Come inside to see the hero from Psi-Ops inside the world of Stranglehold
Psi-Ops was one of my favorite games from the last generation of consoles. The game allowed you to move things with your mind, take over the bodies of enemy soldiers, and even force them to kill themselves when you were done. The game had a dark sense of humor, and my friends and I would often take over the bodies of the bad guys and then simply throw ourselves off high ledges. The game ended on a cliff-hanger, but there would never be a sequel. The team instead moved on to make the licensed John Woo game Stranglehold.
A few of us were reminiscing about Psi-Ops on Twitter when veteran game designer Steve Bowler [Disclosure: Bowler also designed the Penny Arcade card game Paint the Line] popped in to say there was actually a prototype of Stranglehold that existed where you played as the lead character from Psi-Ops but with Stranglehold levels and animations. He was even able to dig up a copy of the video on Youtube. Even better? Bowler was responsible for many of the game’s stunts.
Using your last game to prototype your next game
Bowler and the team began work on Stranglehold using Psi-Ops in order to jump in quickly and begin testing movement and combat ideas. During these early tests the rest of the team “got up to speed” on Unreal Engine 3 while game play prototypes were designed with Psi-Ops. The work wasn’t wasted, however.
“From a level-design perspective, the grey-boxed level you see in the Psi-Ops prototype became the Tea House level you fight the first boss in at the end of the first level in Stranglehold. The only part you can’t see in the video is the ‘kitchen’ in back behind the bar,” Bowler said. “You can play the Tea House level in the demo for Stranglehold that’s still on Xbox Live (at least I’m pretty sure it’s still up there?) if you’re dying to see it in action and don’t own the game already.”
Bowler described how he worked in Unreal Engine 3 to get the character to move in a fluid way, and became Stranglehold’s animation designer. “I’d go into the mocap studio with the animators and suit up and do the acting for the mocap that later became the majority of Tequila’s moves in Stranglehold,” he told the Penny Arcade Report.
“I got hurt a lot doing those hit react stunts. When you shoot a bad guy in Stranglehold, there’s a 100% chance I’m doing the shooting motion, and about a 97% chance I’m doing the hit react of the guy going down.” At the end of the prototype in the below video you can see an early version of the move where the character spins around and takes out everyone in the room. The second video is the same move with fleshed out animation in the Stranglehold engine.
This was a weird case of replacing your mentor for Bowler. Sal Divita was the creative director for Midway Games, having worked on both NBA Jam and NFL Blitz, and he had handled all the stunts from Psi Ops. He is also, as the first comment to this story pointed out, Night Wolf. Divita taught Bowler much of what he knows about acting in a motion capture rig, which was odd when Bowler went into the studio to create the performances for Stranglehold. You can see the differences in their acting styles by moving between Psi-Ops and Stranglehold.
“I’d recognize his movement anywhere, and even laughed when I recognized his acting in one of the trailers for the last wrestling game he did for THQ,” Bowler remembered. “I worked under Sal on Red Card and MLB Slugfest, and he helped show me how to be a better Mocap actor and do a lot of great hit reacts, falls, and stunts, so it’s super fun for me to watch his motion in the Psi-Ops footage and then see my motion in the Stranglehold footage, doing the exact same moves. He’s kind of old-school and more over-the-top acting, and I try and bring some of that to the new-school of relatively subtle/real mocap acting.”
They joked that Stranglehold would have been even more fun if they were able to use the abilities from Psi-Ops along with the Hong Kong style of gunplay, but there was no hope of mixing ideas due to licensing. “I used to have the Psi-Ops Stranglehold prototype on an old Xbox Dev Kit that I would take home to play and have family and close friends playtest, but I turned that in when we moved onto the planned Xbox 360 hardware and the UE3 engine. It’s one of those pieces of history that in retrospect I really wish I would have just hung onto.”
This may not exactly be breaking news, but it’s still pretty bad ass stuff about two underrated games.