As the Spring release of Sony’s eagerly anticipated foray into the handheld market approaches, MyGamer takes a nerve-jangling look at Smart Bomb, one of the PSP’s more innovative launch titles. Core Design’s John Payne – Lead Programmer on Smart Bomb – reassuringly guides our clammy hands and provides expert, timer to detonator knowledge of this explosive new game.
As virgin software for Sony’s newest piece of hardware, how did development challenges for Smart Bomb differ from other titles in Core’s distinguished back catalogue?
Smart Bomb is Core and Eidos’ first next-gen hand-held title and as such we’ve worked closely with Sony to make it something really special. It’s always a challenge producing a game for a new console, and especially targeting a launch title, but with Core’s existing cross-platform technology and support from Sony it’s been a relatively painless process.
With the newly defined benefits of the PSP, how will the game offer players an experience set apart from the norm?
Wireless multiplayer straight out of the box and the full 3D graphics on a clear wide-screen display make the PSP a really exciting platform to work on. We’ve tried to bring Core’s long experience of designing fun games to a more pure environment; here it’s all about solving the puzzles and defusing the bomb.
Did Core draw upon any specific gaming inspiration(s) when crafting Smart Bomb?
Many of the games in Smart Bomb contain elements that gamers will be familiar with from playing parts of games like Tomb Raider, or older 2D platform puzzlers. We also loved Warioware for its quick-fire gameplay.
Wrapping the game’s terrorism narrative around puzzle-based 3D gameplay is certainly an intriguing approach. Please tell us a little more about the game’s evolution and realization.
We wanted to give the players a little bit more than just the puzzles and show off the PSP at its best, so although the story isn’t a major aspect of the game it provides a bit of incentive to get to the end of each bomb and gives a setting. There’s also an arcade mode which dispenses with the story altogether and just gives you the puzzles, and a challenge mode where you complete the levels you’ve already encountered in the story purely against the clock with no interruptions!
What kind of grey matter-flexing puzzles will Smart Bomb be throwing in the path of prospective B.D.U operatives? Will they require the use of lateral as well as literal thinking?
We tried to do a variety of different puzzles and dexterity games so there is something in there for everyone. Arcade gamers will enjoy being chased around a maze by magnetic sentry bots, more cerebral gamers will enjoy the challenge of working out how to weave a laser through a chamber of rotating mirrors. We’ve packed a lot into the game and you do have to stay on your toes as you work your way through the bombs to the detonator.
While challenging the player to diffuse progressively more complex A.I. bombs, at the end of the day it’s (still) just a videogame; how does Core hope to instil a sweat-inducing sense of panic and urgency through the gameplay?
When it became apparent that Sony wouldn’t let us actually blow up people’s PSPs, we had to go back to the drawing board a bit! The time pressure is constant and relentless from the very beginning of the game. You start the game with just 30 seconds on the clock, and completing each puzzle buys you just enough time to carry on until you get to the bomb’s detonator which you have to defuse to complete the bomb. As the timer starts running out the bomb starts shaking and the countdown starts…
Will the 3D bomb puzzles make up the entire content of the game, or can we expect the human narrative to be driven forward through character specific rendered sequences and/or in-game cut scenes?
The real-time cut-scenes introduce a few important characters, especially Michelle Grace who guides you through the tutorials, but the game is very much about defusing the bombs; we really wanted a pure gameplay experience in Smart Bomb.
How is the PSP’s control layout incorporated into the gameplay? Can you provide us with a brief summary of the mechanics?
From day one we really wanted to make it as if the PSP really is a bomb that you’re defusing and the PSP has let us achieve this. The puzzle mechanics are tailored to each particular type of puzzle, but in general the controls are flexible and really easy to pick up. We’ve also tried to introduce interesting variety in the controls, like using the analogue stick in a steady circular motion to turn a handle in one puzzle and tilt the entire bomb in another.
How will the A.I. bomb features integrated into the gameplay affect the player’s progress? Will the bombs actually evolve and react in direct relationship to the player’s actions?
As you work through the game you open up harder and harder bombs. The bombs themselves don’t evolve though the games within them get steadily trickier and more intense. We also have a bonus system, which rewards good players and repeated play with high scores, time bonuses and time capsules.
Portable play is the name of the game in the handheld universe; will Smart Bomb cater for those gamers pressed for time? Will it be widely accessible in terms of pick-up-and play?
The great thing about Smart Bomb is that each puzzle is quite quick to complete; this was something that really attracted us to the design, so if you want a 5-minute play there is no reason why you can’t do a couple of puzzles’ worth in that time; the PSP can just be put on standby at any time to pause the game, so you don’t need to worry about reaching the end of each bomb in one sitting, though the game does have a tendency to suck you in just to see what the A.I. bomb will throw at you next!
We’ve also got the arcade mode for a quick pick up-and-play game, and once the story mode is complete you can play the special modes, which are great for a quick blast of your favourite game type.
Can players expect to work together as a team when diffusing bombs in multiplayer or will it be a case of every field operative for themselves? How exactly will the game’s multiplayer mode feature alongside the single-player experience?
Multiplayer is strictly head-to-head because that’s what we found most fun. It’s a slightly different emphasis to the single player as you’re not under time pressure from the bomb; you’re completely against the other player. We’re excited by the wireless multiplayer and are really pleased with the way it plays.
Will Smart Bomb be a PSP exclusive title ad infinitum, or can other hardware owners also look forward to its arrival?
This title is very much a hand-held game and only the PSP has the functionality we needed to bring it about. That said, we can foresee other games set within the Smart Bomb universe, which could work on more traditional consoles.
Please take this opportunity to shamelessly plug your own product. Upon its launch, why should slavering PSP enthusiasts pluck Smart Bomb from the store shelf against the slew of other release titles? What does it have to offer that the competition lacks?
Smart Bomb is a unique hand-held game, and although the PSP release line up does look pretty good, we’re confident that if gamers want to get something that’s new, something tailored to the PSP and something with this amount of variety they’ll go for Smart Bomb.
Many thanks to Core Design for taking the time to acquaint us with the red wire, blue wire inner workings of Smart Bomb. Let’s hope it yields a shockwave of acclaim when the tick-tick of its imminent arrival turns into the hurried beeping of infrared checkouts – right before the critical explosion.