As the Global Brand Manager for Deep Silver, Huw Beynon has certainly lived through a few tumultuous periods as he was originally at THQ before the publisher announced bankruptcy and shuttered its doors. Now working at the new owner of the Metro IP, his job involves supporting and marketing the recently released Metro Redux package. As part of this, he agreed to talk to me at Gamescom and answer questions pertaining to the game. During the interview, Huw Beynon was kind enough to discuss the differences between the original Metro games and their remastered re-releases, and also provide fresh details on whether a movie on Glukhovsky’s book will ever see the light of day.
So you’re part of the Ukrainian team?
No, I work incredibly closely with the studio and just over my time working on the game. I’ve kind of become the de-facto studio rep for them, and spokesperson for the game because it turns out I probably know it inside out better than anyone else. We actually have some very real challenges, either getting them out of the country because as a Ukrainian you need a Visa every time you try to leave. There’s also a language barrier, there are very few among the core of the team who actually speak any English, so I tend to do all the press stuff.
Both Metro games were released on the PC which one could argue were almost the best versions that one could pick up…
Yeah, you would be absolutely right.
What does Metro Redux offer over the original Metro 2033 running on the highest spec PC that one could get?
So, it’s a different level for each game. 2033, our first one, was released in 2010. Between that and the release of Last Light last year we’ve made some pretty fundamental changes to the game play. We improved our AI, we improved our stealth mechanics, added weapon customization. A bunch of new features such as the ‘mask wipe’ mechanic. The whole combat dynamic, massively improved art, stealth systems– a load of really cool game play improvements. Again, based a lot in part on feedback from the first game. We made some substantial changes to the tech. The original Metro 2033 on a top notch PC is still an absolutely beautiful game to look at, but it’s probably a brute to run even on very powerful hardware. It’s not particularly well optimized and you can still get some crazy performance fluctuations even with a fantastic video card. So we addressed a lot of the performance issues with Metro: Last Light. It uses a few more advanced features with slightly different techniques to Metro 2033, but more importantly it was just much more optimized. Runs and plays nicely on a wider range of hardware so you get a smooth 60fps with pretty much the highest settings on anything from a [Nvidia] 580 upwards. Which by today’s standards is very affordable.
As evidenced by Gamespot’s video, the differences between the original Metro 2033 and its Redux re-release are staggering.
You’re talking about the Nvidia cards right? The 580? Mine’s a 670, so I should be cool…
Yeah, more than enough to run at 1080p, maybe even 1440 very high quality settings. The only thing you probably wouldn’t be able to use would be super sampling, anti-aliasing and couple of real brute force effects that are in there. Those are for the guys who’ve got like triple SLI titans and stuff like that.
For Metro: Last Light Redux we’ve continued to iterate on the engines, so we now have global illumination and the Redux version includes all of the DLC that was released separately. We’ve added in a few tweaks to the game play [which were] fan requested changes and these new play styles. You can now play Metro: Last Light in either Spartan or Survival. Spartan is like the original Last Light experience and Survival changes some of the parameters, increases the aggression and perception of enemy AI, slows down the speed in which you can swap and reload your weapons, just to kind of make the experience a bit closer to the Metro 2033 Survival Horror vibe which some of our fans felt we maybe strayed away from. So, some pretty significant changes but nothing like 2033. 2033 as I said is a beautiful looking game, and not very well optimized and we introduce a whole load of game play improvements. For 2033 Redux we completely rebuilt the game on the Last Light framework. All of those things that we added, the mask wipe ability, the weapon customization system, the new AI and stealth mechanics. Improved all of the weapon handling, plus all of the technical benefits from the engine now come to play. You can expect quite a radically different experience between Metro 2033 certainly compared to Last Light.
Now 2033 is obviously a significantly older title in comparison to Last Light, which I believe only came out last year?
As the Gamespot video shows, there are minimal visual differences between the original Metro: Last Light game and its Redux re-release.
This isn’t a loaded question, but some people would argue that it’s only a game that came out last year. Why the [Light Light] Redux version?
No I think the… The primary goal behind the Redux things was to bring Metro Redux to the next generation console hardware as much as PC. Because there is a huge audience that for whatever reason, whether it’s because Metro is always being perceived as being this high end PC game, it’s always been more successful on PC. We saw particularly toward the end of the console generation that kind of core audience waiting for next gen. We’ve seen it with things like The Last of Us or Tomb Raider where a lot of people… I don’t believe people that had the original and then bought the same game again were people who just did not buy at the end of the last generation and were waiting for next gen content. Given that Metro on PC is basically a next gen game ahead of its time, it seemed to make perfect sense to create these Redux versions. So I guess along with that, it’s more a question of would it have been odd if we had brought them to console but not brought that experience to PC.
Is all of the Redux development being handled by the very same team that did the original?
Yeah, it’s all done in house. For a lot of these remasters, typically because the scope isn’t quite so ambitious, it’ll be a small internal team or more often than not it’ll actually get outsourced to a third-party developer.
Is this being done by the same guys in Ukraine?
Yeah, so it’s been a project for pretty much the whole studio. About 80 strong for around 10 months, pretty much since we finished the last pieces of DLC for Metro: Last Light. Then we went into full production on Redux.
Some people would argue that even though it’s nice when you can bring last gen games to next gen consoles, that maybe resources would have been better spent on making the next version or the sequel to Metro: Last Light?
Maybe that’s just a misunderstanding on how game development works, but basically if you’re a multi-teamed studio and you can roll teams off from project onto another one, then yes that makes sense. That’s why a lot of these remasters get outsourced, because the teams are doing something else. When we finished Metro: Last Light we were obviously in the early stages of pre-production and early stages of the as yet unannounced stuff. This hasn’t delayed any future projects, this was actually the perfect opportunity to keep our entire production team busy with a really useful project whilst we were in pre-production. Also it gives them some pretty invaluable experience on the next gen hardware which is going to put us in a really good position for our next project[s] as well. Just understanding the capabilities of the hardware, understanding what visual target for our next project is going to be, what we should be aiming for. Before we actually got the kits in house we thought on paper we were probably going to be targeting 30fps for instance for the console versions.
Is that on Xbox One? because a lot of people have argued that even though there’s a resolution drop, because of the differential in power between the Xbox One and PS4… Sometimes [in most cases] there is a frame rate drop and that it’s not consistently 60fps.
Yeah we’re pretty confident that it’s at 60 frames like 99.999% of the time. Are you familiar with Digital Foundry?
We gave them the PS4, don’t take my word for it– basically we gave them the PS4 and Xbox One code to look at, I think Richard said he’d captured 26,000 frames of Xbox One footage and it dropped twice. So it ran at 60fps except for two instances when it when to 59fps.
How frustrating is that for you, who is essentially affiliated with the development team, that would like to be able to release a product where its vision isn’t compromised by what some people would argue are technical inadequacies of the host platform?
You build in scale to what’s available. It’s hard to even know what that target is. These guys are first and foremost PC developers, and they will build to cater to the needs of pretty much every performance point in the PC scale. If you have a triple titan SLI configuration you can play this in 4K, 120fps, 3D, Super sampling, anti-aliasing switched on. Actually you probably can’t do it with all those setting with a triple titan, there probably isn’t even now PC hardware that can actually max this thing out. You could even say arguably that you could spend £5,000 on a PC and you’d still be hardware limited. The consoles are just a performance point along that hardware, you actually get a lot more power for your money from a console then you would from the equivalent PC. It’s not really about being constrained because this game will run on hardware significantly more powerful than the consoles and also significantly less powerful.
As the Xbox 360…
Yeah, like the Xbox 360. If you’re dealing with multiple performance points you have to make that tradeoff between quality and performance and certain things. Whether it’s scaling back effects or what have you, but I don’t think you’re necessarily compromising the vision of the game, you’re just being economical and sensible with what you’ve got. Compare PS4 to PS3 for instance, we were able to get Metro: Last Light running on PS3, we went for a 640 frame buffer which is basically one quarter of the resolution of what we’re offering now on PlayStation 4. We’ve achieved a full 1080p. PlayStation3 was a pretty solid 30fps with occasional drops into the 20s. Whereas we’ve now been able to run, like I said PS4 is rock solid locked 60fps in 1080p, so we’re basically pushing triple the pixel density at double the frame rate with a hell of a lot more high end effects that we were able to bring in from the PC version. So yeah, I think you’d really struggle to build a PC that can match what we’ve been able to do on the PS4 for the price of PS4. A high end PC… that’s where the sky is the limit.
Will there be a sequel to Metro?
I cannot answer that.
In the likely event that a sequel is announced, will the original author be involved? I think his name is Glukhovsky?
Dmitry Glukhovsky. I can’t answer that either I’m afraid. We’re not talking about future projects at the moment.
There have been a few legal wrangles with regards to the spiritual successor of Stalker. I know that some of the team from Metro worked on Stalker.
Yeah, all of the original Stalker leads are basically 4A Games. 4A, the studio name is actually from the 4 original founders of 4A games there. They were all on the Stalker team and left in 2006. Stalker came out in 2007, I think they left at the beginning of 2006 to setup 4A. So yeah, a long time ago.
Even though it still looks similar visually, it’s less of an open-world game and [offers] more of a linear experience. Why do you think Metro is so different from Stalker, or from 4A guy’s previous work? Because when you think about, generally when people make something, they have a certain signature style and pattern in terms of what it is that they deliver.
You know they had been working on Stalker for a long time. I mean that game was 5-6 years in development in total. Their goal for 4A games, I mean “Prof” (Andrew Prokhorov) was really inspired by Half Life 2 in particular, and decided that they wanted to create an Eastern Half Life 2. Basically that more cinematic linear experience. At the time they didn’t have a specific idea in mind for what the game would be based on, just that they wanted to try their hand at this style of game. They actually discovered ‘Metro 2033’ the novel online, I don’t know if you don’t know the story, but Dmitry basically self-published the book online and kind of almost episodically made it freely available to read in Russia and built up this cult following, something like 2 million readers online. That ultimately helped get him to secure his book deal and actually get a physical publishing deal. These guys found out about the story of ‘Metro’ when it was still only released online. I think a friend of Prof had said, “Oh have you heard about this story? You should read it”. So, Prof went to the website, read it in one night, then came back to the team and said “this would make an amazing video game”. Emailed Dmitry and said, “We’re a development studio, we’ve made Stalker and we’re looking for some material for a new game. What do you think”? I think Dmitry already had quite a few offers from other studios in the past, but given these guys pedigree it was you know, let’s do it. That’s kind of how it ended up being another post-apocalyptic theme I guess. Whether you can read any clues into that as to what the next project might be, whether it’s going to be another linear game or whether it’s going to go back to the Stalker style, or whether it’s going to be something completely different. Do feel free to speculate.
Is it important for game designers to read books for inspiration? In fact, where do game designers generally get their ideas from in your experience as far as Metro is concerned, apart from reading the book?
There’s different elements to designing a game, right? Every game has kind of got a fiction, like the story line, the glue that’s holding it all together, so that’s like the premise of the game. In this instance the premise is post-apocalyptic Moscow civilization living in the underground tunnels. Mutants on the surface, threats, all that kind of stuff. You can either, if you’re a Bungee for instance, you create your own sci-fi opus in Halo and then you do it again in Destiny. I’m sure those guys inspired and borrowed liberally from ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Star Trek’ and a whole range of sci-fi film and book influences and Asimov and whoever. So yeah your inspiration for your context and premise is going to come from a lot of different sources. I mean, Stalker was inspired by the film ‘Stalker’ and the book ‘Roadside Picnic’. But then the other side of game design is the mechanics. You’ve got your premise but then how is that actually going to translate into a game play experience. One of the signature design mechanics from Metro is this always pervading sense of pressure and claustrophobia and that real survival horror vibe that we try and incorporate into the game, which for me means making the player feel threatened, vulnerable, ill-equipped, stressed at all times. The gas mask is an example of a great piece of design. The idea for it came from the fiction i.e. you go out onto the surface it’s going to be irradiated, you need a gas mask. But then the mechanics behind that… “OK, well let’s make air a commodity and a resource so your air is always ticking down”. You’re always worried about how many filters you have left. The mask is constantly fogging up around the sides so you’ll feel the view being restricted, that in itself makes you feel more threatened and vulnerable. You have to wipe the gore and blood and stuff off the mask. You know that’s a completely different side to design from just saying “let’s make sci-fi shooter, or a post-apocalyptic shooter”. I would argue that designers should read, watch, listen, you know… get inspiration from as many sources as possible.
Stalker has been the subject of a number of short films. Here is an example of one of the very best on offer.
Will there ever be an official ‘Metro’ film?
Obviously Stalker was inspired by a film called ‘Stalker’. What film out there do you think closely resembles ‘Metro’, and are there any plans to turn ‘Metro’ into a film?
I don’t know if there’s a film out there that resembles ‘Metro’. Dmitry is the rights holder, the IP holder. He’s always looking to expand the world, so I believe MGM had optioned the rights to the film a couple of years ago. [I don’t know] whether that’s expired or if they ever came good on that. I know Dmitry would love to get a film made, but that’s unfortunately kind of up to him rather than us. I’d love to see a ‘Metro’ film, I’m sure a lot of people would. Just as its superb subject matter for a cinematic video game, I think it would make superb subject matter for a film as well so hopefully he gets his wish and it does get made. He’s always been very proactive in trying to expand the IP, so in addition to the books that he’s written he’s allowed a lot of other authors from different countries in the world to write spin-offs and side stories based within the Metro universe. I think there’s a ‘Metro 2033 Britannia’ which is written by a British author I forget the name, it was set in a split between Scotland and London. I think there’s one set in Italy, and a number of others set within Russia, so there’s a much bigger Metro fiction.
That’s cool. That’s fine.