If you ever skulked around arcades in the late ‘80s you
probably got your ass kicked by Bionic Commando, which replaced classic
platform jumping with bionic arm swinging. Assuming that’s the case, you quite
possibly also grabbed the game for the NES, only to discover the home version
was actually a sequel. Hopefully you won the game by blowing the face off a
resurrected Adolf Hitler. All those things being true, what better candidate
for resuscitation is there than Bionic Commando?

Capcom has two games coming. One, Bionic Commando Rearmed,
is a recreation of the NES game with new graphics, a few new moves and the same
exploding face ending. The other, simply Bionic Commando, is an all-new 3D
game set ten years later. Developed by GRIN, the Swedish studio that did the recent
Ghost
Recon
PC ports, the 3D game is a fast and violent update of the
original. Powered by a relatively complex swing mechanic, returning hero Nathan
‘Rad’ Spencer uses his extendable bionic arm to traverse a ruined city.

I played both games at Captivate 08, Capcom’s recent
press event. Created for Xbox Live Arcade, Rearmed is more or less exactly what
a BC fan would expect: simple, difficult, exacting. The swing mechanic is hard
to master, but offers a surprising range of movement in the long run. And the
few new moves, which allow slightly more creative use of the environment, are
welcome additions that don’t seem to fundamentally change the game. There’s
also a small multiplayer component which I saw but didn’t play. That looks
almost like Joust, with bionic swinging and lots of gunfire.

Then there’s Bionic Commando proper, which ‘modernizes’
the classic game. You likely shuddered at ‘modernize’, as the process has
gutted so many classic arcade and NES games in the past. A scant few survive
the process to become, like Steve Austin, better, stronger and faster.


I’m not yet going to say that BC is a six million-dollar
game. It might be; I love the animations, the look of the city and jungle
environments, and the ability to use a bionic arm to swing around both while
whipping objects at distracting enemies. Combos also let you easily punch wrecked
cars into soldiers or pull a foe in as you launch a devastating jump kick. Fun
stuff.

But the swing mechanic is extremely demanding. As you’ll
see in the interview below, that’s just how GRIN and Capcom producer Ben Judd
like it. I know there are some at Capcom USA who would like to see the
difficultly scaled back somewhat, and I tend to agree, if only slightly. And
while we saw some good visual displays, there’s little sense of how everything
fits together into missions and narrative. I think I’ve got a good idea of what
Bionic
Commando
will feel like, but I can’t say at all what path the game will
take.

I sat in on a small roundtable discussion with Judd and
game director Ulf Andersson, each of whom filled in some new details about the
two upcoming games.  

We don’t know a
lot about the story behind the new 3D game; can you fill in some details?

(Ben Judd) The 3D version takes place ten years after the
original. In the original, Nathan ‘Rad’ Spencer beats the Imperials and blows
up a famous WWII dictator’s head. He’s on top of his game. We wanted to take
the story and make it so he has doubts and he’s a weaker character. Like Kojima
said with Metal Gear Solid 2, the reason for introducing Raiden was that
Snake already was the ultimate badass and there’s no place to go once you’ve
reached that point; you need to make the character weak.

So you start off without your arm and with a lot of
doubts about the mission you’re being sent on. Now the character has some room
to grow. In between the events in the original and this game the government
decides to abandon its bionics program because there are several incidents
where people who have bionics go crazy and cause some damage. So they try and
hide it, do a cover up.

They pass the Bionic Purge, so every soldier that’s been
outfitted with bionics needs to return them to the government. But some people
have bionic organs that keep them alive, and returning them would be a death
sentence. Between the choice of dying for the system or opposing it, these
people begin to oppose. So you have a band of very powerful bionic
supersoldiers that are a militant group. They join forces with remnants of the
original imperials and form an organization called the Bionics Resurrection
Initiative, or Bio-Rein. You can see where they’re coming from; you can see
that the edict is not morally correct. But you are a patriot and do love the
country that you serve. So it’s grey area from the start.

…we actually go in and explain how Spencer has changed
from his 1980s Schwarzenegger one-liner action hero to the darker hero that
doubts the government through a serial comic we’re posting on the community
site right now. Every week we’re adding a page to it, and it explains some key
events in Spencer’s life to make him more jaded; I find characters that are a
lot more dynamic are going to be more interesting than the same standard
characters. A person who changes, reevaluates his life decisions.

Mike Patton is
voicing the character; can you talk about the thought behind that?

(Ulf Andersson) I’m a personal big fan; I listen to a lot
of Mr. Bungle and Faith No More. But that’s not the main reason, which is that
we need an actor that can express a lot of feelings and scream lines while
really going all the way. And when you cast actors, a lot of people can get the
voice, but they can’t really push that far. We need someone that could really
scream and go amok.

(BJ) It was Ulf’s idea, yeah. I said ‘the singer?’ I
really hadn’t heard about him as a video game voice actor, but when we heard
his rehearsal he really did have a wide range. He really is a good voice actor.
And there are a lot of people who remember
Bionic Commando with a certain
fondness, and Patton is one of them. We’ve had a lot of people along stages of
production say they loved the game and were excited to be part of this one.
Whenever you get people who are very motivated on a production, you’re going to
get their best work.


What were the
swing model inspirations? What did you try to do that other games don’t do
well?

(UA) In general I think all swinging games are all
fucking stupid -

- Like Leisure
Suit Larry?

- hey, that’s a good game! Um. So the idea is to put the
player in control of the swing and cable action. You can make it pretty deep,
so the more you play, the better you get. I’ve played it a LOT and I’m still
not the best guy at the office.

(BJ) It really is skill-based. In the Spider-Man games
you’re just hitting a button; it’s not skill-based. In this one, you really do
feel like you’re in control of it. And when you do improve you know it, and you
feel it.

Ben, yesterday
when you were demoing for me you mentioned that Japanese players don’t seem to
get the swing mechanic. What do you think that’s about?

(UA) I think it’s really the double joystick setup; they
really don’t play FPS games. So camera control is the problem, it’s not
necessarily the swing mechanic.

(BJ) They had a few people from Famitsu here; one of them obviously plays a lot of western games
and had no trouble picking it up. The other only plays Japanese games with an
auto camera, and we give it to him, he takes the camera and aims it straight
up, looks in the sky, sits there, doesn’t seem to know why his feet are still
on the ground.

In the original
game, you’d often jump down and then under the platform you start on. In the 3D
game, I’ve seen you both emulate that by jumping back towards the camera to
start a move, which is unusual. Does the game teach that as a solution?

(UA) You can move and use the arm in so many ways that
you don’t have to do it. To get certain special items that might be the fastest
way. So you run onto a pipe for example, and you know how the world behind you
looks, and you improvise. It’s not like we’re saying you have to do the
backwards flip. It’s not that type of game. You can play around and kill
enemies in a lot of different ways. And we don’t want to do too many tutorials,
we’d rather you just get playing.

(BJ) At least for me, any time there’s a game with a new
and different mechanic, there’s going to be a learning curve. And in the
original, you just got thrown in.

(UA) That was no curve. It was a spike.

(BJ) Like when I played Street Fighter for the
first time, I hit a bunch of buttons and won. Then after playing it longer and
longer you start to learn combos and special moves. Same thing with this. There
will be people who play it and brute force their way through the levels. Again,
as they get more and more comfortable with the swing mechanic they’ll try new
things, like jumping back towards the camera.


You’ve got the original
skin in the 3D game, which is a neat touch.

(BJ) That was my idea, and they hate me for it.

(UA) Production-wise, we hate him for it. Fan-wise and
even internally, we like the character. Originally we wanted the character to
be exactly like the original. But then we developed that into what we have now
because of the storyline.

(BJ) When you think about how you get it — if you own Rearmed,
it unlocks the classic skin. I think that’s the first time a digital title has
synched up with a packaged game. And if you’re a fan of
Bionic Commando and are
not buying
Rearmed, then you’re not one of the people who is going to be
complaining that you don’t look exactly like the original character. So that is
total fan service and I think it’s fair to us as a publisher, because it
ensures that some people will buy rearmed. And as a fan, if you’re going to get
both versions you can play from the start as the classic character. Right from
the start, there’s nothing to unlock. The one thing that does not change is the
arm; it is not an attachment. It’s an integral part of the story, and there’s a
big plot twist based on the arm, so we could not change that.
 

The 2D revision,
Bionic Commando Rearmed, got an M rating. That’s almost insane.

(BJ) There’s a certain rating organization that is on my
ass, so I have to be very careful how I position this. Let’s say this: there
are two or three things that any fan will say make
Bionic Commando great.
One will no doubt the swing mechanic. Two will no doubt be a certain dictator’s
head exploding. Some people will say ‘it better have Hitler in it or I’m not
going to buy it,’ while others will say ‘I’d better see the head exploding, or
else!’ Since that really is what probably fifty per cent plus of fans equate
with
Bionic
Commando
, we had to give them the money shot. Those five seconds are
what give it the M rating. We’ve cut those seconds from the Japanese version
and it got a ‘B’ rating, which is 12 and up. It’s a 2D game with an M rating
for five seconds. Booya. It’s worth it.

Where’s the sound
effect in that five seconds from?

(BJ) It’s a dog eating melon!

(UA) They were recording and sampling a lot of melons
they’d brought, trying to make gore effects. Then the dog shows up and starts
eating the pieces, and it sounded horrible! There you go.

When that happens
in the game, you should get an achievement: Dog Ate The Melon.