Judge Dredd: Dredd vs. Death
There's A cocksure attitude about the Rebellion boys, as if they know something we don't. What with us Brits being generally a nervous and highly-strung bunch, such obvious and relaxed confidence is not something you see very often when you visits UK games studio - not in my experience anyway. And yet Rebellion co-founder Chris Kingsley and producer Ed Woolf appear unaccustomedly fresh-faced and unconcerned. With Dredd Vs Death so close to release, it's slightly unnerving to see the duo evidently without crease or worry.
Either they're goosed to the eyeballs on speedballs and gin, or development on their first proper 2000AD game is going exactly to plan. Since the lads have yet to try out their newfound powers of flight by jumping out the nearest windows the latter would appear to be eloper to the truth.
By rights, of course, Rebellion should be very worried indeed, as the experience of other developers does not bode well. The history books will tell that despite having such an incredibly rich and vast archive of material to draw on, not one developer has managed to do justice to Judge Dredd or his supporting cast over the last two decades.
"It's only really been with the advent of powerful PCs and the current generation of consoles that we've been able to realise our goal of recreating Mega City One," offers Ed Woolf. "The environments in the city are huge and we've built vast areas of Mega City One crammed with citizens, gangs, flying vehicles and robots - you name it." "Judge Dredd may be the face of the game," adds Chris, "but Mega City One is the real star of the show, and bringing such a vast city to life has simply been impossible up until now."
Streets Of Sin City
'It is true, Mega City One is enormous-just ask anyone who's read a copy of 2000AD. Stretching aclss the entire east coast of the USA avast megalopolis that extends upwards from the dark and disused depths of the old New York Subway, hundreds of feet into the sky where the Grand Halls Of Justice building dwarfs the old Statue Of Liberty. Shopping malls the size of entire suburbs command the expressways, while City Blocks - each one a self-contained city in its own right, house millions of unemployed, dissatisfied and easily led citizens.
Imprisoned in a city where littering, dancing and eating real meat warrant custodial sentences, it's no surprise things kick off as often as they do.
Unsurprisingly, with such a vast area - difficult enough to visualise in one's mind, let alone through a less capable computer - Rebellion have had to be very selective in the areas they chose to include. "We've picked locations that would appeal to the fans," admits Ed, although with more than 25 years of Judge Dredd history to pore over, we've had a wealth of choices. But the Undercity is there, as is the Nixon Iso-Cube Penitentiary where rioting is taking place. And Resyk - a place where dead bodies are taken to so they can be recycled for the rest of the city."
"The idea is that what you can't visit in the game, you will at least be able to see," adds Chris. "This isn't Grand Theft Auto in Mega City One - the place is just too big. WhahHfljMaotadJwas to include the landmarks that people will want to see, with whole areas, like Ryder Megamall and of course Deadworld, available to explore in great detail."
Tight security means we will probably have to wait until the review to see how the Dark Judges look in 3D, but it only took a few moments running the streets of Mega City One to recognise a legion of other potential enemies. From simple street perps all the way up to organised and heavily armed gangs - Mega City One's criminal population isn't going to give you a day off just because you're investigating a plot to free Judge Death. As we patrolled a typical street, we saw a vast number of crimes underway, from illicit smoking, littering, wall tagging - all the way up to muggings and assaults, and even a full-blown bank robbery. The beauty is that it's entirely up to you whether to ignore the perps or apprehend them.
"There are a multitude of ways of getting people to surrender," says Ed. "You can sneak up behind them and point a gun in their back, or shoot the gun out of their hands or apprehend the ringleader. If you can affect their morale, they are also more likely to surrender. However, if they have friends around, you may suddenly find yourself in the midst of a huge gun battle, at which point you can return fire legally."
Law Of The Urban Jungle
This is the catch - as well as upholding the law, Dredd must keep within it himself. Needless to say, the first thing we did was to unnecessarily execute a few passers-by, then some captured crims, and some more onlookers; behaviour that pretty soon incurred the wrath of the Special Judges. Flying down out of the sky in their H-Wagons, they did their best to arrest us, and we were forced to scarper. To avoid getting into this sort of trouble, you have to keep your Law Meter in the black, for which you're eventually rewarded with special arcade modes and multiplayer skins. GTA it isn't, but Dredd Vs Death will still offer plenty of scope for players to do their own thing outside the remit of the main story.
"If you explore every nook and cranny of the city," adds Ed, "you'll uncover secondary objectives which you can choose to fulfil if you want to see absolutely everything the game has to offer."
The 3D engine its self is undoubtedly powerful, for aside from all the buildings, backdrops and vehicles buzzing about, it's not uncommon to see over a dozen characters on screen at any time. And while this may not seem like an awfully large number, it's a good few more than most 3D engines can handle.
Ragdoll physics, the latest must-have shooter feature, will provide much of the game's appeal. Launch a round of Hi-Ex into a pack of zombies and they fly across the room, legs and arms flailing wildly in true comic-book style, coming to rest in a crumpled heap of broken bones and sagging flesh, with no evidence of clipping to be seen. What impressed us most of all was seeing a Fatty waddling across the street, his bellywheel squeaking f underneath the strain of his,enortp us gut. If you thought the ladies in &OA Beach Volleyball had impressive norks, wait 'til you see a Fatty on the move.
It is, as Chris revealed, close to the end of development for Dredd Vs Death, a time when typically a games developer is a hive of frenzied activity, as bug reports pour out from printers and tired bodies slump to the ground through exhaustion. .
However, there is no such panic here. A wander around the offices of the Oxford . studio reveals that the troops are as relaxed about the whole thing as the generals. Bodies are washed and alert, screens appear busy, and sleeping bags are nowhere to be seen. Had not seen and played the very latest, near beta, version of the game for myself, might have come away thinking Dredd Vs Death was barely at the planning stage.
I left Rebellion's eerily quiet and efficient offices a few hours later, satisfied I had seen what is sure to be -Mjough it's hardly saying much - the best 2000AD-inspired game in the comic's 25-year history. If Rebellion's collective and understated reassurances are anything to go by, few will be disappointed.
What's Become Of The Other 2000ad Heroes?
As all good 2000AD fans will recall, there was talk of a Rogue Trooper game a couple of years ago - we even saw a couple of pieces of concept art. But since VU Games signed up Dredd Vs Death, details on my favourite 2000AD character's transferral to PC have been non-existent. Does the planned third-person action title still exist?
"To be honest, we have so many characters to choose from, we've decided to see how Dredd fares before we decide who next to bring to the screen," says Rebellion's Chris Kingsley. "Rogue is an obvious choice, but people are equally keen to see Slaine, Johnny Alpha and Halo Jones. It's an almost impossible choice."
Curiously, the team is more ready to discuss a Dredd sequel... "But again, who should we have as Dredd's rival?" asks Chris. "Over the last 25 years Dredd has dispatched dozens and dozens of memorable characters... it's a nightmare." Reading all those old Progs again, yep, it must be a horrendous task.
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Mega-city one is a sprawling metropolis home to 400 million people, every one a potential criminal. In this teeming den of humanity the law is upheld by the Judges, walking justice dispensers with the power to arrest, convict and sentence criminals on the spot. But then Judge Death showed up. With his permanent grimace, cadaverous physique and burlesque Judge's uniform, Death believes life itself is a crime punishable by death.
Judge Dredd, with his granite chin, penchant for violence and hatred of democracy and human rights is the only thing standing between Death and a whole lot -of executions. It should be an interesting match-up. The Dredd Vs Death story is an obvious basis for a game, yet it has taken more than two decades to bring one of 2000AD's most enduring rivalries to life. Despite a number of attempts at digitising the comic's leading man, few, if any, have done Dredd justice, let alone come anywhere near capturing the vastness of MegaCity One, the diversity of its population, or the whacked-out, harsh insanity of its legal system. Perhaps the technicalities of bringing Mega-City One to life just weren't feasible. Until now.
"It would have been very hard to capture the mood and excitement of a megalopolis teeming with hundreds of millions of people with the computer technology of five years ago, let alone 25 years ago," says Jose Aller, senior producer for NDA Games, the game's publisher. "It's only now we could even dream of creating a project as vastly ambitious as this."
Asura 'bout That
The developers of this latest effort are Oxford-based Rebellion, creators of what is still the most relentlessly terrifying game around, Aliens IZs Predator. To bring Dredd alive, the team has developed a new 3D engine, dubbed 'Asura'.
Rather than opting for realism, or heading off the other way on to the cel-shading bandwagon, the Asura engine sits perfectly between the two extremes, offering an aesthetic that is gritty and, excuse the pun, graphically novel.
"The idea is to bring Dredd's world to life," says Aller. "If we went for something like the Quake III or Doom III engine, like in Medal Of Honor, the game would look too much like a movie, which isn't what the comics are all about. Similarly, neither is it Bugs Bunny. We're not going for the obvious dark and moody Quake style, we have to stick to the style of the comics." Now there's a relief.
"The vast metropolis of Mega-City One is essentially the central character in the Judge Dredd stories," continues Aller. "We feel that the city we have realised in the game will blow the minds of gamers and fans of 2000AD"
The current version of the game has undeniable impact. Few cities have looked as varied, vast or colourful. And with at least another year of development left to run, Rebellion is sure the engine will be able to handle at least 30 high-detail characters on screen at any one time. Wolfenstein and Medal Of Honor could barely handle half that number. "Characters and environment are drawn using continuous level of detail techniques," explains Aller. "The more people on screen, the lower the detail they are drawn with. The Asura engine is completely scaleable to the machine it's running on. We've tned hard to maintain a balance of supporting the latest state-of-the-art hardware while still making the game run smoothly on older machines."
Judge Dredd himself is a step above your traditional FPS hero. He knows how to deliver his trademark Dirty Harry inspired one-liners and use a gun, his trusty Lawgiver. But like all judges, Dredd is both policeman and judiciary so sentencing is sure to play a part. Four hundred million people, all potential 'crazies', inhabit Mega-City One. and with high unemployment, laws are harsh and punishments even harsher. Catch someone firing a gun, for example and not only can you lock them up for illegal possession of a firearm, you can add a few years to the sentence for littering - a year for each shell casing.
"The main difference, between Dredd Vs Death and other FPSs is the player will have to deal with the various 'perps' and scumbags that infest the streets according to the letter of the law, which provides a unique gameplay element. Players will be forced to adopt a more thoughtful style - though there'll still be plenty of all-out frag-fests."
With Dredd able to invoke laws as wide-ranging and incongruent as littering and headbanging, all the way to assault and mass-murder, quite how dishing out such harsh justice will manifest itself is still to be finalised. But one thing's for sure, players won't be allowed to summarily execute citizens for just getting in the way.
"Blow away a load of civilians," says Aller, "and the SJS - Special Judicial Squad ('The Judges Who Judge Judges') will be paying you a visit."
Death Becomes Him
All of which shouldn't deflect attention away from the meat of the game - the battle against the Dark Judges. The nature of which is being kept under wraps. Aller goes as far as to say: "The story is taken from the comics and elaborated on to add new twists and bring it up to date." But that's it. Which particular storyline(s) the Dredd Vs Death game is based on, we simply don't know.
"We are attempting to make the Dark Judges in the game as faithful to the comic as possible. But whatever abilities they have in the game, we can assure you that Dredd's many previous encounters with the Dark Judges will allow him to deal with them." But what of Judge Fear, who is so demonstrably ugly he has to hide his facial features behind a mask lest he scare people to death - which is exactly what he is duty-bound to do.
"As the 'face of fear' is capable of causing instant death to anyone who views it, we would have to be careful how it was implemented to avoid decimating the PC-owning population," muses Aller. "Judge Anderson will have a pivotal role in the game, of course." adds Aller, "turning up at crucial points to assist Dredd with her psychic powers. As everyone knows, his tough exterior and his single-minded approach to upholding the law does not faze her. Dredd's faithful manservant Walter the Wobot and the Fatties will also definitely be making an appearance.
"Mega-City One has a mind-bogglingly diverse population with an incredible range of occupations, lifestyles and appearances, from the seraphically saintly to the deeply deviant, and it has been our challenge to portray the citizens in all their insane technicolour glory. The game will be the crazed cultural melting pot that we know and love from the comics."
Aiding Dredd in his fight against crime is his trusty Lawgiver pistol, a weapon as important to a Judge as a Lightsaber to a Jedi. Effectively six weapons in one, the Lawgiver in the final game is slated to include various types of ammunition; standard rounds, armour piercing, ricochet, heat-seeking bullets, incendiary and high explosive. Other weapons will be on hand too, such as the Lawrod Rifle. As Aller says: "It's handy for taking out that 50ft mechanoid that's been troubling you - and for when you absolutely, positively need to bust some heads."
As well as a decent-sized arsenal, we can expect Dredd to accumulate a wide variety of inventory items, from the usual keycards and ammo packs, all the way to the many varied and outlandish inventions the Judges take for granted. Expect Cling Nets, Cuffs, and every Judge's friend, the Birdie, a handheld lie detector. Oh, and Boing, a sealant that's the only way to capture Judge Death.
But the biggest item of Dredd's equipment, his Lawmaster bike, looks like it might have to wait for another time. Aller says: "We are creating the best first-person shooter we can by focusing on Dredd interacting with the multitudes of people that inhabit Mega-City One, and the best way to do that was to be wearing out his Justice Department issue boots on the streets arresting perps and trying to survive against a host of enemies."
In terms of the missions themselves, Rebellion is currently finalising the 10-12 chapters. Though the game will be linear, we are promised multiple objectives and various ways to arrest perps. As well as saving 400 million people from summary execution, handing out six month stints in the cubes for littering will be required.
As to the locations, the Halls Of justice, the docks and Romero Mega Mall are confirmed. What we've seen is impressive - the skyline extends far into the distance and on the levels set high among the towering scrapers, just looking down is.
It's difficult to tell at this stage how Dredd Vs Death will square up against the likes of Half-Life in terms of Al, but both Rebellion and NDA are confident they can take it to the next level.
"Too many games rely on scripted sequences to cover-up bad Al, which means things may look good first time round but soon get very repetitive," points out Aller. "The Als in Dredd Vs Death truly are independent entities - they're aware of their own emotions and surroundings, and consider the consequences of their actions. Rather than use fixed states ('idle', 'suspicious', etc) the Al characters are governed by goal-based fuzzy logic systems, which weigh up the pros and cons of the current situation and react accordingly. Even our basic grunt' Al is capable of team-based multiplayer games.
As to the subject of multiplayer, little is forthcoming aside from the fact we are promised a number of unique modes. Questions of 'Judgematch', 'Block Wars' or some sort of city-wide riot scenario are met only with a knowing smile.
"What I can say is that we've got some really nice ideas for multiplayer," admits Aller. "We want to make multiplayer special, more than just deathmatch. We want to make it a really new experience."
Now up to Prog 1300 and costing slightly more than eight pence, 2000AD has seen Dredd and his nemesis develop to a degree unrivalled in any other comic. We know it's high time justice was done to the nation's favourite future lawman, and we've got a feeling that the Rebellion team are just the ones to mete it out.
They Look good, don't they? The buildings filling the screenshots over the next couple of pages, towering against the dark skyline, with ship-in-a-bottle detail and nightmarish vastness? Wen, you should try walking around beneath them.
Yes, that's right. They're not part of some convoluted artwork to make the game look good to gullible magazine readers, they're physical presences that will take your breath away when you start exploring Rebellion's computerised version of Mega-City One, home of Judge Dredd and 400 million people. "It's all built to scale," says lead artist and designer Tim Jones, pointing at one of the gargantuan constructions. "So each of those white dots is a proper, permanent-presence, size-scaled window." Not that Rebellion is trying to cram the whole city into the game. Given that it takes up the whole of the Eastern US seaboard, that would just be stupid. "We've broken it into sections because we wanted everything to look very polished rather than generic."
They've taken some of the most recognisable areas from the comic and translated them to the monitor in all their gigantic glory. At this early stage, though most of the architecture is complete, the swarm of movement and people that will make the city truly come to life in the player's imagination is still missing. But it's already coming together enouatUoisee how incredible it's going to look.
There are even giant screens a la Blade Runner showing full-motion video, adding to the sense that this is a vibrant, living - if also dark, dank and scary - city. There will be news reports playing all over the city, helping to progress the story - about which little is known, by the way, apart from the basic premise of Dredd confronting his arch nemesis Death and the Dark Judges. Although you can get an idea of its scope by the producer Ed Woolf's words.
"There are 9.000 lines of dialogue and it's growing. The script fs quite involved. We've got 25 years of the 2000AD comic to go on."
The Crime Is Life
Ed tells us some of the things we can expect to see once the full noise and bustle of the crowded futuristic city is recreated: "There'll be flying robots coming down from the sky, cars sweeping past, a monorail speeding above.'' And. more importantly, a hell of a lot of people. As head of programming Kevin Lea adds, "We focused on visualising mega-city one, and to do that realistically means having lots and lots of people on screen simultaneously. They've all got complex bone structures, animations and lots of polygons, but because of how scalable everything is, it will run quite happily on whatever PC you've got. It doesn't have to be state-of-the-art."
The issue of scalability is an important one. It means that although Dredd vs Death is also being developed for the PS2, it automatically looks better on a decent spec PC. In fact. Rebellion's Asura engine is so impressive it shouldn't be long before other developers start using it and, thanks to its user-friendliness and fast rendering, we can expect it to have a big impact with the mod community.
It might not have the ultra-realistic look of Doom 3, but it's perfect for the dark, comic-book style of Dredd. Not to mention all those other 2000AD characters Rebellion has lined up for videogame transfers.
The Sentence Is Death
Of course, it's not just the graphics that remain truthful to the comic original, and the gameplay itself is fashioned in true Judge Dredd style, rather than the generic move-though-corridors-and-kill-everything FPS we're so sick of seeing.
"You can't just go round shooting people." explains Ed. "You have to challenge them and try to arrest them. If they resist and pull a gun out on you, then all hell breaks loose. But you have to stand by the laws you've sworn to uphold, which is why you have a law-meter on the screen display. It goes down if you shoot innocent people (or ones that have willingly surrendered) and if it reaches the bottom you'll get a visit from the SJS, the Special Judiciary Squad, who will try to arrest you." Their appearance doesn't signal game over though, it simply makes your life much more difficult as you try and get on with your mission objectives while simultaneously avoiding those damn Special Judges. "If the meter reaches the top as you arrest lots of criminals," continues Ed, "You'll get special rewards, like unlocking skins for multiplayer and so on."
There's no better way to give a taste of what the game will be like than showing a mission, which is exactly what the Rebellion guys did. The whole thing kicks off in the docks area of Mega-City One, a level which they Originally thought would demonstrate |ust the kind of huge scale they were aiming for. but has since been dwarfed by all the other environments they've been building.
It's pouring down, as it so often is in this damp, dark city, and if you look up at the sky you can see the raindrops exploding on your visor. It's a good job there's no time limit, because chances are you'll be spending quite a while 'coo-ing' and 'ahh-ing' as you take in the full beauty of the Asura engine.
Your first mission is to arrest a gang of hoods. The bad news is they out-number you by quite a margin. The good news is when you find them, half of them decide to leg it. Still, enough of them hang around to make it a pretty hairy fire-fight. Elsewhere, you're informed of a group i of punks spraying graffiti in a subway I tunnel. As you arrive to bust asses and take names, graffiti-cleaning robots turn up to wash down the defaced walls. C'ty life must go on, y'know.
The city is populated with all types of gangs, not all necessarily part of the main storyline, but adding to the atmosphere and immersion. You can even, if you're feeling particularly devious, lead one gang into another's territory and watch them slug it out. saving yourself precious Lawgiver bullets.
It's All A Bit Fuzzy
The thing is, all this atmosphere and immersive detail would go out the window if it were not backed up by equally realistic NPC behaviours. I've always said that an FPS should be judged above all on the quality of its Al, and in this case things appear to be well on track - which is especially refreshing given that it's usually the last thing the developers get round to.
In most games, the programmers try to make it look like your enemies are acting intelligently by liaving them run off or shoot at you intermittently from a position of cover. These are usually just scripted patterns and path-finding routines rather than proper responses to an active situation. In Judge Dredd, enemies will take cover behind any object they find in the environment. And if you drop a new object in. they'll recognise it and use it to their advantage.
As Ed explains: "The fuzzy logic Al system we're using means that each character makes a decision based on the environment around him and the actions taking place. For example, if the enemies out-number you, they start firing at you. If you kill a few of them, the others are much more likely to surrender or call for backup." When the criminals do surrender (by kneeling down and putting their arms behind their back) you can go up to them and cuff them, while an on-screen message will relay the penalty for their heinous crimes.
And with the fuzzy logic comes other benefits: "Every time you play the game it will be slightly different. Different gangs will have attributes they always adhere to. but they will still make decisions based on what's going on around them," says Ed.
"It's not random." adds Kevin, "Because they won't do things that are completely out of character. But they're still unpredictable. And the larger the group of people the more chaotic it can all become."
But it's not just perps who behave realistically. All the citizens thronging around you have their own lives to get on with. "A bit like in rhe Sims," says Kevin. "They can interact with things in their environment, like if they see an advert coming on a TV screen they'll walk over to watch it."
Another element designed to make each game different from the last is the lack of pre-set death animations. Instead. Rebellion has gone for the ragdoll effect where the body of the victim falls according to skeletal physics, the environment and where they were hit. It also means they'll slump against walls and assume unnatural positions on stairs rather than lie rigidly as most computerised corpses do. This is especially effective when using the high-explosive ammo, a sort of grenade that sends bodies flying in all directions in a magnificent explosion, with limbs twisting in midair and landing in the most painful of positions.
Of course, setting off explosions in the middle of a crowded street and causing massive civilian casualties isn't usually a good idea. But this is Judge Dredd remember, and protecting civilians at all costs has never been high on his agenda. "Because you have this law meter," explains Kevin, "there's some room for manoeuvre. You can say, 'well, my law meter is pretty high and there's one innocent guy and three bad guys. I'll take out all of them.' And that's the sort of thing Judge Dredd does on a daily basis. His basic thinking is that a hostage deserves to die for being stupid enough to get caught in the first place."
And as for multiplayer? Well, they're not supposed to talk about it. But you can tell by the twinkle in their eyes that it's going to be special.
With 2000AD, Main has been producing some of the world's best comics for some 25 years. Now. it looks like we're finally jjoing to start producing world-class first-person shooters too. Justice will be done.
Are you nervous about taking on such a big franchise and such a beloved character as Judge Dredd? In a word, yes! Very nervous. I've been reading 2000AD since I was 14 years old from issue one, so I'm a fan of the character myself. I think everybody here is a fan as well. We own and publish the comic, we own the characters and we've re launched the magazine and that's going really well. Now we've got the game and we can go in a slightly different direction. We have the freedom to do really more or less what we want. We've got a hell of a task, and we want to be straightforward and honest with the hardcore Dredd fans and also get other people interested in the character and the comics.
What aspects of Dredd's world are you hoping to bring out in Dredd Versus Death?
We really want to make sure that the game fits in with the slightly dark, slighdy satirical look of life today, which is really what the 2000AD world is a commentary on. When you think about all the surveillance issues happening, identity cards, people having no right to appeal, you can see that Dredd's world is getting closer and closer in some ways, which is a little scary. We want to bring that dark side out but we also need to make it approachable for the mainstream consumer, for people who are not necessarily big fans of Dredd or don't read the comic. We want to make sure they can go "yeah I get that" rather than having too many in-jokes.
What do you hope the game will offer hardcore fans of 2000 AD?
They'll be a very strong storyline, as we're working as much as we can with Carlos EzquerTa and John Wagner, two of the divisional creators behind Dredd. They want to be involved - whether they haw time is another thing. We want to use them as much as we can to make sure the story and feel is authentic. We are going to try and write the storyline in two layers, so on one level it's fun for people, it's a good story, even if they don't know who Dredd is, and on another level there'll be quite a lot of story references for the hardcore fans.
So will you be consulting the fans about the possibilities for the game? We won't be actively consulting them. If you ask ten fans you'll get 12 ideas for games! I have to admit that I do lurk on the forums and newsgroups. We have to be careful because some of the hardcore fans are very noisy online, but they're not really representative of the mainstream. There are lots of fans who are silent and just like what we do. Fan feedback is important but often there are business realities as well that we have to look at. We're primarily running a business and we've got to keep the funds coming in so we can keep the comics coming out. We take notice of fans, and we definitely listen even though we don't always agree!
Why did you choose Judge Death as the bad guy and what other characters can we expect to see in the game?
Judge Death is a particularly strong character from a gameplay point of view in that he can never be killed, he can only be captured. He can inhabit different bodies so we can play around with the gameplay mechanisms there. He comes from a parallel dimension called Deadworld, and as a character he holds a mirror up to Dredd because he believes that crime is committed by the living, therefore life itself is a crime, so we're all guilty from birth. He also has his allies, the other Dark Judges: Fear, Fire and Mortis, and I think they will probably be in the game. Cassandra Anderson and Mean Machine will almost certainly appear. I'd like to bring in all types of characters from the various storylines like the Fatties, the Uglies and Max Normal the pinstriped freak, who's weird because he's so normal. But what we've got to do is focus down on what would make a good game and what would work in terms of the story.
So will you actually be able to play as Judge Death?
No. I don't think we're going to go with the 'play as the bad guy' angle, because I don't think we have time.
But Alien vs Predator showed that it was more fun to play as the bad guy didn't it?
But Dredd's not a good guy, Dredd's not a hero. He's not flying around saving babies from burning buildings, he's actually arresting ordinary people and putting them in prison for a long time. Up until now we have focused on Dredd, but maybe players could play as Death in cheat mode. But I think you're probably right, it would be quite interesting to play as Death and it might be what people expect with our AvP heritage. I'll pass it on to the team!
That's one of the challenges. How do we make a player feel like they're in a living, breathing Mega City? It's a tough one. Our engine can cope with effectively as many polygons as you can throw at it, but we can't model a whole city. People are going to recognise the various areas like the Halls of Justice, and I'd love to use places like the Curse Earth and the Under City.
What I don't want to do is have a place that is crowded with 200 people that aren't relevant to you. Crowds are good for looking interesting but in terms of gameplay if you have any more than four or five targets on screen at once it's almost impossible to tell which one you have to prioritise and it becomes an arcade game, which we don't want. We want to have lots of things flying by, lots of video screens flashing and lots of sounds because sound can give you that atmosphere as well. What kind of weapons can we expect to get our mitts on?
We're not really going for a weapons fest - what's important is that the gameplay is strong and the type of weaponry you've got suits the environment. You're not a soldier, fighting against the enemy; it's a very different gameplay type to that. Dredd's lawgiver gun will probably be modelled on the mark two version, with about six settings: standard, execution, hotshot, grenade, armour piercing and ricochet. We'll probably use things like Stumm Gas and riot foam, and we're also playing with the idea of introducing a stun ray. Boing (a spray-on rubber coating that solidifies into a giant ball) will probably also be in there because it's the only thing that can encapsulate Death. They'll probably be heavy ammunition as well to take on things like droids and Manta Prowl Tanks. We've got lots of things to play with, and we have the freedom to invent new' weapons.
How will the gameplay be structured?
it will be mission-orientated. The exact nature of the levels and the storyline has not been worked out yet; we're working on the gameplay, the engine and the technology, we're still a long way off yet. You won't be able to just go through the game shooting willy-nilly - you won't be able to just 'shoot' the bad guys, because you might not be able to justify it. You might just have to shoot them in the leg and arrest them, or sometimes you just have to kill them! You're a judge, you're not a mercenary soldier. The key point is that you have to work within the law, that's your character. Instead of having a score, you might have a number of years in solitary confinement or in an Iso-Cube to dispense. Maybe you'll have to decide on the sentencing and if you're too lenient, you have to go for re-education and you lose. If you're too harsh, the SJS will come and 'talk' to you and you may lose the game that way. We want to get that slight parody.
There will be a very strong multiplayer side, but we haven't decided how it will work exactly. It might be Judges against perps or mutants, or Judge against Judge. There's so many things you can do in Dredd's world. (The conversation then deviates briefly about the possibilities of a Boing multiplayer level.)
You've designed the engine for Dredd Versus Death from the ground up. How is it going to enhance the game?
One of the key points for us with the engine we used wasn't just to make another Tenderer that looked realistic. We wanted to maintain the painted, slightly heightened realism of the comics. It doesn't have the flat 2D look of a toon Tenderer, it's fully texturemapped and we're also using rim lighting. We're trying to go one step beyond a toon Tenderer and create something that gives it a flavour all of its own. It's like we did in Alien vs Predator, we had our own lighting, with fully destructible lights in the game, facial animation, slow modes and so on, which all worked well for us. We've got to take that one step further. We've got to get that crazy lighting, that twilight that the city sometimes has at the very bottom, where it's dark because the sun doesn't get down there. It's all about building up atmosphere for the player.
What other games are you working from 2000AD?
We're working on a Rogue Trooper game. He's one of my favourite characters. There's also our RPG Wardog, which was started as a computer game at the same time as a comic strip, but he's still a young character in terms of development. There loads of great characters and settings to choose from.
What other genres apart from the FPS and the RPG would suit the 2000AD world?
An RTS would be quite good, some kind of apocalypse war. Or a Judge Dredd game without Judge Dredd, like 'Sim Mega City'. It would be like The Sims but in a Mega City block with all the bizarreness that goes on, like the 84 per cent unemployment! You could do a racing game, with Lawmaster bikes, or Manta Prowl tanks - we're not planning on any of this yet though. Hey what about Faitv-belly wheel-racing? Gut-barging or bite-fighting? You could have all the fighting from 2000AD and things like eating competitions with eating for volume and eating for speed! Games like Sky Surfing', 'Areoball', 'Inferno'. Maybe your readers can suggest stuff on 2000 Adonline.
Uprooting a much-loved character from the pages of a comic to the screen of a PC is a route that is fraught with danger. It's a similar quandary to that faced by moviemakers when directing the film of a book. People generally scoff, saying they preferred the book, primarily as the vision it paints in their minds is vastly different from that of the hapless film director. The transition from comics is slightly smoother, thanks to the visual pointers offered by the paper medium (in the form of great big pictures of the characters and settings). However, if the fat owner of the comic shop in The Simpsons is anything to go by, comic fans are likely to be even more precious, crying like babies at any perceived slight on their favourite read.
Either way, Judge Dredd developer Rebellion has taken no chances with authenticity. In fact, it liked 2000AD so much that it bought the company. 2000AD is, of course, the (ahem) futuristic comic that has been delivering galactic thrills since its inception in 1977, arguably completing the cultural trilogy offered by that momentous year which also yielded both Star Wars and the Sex Pistols.
Launched into a marketplace that's largely catered for by stiff-upper-lip war stories or juvenile capers, 2000AD was literally out of this world, successfully warping the minds of a generation reared on Whizzer& Chips and Warlord. As much good science fiction is, it was, in essence, a dark satire on modern woes, although for pre-pubescent boys, the appeal was far more rooted in the guns, gadgets and extreme violence.
Central to this approach was Judge Dredd, which first appeared in issue two and has been there ever since, dispensing his inimitable brand of justice to the 400 million inhabitants of Mega-City One, the sprawling metropolis that spans the entire eastern seaboard of the United States. Not one for the subtle approach, Dredd tends to shoot first and ask questions later. As such, he's an almost perfect character for a game, something that Rebellion was aware of when it acquired 2000AD, moving the comic into the building adjacent to its Oxford development studio and rapidly beginning work on the game.
Two years of hard labour has now come to a head and, if you haven't worked it out yet. we are in the vicinity of a first-person shooter, the most obvious use of the licence (although we did have high hopes for a tile-based strategy game).
You are Dredd and you are the law. helmet firmly affixed, and Lawgiver (Dredd's gun) in hand. As the name suggests, Dredd's old adversary. Judge Death, is up to his old tricks, made all the more difficult by the fact that he can't be killed because he is already dead. Before you catch up with him, though, there are more mundane matters to deal with, such as protesters and graffiti artists (aka scrawlers).
The first mission gives you a chance to get to grips with arresting perps (perpetrators), something that is important due to Dredd's Lawmeter; in effect, an inhibitor that stops you becoming too trigger happy. Make a few arrests and your Lawmeter goes up; kill some innocent people and it plummets rapidly. Should it drop too far. you'll fail the mission and special judges will be sent in to take you out. It's a reasonable idea and one that forces you to use a little restraint.
If you do feel the urge to pistol-whip a vagrant, you still can, but it's best not to get too carried away. As well as keeping a check on the violence, the Lawmeter has a secondary purpose in that it contributes to your rating for each mission. On completion of each level, you are awarded the rank of either Cadet. Rookie. Street Judge, Senior Judge or Judge Dredd himself, with success rewarded by the unlocking of multiplayer elements as well as arcade levels.
Each mission consists of primary and secondary objectives, with the former required for completion and the latter contributing toward your ranking. There is generally a button or lever to press, and its location is indicated via a rudimentary waypoint system, offering the general direction and number of metres to the target.
Something of a simplistic approach, it does at least forgo a lot of aimless wandering, although we can't help thinking it was introduced more for the benefit of console owners, with the game receiving a crossplatform release. In fact, the console origins are writ large all over the game. For example, bereft of the joys of an analogue pad, Dredd has only one pace, namely running. Fortunately, the lack of stealth elements don't make this much of a problem, plus it is useful for getting around some of the larger levels.
Quick-save-happy PC gamers may balk at the lack of the feature, replaced instead by a series of checkpoints, although somewhat perversely there is also a slow-save option.
Probably the largest console crime is the city itself which, despite being home to some 400 million people, is often more reminiscent of a wet weekend in Slough. Traffic is virtually non-existent, and the people who are onscreen are generally directly related to the mission.
The whole concept of a living, breathing city is not one that applies to Judge Dredd, with the missions taking place in well-defined, self-contained areas. Many of those areas will be familiar to fans of the comic, such as The Halls Of Justice, Penitentiary and Undercity, eerily packed with crumbling 20th-century artefacts in a Beneath The Planet Of The Apes style. The Smokatorium also makes up one of the levels, demonstrating just how spot-on some of the ideas in 2000AD are, with the city's smokers confined to an airtight dome, an eerily prescient prediction of the fate of the nicotine addict. See also the Fatties, grotesquely obese citizens who carry their girth around with the aid of a stomach-bearing wheel. All of this is captured in fine detail by the bespoke Asura engine, which provides some colourful locations and impressive effects.
Ragdoll physics is a term that is bandied around, and Judge Dredd utilises it to the maximum. Even corpses that have been burned to a skeleton can still be gleefully shot around the floor, the limbs bending i a macabre fashion. The game certainly doesn't hold back on the violence, and blood is liberally sprayed around with aplomb.
Much of the death and destruction is meted out by Dredd's Lawgiver, which comes with six types of ammunition, each allegedly more useful in certain situations. Standard ammo enables you to despatch enemies with short controlled bursts, and is good enough to take out the average street punk.
Armour-piercing is self explanatory, although a couple of rounds will take down one of the vampires that crop up regularly. Ricochet is a clever lift from the comics, enabling you to bounce bullets round a corner - useful for clearing a room, although it's a bit of a hit-and-miss affair.
Incendiary is great for anyone who enjoys watching people burn to death, although it's far from instant as enemies will still flail at you for a few seconds while on fire, something that if it ever happened in real life would leave you permanently traumatised. Hi-ex ammo is a good all-purpose option, generally taking out enemies with one shot, although it's best used at long range, as at close quarters you can often end up killing innocents, or even yourself.
Finally, Heatseeker can be handy in both single and multiplayer, although the bullets don't pack much of a punch. In addition to the Lawgiver -which Dredd always carries - the Justice Department issues the Arbitrator shotgun and LawRod assault rifle. These and enemies' weapons can be swapped in a Halo style, with Dredd able to hold the Lawgiver plus one other, although he's also packing a few smoke grenades, which generally force enemies to surrender.
Various approaches can be made when tackling perps. For instance, if you shoot the leader's head off, the rest of the gang will be more inclined to surrender. Arrests can also be upped by shooting the weapon out of a perp's hand, or by crippling him with a leg shot, with the Al reacting accordingly. There are, in essence, three main types of enemy: vampires, who come at you in a set pattern; zombies, who shuffle inexorably in your general direction; and death cult leaders, who stand and shoot, plus some general cannon fodder.
The Al is far from perfect, though, and many perps have little sense of self preservation, making it something of a duck-shoot. They also manage to become somewhat confused and can often be found wrestling invisible demons like a Stella-fuelled tramp.
Likewise, the other judges aren't a great deal of help, and there is no real sense of teamwork. That said, you can pair up with a buddy and play the game co-operatively. You won't really need to, though, as any vaguely expenenced FPS player should be able to tear through the 11 levels in the space of a weekend.
Fortunately, there is more to the game than just the story mode, as success in the missions opens up a series of arcade levels, many of which are as good as - if not better than -their narrative-led counterparts. Freed from the constraints of the plot - and indeed the Lawmeter - many of these are unrestrained bloodbaths, allowing you to really let rip with the available hardware.
That's pretty much your Dredd vs Death then, an old-school first-person shooter steeped in the history of 2000AD. Releasing such a straightforward shooter so close to Half-Life 2 could be considered commercial madness, and Rebellion will be relying on the good faith of 2000AD fans if it is to make an impression. Fans should be duly satisfied, though, as there is enough detail to appease even those who seal their old issues (sorry, progs) in plastic sleeves.
Flicking through the comics now, though, the world of Dredd is a particularly dark place, something that the game doesn't always capture accurately. While the voice of Dredd himself is suitably authoritative, some of the Dark Judges can come across as a bit camp, adding something of an element of pantomime to the proceedings. In fact, it could be argued that the universe of Dredd has been reduced to a mere computer game.
That would be overlooking the good, old-fashioned, gratuitous violence though, and the mindless fun to be had in shooting off heads, burning people alive or simply smacking them upside the face with the butt of your rifle. If you've ever wanted to be Judge Dredd for a couple of days, this is your chance. Clearly the best Dredd game ever, it definitely surpasses Gremlin's side-scrolling platformer by some distance.
It may not be a revolutionary, game by any means, but it's certainly good fun. Look at the pictures, play the demo and make your mind up.
We've All had to dispatch zombies at one time or another and usually it's just a case of filling them with lead, but the undead immortal enemy of Judge Dredd is a completely different kettle of fish. While he's vulnerable to a well-deserved hail of bullets. Judge Death is able to vacate his host body and move into a new one, whereupon the unwilling new host will rapidly decay into the familiar toothy-grinned arch nemesis of our grim-faced hero. Finding him may not be much of a problem, even in a city of billions; wiping him out certainly will be. And we haven't even mentioned Death's three chums either: Fear, Mortis and Fire.
Thankfully, as veteran 2000AD readers will know, the four Dark Judges will meet their end, probably in some faraway alternate dimension, but before we get there, we have the prospect of exploring Mega City One. one of the most expansive and outlandish locales ever transferred to a computer game. It's been tried before, many times, but this time the boys at Rebellion are fanboy-keen to get it right. And since the UK's premier FPS developer actually owns 2000AD, there's every chance that they will.
Unfortunately Rebellion is keeping tight-lipped on what will be in the game and it's hard to pin down exactly which characters, weapons and locales we can expect. We know for certain that we ll meet Dredd's faithful droid Walter, his psychic partner Judge Anderson and an anny of Death-loving cultists. From the Justice Dept arsenal too. Dredd won't just have to rely on his Lawgiver sideami; even if his six different varieties of ammo are usually enough to fend off any perp that crosses his path.
We've yet to see Judge Death in true digital form, but Rebellion assures us that it plans to take fear to the next level. With Aliens vs Predator already under their belts, we've got a spare pair of kecks on just in case Dredd Vs Death lives up to expectations.
What Amazes Me about 2000AD is how few of its stars are in games. Where's the Halo Jones point-and-click, Bad Company squad shooter, or the Zenith RPG? But at least we've got two decent 2000AD shooters: Rogue Trooper and this.
Dredd vs Death is a great FPS. Your main weapon, the Lawgiver pistol, has a wide variety of ammo types - from heatseekers to rubber ricochets that bounce around rooms - giving you an armoury other FPSs can only wish for from the go. The story's cool, the graphics remain fairly good, there's enough action to stop you ever getting bored, and it's packed with black-as-sin humour.
Gameplay-wise it's also innovative: Dredd is a cop, but unlike cops in every other FPS he's expected to arrest people. Don't and your 'law meter' - a measure of how good a cop you are - drops to nothing, and the Special Judicial Squad (bastard-hard Judges) come to kill you. To keep the meter up you need to arrest perps, generally by shooting their buddies until their morale breaks and they surrender. Despite all this Dredd has downers.
It remains buggy. Nothing serious, but the occasional AI screw-up will have you FWTFing. And although Dredd is Mega City une's top Judge, here he's an errand boy.
The two main flaws are that the vampires (of which they are legion) are unbelievably fast, soak up bullets, and travel in packs. In short, they're too lethal to be fun to fight. Worst of all, the game's final stages lose originality, turning Dredd vs Death into just another FPS. But you won't find another FPS of this quality for $3 these days. Prettier and flashier ones maybe, but none as entertaining as this.
You're The law in this hit-and-miss shooter based on 2000 AD hero Judge Dredd. Armed with a multi-purpose gun called The Lawgiver, you spend the first part of the game cuffing punks round the ear for committing heinous crimes such as doodling on walls, after which things start to warm up as the evil Death begins causing mischief.
The naughty little scamp. The game's sprawling city is bold and colourful, but is let down by a lack of life that makes it less of a bustling metropolis and more of a British seaside resort in .wfHfer. Otherwise, the licence is p. well used, managing to capture the sanitised yet brutal and discriminatory world over which the Judges preside.
As a shooter, though, Dredd Vs Death feels as though it'd be more at home on a console, a fact that's compounded by some moronic AI that often resorts to charging right at you. Not essential, but Dredd vs Death is still the best Judge Dredd game ever made. Then again, that's not saying much.