Over the next few days I'll share with you some of the more interesting things I heard and saw at a recent Ubisoft video game showcase. First up is a treat for you "Lost" fans: details of "Lost: Via Domus," the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC game coming out February 26.
If you don't watch "Lost," skip this post. Really, you're not going to get much out of it.
If you do watch "Lost," keep reading. But expect a typical "Lost" experience as you read this: answers that lead to questions that lead to evasions. At least I got some intel on the big four-toed foot statue!
I was shown "Lost: Via Domus" on Xbox 360 at a penthouse suite Ubisoft reserved in midtown Manhattan. The man demo-ing me the game was Kevin Shortt, whose two-sided French/English business card identified him as a script writer/ story designer and a scénariste. He was a co-writer on the game, which was developed in Ubisoft's Montreal studio.
On Tuesday afternoon Shortt controlled the demo. I tried to control myself. "Lost" series co-creators J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof have told him secrets. He knows what the black smoke actually does. That's big. And it's something I need to know. I had to press him. And on some other stuff too.
See, non-"Lost" fans? I told you not to bother reading. For the rest of you, it's spoiler-free (just not tease-free), so keep going…
"Lost: Via Domus" is classified on Ubisoft's official fact-sheet as a third-person "survival / adventure" game. The play controls a previously unseen victim of the show's big plane crash. Shortt told me: "We all know the story of Jack and Kate and all of them. We wanted to recreate the 'Lost' experience and the best way to do that was to make you a new character who was one of the castaways on Flight 815 and you need to discover their story."
The game is set up in seven "episodes," each set primarily on the island but interspersed with playable flash-back scenes (hopefully none of them involving Jack's tattoos). The Lost logo and music kick in a few minutes into the beginning of each episode. And a re-cap starts all episodes after the first. The opening level Shortt showed me began on the plane just before the crash. The player's character sees show regular Charlie run by to the bathroom. And then from a perspective show watchers haven't seen before, the plane breaks apart. You see it from the point of view of your guy looking forward from the middle of the plane, witnessing the front section break away. Then your guy is waking up in the jungle, seeing visions, and soon enough Kate is there saying she just saw a dog run by.
The gameplay I was shown involved dialogue trees, running around and doing mini-games, basically a lot of puzzle-style interaction. The Kate encounter, for example, required specific dialogue choices, which led to a flashback, which put me in a photo-taking first-person sequence back on the Flight 815 before the plane took off. The game is rendered in the "Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2" graphics engine, but the gameplay looked like it was toned to an audience less hardcore than the "GRAW" market. Said Shortt: "We wanted this to be an action-adventure game that's geared for the casual market." The actors for the characters Tom, Ben, Julie, Sun, Desmond, and Claire all did voice work for the game. The rest of the major characters are voiced by stand-ins.
The draw of the game, really is the "Lost" setting. Shortt showed me a mission set in the post-crash chaos: get yelled at by Jack to stop a fuel leak in the wreckage, using a puzzle game mechanic. Shortt then advanced the game forward to show me how the game designers used the show's official blueprints to re-create the interior of the show's Swan Station. It's so accurate that Radzinkski's brains are accurately stained on the station's ceiling. Shortt sat the main character down in front of the Swan computer and inputted the series' infamous numbers so that things wouldn't blow up.
Players will also be able to access some areas only alluded to in the show, such as the magnetized room in the Swan Station. The show spans the first three seasons and is designed to overlap with the show, without necessarily revealing any major show-based secrets. The game, instead, is centered on the mystery of who the player-character really is and why some other mysterious people are showing up in the jungle and menacing him.
Shortt said the game was made during the filming of the third season. He read all of that season's scripts before seeing them on TV, except for the final one. He said the show producers were just beginning to conceive the fourth season and haven't shown him any of it yet (nor did they give him advance tickets to "Cloverfield," he confirmed).
The show creators did let Shortt in on some secrets. "The rules we use in the game are very close to the rules that are on the show," Shortt said. I asked if he had been sent a rulebook. "They did send us some very specific guidelines. Here's what the black smoke does. Here's some information on the Black Rock." So I asked: what does the black smoke do? He wouldn't say. "They were very specific about how far we could go and what we could say about it. That was one where they were very, very specific: 'It does this. It does this.' Or they wouldn't say it does 'this' or 'this.' Is that a very 'Lost'-vague answer for you?"
What about the foot statue, then? Personally, that's the one that has me stumped. I thought Shortt could be the one to finally give me a clue. "At first, the statue with the [four] toes, we asked if we could include it in the game," Shortt said, laughing kindly at my consternation/desperation. "At first there was talk that we could. But then they sort of took the statue back."
Shortt said that Abrams, Lindelof and other top 'Lost' producers checked in on the game "every couple of months" to provide feedback about screenshots, story and demos of the game. They knew enough about games, that executive producer, Bryan Burk was even able to name-drop "Black & White" in one meeting. "They were there for the whole process," he said. In an early story meeting, Lindelof conceived the game's ending. It's a surprise, of course: "It gives closure to the game but it also still has that 'Lost' thing of: what does it all mean?"
So it will end with a question. Yeah, that's a "Lost" experience.
Shortt said the game should provide about 10 hours of gameplay. "Lost: Via Domus" ships for PC, PS3, Xbox 360 on February 26.