Lost Planet 3 wasn't perfect. But, despite being an overly familiar shooter, the story it told and the main character that players controlled manage to feel more meaningful than most other action-centric games out there.
It felt like the cast's relationships to each other and their own feelings were at stake. It also felt like you were playing to have a regular guy make good on promises to his family — and not just for the run-of-the-mill world-saving plotline. Still, it could've been better. Lost Planet 3's producer says that the game could've echoed more of the over-the-top style from the previous Lost Planet games.
Those earlier entries were made in Japan, under the aegis of Capcom's internal dev studios. But this year's prequel — made by Spark Unlimited — is a game where development shifted from East to West. That change made for arguably better characters and story but less memorable setpieces. Looking back at the lukewarm reception that the game got, producer Andrew Szymanski now thinks that Lost Planet 3 could have benefitted from some of that melodrama of Lost Planet 1 & 2. Szymanski answered questions over email about Lost Planet 3's development and what could have been improved.
Kotaku: At what point in development was the decision made to make Jim the kind of everyman character he wound up becoming?
Andrew Szymanski: This was a decision we made very early on in the process. One of the goals with Lost Planet 3 was to make the campaign very character- and narrative-driven. In early discussions, the idea was floated to make the protagonist as relatable and believable as possible so that we would have a strong main character with his own dreams and motivations instead of an empty shell to be filled by the player's imagination. We felt that this would make the player feel more grounded in the world that Jim inhabits and be more invested in what happens to him.
A lot of gamers that grew up playing Atari and NES in the 80's are now at the age where they may have children and families, but they are still enjoying games. We wanted to make the playable character someone that would be relatable to those gamers without alienating the younger audience.
We feel that the traits that Jim possesses, such as the desire to work hard to provide a better life for his family, are universal across all ages and cultures. By incorporating those traits into Jim's character, (instead of making him a more typical "space marine" sort of archetype), we've created a three-dimensionality to him that I feel is the single strongest defining factor of Lost Planet 3.
Kotaku: Tell me about the historical research and influences that went into making Lost Planet 3 a sort of reflection of the 19th Century gold rush and 21st Century economic collapse. Was there a required reading list?
Szymanski: I can give you a required viewing list: Deadwood, Firefly, The Thing, Alien, Dances with Wolves, and Avatar.
While the themes explored in Lost Planet 3 are nothing new, we really wanted to bring them strongly into the interactive format with this game. The "stranger in a strange land" format, the "going native" element as Jim learns more about the indigenous life and the Snow Pirate settlers that came before his group, the gold-rush economy based on a resource that the colonists are attempting to exploit; all of these themes are present in both the narrative and also in the missions and activities that Jim does after he arrives on the planet of EDN-III.
Szymanski: "A lot of gamers that grew up playing Atari and NES in the 80's are now at the age where they may have children and families, but they are still enjoying games. We wanted to make the playable character someone that would be relatable to those gamers..."
Many people who have played the game have remarked to me that they connect with the cast of characters and the situation that those characters are in — the nature of the frontier life and the motley crew of colonists who have to try to make a go of establishing a foothold for humanity in a very inhospitable environment. We put a lot of effort into making every colonist feel like a fleshed-out human being with their own hopes and dreams, as well as an occasional skeleton in the proverbial closet.
Kotaku: It seems like you guys took a gamble and decided to prioritise story over gameplay as how you'd distinguish yourselves from other games. Is that an accurate assessment? If so, can you walk me through the thought process?
Szymanski: I wouldn't necessarily say that we prioritised story over gameplay. However, we did focus early in the process on establishing the character, the narrative, and the overall progression to make the game feel more cinematic, and it is true that a fair amount of time was spent on making those elements the best that they could be.
I believe Lost Planet 3 was successful in achieving that goal. At the same time, looking back, there might have been some value in incorporating more traditional Lost Planet franchise elements and more "uniquely Capcom" Japanese-inspired types of gameplay into the title in order to make it feel more like the game was positioned in an unbroken Lost Planet continuity, which may have allowed it to stand out more in the over-crowded shooter marketplace.
Szymanski: "Overall, the response has been slightly harsher than we had initially expected."
I'm quite happy with the pacing in a lot of the game, as in Act 1, you really get the feel that you are on EDN-III to work, and then as you move through Acts 2 and 3, the story escalates and the stakes become higher and I think the mission flow helps to sell that escalation quite well.
Kotaku: Did you guys have any internal projections as to what kind of reception What's your response to the mixed reaction LP3's gotten?
Szymanski: We did have some internal projections to give us an idea what the reception might be and overall, the response has been slightly harsher than we had initially expected.
If you look at the reviews, both professional and consumer, you'll see that it tends to be split into two groups: one group that really enjoys the story and the characters and narrative and understand what we were attempting to achieve with the overall experience, and those that focus more on the moment-to-moment gameplay details and either didn't like the story or did not value it as an integral part of the experience. How the different elements of the game are valued by different people has a strong influence on the perception of the complete game itself. I hear a lot from fans who really enjoy the combination of the journey that the game takes them on and what we set out to do by showing them new aspects of the Lost Planet universe. Ultimately, it is very rewarding for me and the team to hear that there are a lot of people out there are really enjoying it even if it isn't necessarily universal for everyone.
Kotaku: What are the odds for a sequel at this point? What are the takeaway lessons that can hopefully improve a follow-up?
Szymanski: The Lost Planet series has always been unique as it almost re-invents itself with each instalment , while still retaining certain core elements of the franchise. As I mentioned earlier, one of the lessons that we learned in hindsight is that we don't need to reinvent the wheel each time; leveraging more of the past gameplay conceits and over-the-top "Capcom-style" elements could have served us well by making sure that previous games inform not only the world and its components, but also the fine details of the gameplay and structure. If there is an opportunity to do another Lost Planet, that is what I would first look at to achieve balance, while still injecting fresh new ideas.