Agents Of Change: Starbreeze Talk Syndicate

By Alec Meer on September 13th, 2011 at 8:59 am.

It's just like being inside his head! As opposed to just on the right side of his gun.

This isn’t going to help. More likely quite the opposite, in fact. But, for the record, here’s Starbreeze’s claimed explanation for why they’ve so controversially made revered RTS/RTT/whatevs Syndicate into an adrenalised FPS.

Convinced? Me, not so much.

Speaking to OXM, game director Neil McEwan claimed that “It was always going to be an FPS. The original nub of the idea was to take that viewpoint from the original game and zoom into the Agent’s head, and play that part.”

Inevitably, he has it that “We’re big fans of the original Syndicate” and despite the genre switcheroo “we’re definitely paying as much homage to it as we can – bringing across the essence of the world, the core essence of what it is to be an Agent. That sounds wanky but it’s true – we’re taking the Persuadatron and evolving it in different ways, the weapons and brutality.”

McEwan is conscious that he’s playing with fire – ‘fire’ being the many and passionate fans of the original game. “I would love them to like it. You’re never going to please everyone.”

And here’s the quote that’s going to make people particularly upset. I’m not upset as such (I’m actually pretty resigned to old games being remade as shooters these days, and entirely subscribe to the ‘the old games don’t stop existing’ mindset), but I don’t think it’s a very useful or entirely accurate thing to be saying. So, take it away, designer Rickard Johansson: “I don’t want people to stop playing the old games, but time has moved on.”

This is what time has moved on to: a machine gun on the lower-right of every game, ever

Has it? Has it really? Perhaps he didn’t notice that Starcraft 2 outsold most of EA’s (and everyone else’s) portfolio last year. Perhaps he didn’t notice that SEGA refer to Total War as one of the major jewels in their crown. Perhaps he didn’t notice that Valve are spending a fortune on a DOTA remake. Perhaps what he really means is ‘publishers will give us a bigger development and marketing budget if we make it a first-person shooter.’ And that is what winds me up. The fact that Syndicate is being remade as an FPS I can actually deal with just fine – the original game still exists. Being asked to swallow claims that it’s genuinely a creative decision is entirely bitter pill, though.

I believe that this is absolutely nothing to do with changing times, and everything to do with cold commerciality. Because times have not changed, not in the way or to the extent that kind of claim (and similar ones made by 2K regarding XCOM) suggests: strategy games can still sell very well and can still do amazing experiential things. It’s just that first-person shooters are the more likely games to shift absolutely, honkingly enormous numbers.

Look, I’m entirely prepared for nu-Syndicate to be great and I am looking forward to it – if Syndicate has to be turned into an FPS, there are few studios I’d trust to do that well more than Starbreeze, who* did amazingly clever things with both Riddick and, to a lesser extent, The Darkness. It is highly likely to do interesting things and to expand Syndicate’s world and fiction in new directions: that is okay. Potentially even exciting. I’d really much prefer it, however, if we didn’t put up with nonsense ‘creative’ reasoning for the change on top of having to accept the cold business logic that really motivates it, however. Who on Earth do they think they’re kidding? (That’s not to say they can’t then go on to do impressively creative things with the brief, of course).

Moreover, a well-made Syndicate sequel proper would quite clearly sell pretty damn well: the fanbase is huge and the concept is strong enough to bring in newcomers. Unfortunately, ‘pretty damn well’ isn’t enough for a top-tier publisher anymore, not in these ultra-competitive times – that’s the nub of it. There isn’t the same interest in bread and butter, solidly-selling releases anymore: if a game isn’t a bonkers-scale smash hit the big firms just aren’t happy.

For both this and XCOM, however, I honestly do think there’s a good chance that if the FPS remakes do well, it’ll lead to far more faithful, if lower-key remakes of the more stately, less headshot-obsessed originals. If there’s one thing rights-holders love to do, it’s to capitalise on brand awareness – and for once, that might well end up being to our benefit. Releasing a high-res old-Syndicate as a promo game for the new one would make an incredible amount of business sense. I do hope EA high-ups are aware of that.

* Yeah, I’m aware that some of the major creatives behind those games have moved on. I do suspect a company philosophy extends far beyond key figures at the top, however – but we shall see. I expect at least some of that pedigree remains, and enough that I am highly interested in what they’re doing with this game.

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254 Comments »

  1. jalf says:

    When was Syndicate ever about “what it is to be an Agent”?

    I always thought it was about “what is it like to be able to send disposable agents to do your bidding and kill or die at your command”. In other words, nothing like a FPS, and nothing about “what it is to be an Agent”

    Like Alec, I’m not too upset about a Syndicate FPS existing, but it saddens me that there are apparently people in the games industry who 1) ignore all evidence to the contrary, and blindly assume that “we have to make it a FPS in order for it to be successful today”, and 2) claim to “pay homage” to the original game by doing something completely opposite of what the original did, or tried to do (such as blabbing on about “what it is like to be an Agent, when the original game went to great lengths to dehumanize your agents, really just making them tools for you to achieve your goals)

    • fenriz says:

      I agree, what’s with videogames and total immersion, who says i wanna know what it is to be someone else.

      IF by that they mean superficial factors.

      to know what it is to be an agent you can either put someone in front of an agent’s most typical psychological dilemmas or situations with the indirect use of words, or you can just dress him like an agent, give him a martini, deck of cards and other superficial stuff, some type of “agentish music” or whatever.

    • Napalm Sushi says:

      “What it is to be an agent” is to be a remote controlled zombie, dancing precisely and violently to the tune of a man in front of a computer in a far removed and comfortable office.

      Wait a minute… Is this actually going to be a stealth satire of the FPS genre itself?

  2. CMaster says:

    While I generally agree with what you’re saying here Alec, it has to be said it’s a little hard to stomach from the man who ran headlines and articles shouting “XCOM IS BACK!!!”, when it was clear even then that nothing we’d recognise as XCOM was back.

    In a lot of these cases, I think the implementation of FPS-like elements could work. Just the way they’re doing it making it into a generic shooter seems stupid. It seems financially stupid is the furstrating thing, too. Yes, CoD makes bucketloads of money (it also costs huge – MW2 was a 100mil dev budget and 300mil marketing, no?). But MoH, Homefront, DNF hardly raked it in, and I’m probably forgetting the real disasters. Meanwhile Relic and Firaxis and even GPG seem to have no trouble making money with whatever strategy title they put out.

    • Jimbo says:

      “Yes, CoD makes bucketloads of money (it also costs huge – MW2 was a 100mil dev budget and 300mil marketing, no?)”

      No. MW2 was put at around $40-$50M dev budget when it came out, which really isn’t too bad when you consider the average for a multi-plat game is said to be around $20-$30M. They do spend far more on advertising, but then you can do that when you’re CoD and know you’re gonna get it all back and then some.

    • CMaster says:

      Yes, I remember that article.
      But I’m talking about this onewhere you suggested that making a classic style XCOM wasn’t viable at all, and that XCOM was back, wheras in fact we were getting a new game (that at the time wore it’s Bioshock origins pretty openly) trading under the name XCOM. (Kinda like the difference between the old and the new Acorn computers, or Atari)

      Edit: Not saying you’re a bad person here or anything Alec, just intrigued by the change of tune. I also don’t really know anything about Syndicate other than the PC demo of long ago, so I’m not attached, just depressed by the constant focus of “everything needs to be a corridor FPS”

      • Alec Meer says:

        But I didn’t say that at all. I said “did you really think a AAA title in 2010 (or 11, or whenever it ends up being released) was going to be a turn-based strategy game?” It’s the same point as this one, albeit less angrily at that point because I wasn’t responding to a claim from a developer that the genre change was made for creative reasons: publishers will only put mega-budgets into FPSes, their considered safe area for big hits, regardless of whether they could have a a perfectly profitable small-to-medium-size hit from another genre.

        Also, would you mind having another read of this post, please? I think you may have misinterpreted it. It’s very important to grasp the distinction between moaning about the remake and moaning about the claimed reasons for the remake.

    • Unaco says:

      Yeah Alec, “c’mon, did you really think a AAA title in 2011 (or 12, or whenever it ends up being released) was going to be a turn-based strategy game Isometric turn based tactics game?”

    • jalf says:

      While I generally agree with what you’re saying here Alec, it has to be said it’s a little hard to stomach from the man who ran headlines and articles shouting “XCOM IS BACK!!!”, when it was clear even then that nothing we’d recognise as XCOM was back.

      There is something in XCOM that Irecognize as “XCOM is back”. Speak for yourself, please.

      Or rather, don’t let mere facts and inconvenient counterproof get in the way of your sweeping generalizations

    • CMaster says:

      @Jalf
      XCOM = Strategy/tactics hybrid, commanding international agency against alien invasion of earth. (OK, moves into Strategy/Space sim and TPS in one each of the 5 games)
      XCOM reborn = FPS, participating in an FBI unit fighting alien invasion of earth.
      Yeah, guess the “alien invasion of earth” schtick means it could only be XCOM and nothing else. If I’d just seen the material put out at the time of the first announcements of the new XCOM (remember they’ve changed it now) I’d have thought “interesting”. I’m not sure I’d ever have seen any association with the old XCOM games.

      @Alec – I think we don’t really understand each other, and our conversations never seem to go anywhere other than downhill, so think it’s best to leave it here.

    • c-Row says:

      http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2010/06/16/xgood/

      People have repeatedly asked me why I think it so inevitable that XCOM would be an FPS. It’s not just because XCOM has been comatose as an IP for years. It’s also because its entire genre has been effectively dead for almost as long. Yes, there have been a few attempts, some good, some bad, but no major publisher would dream of touching it. Small publishers and passionate indie devs are another matter, and that’s why we must treasure them. As to why call it XCOM when it’s not X-COM: look at the length of these comments threads about the game. Even a lot of the most furious people in them will probably buy XCOM, from curiosity, fondness and/or self-flagellation. A cynical move, then? Yes, certainly. It’s also the only reason we’re getting any game called XCOM.

      People have repeatedly asked me why I think it so inevitable that Syndicate would be an FPS. It’s not just because Syndicate has been comatose as an IP for years. It’s also because its entire genre has been effectively dead for almost as long. Yes, there have been a few attempts, some good, some bad, but no major publisher would dream of touching it. Small publishers and passionate indie devs are another matter, and that’s why we must treasure them. As to why call it Syndicate when it’s not Syndicate: look at the length of these comments threads about the game. Even a lot of the most furious people in them will probably buy Syndicate, from curiosity, fondness and/or self-flagellation. A cynical move, then? Yes, certainly. It’s also the only reason we’re getting any game called Syndicate.

      See? Still works.

  3. Deano2099 says:

    To be fair, if your previous games were Riddick and The Darkness, I can see why you’d rather make an FPS than an RTS, creatively speaking.

    Doesn’t really answer why they were given the franchise in the first place though. But not sure it’s the devs to blame.

  4. Darko Drako says:

    I think they could have tested the water for a genuine remake, by making a short mid priced game, a la alien breed.

    Turning Syndicate into an FPS just totally lacks integrity. I dint think it will engender any positive thoughts from gamers or reviewers who where fans of the first games. They may as well have picked a new name. As thing stand they will be launching the game, where a substantial part of the target audience will be suspicious/ hostile => not a healthy place to be.

    • Jimbo says:

      It really hurt Fallout.

    • Unaco says:

      “I dint think it will engender any positive thoughts from gamers or reviewers who where fans of the first games.”

      Allow me to prove you wrong. Huge fan of the originals here, and I have lots and lots and lots of positive thoughts about this game. It looks lush, it sounds interesting, StarBreeze are a studio I can put some trust into, the persuadetron is in there, augmented vision, miniguns, Trenchcoats!

  5. Nethlem says:

    “I honestly do think there’s a good chance that if the FPS remakes do well, it’ll lead to far more faithful, if lower-key remakes of the more stately, less headshot-obsessed originals.”

    I seriously doubt it, they will rather use it as a sign that their decission to go FPS had been the right one. So they will turn even more games into FPS and dump them even more down.

    Remember: If a publishers has serveral ways of interpreting an outcome, he will allways chose the one that fit’s it’s view of the world best. Just take a look at Ubisoft and their DRM for an example of this.

  6. psyk says:

    LMAO comment deleted.

    Stop crying, learn to make games. Stop relying on a system that you know is fucked and just constantly churns out the same old shit. You all bang on about gameplay over graphics start pumping those games out.

  7. f4stjack says:

    Ah for crying out loud, saying “Syndicate seems a good franchise for making an fps” is as same as “Cyberpunk seems a good franchise for making an fps”. People had written this countless times before me but Syndicate was never about controlling agents, hell it/you did not care who the agent was! You could rename him, arm him to the teeth and send him and 3 others to do your bidding on Kazakhstan or Los Angeles. It was about control, it was about tactics. You were seeing the big picture from a satellite link and ordered your men.

    Taking this into a fps is not possible. There is a phrasing used often: “Lost in translation”. In this case there is so much lost in the transition from that game to this game so that it becomes another, different thing which may or may not share the great aspects of the original work. I wouldn’t have a problem with this game, hell even I would wave a small flag stating “Go! Team Starbreeze”, if it was not called Syndicate or it was called something along in the ranks of “Syndicate: Agent Something” . As long as you do not call it “Syndicate” you are free to do anything without attracting the ire of ancient gamers like me (I played old syndicate in an Amiga 500). This even frees you from shackles of saying “We will retain the core aspect of the old game”.

    • Napalm Sushi says:

      There was a passage in the original game’s manual describing how operations carried out by the Australian syndicate invariably resulted in massive civilian casualties, because the executives controlling the agents involved were almost always drunk. Besides being a snide cultural jab, this is the perfect illustration of what made Syndicate’s world so chilling: the removal of critical decision making from ground level to people who weren’t actually experiencing the the bullets and the bloodshed.

      The interface through which you played the game wasn’t meant to be an abstraction, it was meant to be the actual means through which your character, the executive, controlled his charges, who were essentially remote-controlled corpses. That’s why talking about the “experience of being an agent” is so meaningless, because agents didn’t “experience” anything. Hell, when someone was emptying an uzi into them at point-blank range, their atrophied brains needed to be pumped with enough psychotropic drugs to kill a bear just to give them enough autonomy to do something other than just stand there. The only “experience” involved was that of the executive selecting an agent and clicking on his target, and that of the poor sod at the other end of the resulting hail of minigun fire.

      Eurocorp’s combat division had achieved the dream of every business: cutting out the middle man. And it was horrifying.

    • chargen says:

      But haven’t you ever wondered what it would be like to be on of those murderous slaves with atrophied brains. Now you can! And you will have to dull-wit a way to regain what is left of your humanity and avenge yourself against the whole damn system man. Bitter tears will flow down your sagging expression has you engage in vain attempt to comprehend your situation. You might even be able to romance other agents, and play a minigame where you both try to piece back together the basics of your sexual functions GOTY.

      The fact that you are playing a goddamn agent is definitely the worse part for me. They could make an FPS, RTS, racing game or whatever. The fact that you are playing a (stylish! brooding!) brainwashed slave (amnesia! revenge!) is a lazy decision, and the one that shows that they really DON’T get the damn setting at all.

    • Lemming says:

      @Napalm Sushi:

      I’d like it if RPS could put your post in neon 8-foot high letters on this, because alot of the defenders of this decision could easily be counter-argued with what you just said, and I’m sure we are in for a few more hundred comments going ‘yeah but..’. Yours says it all perfectly.

  8. thegooseking says:

    I agree with him that time has moved on, but the FPS genre is the one genre least affected by that. Modernising the franchise isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the idea that an FPS counts as ‘modernising’ doesn’t make much sense to me.

  9. Dakia says:

    “Releasing a high-res old-Syndicate as a promo game for the new one would make an incredible amount of business sense. I do hope EA high-ups are aware of that.”

    If they release a high-res version of the old Syndicate as a pre-order bonus or as a collector’s edition bonus, I would buy it without a second thought. The ONLY thing that interests me is a true remake of Syndicate. I couldn’t care less for the FPS remake.

  10. vodka and cookies says:

    Ultimately the number of people who recall and have played the original Syndicate’s are a drop in the bucket compared to those who have not played it among today’s audience.

    That’s why EA should do a HD Syndicate classic for the old timers to keep them happy and 99% of everyone else will buy the modern Syndicate.

    No-one has been making Syndicate clones like there have been X-Com clones so there isn’t that much of a demand for the original kind of game, not to mention much of it is nostalgia viewed through rose tinted glasses.

  11. JFS says:

    Oh Lord, five pages of comments *again*!

  12. shoptroll says:

    Pretty much in agreement with Alec here. I’m hoping that this will do well (or as much faith as I can muster for EA these days), and at the bare minimum it’ll light a fire under EA’s ass to get Syndicate and Syndicate Wars on GOG. Or maybe even $15-20 hi-res remakes as an option.

    It ultimately does come down to commercial viability. I still don’t believe anyone has figured out a good way to put out a RTS on consoles without making significant compromises. So if they’re going to make a game and aim for a large number of sales, to impress stockholders obviously, then you need to make it viable on the consoles. FPS right now is one of the easiest genres to do cross-platform given the popularity and the fact that we’ve made advancements in things like aim assistance to provide a solid experience with a controller.

    That all said, I think Syndicate makes more sense as a FPS than say X-Com. Syndicate was a lot more run and gun action game than a plodding turn-based tactical affair. So I think it’ll translate better in terms of feeling than X-Com.

    Also, this isn’t the first time anyone has tried to make an FPS out of Syndicate. There was the Syndicate Arena mod for Q3, and Science & Industry for Half-Life certainly borrowed some of the meta-game mechanics, at least on paper.

    EDIT: I’m curious if this was green-lit before or after X-Com and DX:HR. The timing seems about right for a bunch of major players to collectively decide “cyberpunk” was the next big thing. Kinda like that one year we had a bunch of movies about asteroids hitting earth in rapid succession.

  13. MonkeyMonster says:

    Thing is… how in a fps can you activate self healing ramp up autoaim and shoot, armed with 8 lasers and kill anything that moves,

    while eating a sandwich in both hands?

  14. deadly.by.design says:

    Remember when FPS remakes used to be an interesting idea? C&C: Renegade comes to mind, even if it felt more like playing with micro machines.

  15. jonfitt says:

    So we will walk up to designated NPCs and press A to engage persuadatron?

    Syndicate was full of questionable content like missions to assassinate a political candidate at a rally where a viable tactic was to open up on the crowd with miniguns and flamethrowers. Is this essence going to remain in nu-Syndicate? I think not.

  16. Pointless Puppies says:

    Can’t wait for them to reboot more Bullfrog games and tack the IP to a generic shooter. Most reasonable people would believe this is just about the most half-assed, laziest way of rebooting a series, because it has absolutely nothing to do with taking a series and carefully updating each of its intricate mechanics to work for modern gaming. Taking an IP and tacking a generic shooter to it generally means a simpler job to do. One does not require any real knowledge of the game, just enough superficial knowledge of it to make that its theme. Kind of like a movie-themed ride at your local amusement park. It’s the same damn roller coaster, they just tack on themed scenery that has kind of something to do with the movie they’re basing it on. Maybe paint the car some flashy, recognizable pattern from the movie, play a 2-minute loop of the film’s score over some speakers, and there you go. Intricate knowledge of the IP? Fuck that, good sir. Fuck that indeed.

    Theme Hospital FPS anyone?

  17. DarkByke says:

    maybe he meant “wonky”

  18. sinister agent says:

    But why would you WANT to be an agent? They’re disposable mooks. Hell, they had a self destruct function. Shooting men can be done in any game. Taking over the world by directing your cyborgs from afar can’t.

    Sigh. A shame. I’ve little doubt it’ll be at least quite decent – it’s EA after all, and they sponsor a lot of quality games – but I can’t think of a single reason to buy yet another bloody shooter. With bullet time, no less.

  19. Prometeo138 says:

    im gonna remake wing commander as a mario paint clone!
    this is not Syndicate. this is i.d.e.h.r.s.w.m.a.c (if deus ex human revolution works make a clone)
    they just cannot think in new ips and search in the past what could make an fps in a market already overpopulate with them.

    ps
    im so F***ing piss of rigth now!!

    visit http://swars.vexillium.org/ to calm down!

  20. Juxtapox says:

    The original syndicate perspective doesn’t work on consoles. That’s the main reason this is an FPS.

    • Navagon says:

      Do you have any idea, any idea at all, just how many consoles the original Syndicate appeared on? While each version was tailored for its respective platform, it was as a whole far more a console game than a PC one.

    • Juxtapox says:

      That was then, this is now. How many RTS titles do you see now on consoles compared to FPS?

  21. Navagon says:

    It was so simple. First person missions with you as the corporate executive able to directly take control of your agents and see the world through their soulless eyes.

    The rest is the same as the first game, but more corporate. So market share instead of outright control. Income instead of taxes.

    Simple. But apparently not simple enough.

  22. Wowza says:

    It’s pretty ironic that the fact that it’s an FPS instantly makes it an unoriginal COD clone, yet the game most of the fans want is basically a complete clone of the original with few changes.

    • Pointless Puppies says:

      Point me to where someone said “I want the exact same Syndicate again with minor changes”.

      The fact that people hate this doesn’t imply they want the extreme opposite. Opinions rarely work that way, you know.

    • Wowza says:

      There’s a few people on the page saying they like the idea of a HD remake. And although the comments don’t automatically imply they want a clone, the fact that this is getting backlash makes it pretty likely that most of the fans would not be satisfied with anything other than a sequel with similar gameplay.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      a sequel with similar gameplay

      basically a complete clone of the original with few changes

      Spot the difference.

    • Wowza says:

      Wording that is less likely to annoy people while still getting my general point across?

    • Pointless Puppies says:

      Again, “pretty likely” based on what? The gameplay is getting uprooted and changed to something entirely from what it used to be. In what way does opposing that kind of uprooting “likely” mean they want just another clone?

  23. dragonfliet says:

    The part that amuses me is where the author talks about other games that were “faithful” remakes making bajillions of moneys and then claiming that it was turned into an FPS for money. Which one is it? That companies can’t make money with the old schemes and so they change it to an FPS or is it that they CAN make money as shown any number of times?

    I too would like to see an updated Syndicate game (purtier, adopting some gameplay innovations but largely the same), but it isn’t as if we are getting this instead. If they really wanted to make that game, they would.

    Honestly, it’s like a band that changes musical styles. It isn’t more of the same and it is connected in name and spirit only, but honestly, you either like or you don’t. And then, you know, you deal.

  24. Soma83 says:

    The best part is that we get 5+ pages of bullshit, based on a few screenshots and some non gamer describing the game. People talk as if they have played the game and know exactly how it is going to be.

  25. roman2 says:

    I don’t know why everyones always emphazising that the original Syndicate was a strategy game. I mean, did you actually play the original? It’s been far away from the strategic depth of an XCOM or Commandos game. It had some strategic parts, like the research and equipping. But after all, the core gameplay was more a tactical action game than a real strategy title. Where the word action should be emphasized. I guess the original R6 and SWAT titles had more tactical depth than any game of the Syndicate franchise.
    That said, I’m not happy with the new Syndicate game being an FPS, and I’d very much prefered something closer to the original. But comparing Syndicate to XCOM, Starcraft or Total War just seems plain wrong to me.

  26. vodka and cookies says:

    Actual gameplay details in PSM (PS3 mag)
    * Aiming for harder game than most current FPS.
    * Smart AI for enemies in game, they will work together and not pop their heads out for easy shots.
    * You must play aggressively to stand any chance against your opponents & power up your powers.
    * Various chip hacking powers can be used to overcome rivals like forcing them to commit suicide or fight for you, disable shields etc.
    * Levels set across the globe including remakes of some original Syndicate missions.
    * Non-chipped people live in the gutters of super cities and see the agents as monsters, cant be hacked either, hinted at some sort of resistance movement.
    * Different Syndicates have different tactics, technology.
    * Visually it’s described as closer to Mass Effect and gameplay closer to Crysis 2

    (The new screenshots in the mag definitely back up the Mass Effect look at least for Syndicate controlled areas, poor folks areas resemble Blade Runner aesthetics)

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