interview

Saber Interactive Bends Gravity With Inversion

by Ben Reeves on Dec 18, 2009 at 10:11 AM

TimeShift developer, Saber Interactive, hasn’t been twiddling its thumbs since it released 2007’s time-warping shooter. Now the developer is preparing to distort a different field of physics – gravity. Its new game, Inversion, details the war that springs up after an alien menace with the power to control gravity invades our planet. Read issue 201 of Game Informer for our full preview, and check out our interview with Saber Interactive CEO, Matthew Karch, if you want to hear him talk about his new game’s story, its gravity-manipulating weaponry, and its co-op functionality.

First of all, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions. Could we start with a brief overview of Inversion’s story?

Inversion is about the struggle of one man in his efforts to rescue his daughter (Leila) who has been abducted during an invasion. In the process he learns incredible things about the nature of the invaders and the world in which he lives, but ultimately his struggle is personal.

When we sat down with our writing partners Corey May and Dooma Wendschuh (Assassin’s Creed 1 & 2, Army of Two, Prince of Persia) we made a conscious decision to make this game about a personal journey. A good analogy would be the Die Hard series of movies where the hero – John McClane – fights forces that are unconcerned with his personal cause. Too many games set the player out to save the world, and while this is a really noble cause, our focus was more on putting the player on a personal path – his focus is singular – reuniting with Leila. Of course the implications of rescuing his daughter end up being larger than simply saving her, so he gets his chance at that ultimate of noble pursuits as well.

The Lutadore sound like an interesting enemy. Can you clarify what kind of creatures they are?

The Lutadore enemy are humanoid but they have evolved to look and act differently than the main protagonist and his people. Their origins are part of the plot reveal in the game so I don’t want to spoil that for you!

It sounds kind of strange to have your neighbor join you on an adventure like this; how does Leo Delgado get involved in the events in Inversion?

This is established in the game’s opening scene. Davis (the hero) and Delgado are both captured in the initial invasion. They are neighbors and friends. The idea was to establish an immediate bond between the two from the opening scene and also to allow them to witness the same opening sequence from different perspectives.

The grappler sounds a little like the gravity gun from Half-Life 2; is it different in any way? How will it work? Can you pick up anything with it?

The grappler has some of the elements of the gravity gun but it actually works quite differently from a game mechanic perspective. In Half-Life 2, the gravity gun allowed you to pick up a singular object and toss it. In Inversion, you create fields of altered gravity and manipulate objects impacted by that field. The grappler is used to create an area-based effect where all objects within a given radius are subjected to low (zero) gravity. If objects are thrown into low gravity then the player can select any object that is floating and grab it, manipulate it and throw it. Any object that can be thrown into zero gravity can be grabbed. The object will remain in zero gravity until the effect wears off. The grappler has some pretty cool gameplay implications. For example, you can move heavy objects out of the way or pick up and reposition objects as cover. Can’t get past that big turret? Create a zero-g field out near some parked cars and drag one closer and place it down as cover, or maybe keep the car floating in front of you as a mobile shield against the turret. Or maybe there is a large weapon lying next to a dead enemy that you want to get but it is out of reach. Create a zero gravity field where the weapon is and use your grappler to grab it and bring it towards you. There are dozens of different in-game applications for the grappler and gravity effects. Because our effects are grounded in real physics – as opposed to animations – we are still discovering new uses for the powers in game.

How does the cover system work? Can you manipulate cover in a special way?

There are two aspects to the cover system in Inversion – ground cover and zero-gravity cover. The basic ground cover is very similar to what you might find in other games such as Uncharted or Gears of War, but we have made a concerted effort to give the player a host of new animations and cover abilities that distinguish the game and are particularly effective in a multiplayer setting. Namco has an in-house expert on game cover systems that we have been working with to hone and perfect the feel of the cover system. One of the primary differences between our cover system and that of other games is the physical aspect of the cover. In Inversion, cover can be destroyed, moved, or turned on its side. The cover system needs to account for all of these changes dynamically and smoothly. Thus, if an enemy chips away at cover, the player’s animations will adjust to reflect changes to the cover (for example if a barrier is four feet tall and takes enemy fire, it will whittle down to two feet and the player’s cover animation will adjust accordingly). Similarly if a cover object is thrown into zero gravity by an enemy and lands on its side, the cover system needs to dynamically adjust the animations in relation to the new position of the cover.

The second aspect to our cover system is the zero gravity. The player will encounter areas of the game that take place exclusively in zero gravity. In these areas, the player will need to use floating objects (whether cars, busses or refrigerators) to not only progress (he uses them to pull onto and push off of areas as he progresses through the environment) but also as cover elements. The game possesses some major zero gravity battles and use of cover is essential. The game features a 360-degree cover component that allows the player to rotate around an object and keep himself away from enemies that can shoot and approach from any angle. This is one of the cooler aspects of our cover system and is one of the things that really makes the zero gravity battles stand out – it is a blast to battle it out in zero g.

Co-op is always exciting; is there anything special about Inversion’s co-op play? Will the two characters function differently?

The coolest aspect about the cooperative element of the game is that both players have use of gravity control and can use the powers in a coordinated fashion. The players have fairly similar abilities but their approaches will likely be very different. For example, one player can use gravity to remove enemy cover while the second one fires away at the exposed enemy. Co-op is a major element of the game and we think that a lot of people will be playing the game cooperatively from the start.

How does the city get flooded by antigravity zones? How will players navigate through them?

The player’s world is changing around them constantly. Zero gravity zones appear dynamically, the world shifts on its side or upside down and the player needs to reorient himself and navigate through a new type of environment. The player and his coop mate will navigate through altered gravity environments and battle enemies that are hiding behind cover, standing on different gravity planes or zipping though zero gravity zones. The origins behind these changes are part of the story’s big reveal, but there is a good reason behind them and one that we think is cool enough to keep secret for now.

What kind of puzzles and other events will players have to deal with during the game?

We have found some very cool ways to incorporate challenges that require use of gravity control and manipulation to progress further. The game really isn’t a puzzle game per se, so you won’t find many variations on the “find the key” gameplay, but you will be put in situations where you need to think creatively. For example, you might have to create a cover path, or if using a combination of your zero gravity powers and car will create a good battering ram to bash open a new passageway.

We have also made extensive use of environmental destruction as a gameplay element. This is not only important for battle situations where you can take down scores of enemies by destroying structures that they are standing on, but also for progression-based challenges where destruction is key to getting through an area (so I guess in that respect we do have some “find the key” scenarios!).

It sounds like you guys are excited about the Havok physics in the game. How has Havok helped you guys make a better game?

Saber is one of Havok’s premier development partners. We worked closely with Havok (one of only two teams, I believe) to help them create their Havok destruction module, which is very tightly integrated into our engine and is used frequently throughout the game.

Inversion is, first and foremost, a shooter game with gravity element that has a heavy emphasis on physics. You can’t create fields of zero gravity or turn the world on its side and watch objects move by relying on animations, as it won’t be believable or compelling. Havok is head and shoulders above any other solution in terms of physics simulations – and it should be. It has been doing it the longest, has the support of Intel (its parent company) and has some of the best engineers on the planet. The major commercially available engines don’t use Havok, so few games really get to exploit physics in the way we have been able to. Fortunately, we have great physics engineers internally who are able to take advantage of what Havok has to offer.

Not only has the use of Havok helped us make a better game, but without Havok we wouldn’t even be able to make a game like Inversion – it is simply too physics intensive for lesser solutions.

What can you tell us about multiplayer or DLC?

Inversion will have an extensive multiplayer component that incorporates the gravity elements into the gameplay. The multiplayer will be a fully featured game mode that will provide a new type of gaming experience but one that is still familiar to the player. In terms of DLC, we have a plan, but we’re not ready to discuss it yet.