SCI FI Wire got a preview of the video game tied to the upcoming animated sci-fi comedy Planet 51 in Madrid last month and heard about its development as well.
The game was developed by Pyro Studios (Commandos), sister company of Ilion Animation Studios, which created the movie. The movie and game studios worked very closely on the project; in fact, they're in the same building. The developers stressed the importance of working with Ilion and having them right there to talk to. (It also doesn't hurt that the movie and game directors have been friends since the age of 4.)
Planet 51 is a mission-based driving game with never-before-seen driving behavior and hovering, and it's intended for younger players (ages 4-12). The game is being released for all platforms, including the DS and PSP.
Game developer Julian Romero said of the multiplayer mode, "You mainly will have two different mechanics to play, which is racing missions and destruction derby missions, and you can set up how you want to play. Whether you want to play with traffic or not, ... how many open ends you want to play with, etc. For two players on the same console, ... split screen."
We were told that 80 percent of the game is script-based content and 20 percent is exclusive to the game, and that you begin the game a little before where the film's story begins.
The game plays in three acts, the second two unlockable. Designers used the Unreal Engine 3 for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions, but since this is an open-world setting and Unreal specializes in corridor games, they had to do a bit of building on top of the program.
We asked about the decision to make this an open world. "When we started thinking in this game, with the first script, we tried to see how the world, the Planet 51 universe is," Romero said. "We would like to represent this new universe, this world, in a game. I think that the player wants to discover new things to do. For example, ... how the cars are, how the bikes are, etc. And we will put this into the game."
Romero added, "It's a linear, mission-based game, talking about the main missions. You can choose if you want to play the secondary missions or not. If you to explore the world to collect comic-book pages, etc., but the main missions are linear because we have based the script for the game on the movie script."
The Wii version uses new, Pyro Studios-created technology. We played as Lem, the alien boy who helps human astronaut Chuck get back home to Earth. In this section, we were tasked with delivering newspapers to the neighborhood homes. You hold the Wiimote like a rolled-up newspaper and throw papers at the target in a timed mission. You can be hurt by passing cars and accidentally break windows. When you do, you lose time. When you succeed, you gain some.
In the bike-riding mode, you use the Wiimote to turn the bike and and shake it to jump. In another part of the game, Lem's crush, Neera, asks you to catch the books she continually throws at you while she walks around with her boyfriend. In this mode, you use the Wiimote to balance and keep the books from falling.
Another part of the game has you racing with other cars; arrows show you what direction to go. The developers referred to this as your "GPS": You can crash through fences and totally affect your environment.
In the 360 version, you could really see the deeper textures, and there was a bit more to do and see within the environment. The car actually gets damaged as you ram it into things. Here we saw the race mode. You have the option of repair when you see a certain symbol. We were told that you can get out of the car at any time and enter the buildings, making this a truly open environment. We didn't get to see the PS3 version, but we were told that it was very similar. We were also shown what was a temporary heads-up display, but what they described for the final version seemed pretty simple and straightforward.
People are going to make obvious comparisons to Grand Theft Auto, with the driving missions and interactive environment. But don't worry about your kid's well-being here. We were told that, because this is a children's game, you don't have the option to steal cars. If you take one, the driver moves over to the passenger seat, implying permission. In fact, when we asked what else had to be changed for a kids' game, we were told that originally there was a helicopter level where you had to defend yourself with rockets. Obviously, they took that level out.
Though we didn't get to play more than the paper level, the game seems like fun for the target age group. The graphics were incredibly well done and were pretty darn close to the quality level we saw in the film preview. The game will be released with the film, which comes out on Nov. 20.