These days, PS2/Dreamcast on-rails shooter Rez holds something of a cult status, its intriguing mash-up of intense gunfights and EDM-powered soundtrack made all the more popular when it received a tidy Rez HD makeover on XBLA in '08. But with such a weird premise, it's hardly surprising to learn the game took more than a few iterations to get right.
In the latest issue of Edge, Jake Kazdal (the only American to work on the project, and a designer and animator at the time) reveals the musically-minded curio was still in the prototyping stage when he joined Japanese studio United Game Artists. "Rez was difficult. They prototyped for quite a while before I came on. There was just this little core team and the prototypes were all vastly different and pretty abstract. When I moved in, we did a couple of different prototypes just playing with different visual styles. We had these really surreal worlds; some were more hip- hop inspired, some were a bit more in the style of Morimoto."
"We came across this look that was kind of undersea inspired, like microscopic life with little plankton and stuff like that, with a kind of psychedelic edge," says Kazdal. "We were working on that for a while, and it was pretty cool. It was very abstract, but it was just us playing it every day, you know? And such as it is in development, you get used to a thing and you understand everything about it, and it’s kind of hard to judge objectively, because you’re so tied to it, you’re so close to all the decisions made about it. So we were in love with this prototype, and were like, ‘I think this is going to be the one'."
Once the code was in a solid enough build to present to the outside world, Kazdal and co tentatively opened its doors to a group of testers. "And then we opened our doors and a bunch of people came in and tested it. And everyone was like, 'What the hell is this? What am I supposed to be doing? Are those bad guys? Are those good guys?' Everything was so abstract that they didn’t have any clue what was supposed to be happening or anything. It was just way too weird. So that was kind of a slap in the face to all of us, because we were into it."
So with all this feedback in mind, the team set out about rethinking its approach to Rez's weird and wacky elements. "We knew we had to be a bit more obvious about bad guys being bad and what things [you could interact with]..." adds Kazdal. "It informed a bunch of our design decisions from there as we moved on."