The Order: 1886: Ready At Dawn’s cinematic PS4 debut is coming into focus
The term ‘light as air’ takes on new meaning in The Order: 1886, a game in which – as you may have gathered from its screenshots – the very air is lit. This lends some credence to the thirdperson shooter’s filmic look, bringing to mind movies such as Seven and Blade Runner.
“What is our world really like?” asks Ready At Dawn creative director Ru Weerasuriya. “If you look outside, it’s not just clear; there’s dust in the air, fog, all these things that make this world immersive. We created this light – it’s the way they use light on film sets. They have a light source, but because there’s so much dust, you feel like the light is glowing through these layers. It’s an aura almost, this halo effect. The light has no source so much as this glowing area. It makes it feel really gritty and dirty, and we thrive in the dirtiness of our world. Nothing’s clean.”
Much is being made of The Order’s art and tech, possibly because they read better than its tale of gun-toting knights in an alternative Victorian London battling, well, mutants.
The principals – analogues of key players in Arthurian lore with the titles to match – are certainly a handsome, rugged and finely coiffed bunch; the next-gen hair race is proving quick off the blocks. Look at them, though, moving into and out of banter range as the action ebbs and flows, and you have to wonder how much Gears Of War continues to drive the genre.
Weerasuriya quickly assures us that “rather than just making a thirdperson game, we took it upon ourselves to figure out why we like them. Not everybody likes thirdperson shooters for the same exact reason, so we tried to figure out what the core elements were [that] we wanted to keep, and also add that element of what we’ve done in the past – for example, melee.
“Shooters have a tendency to be very light or canned on melee. We wanted to find new ways of introducing it that would keep you feeling you were in a shooter that’s evolved into something else, rather than been segmented. It started with us trying to figure out how we balance the two, shooter and melee, but then it evolved into us making this shooter with different melee systems.
“Beyond that, we also tried to make the moment-to-moment gameplay different. We didn’t want it to be a grind for 40-45 minutes because you’re in shooting mode. Everything in the game happens in little bursts, and that really makes you not dwell too much on one thing that might otherwise bore you.”
Ready At Dawn has been working with its own tech since its formation in 2003, eschewing PSP middleware for its early creations and making “technology that basically worked on PC from day one,” says Weerasuriya. “All of our systems [now] are evolutions of the systems we built back then. The big idea was that we needed to have control over something to make a showpiece game on PS4. Relying on external technology would mean that we’d have to rely on somebody else fixing our issues for us. We can’t take that risk with something this big.”
And this has allowed the studio to pursue incredibly dynamic camerawork in its story-driven PS4 debut. “The game itself is from your point of view, of course, but even that changes according to what you do. Things that we did on God Of War [on PSP] showed that you can use that camera to do really interesting things. Here, seamlessly as you’re playing the game, we might be able to take over the camera and show you something, or even cut the camera outside to a scene that’s happening in front of you so, just like in a movie, you’re seeing your character approach.”
Following the filmic trend to its natural conclusion, there will be no bumps between presentation styles. “[For] practically every single thing you see in the game, there’s no difference between cinematic and in-game. All the cinematics are realtime; you’ll get back into the game and everything you saw in the cinematic will be there.”
The Order is also the studio’s first original IP, which Weerasuriya admits makes it harder for his team to hit development milestones. “That is [the] reality of new IPs: there are no guarantees. You start with all the goodwill in the world and you want to fly to the sun. The reality is that we needed to find, in this partnership with Sony, an understanding they already have, because they do this so many times with so many new IPs, with some of their best teams. So, yeah, it’s harder to evaluate what you’re going to hit at a certain time. Some things might take less time, [but] most things take more.”
In the absence of any publicly shown gameplay, The Order has fed hearty dollops of backstory to its followers since E3, leaving us rather full. Is another risk of new IP that you can simply write too much? “That’s a huge risk,” Weerasuriya tells us. “As a matter of fact, with the first draft of the story, I had too many things. I was going all over the place. But at the same time, it helped the team realise the origins [and] the foundations of each of these characters. Do I need to write all of this, put it on paper? Absolutely. We put everything on paper. I have documents and documents of all the stuff that precedes the game. But you’re just going to get what you need in the game. That’s it. You won’t know 90 per cent of the person even by the end.”
Perhaps the most exciting character shown so far appears in the form of Ready At Dawn’s fog-covered take on 1886 London. Weerasuriya explains how everyone on the team submits dailies to show what they’ve been working on, “and sometimes the guys working on a level might take the liberty of making their screenshot look like a picture. We still have a few things to solve, but the way the material system and lighting system work means we’ve been able to achieve some looks that are almost like artwork.”
Promising an eclectic-yet-believable world that marries his childhood familiarity with the city of London to his US team’s more grandiose impressions, Weerasuriya hopes the “internal fight going on about what’s right about London will capture the best of both worlds”. Based on what we’ve seen so far, it’s paying off. Cinemascope street scenes thick with atmosphere and passers-by are the strongest indication that this is not your average shooter, the lighting so cinematic that it’s hard to foresee anything looking dull except for the weather.
Is the city explorable, then? Can we investigate its murky alleyways at will? “That’s always the struggle,” Weerasuriya says. “I love to explore the environment so long as it gives you something back. Yes, we’re trying to do some of that, but the reality is that it’s a singleplayer game that takes you on a ride, and we don’t want to compromise that ride.”