Hellgate: London Loves

By Kieron Gillen on October 3rd, 2007 at 1:14 am.

Hullgate: Hull is going to be the sequel. You know it.

As the number of Beta Impressions of Hellgate spread across the net, deductive game-watchers will realise the embargo has lifted for us Journo sorts. Well, mostly. We can only use five grabs from the first part of the game or we’ll be crushed by enormous fists. So, whilst other sites are doing useful things like telling you about the game, we’re going to deal with a much more pressing question.

Is this really anything at all like London, or is Johnny Foreigner doing another Mary bleeding Poppins on us?

Okay, I’ll write up some real impressions for later in the week, and here’s Shacknews’ for the meantime, but – for now – a guided tour of London-verisimilitude.

To start with, cast your eye at the opening grab. Not bad. In fact, if you know London, it’s close enough to make the juxtaposition of enormous macho bloke with sword and Covent Garden sign pretty funny. When you see escalators they’re at far too shallow an angle and there’s no trains are running (but with the current rate of Tube strikes, that’s actually fairly accurate too).

It kind of goes awry whenever you go above the surface. I mean, it tries. If you squint, it’s got a bit of a Children of Man/28-Days Later.

But God is in the details.

Hmm.

And accurate police cars and… waitasec. If I’m as tall as a bloke, it means the car is about two foot tall. To paraphrase Blue Jam‘s gag, who do they think we are? Fucking Noddy. It shows that Bill Hicks Hooligans routine has had a lasting impression on the Art staff at Flagship, who somehow believe London got invaded by Demons because its police were a bunch of hobbits who were used to dealing with Scallywags and Ruffians.

Hmm.

There seems to be a pub every twenty or thirty metres, which while not actually exactly true, feels true, and at least shows an attempt to understand national psychology. In fact, the first pub I found, it brought a smile to my face. Until I turned around and saw there was an identical pub on the other side of the road. In my first few hours, I saw Town’s End after Town’s End, stretching out until I started to wonder whether this was a subtle attempt at world-building. Describing a world with slow, endemic corporate muscling out of locals, like modern coffee chains or whatever – the culture of an island being torn apart.

And then I bumped into another one, further along. The Blue Flag & Ship. My internal narrative took an upwards turn, imagining this the last hold out against this encroaching horde of the soulless World’s End – the spirit of pubs’ last stand.

I turned the corner, found another Flag & Ship and decided the texture artists had just decided to slack off down their local equivalent of the Town’s End early.

Hmm.

Red phone boxes. Don’t have many of them, but they do kind of exist, so they’re here and fairly accurate. It’s also burnt out and unuseable, which is another impressive note of detail. But if it was a London telephone box, it’d be full of cards advertising ladies of the night. FAIL.

Hmm.

An accurate sign! Go Flagship.

Actually, this reminds me of an old story from when I was working on PCG. Gray Matter were in the UK, showing off their Return to Castle Wolfenstein. One of their Art peeps was there, who was highly interested in Bath’s distinctive stonework. He wandered off with a digital camera and took a load of shots, as well as grabbing some signs and similar.

Don’t think any more of it until we finally get Return to Castle Wolfenstein review code. Playing through it and I’m stopped short when I hit the Nazi experimental science laboratory bits near the end. Every few metres down the wall, there’s a British utility sign – I believe it was the the iconic one which means “Water Mains Here”, which you see all over the place in the streets. It added a gloriously bizarre – albeit atmosphere shattering – edge to the whole thing, kind of as if Splash Damage decided to put a PED XING on every available wall in Quake Wars: Enemy Territory.

Anyway, at least Flagship get their signs in the right place. Though you’d have thought that having one reading “Pedestrian Zone” is giving critics a little too easy a gag in a “a game so pedestrian that even the developers felt the need to label it a Pedestrian Zone,” way.

They must be confident they’ve got a good game or something.

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17 Comments »

  1. Thelps says:

    I’d assume the constant texture repetition has something to do with the game randomly generating levels or some such? I recall reading that, like the Diablo games, the vast majority of the world is generated randomly when you start a new game, which might explain seeing two identically named pubs opposite each other. Then again, knowing pub chains in London, that’s a pretty common sight anyway (Wetherspoon’s, Young’s etc.).

    P.S. Special thanks for referencing Bill Hicks in any way, shape, or form!

  2. Kieron Gillen says:

    Yeah, I realised why, but… well, that’ll be in the Beta Impressions.

    KG

  3. Jack Monahan says:

    The likely story behind the endless repetition of Town’s End pub signs is more mundane. You’ve got enormous texture memory overheads on just about every modern shooty-shooty type game, what with all the demons and robots and burning this and crumbling that. I’m sure the texture artists could cook up more than just a few different pub signs, but pub signage likely falls low on the priority list for texture memory. Thus, endless, Starbucks-ian pub franchise holders. Now that -is- a creepy thought.

  4. Aquarion says:

    So, Wetherspoons, then.

  5. Andrew Mayer says:

    Was the British national psyche that wounded by Dick Van Dyke’s pseudo cockney accent?

    Wouldn’t it be loverly if we could all just get along?

  6. Martin Coxall says:

    It doesn’t look very smart.

    I worry about this game. I sense a car crash approaching.

  7. Alex Hopkinson says:

    “…the way you just don’t stand a chaaaAAAAAaaaance”

    (someone had to give props to the most important reference in this piece – none of your Bill Hicks lark!)

  8. Pidesco says:

    By the way, isn’t the idea of a randomly generated London kind of idiotic? I mean like, one moment you’re walking around in Kensington, you take a turn left and suddenly you’re in Trafalgar Square.

    Randomness was bad enough in Diablo.

  9. Kieron Gillen says:

    The game mainly takes place underground, so the randomness is less grating.

    KG

  10. Kieron Gillen says:

    And Mayer: Yes, yes, it was.

    KG

  11. JH says:

    Seems to me it would have been pretty simple to have a large set of pub names as text in memory, and rendered them onto the texture in real time for each pub.

    Someone could have had fun writing a pub name generator.

  12. Andrew says:

    The Swan and Paedo?

  13. Rich Tysoe says:

    that Police car’s about the right size, surely? if you’re standing up next to a nomal ford focus-sized car you’ll easily see over the top of it.

  14. Jim Rossignol says:

    That screenshot doesn’t quite capture it. The cars just seem… diddy. It’s some kind of weird perspective thing, I suppose, but you do seem to be exceptionally large when walking Hellgate’s streets.

  15. mundungu says:

    I don’t know, last time I was in the UK… I got drunk at far more than one pub named after Admiral Nelson.

    The London bit is just for atmosphere… remember, the game is mainly created by and targeted towards those of us unfortunate enough to grow up through the US public school system.

  16. filthish says:

    Hey Hellgate is awesome and it’s always great to meet another fan of Chris Morris’ Blue Jam!

    Kevin Eldon’s sketch about the crushed car (who does he think I am? Fucking Noddy?!?!?) is such a classic.

    I’m in the process of creating a Hellgate blog but until then check out my website of creative writing inspired by Blue Jam and the TV series Jam.
    It’s called filthish.com. There’s some pretty crazy stuff on there, feel free to rate it.

    Cheers!