ideas and branch out and do more things. It's as simple as that. If you're not successful, you don't survive long. I think, actually, as a studio, we've got one more chance to kind of really make a cool game that people appreciate. I don't think we'll get many more chances.

VG247: The character model for Trip [the young woman in Enslaved] does look a bit like Nariko from Heavenly Sword. Was that intentional?

Tameem Antoniades: No, it wasn't intentional, and actually, it didn't even occur to me. In my mind, Nariko's this alpha-female that's tough and isolated from her community. Trip's this 19 year-old girl who's naive and she lives in this community and she's got it quite cushy in a way. To me, they're totally different characters. Our art director just likes redheads.

VG247: In the demo, there was a little DLC section. What plans would you like to do with that?

Tameem Antoniades: Namco don't want to announce that, but we're working on it now. It's not going to be anything like multiplayer...

VG247: It would be story-based stuff?

Tameem Antoniades: Yeah, it would be story-based.

VG247: The dragonfly camera from Trip. Would that be playable, because in Heavenly Sword, there was the bow and arrow from Kai used with the SIXAXIS. Would that be playable in some form in the game?

Tameem Antoniades: No. There's a problem with that. It's just a practical reason; you can easily fly out of the map and ruin everything.

VG247: Heavenly Sword got one. Will Enslaved get a demo?

Tameem Antoniades: That's on the cards. That's the plan, yeah.

VG247: Yesterday in the demo, you mentioned the running time in Enslaved will be a lot longer then Heavenly Sword. Can you go into detail more about that?

Tameem Antoniades: There was no PS3 when we started working on Heavenly Sword. We built all the technology from scratch. Everything. The tools, the technology; it took about three years to build the technology, and, roughly speaking, 80 percent or 75 percent of all the time we spent on Heavenly Sword was building the tools. It makes it hard.

This game we started with all our tools in place, and we produced a lot more content, a lot more gameplay and a more complex, varied gameplay. Our goal was to make a much longer game, but to not compromise the quality of the game by doing so. I think it'll be totally in the ballpark in terms of what you'd expect from full length.

VG247: Would you be able to give a rough scale of how long it'll be? You said it was going to run around the same time as a traditional action game, which is about 8-10 hours or so?

Tameem Antoniades: I'm not even going to give a ballpark figure because I've been burnt once. Twice shy. It's basically a lot longer, and actually, I don't have a ballpark figure because we haven't actually gone through start to finish with a balanced game in place.

VG247: The game looks built for a co-op experience. Did you have co-op in mind at first, and if so why did you drop it?

Tameem Antoniades: We thought about co-op at the start, but there's various reasons why we decided against it. One is practical: if you're doing a co-op game, you're basically making two games. It's just as hard making the co-op work as it is the single-player. So if you do that, you're going to have to [inaudible].

The other reason is Trip. For her to do co-op, she would have to have more abilities. Currently, she can't fight, she can't climb. She's good at hacking and surveillance, upgrading you, but if you're to play that character, there's not enough there. She'd have to be an action hero for you to make it a co-op game, I think. And if you do that, you undermine the whole story premise.

Lastly, you're playing the game through Monkey's point of view, and you don't want to break that perspective.

VG247: Last question, and if you can't answer anything on it, no problem. You mentioned a while back you were working on a secret project. Can you give any hints as to what is it? Is it a first-party game, third-party game?

Tameem Antoniades: I can say it is an unannounced game for an unannounced publisher.

VG247: Well if you can at least debunk this, that'd be great: is it a collaboration with Capcom on Devil May Cry 5?

Tameem Antoniades: Well, there's no way I'm gonna confirm or deny if we've got anything to do with it. [laughs]

VG247: Oh come on!

Tameem Antoniades: No chance! [laughs]

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West releases this fall for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

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