Interview / The Conduit developer High Voltage Software talks shop

Ever since High Voltage Software debuted their tech demo showing off what their Quantum 3 engine can do on the Wii, people have been talking about a company finally pushing Nintendo’s system to its actual limits. Then they announced they were developing The Conduit using the engine. Not only will the game be one of the most graphically impressive ones on the system but it will also be a an adult-oriented science fiction shooter featuring online multiplayer and, if all goes well, possibly voice chat. On top of that, they’ve developed almost the entire game without a publisher on board and have managed to grab the attention of the entire Internet. Those are some impressive feats that we don’t even see from Nintendo themselves, let alone a third-party company, so while I’ve been desperately excited for the game I’ve also been a bit skeptical.

Luckily, I got the chance to talk with some of the guys at High Voltage about their upcoming game and clear up a few questions I had on it along with some concerns, specifically if it was going to live up to all the hype. Rob Nicholls (lead game designer), Eric Nofsinger (chief creative officer) and Matt Corso (studio creative director) hopped onto a speaker phone and happily answered every question I could throw at them. Want their answers? Read on.

That VideoGame Blog’s Matthew Razak (TVGB): Let’s start at the beginning. How did The Conduit come to be?

Eric Nofsinger (EN): About 18 months ago our founder was sort of bemusing to management that we were on a bit of a treadmill doing licensed properties, which are great and are our bread and butter, but you’re sort of at the whim of other folks. When licensed properties are at their best you have a licenser, a publisher and developer all working together to make the best possible outcome, but those stars don’t always align. We were talking about controlling our own destiny a bit more so we got some investment money specifically for producing a game all the way through completion and it has allowed us to develop the game to a point where we’re confident we’re on track to make a really amazing game.

Matt Corso (MC): We chose The Conduit because we saw there was a need. We’re all Wii owners and love the system and think it’s wonderful that all these new gamers are being pulled in. But we also want games for us and we weren’t seeing a lot of games like that being made outside of first party ones. A lot of ports, a lot of games not built for the Wii, games not built for what the Wii is capable of. We made it our mission: let’s make a game that’s specifically for the Wii from the ground up and push the hardware to what it is fully capable of.

TVGB: Speaking of pushing the hardware, how hard was it to push the graphical capacities of the Wii to such a level as is shown in the screens and videos, and why don’t you think more game developers have done it?

Rob Nichols (RN): From the artistic perspective it was difficult because we needed to develop our engine so that it is as competitive with the 360 and the PS3, and that required a lot of trial and error. And even before we started the game, we had to do a lot of work on it. Everyone did a great job and by the time the game ships it’ll really look amazing.

MC: Right now The Conduit is looking great, particularly on a big TV set. You really need to see it there as opposed to compressed video or screenshots to get the full idea. We keep working on the details and it just keeps looking better every day.

EN: To answer the second part as far as other developers go, it helped that we were early adopters on the Wii. It gave us sort of a running start. A lot of other developers got really excited by the PS3 and 360 and went rushing off in that direction and didn’t put the kind of emphasis on it that we did. We were very big believers in the Wii from early on. There hasn’t been much call for the great graphics so far. A lot of what has been successful has been family oriented titles and things of that nature, and the only folks that seem to be pushing for hardcore gamer is primarily Nintendo themselves. The other titles that have come out in that vein have been a bit lackluster. The games that have done well are the casual games so publishers see those as viable. We’re trying to do something that really hasn’t been done to its full extent to my knowledge.

TVGB: What is going to separate The Conduit from other FPS shooters featuring alien attacks from space?

MC: One of the key things is what we could and couldn’t do. We’re leveraging some special technology that makes for some great gameplay. The ASE (All Seeing Eye) device is really the hook, if you will. The thing uses projected light to show hidden things and adds a lot of cool gameplay features. You use the ASE to project a light over the environment to find things like hidden enemies or puzzles, clues and pieces, and then you can interact with them.

EN: The All Seeing Eye is a hug hook for us, but we’re also looking at other FPS games and expanding on that for the Wii. Some things that we are looking at are weapon controls and how they work with the Wii controls specifically.

MC: The Wii, with the controllers it has, really does cry out to be used as a shooter. We have an advantage from looking at other shooters and how they’ve controlled too.

RN: We really have gone back and done our research with classic games like Goldeneye and Halo. We want to bring that experience to the game. And in addition to that, we have the ASE and a government conspiracy story. There are some twist ending moments that even shocked me when I was working on the story. We’re pushing the ASE a lot, but in addition to that it really is a very solid FPS that is very grounded in classic FPS style gameplay. We’re doing a lot of focus testing on it and the people have really liked it, and we’ve worked with the focus testers to make changes as they come along.