Interview: Gemini Heroes Reborn Lead Designer Steve Bowler
I’m not going to lie to you: I gave up watching the TV show Heroes at the end of the second season, and haven’t bothered with the new Heroes Reborn. But after seeing a demo of the upcoming game Gemini Heroes Reborn (Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC), and talking to Phosphor Game’s Steve Bowler, the game’s Lead Designer, I may have to…okay, I’m still not going to watch the show. But I’ll probably play this game when it comes out digitally on January 12.
Let’s start with the basics. What is Gemini Heroes Reborn, how do you play it?
It’s a first-person action game in which you’re a college student named Cassandra. You’re visiting some rundown facility with your friend Alex because you were adopted, and don’t know who you’re parents were, but Alex has tracked them down and thinks they worked at this facility before it exploded six years ago. But one things lead to another, disaster happens, and you learn that you have these crazy abilities that have to do with time travel. The game is set in 2014, but you can go back to 2008 whenever you want, and the game is all about using your abilities to solve problems and take out the guards.
What games is Gemini Heroes Reborn similar to? I kind of have an idea, but I want to see if I’m right.
I’m influenced a lot by Portal. So there’s a lot of the A-vs.-B, present-vs.-past mechanic, which is like the blue-vs.-orange thing in Portal. Though more so on Enigma Heroes Reborn [a mobile game Phosphor released for iOS and Android earlier this year]. It’s undeniable that Portal was a big influence on that game.
I like that you’re not denying it. I hate when game designers do that.
Yeah, it’s silly.
So Portal is the big thing. Though one of the influences on the time shifting mechanic is that I was driving into work, and thinking about the maps in Zelda games, how there will be a crack in the floor of the second level, which you have to blow it up to get into the room below. And it dawned on me, “What if that was past and present, a temporal change between two periods? What if the way to get through a locked door is to shift to a different time when the door isn’t locked. Or isn’t even there.”
What’s funny is that when you first started talking about the game, I was thinking it sounded like Mirror’s Edge.
Well, there’s elements of that when you’re climbing up a ledge, stuff like that. One of our pet peeves is when you running around in a game, and you can jump, but there’s a railing that you can’t get over even though any normal human could jump over it.
So how does Gemini Heroes Reborn connect to the TV show, Heroes Reborn?
The show is mostly based in 2015, and while there’s no characters from the show in the game, they’re both in the Heroes universe. But there are a lot of little Easter eggs in the game. Like someone in the game might say something about a cheerleader who could heal herself, which is a reference to the character in the original Heroes show. Though you don’t have to be a fan of the show, or have even seen an episode, to enjoy the game.
And how does Gemini Heroes Reborn connect to the mobile game, Enigma Heroes Reborn?
So, the mobile game is set in the same facility, but it goes the other way. As I said, Gemini Heroes Reborn is set in 2014, but has you exploring the facility before it blew up in 2008. Enigma Heroes Reborn is set in 2008, and you play a character who’s trying to escape, and you can travel to 2014. So the stories crossover for a bit, then run alongside each other, and then diverge.
Aside from the stories crossing over, is there any practical crossover between the games? Like if you beat the mobile one, do you get a code for something cool in Gemini Heroes Reborn?
No, we didn’t do that.
So were you guys already working on this game when the idea came up to make it a Heroes game, or did you get asked to do a Heroes game and this is what you came up with?
A little of both. The stuff about Zelda came up after we were working on this as a Heroes game. But this came about because we had done a Kickstarter for a game called Awakened, which was an attempt to continue a game we had started when we worked at Midway. The hook was that you could mix all these abilities and make the hero of your dreams. But while the Kickstarter wasn’t successful, Brad Santos from Imperative — who’s now the Executive Producer of this game — he saw the videos and got in touch because Imperative wanted to do a Heroes game and he thought we’d be great for it.
Was it Midway that put out that game Psi-Ops? Because this kind of reminds me of that.
Yeah, I actually work with a lot of guys from that team. Chip Sineni, the Studio Director and this game’s Creative Director, worked on Psi-Ops, and some of the other people worked on the game as well.
Okay, so you said you can shift back from 2014 to 2008 whenever you want. But what happens if the spot you’re standing in is rubble when you switch? Will you materialize inside the rubble and thus die?
Oh, we don’t let you do that. We don’t want you to die like that. When you’re going to time shift, you hold up your left hand. But if you try to shift and the area on the other side is blocked, the color emanating from your hand will be red instead of a blue.
Though you also have the ability to see into the other time without going there. That way, you can see what hazards are there. Here, I’ll show you. Okay, in this room, in 2008, there are some guards walking around. And if I time shifted there, they’d see me and attack me. But I’m just viewing that time, so I can see where they are, but they can’t see me, which means I can figure out where to best shift into that time so they won’t see me or so I’m behind them and can take them out.
And how do you take people out?
With telekinesis. You can pick up boxes and other items with your mind, and hurl them at the guards, or you can pick the guards up and put them in harms way [which he then illustrated by picking up a guard and putting him into the way of a harmful giant fan]. Also, if a guard shoots at you, you can stop bullets in mid-air, or you can deflect bullets back at the guy who shot them. You can also grab guys and use them as a meat shield if someone else is shooting at you. You can even, if you time it right, use time stop and move the guard into the path of his own bullets.
Well, that’s mean.
Yeah, though one of the things we built into the game is that if you just hold someone from the front, they’ll eventually start shooting you.
So is there a limitation to how much you can use these abilities?
Yes, there’s a meter in the corner, but it does recharge. And some abilities use more than others. You’ll also level this up, though it’s not RPG style. Instead, as you progress through the game, your abilities will get better.
Ah, so it’s like what happens when you exercise?
Yup. The meter will drain slower, you’ll be able to pick up bigger objects with your telekinesis, and so on.
Any other cool moves?
Well, if you jump while time is stopped, you’ll jump much further than you would normally. You can also do stuff like make a jump when time is stopped and do a time shift in mid-air to go through an opening.
Yeah, but you actually never have to do that in the game. It’s just something we figured out you could do.
Oh, okay. Now, when you were holding that guy up, the one you threw into the fan, he became transparent. Is that in the game or just something for this demo?
That’s in the game. We do it so you can see through things. They don’t actually become transparent, though. We originally had them be opaque, but then we had trouble aiming when we want to throw, say, a chair at some guard.
The level you’ve been showing me seems rather linear. Is that typical of the game?
Yeah, most of the levels are straightforward; you go from A to B to C to D. Though there are little spots where it’s not. Like in this room I’m in now, I just fought the guards and eventually got the key to that door over there. But if I use the time shift, you can see there’s a vent up that’s ripped open. Instead of killing the guards, I could’ve just shifted to this time, crawled through the vent, and used that to get past the door. So there are little things like that, though you always end up in the same place.
Is this a single-player only game or is there some co-op or multiplayer modes as well?
It’s single-player only.
Now, for this demo, you’ve been playing the PC version, but with an Xbox controller. I assume that means the PC version will support controllers, yes?
Oh yeah, totally.
Since Gemini Heroes Reborn is based on a TV show, I’m sure people working on the show have seen the game as it was being developed. Did they offer any really helpful suggestions or criticism?
The people from the show have been really focused on the story, and there’s people at NBC Universal who have a lot of experience with games, and they’ve given us some good feedback about the gameplay. But I don’t think I have any good stories in that regard.
Has Cassandra or Alex turned up in the show?
No, but Dahlia from the mobile game made a cameo on the show, and she was also in the prequel webisode series, though it was an adult version of her because she’s a child in Enigma.
And are the voice actors who play Cassandra or Alex on Gemini Heroes Reborn anyone of note? Y’know, given that this is a game based on an NBC show.
Nope. But the music was done by Wendy & Lisa. They did the music for the original show and the Heroes Reborn, and they also did some new music for our game.
Cool. Finally, there are a lot of comics, movies, TV shows, and games where people have super powers. Are there any non-Heroes movies, comics, and so on that were a big influence on the game?
I’m a big nerd movie walking guy, and I’ve read a ton of comic books, but I can’t think of anything specific…
Oh! Oh, there is one thing. In the movie X-Men: Days Of Future Past, there’s that scene with Quicksilver in the kitchen of the Pentagon when he’s running around and poking the guards and setting stuff up. Our whole goal was to capture that moment, and I’ve also referenced that scene when talking to the effects team about how I want things to look when time is stopped.