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    Visiting the world of Bionicle Heroes
    Hot Bionicle NewsMonday, August 28th, 2006 at 1:07pm by Kelly, BZPower Co-Owner
    [Source: Visiting the world of Bionicle Heroes]

    The long brick buildings sit peacefully in the middle of the English countryside, just outside the village of Knutsford, not far from Manchester. Behind, small cabanas ring a gravel parking lot. Insects buzz lazily around flowers and fields. Tranquility abounds.

    Inside, the buzzing is more frenzied. A video crew shuffles around the crowded top floor, squeezing past game developers who labor in front of multiple monitors. Dozens of Bionicle characters, many modified, adorn the room - on top of monitors, on desks, in boxes underneath desks. Posters from movies and games are pinned above workareas: Halo and Spiderman and The Crow, War of the worlds and LoTR and HHGttG. A LEGO Ferarri set is perched above a monitor. A Spud Trooper mounts guard over another.

    The wood floor creaks.

    It's an unexpected setting for the creators of Bionicle Heroes.

    The country air must be doing something right, though. Traveller's Tales Games produced last year's hit game LEGO Star Wars here, and that game's sequel is nearing completion in another room. Scheduled for a slightly later release date, Bionicle Heroes is about 3/4 complete.

    During the frenzy of having a video crew come in, the three game leads found time to share some of the secrets of this particular voyage to Voya Nui. Lead Artist Mike Snowdown, Lead Programmer Chris Stanforth, and Lead Designer Arthur Parsons were happy to talk about the game they've worked on for the last year.

    Like previous TT games Crash Bandicoot and Finding Nemo, Bionicle Heroes is being developed on a fairly short timeline - about a year, in this case. These developers like short timeframes - it keeps things fresh and up-to-date, which is important on a storyline-driven game like Heroes. One of the ways they managed this was to use the existing "engine" (game mechanics) developed for LEGO Star Wars. The end result is a game that has several characteristics in common with LSW.

    But Heroes is most definitely not LSW with different graphics. Oh no.

    There will inevitably be comparisons to LSW. Some things will be instantly familiar to anyone who's played that game... a blue glow for using special powers, the way some things move, the methods of constructing things using LEGO bricks. There is a free play mode, players will be able to get collectibles, the the simple controls are similar to LSW. But the similarities crash to an end once the demo is played (now available). Bionicle Heroes is a faster-paced action game, with lots of stuff going on all at once. If the demo level is any indication, it will keep players busy fending off bad guys, searching for items, and keeping from getting zapped.

    Bionicle Heroes includes 25 levels, and there are 19 bosses. Players initially start out as Jaller, then as play continues, all six Toa Inika become available (armed with original Toa weapons). The Piraka have invaded Voya Nui, and turned all the flora and fauna evil. The only way to restore Voya Nui is to find the Mask of Life and return it to its rightful place. As the player continues through the game, other characters are unlocked, including a total of three "generations" of Toa. (Including all previous Toa would have been too daunting and possibly confusing.) The Piraka are the bosses for each zone, and once the player has defeated one, they can play as that Piraka. "They were just too cool not to be playable," said Arthur Parsons, lead designer. Some free play items are only accessible when playing as Piraka.

    The player has a lot of control over where they go in the game. They can visit any of the six different zones on the island, and depending on when they visit, they'll get appropriate enemies. If the same level is played later, they'll get a harder opponent.

    Piraka aren't the only enemies our heroes face; they'll also need to battle their way past Vahki, Bohrok, and Visorak. Some of the later levels will make things harder for the player... for example, Bohrok can become translucent, or go into "glass" mode, with a blur effect running across the screen. Vahki can resurrect themselves and change from biped to quadruped in later levels.

    Anyone who's played the demo or seen the preview trailers will notice some unique things about how the game is presented and played. The player controls the character from an over-the-shoulder perspective, for example. Initial concepts for Heroes had it as a first-person shooter, but it turned out that would mean an automatic "T" for Teen rating from the ESRB. Besides, playing as first person didn't allow you to see the character. Both LEGO and TT Games really wanted it to be accessible for younger LEGO enthusiasts, so they re-thought the strategy and came up with the over-the-shoulder perspective, which shows the character (at least their back) in detail, and lets the player see what the character is doing.

    Likewise, the targeting beam from each characters' eyes helps players understand what their Toa (or other playable character) is looking at.

    The lack of "T" rating doesn't mean the game is soft and cuddly, though. For the first time in the Bionicle franchise, the Toa are carrying weapons, not tools, and the designers have created graphics that do them justice. One of the first things designed, back when the game was envisioned as a FPS, was the weapons, so they hold a lot of detail.

    Another initial idea was for the Piraka to kidnap kids from the "real" world and have the Toa rescue them, but reaction from both BZPower readers and the LEGO company wasn't positive so they abandoned the idea. (Interestingly enough, the concept didn't die completely, as it was reborn in this fall's "Free the Band" promotional campaign featuring popular band All American Rejects.) LEGO wanted to stick closer to the detailed mythos they've built over the last several years.

    And how well does Heroes fit into that mythos? According to the development team, who studied hard to become overnight Bionicle experts, some earlier Bionicle software may have tried to stick too close to the complex storyline. The earlier characters focused purely on what the canon characters could do, so the TT developers stepped back and saw what was best for the game. Overall, they've kept it pretty close to the mythos, and introduced methods of getting older characters into the game. They've tried to keep what's fun and understandable, and not necessarily follow all that had been done by others before.

    Focus group tests have been positive. Kids who've tested it said it was "fun blowing stuff up".

    All the main features are now in the game, and the team will mainly be polishing content and testing until the final release in November. The team was unanimous in saying they'd love to do a sequel to the game, and they also hope to get people who aren't Bionicle fans to buy and play the game.

    Look for more exclusive Bionicle Heroes content on BZPower soon!

    Travellers Tales is located in this unassuming brick building outside the small English town of Knutsford, just outside of Manchester.

    A developer peruses code on Bionicle Heroes.

    Collectible items being scanned and digitized for inclusion in the game. Many collectible images and suggestions were supplied by BZPower reference staff.

    A Spud Trooper keeps watch over a game coder.

    Photo of monitor during game development.

    Photo of monitor during game development.

    Bionicle toys line every horizontal surface, including some MOCs made by developers.

    Modeling a tool for the game.

    The high ceiling on the second floor rises above more than a dozen game developers. A video technician readies his camera in the background.

    Photo of monitor during game development.

    Photo of monitor during game development. Click for a short movie of a Piraka walking.

    Posters, toys, and wireframes.

    Inside the publishing offices of TT Games.

    The publishing office melds old world architecture with 21st-century video prowess.

    This frog was presented to Travellers Tales last year in recogniziton of being the most successful franchisee of the year (for LEGO Star Wars).

    Yoda guards the entrance to the TT Games publishing office.

    The game-slash-meeting room in the publishing office, where I spent several intense hours playing a pre-release version of LEGO Star Wars II.

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