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In a little known section of the internet, single person has been toiling away at BadgerBones Productions to create an amazing mod that few people have yet to take notice of.
The Man from U.N.I.T.Y. looks to extend the gameworld of No One Lives Forever 1 & 2, by creating a totally new storyline within the universe that Monolith Games originally created.
But don't take my loud and brazen word for it! Listen to what the entire BadgerBones team of one hardcore modder has to say!
Thanks for agreeing to this interview! Why don’t you introduce yourself for us?
My name is Jiao (Lara Call in the real world). I’m a freelance writer, sometime graphic designer and a modding maniac.
For the uninitiated, tell us a bit about your mod, its history, and the team behind it.
The Man From UNITY is an original spin-off of Monolith’s hilarious spy series, No One Lives Forever. It follows the progress of the foxy ninja Isako, as she faces the question every henchman dreads: is there life after H.A.R.M.? Isako’s a talented girl, but she’s finding it hard to shake off her past; so in the interests of career development, she sets out to wipe the slate clean...and finds herself in a bigger mess than ever, on a mission she doesn’t need with a partner she doesn’t want. He is the enigmatic man from UNITY: a man with no past and not much hope of a future. Fished from an Amsterdam canal with a bullet in his head, his identity is as much a mystery to him as it is to everyone else (though fans of the original NOLF might just find him familiar). With nothing but an American accent to go by, he’s hitched his way back to the States in the hope that something might come to him. And indeed something does – a petite but deadly contract killer from Japan. If there was ever a girl to jog a man’s memory, it’s Isako.
TMFUhas essentially been a one-woman operation to date, although now that the plot, script and models are all ready to roll, it’s just a matter of level-building, weapons design and audio, so there’s a good chance I’ll be scouting around for team-mates before long.
What is the current status of the mod?
The Man has been on ice for the last six months, after an avalanche of disasters nearly carried him off in March of this year. So the mod won’t be meeting its original, insanely optimistic deadline...but with a little luck (and a lot of sleepless nights), TMFU will be making its debut in 2006.
What did you think of the first No One Lives Forever games? Did you prefer part one or two?
Both games are incredible, but the original NOLFholds a special place in my greedy little gamer’s heart. The Operative may look a bit clunky by current standards, but no amount of fancy physics can substitute for perfectly timed action, hilarious dialogue, genuinely memorable characters and an audacious, riveting plot. The first NOLFinstallment simply has it all – it’s still my all-time favorite game, even post-HL2.
While both of the No One Lives Forever games were pretty fantastic for me, no one seems to be making any mods for them. Why do you think this is? And why has your team chosen the NOLF game world, rather than creating one from scratch?
I suspect that the lack of NOLFmods is probably due to three factors: firstly, despite the well-deserved critical acclaim heaped upon the series, sales were nowhere near as good as they should have been; so in terms of gaming communities, the NOLF fan-base is rather small… and even the most ardent cult following doesn’t spawn as many tributes as a blockbuster. Secondly, the LithTech engines powering the NOLFgames are undeniably a little dated now, beside the stunning capabilities of, say, the new Jupiter EX system behind Monolith’s upcoming title F.E.A.R.Modders want to have maximum latitude in developing their projects, and so are naturally going to be drawn to the most advanced tools available. Thirdly, and this is just a personal theory, I think that NOLF’s singular combination of FPS action, comedy, sharp writing and a female lead appealed to a particular gaming demographic – one that is perhaps less inspired by the mechanics of gaming than by the experience of immersing themselves in a character-driven narrative.
I’m probably a good example of that demographic; after a decade of avid gaming, it had still never occurred to me that I might try modding a game. Then I played NOLFand was completely thrilled by the quirky universe Craig Hubbard’s team had created – which is why Isako, UNITY and various other elements of that NOLF universe are the focus of this particular mod. It wasn’t FPS action that inspired The Man From UNITY; it was the gloriously silly world of Cate Archer, Superspy.
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One of the most memorable things in the original NOLF games were the funny and unique characters. To what lengths will your team be going in order to secure that same level of voice acting and instant character recognition?
Fortunately, both my partner and I are experienced stage actors and I happen to be British, which works nicely where European accents are required, so many of the vocal roles should be fairly easy to cover. As far as the more distinct, established characters (such as Dmitrij Volkov) are concerned, there’s a very good chance we might approach the original NOLFperformers and see what we can work out.
What do you think of the Lithtech engine, in terms of mod support, ability to create new content within, and general adaptability?
The Jupiter engine is extraordinarily easy to maneuver around; as I’ve said, this is my first attempt at modding and I had no prior knowledge of 3D modeling whatsoever before I started work on TMFU, but DEdit’s development tools are very intuitive and easily mastered. With regards to the creation of new content, DEdit itself is extremely versatile and there are plug-ins available for both Maya and 3DS Max.
Any chance of seeing the original NOLF cast, even in cameo form within your mod?
Absolutely. The great thing about creating a series spin-off is that I’ve been able to include key NOLFcharacters such as Volkov (he has appeared in every NOLFgame to date, so in keeping with tradition he had to feature in the mod too), while also introducing a whole new cast of NOLF-inspired characters. Isako and The Director now appear alongside Frank Lloyd Wrong, the ‘Architect of Evil’ whose designs include the hollow volcanoes and underwater hideouts commissioned by Blofeld, Dr Evil and all those other sixties’ megalomaniacs. Esophagus Jones is The Director’s gigantic but emotionally insecure new lieutenant. The gung-ho femme fatale Bunny Macbeth leads an airborne troupe of blonde amazons, all of whom work for the menopausal man-eater Baroness von Striptoften, former WWII flying ace and Volkov’s new business partner. But my favorite character is the man from UNITY himself, who starts out an enigma but is full of surprises (he makes the ultimate comeback).
How big is the mod planned to be when it is completely finished? Are we talking No One Lives Forever size or Contract JACK size?
If all goes to plan, the mod should fall somewhere between NOLF2and Contract JACKin terms of scale. There are twenty levels plotted over the course of six mission chapters.
While I know this is mentioned on your site, tell me some of the new locations people will travel through in this game.
The opening scenes take place in the hills of central Japan. These three levels introduce us to Isako’s predicament and feature a feudal castle to infiltrate and gangs of hostile ninjas. Ensuing events then lead Isako to a commune in California, where she must snatch the amnesiac UNITY agent away from an angry horde of placard-swinging hippies. From then onward, the missions are driven by a combination of clues pertaining to the whereabouts of Isako’s assassination target – the notorious Director – and a sub-plot involving H.A.R.M.’s latest diabolical scheme: Project Blacksheep. These levels include the canals and windmills of Amsterdam, the horrors of close-harmony singing in north Wales and a subterranean ice-palace in the wilderness of Alaska.
What will the narrative style be like, with more than one main character? Can we expect to switch off every other level, or will it happen through chapter switches?
The playable character switch is a simple plot device along the lines of Max Payne 2and Angel of Darkness[/i] – throughout certain levels in the game, the story requires you to step into the UNITY agent’s shoes while Isako is busy attending to peripheral action. This not only helps to maintain the pace of the narrative, but also lends a feeling of real cooperation to the relationship between the two protagonists, and enables the player to experience a greater diversity of player-character attributes than they would if limited to one character throughout the game. For instance, Isako is more agile than her UNITY counterpart, whereas he is physically tougher and therefore able to tolerate higher levels of damage. They will also use a different range of weapons – Isako’s arsenal is more traditional, better suited to her old-world ninja background, whereas the UNITY agent gets to play around with some crazy spy gadgets.[/i]
What new weapons \ gadgets \ features can fans expect to find?
Weapons design is probably the trickiest part of modding for NOLF; the Monolith team is a hard act to follow with all those fabulous Bond-spoof knicknacks. Weapons have to conform to the sixties’ kitsch of the series, be humorous and original as well as fairly convincing. So with those criteria in mind, TMFU’s gadgetry is set to include an electrifying yoyo with adjustable charge (“...set yoyos to stun!”), hula-hoop gas mines and the Freezbie: a frisbee armed with compressed liquid nitrogen that allows you to literally ice your opponents. There will also be a few more conventional weapons, ranging from the ubiquitous poison capsule to every dog owner’s favorite, the rolled-up newspaper (used in the California levels, where the player will have to dodge those angry hippies without killing them – after all, they’re civilians and the ninja Warrior Code prohibits the slaying of innocent bystanders).
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Your site mentions a co-operative multiplayer mode version of the entire game scenario. Is this going to be done NOLF2 style, where you play as a backup team working around the actions of the primary characters, or will you be playing through the same single player plot line?
The proposed co-operative MP mode is still very much theoretical at this stage; I was approached by a member of NOLF2’s original co-op conversion team earlier this year with an offer to convert the finished mod for co-op play. The direction that conversion takes will depend to a great extent upon their input.
Do you have a release day set?
Not as such, but let’s shoot for Halloween 2006.
Will there be a demo or a beta out initially to draw in fans, or do you plan to unleashing everything in one big package? If the former, what do you plan to showcase in a beta \ demo format?
There will almost certainly be a demo released prior to the final completion of the mod; I’m intending to present the first three levels – those set in Japan – as a teaser before the main event.
What did you think of Contract JACK?
I must admit, I was a little disappointed – but then, CJwas intended to appeal more to old-school shooter fans than plot junkies like me. Basically, nomen est omen: it was a formulaic, uncomplicated FPS about Just Another Contract Killer. As far as add-ons go, Contract J.A.C.K.was far from all bad; it lacked the story-driven suspense of the other NOLFtitles and there was no attempt at character development whatsoever, but it did provide a few laughs and the opportunity to do some indiscriminate killing against a backdrop of gorgeous scenery… and who can argue with that?
Now for the controversial questions. Do you think that violence in video games is disaffecting our nation’s youths, or that it is all just a bunch of Politicians blowing steam?
I think that exposure to violence in its various forms has had an effect on the perceptions and behavior of people, both young and old, throughout the ages. But in all honesty, I consider that a lack of decent education, the frustrations of poverty and the effects of alcohol and drugs are far more pressing concerns than whether or not little Billy’s a bit too fond of Resident Evil. Of course, poverty, alcoholism and sub-standard education are less glamorous beasts to tackle than the big, bad games industry – and far less likely to win highbrow political support from the Jack Thompson set.
And in light of the Hot Coffee Mod scandal, where do you see the mod scene headed for the future? Do you fear that more developers will be afraid to put tools out there for fan development, or do you think it will all be business as usual?
I believe that gaming, like every other form of entertainment media, will expand and diversify to meet the demands of the market. As the gaming population ages, so games with more “adult” themes (such as those produced by Rockstar) are bound to become more prevalent. Once those mature themes move into the mainstream, there will be little need for developers to concern themselves with the tone or content of mods – just as the movie business has its seedier side and Marilyn Manson courts the darker end of the music consumer spectrum, so the games industry will cater to a broader range of preferences... hence no more need to mod for some Hot Coffee.
What do you see happening with the gaming scene in the near future? Do you see the trend towards multiple titles within a series continuing, or do you see developers finally being forced into taking risks with innovative and new products?
As long as games technology keeps advancing, there will always be room for creative innovation. The industry now generates such immense revenue that new talent will never be in short supply. That said, people do gravitate towards a winning formula, so serial games are undoubtedly going to endure in popularity too. I only hope that my little mod doesn’t turn out to be the indie swan-song of the No One Lives Foreverseries – for die-hard NOLFers like me, there could never be too much Agent Archer.
Thanks for your time!
Thank you, Joe.