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An interview with Rob Hale on "Preachers"

I recently took the time to speak with Rob Hale aka "Shizoslayer" about his project Preachers. Following are a good smattering of questions regarding the project.

How did Preachers get started?

It all started as a Max Payne mod. I wanted to do an anime thang about these hackers infiltrating the government and you were a special agent with a cyborg body like The Major in GITS. After pottering about for a bit and getting Matt on board I started to develop the idea bouncing ideas off him. Eventually I came to the decision that Max Payne wasn't going to meet our needs and it would be best to switch to Deus Ex.

So, why the name "Preachers"?

This was kind of an accident. Back when we were just starting out as a Max Payne mod all I had was a vague idea of what I wanted. I didn't have a name or anything and for ages we were known as the "Ghost In The Shell Mod" a comparison I quite liked if undeserved. The name came from our then web designer on his first concept design. I had told him to make the site from the hacker's point of view and he said the description I gave made him think of them as almost religious which gave us 'Preachers'.

You previously worked with the Redsun 2020 team. Was there anything in particular you admired about their work? Did you leave because of a dispute or because you wanted to create Preachers?

At the time of leaving we were all on great terms. There was no mod-politics going on and we all had a lot of enthusiasm for Redsun. It was unfortunate though that I spent four months without a computer after moving away for university. During this time I fell out of mapping and began to loose interest in the project. Once I had a computer again I couldn't find the motivation to carry on and several ideas were buzzing through my head which I really wanted to do. None of those got off the ground or even past the buzzing around the head stage. So I decided to try my hand mapping for another mod and applied to The Cassandra Project. It was during my audition for TCP that Max Payne was released and started my brain buzzing again, I cooked up Preachers and TCP turned me down on the basis that they didn't want me splitting time between two mods.

I'm very thankful they did now as I know I wouldn't have been able to work on both projects.

Describe the theme and/or mood of Preachers in four words.

Philosophical, challenging, cyberpunk, history.

What is the greatest source of your inspiration?

Shadowrun and anime. Anything by Masamune Shirow and just about every sci-fi film I've ever seen. If I had to pinpoint one source though it would probably go to Ghost In The Shell (the comic not the flim). While I've not borrowed directly from it it's what gets me thinking the most about things and inspires me to take things off on a tangent from it's own story.

How many people are on the team and what are their contributions?

Right now we have:

Matt Newman - Lead artist and full time Canadian. He's a great guy and is very much into his games and anime with an excellent style both in 2D and 3D. Most of the artwork on the website is by him as is the wasteland backdrop. Currently been stolen from us by Real Life.

Ian Shanahan - General artist and source of many arguments. Ian makes me think about everything from a new angle and has helped evolve the story more than he probably realizes. He's a pillar of strength that I tend to lean on. Everybody needs someone to kick their arse into gear and his boot is firmly planted between my cheeks.

Chris… Something aka DeepOmega - Chris is our coder and the youngest member of the team at 15. Go figure. He turns my vague ideas about gameplay into code and works fairly quickly.

Seburo - Chief concept artist and source of much jealousy. He's absolutely fantastic at what he does and I wish I could draw as well as him.

Phasmatis - Modeler who you may know from his work on the partyzone mod. I tend to describe him as a freelance modeler as he doesn't seem to hang around the forum a lot and just does what I tell him to do. Again top bloke.

Being someone of mapping talent yourself, do you see the Preachers project going forward more than others whose leaders are skilled in other (or no) tasks? Obviously, the mapper is the core of the modification project.

Being the only mapper in the project I don't have to worry about the mappers and getting them organized or what happens if one leaves. I know what I can do and I tend to spend most of my time worrying about what everyone else is doing. When it comes time to map I know what's inside my head and I have enough ability to get it into the game. Mostly I see the character animations as the biggest stumbling block for us, which I hope we can overcome with grace and charm; if not by falling over it in a dignified manner. I would say that the leader of the project is the core. Without a good leader a project is doomed to failure. Somebody with little vision and no administrative skill will be a barrier to completion of a mod more than a lack of talented mappers. Just because mappers make what appears to be most of the content doesn't mean they're the most important member of the team.

If Preachers were a novel, which genre would its experience fit into?

Quite blatantly Sci-fi. No doubt about it.

Although that said I don't see Preachers as a story in the traditional sense. In most modern games you follow a player character though a series of events to the end of the game. In Preachers you follow a variety of people through events inflicted upon them by history. Our overriding theory is that we're following history not the player; we're just presenting it from the most interesting point of view at the time.

So in that case a History text book from the future.

What inspired you to start up the Preachers project?

The combination of playing Max Payne and watching Ghost In The Shell on my new DVD player I think. Deus Ex didn't come into it, all I saw there was a solution to our engine problems. Perhaps Deus Ex is what keeps me making it but it's not what started it.

What will be the most appealing feature of your project? The storyline? The level design? The dialogue? How do you prioritize (by quality) these things in your project?

Right now I'd say the story is the most interesting feature as we haven't developed much else in the project quite as far as we have the story. I personally feel that we're taking story telling in games on a new direction as we're ignoring what the player's character has done and concentrating on the event in the world that are happening despite you. It's part of the whole multiple points of view thing.

How many elements of the original Deus Ex will be included in your project? (Models, weapons, music, et al)

Deus Ex is really just a code base for us to hack from. Nothing is staying the same and very few visual elements will remain. From a code point of view we're looking at rebuilding everything from the skills system up. Some of it is major reworking and other bits are making nicer particle effects. We already have the weapons firing modeled bullets a'la Max Payne with no noticeable decrease in performance. The game mechanics are changing to suit the world and the skill set is being reduced to suit the small size of each episode and the decreased range of weapons available in the first episode. I can't give details about everything but you hopefully won't recognize it as being Deus Ex.

How long has Preachers been in development? What stage are you currently at?

About five months now including our time as a Max Payne mod. Most of that time the team was small and we just did what we wanted on a "wouldn't it be cool if…" level. Since the team expanded I've stopped production so we can get a few months of pre-production and concept work done. I relised that we really needed a single design document for everybody to work to and that became an overriding priority if I was to stay sane. Right now I'm trying to round everybody up from the holidays and get people working again. Kind of hard as I myself started a new job in January and haven't had a lot of time to get things done.

What will the first release of Preachers resemble? Will it be a demo or a full release? How do you plan on distributing it? Using a common mod loader, your own installer, or manual instructions?

The first release will be E1. There will be no demo as it would take as long to make a demo as it would to make E1. Right now I'm favouring the UC modloader as it seems to be the most widely accepted modloader so far. Ultimatly I'd like to see people with a second install of Deus Ex just to play Preachers, maybe if we ever make more than one episode that would be viable. For now it's Team UC though.

Is the storyline of Preachers in any way connected to the storyline of Deus Ex, or is the game an entirely different experience with absolutely no allusion or reference?

The story of Preachers isn't connected to Deus Ex in any way at all. The entire project is a seperate entity. The only reason we're using Deus Ex as a base is because of it's excellent conversation system and it already does a lot of what we wanted from an engine.

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