Stealth edit

HOW CO­IN­CI­DEN­TAL SIM­I­LAR­I­TIES LED TO CHANGES TO SYPHON FIL­TER

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de­spite hav­ing no way of know­ing, a num­ber of dif­fer­ent as­pects of Syphon Fil­ter were so close to Metal Gear Solid’s that they were un­canny, forc­ing eide­tic to make changes where it could to pre-emp­tively stamp out any ac­cu­sa­tions – how­ever un­fair – of pla­gia­rism.

THE NAME

Though the names them­selves weren’t sim­i­lar, there was a fa­mil­iar­ity to them. It was a “weird, funky name that makes no sense”, ex­plains Richard Ham, “and so was Metal Gear’s”. Both had a rel­e­vance to the story – though MGS was stronger on that front – but Eide­tic was too far along for a change by the time Konami an­nounced the game.

THE ASIAN CO-STAR

The most pe­cu­liar co­in­ci­dence is the chatty side­kick char­ac­ter that both stu­dios had. Both would reg­u­larly in­ter­rupt game­play to speak with the main char­ac­ter via an ear­piece, but strangest of all is how Syphon Fil­ter’s char­ac­ter was orig­i­nally named Mei Xing, whereas Konami had named theirs Mei ling. The fi­nal name used in Eide­tic’s game ended up as lian Xing.

THE GATLING GUN

There’s a boss fight half­way through Syphon Fil­ter where lo­gan must dash be­tween pil­lars to avoid be­ing set alight by a flamethrower. It’s one of the bet­ter boss fights in the game, which is lucky con­sid­er­ing Gird­eux – the char­ac­ter you en­counter at this point – was orig­i­nally equipped with a Gatling gun and played out in a fash­ion very sim­i­lar to Vul­can Raven in Metal Gear Solid.

THE BUNKER MIS­SION

If Syphon Fil­ter had opened with this mis­sion then it would’ve been hard for any­one, hav­ing re­cently come off the back of MGS only a few months prior, to have not crit­i­cised Eide­tic for copy­ing. The feel­ing of the level – with the en­e­mies draped in white and spot­lights rais­ing alarms should lo­gan get caught in them – is all too fa­mil­iar to the open­ing mis­sion of Shadow Moses.

THE BOSS FIGHT

One as­pect that sim­ply couldn’t be changed ahead of launch was the he­li­copter boss bat­tle atop a snow-cov­ered rooftop. The flyby shoot­ings of the chop­per and even the over­all vis­ual ap­pear­ance make it im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore com­par­isons. But Eide­tic had al­ready re-pro­grammed one boss bat­tle. It just had no more time to do the same for this one – it wasn’t as sim­ple as swap­ping out one weapon for an­other this time… down to a videogame. It took Ham and the team dis­cussing the project with a new pro­ducer at Sony, who brought to the table a love of anime – in par­tic­u­lar a pop­u­lar as­sas­sin-themed manga se­ries known as Golgo 13, which would shift the game­play to­wards play­ing as a hit­man. “It still had that ti­tle [of Syphon Fil­ter],” adds Ham, “but it didn’t re­ally mean any­thing any more. That was just some­thing that the ac­count­ing de­part­ment at Sony had called it and so the name had to stick, and so they came to us with the idea and we said we could work with that.”

From this point on, Syphon Fil­ter would come to be a merg­ing point for a con­sid­er­able num­ber of per­sonal in­ter­ests for the di­rec­tion of the project. From Ham’s side, he had been in­spired by the Wa­chowski’s film As­sas­sins with An­to­nio Ban­deras, and pushed hard for a change to the mod­ern set­ting as a re­sult. “There was a lot of push­back for that,” he adds, “and ul­ti­mately Sony said, ‘Okay, okay, we’ll give you the mod­ern day, but we can’t pos­si­bly let the player be a full-on as­sas­sin in our game, play­ers won’t ac­cept that, play­ers won’t want to be evil – they’ll want to be good.’ Now, this was back in the mid-nineties of course. It is un­think­able now, in our post­grand Theft Auto world, that there was a time when Sony thought no one would ever want to play as a bad guy.”

But then there was art di­rec­tor John Garvin’s ob­ses­sion with The X-files, which ul­ti­mately led to the silli­ness of the con­cept be­ing pushed out in favour of a more se­ri­ous, shad­owy, con­spir­acy-the­o­rist style story. The fi­nal sug­ges­tion came from Con­nie Booth, a name that Sony fans ought to al­ready know. The ex­ec­u­tive

pro­ducer of prod­uct de­vel­op­ment once had a keen in­ter­est in a ca­reer in the CIA, Ham tells us, and this pas­sion ul­ti­mately led to her sug­ges­tion to move the game away from play­ing as a hit­man and more to­wards a spy ver­sus spy set­ting. It was here that these in­ter­ests con­verged and Syphon Fil­ter re­ally be­gan to take shape.

And yet it wasn’t only the story that was drawn from a hodge­podge of in­spi­ra­tions. The game­play, too, was born from a love of so many other el­e­ments that came be­fore it, both from videogames and film. “From a game­play point of view, Tomb Raider and Gold­eneye were my two big in­flu­ences,” ex­plains Ham, “I love the mod­ern day set­ting, and I love that Gold­eneye had this list of ob­jec­tives and it wasn’t just, ‘Hey, col­lect the three coloured keys to open the doors,’ and in­stead there were story ob­jec­tives that you had to do. That was bril­liant. And I loved the third­per­son aim­ing com­bat sys­tem of Tomb Raider.”

But that wasn’t all, Ham’s big­gest driv­ing force be­hind Syphon Fil­ter didn’t even come from videogames at all, but the clas­sic gun-fu cin­ema of the likes of John Woo and Chow Yun Fat. “I wanted to cre­ate that kind of ex­pe­ri­ence on a con­sole, be­cause that wasn’t some­thing that – at the time – any­one had ever ex­pe­ri­enced. I re­ally tried to push that right from the get-go.” This, in turn, came from a recog­ni­tion of the fran­tic com­bat of not only Quake – which was the shooter to beat at the time – but of that game’s her­itage in Doom and Wolfen­stein. Ham ex­plains that while he adored Quake’s 3D mouselook game­play, he lamented the loss of go­ing up against seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble odds. “I re­ally missed that sense of panic in

It’s easy to say that while [Syphon Fil­ter] bor­rows as­pects from other games, it comes nowhere near close to feel­ing like any of them. It’s a game in its own right, straight and sim­ple ign, 1999 KONAMI PUSHED US SO HARD WITH­OUT EVEN KNOW­ING WE EX­ISTED, WE WERE JUST THIS PLUCKY GROUP OF A DOZEN OR SO DEVEL­OP­ERS IN ORE­GON

Doom when you open the door and there’s like 20 Ca­codemons in there, so the other thing that I was re­ally, re­ally keen on was putting the player un­der pres­sure, to re­ally make it feel like they were go­ing up against an army. Which at the time in 3D – es­pe­cially on the Plays­ta­tion – was just not a vi­able thing to do.”

This was, in fact, one of the ma­jor con­straints for Eide­tic dur­ing the game’s de­vel­op­ment, as it was with so many devel­op­ers deal­ing with full 3D gam­ing on the Plays­ta­tion for the first time. There was just not enough com­put­ing power to al­low for the hopes and dreams of de­sign­ers, and Ham was one such de­signer trapped

be­tween his grand ideas and the ac­tual ca­pa­bil­i­ties of Sony’s first con­sole. The team had learnt from Bubsy 3D, at least, in that there was no shame in re­duc­ing the game’s res­o­lu­tion down from high def­i­ni­tion to help them achieve bet­ter vi­su­als, but this didn’t help much with the hard­ware re­stric­tions. Mem­ory, in par­tic­u­lar, was a con­stant prob­lem, and this meant im­ple­ment­ing clever ways to al­low for the scope of the project to re­tain its core while still work­ing within tech­ni­cal lim­i­ta­tions.

Of pri­mary con­cern for Ham was the con­straint on the num­ber of en­e­mies that could be on-screen at any one time, a num­ber that he was never fully sat­is­fied with due to his hopes of cre­at­ing a con­stant threat of at­tack from en­e­mies. “We didn’t re­ally pull that off,” he ad­mits, “be­cause in the orig­i­nal Syphon Fil­ter, at no time is there ever more than five guys at­tack­ing you. But, I still worked to make sure that you con­stantly felt un­der threat, so a big part of the de­sign was how to respawn guys in a way that felt nat­u­ral, they weren’t warp­ing in or com­ing in through di­men­sional jump­gates or some­thing like that be­cause it was a mod­ern world, we couldn’t do that, but I didn’t want them to just ap­pear. And you know what, if you play the orig­i­nal Syphon Fil­ter, you’ll no­tice that you’re al­ways get­ting at­tacked from be­hind. It was awe­some that they at­tacked from be­hind be­cause it wouldn’t have oc­curred to the player to tar­get lock on them and so the cam­era would in­stantly zip around and then you’ve got a full-view pic­ture of your guy shoot­ing over the shoul­der as he runs away from guys, and you can get these re­ally cool cine­matic mo­ments that fun­da­men­tally did not ex­ist at the time in videogames.”

But this sense of cine­matic gun­play wasn’t the only as­pect to the game that play­ers will re­mem­ber, it was equally as pop­u­lar for its stealth game­play – a facet of de­sign that was not nearly as preva­lent in gam­ing as it is now. This wasn’t a need to com­pete with the likes of Metal Gear Solid – which would in­di­rectly have a mas­sive im­pact on the game in other ways – but in­stead a de­sire to ex­pand on the small seg­ments of stealth that were glimpsed in Gold­eneye.

“The only rea­son we had stealth in our game­play wasn’t be­cause, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna rein­vent how stealth works!’ be­cause stealth didn’t re­ally work at the time,” re­calls Ham. “The rea­son we had those stealth el­e­ments goes back to Gold­eneye. I still re­mem­ber to this day, in the very first level, where it’s on the dam at the be­gin­ning of the movie and you have to in­fil­trate the place, you fight some guys, you find your­self in a heat­ing duct and you go along and look down, and you shoot an un­aware guard… that was a re­ally rev­e­la­tory mo­ment in videogames. I think it was just about the only time there was any sig­nif­i­cant stealth in Gold­eneye at all, but I thought that was such a cool mo­ment that we should make a whole level like that. And then, ‘let’s make an­other level like that!’ and so on.”

De­spite the fact that stealth was not such an im­por­tant as­pect of the game, there was an ob­vi­ous as­so­ci­a­tion that could be drawn be­tween Metal Gear Solid and Syphon Fil­ter, and de­spite the two only re­leas­ing a hand­ful of months apart, the an­nounce­ment of Ko­jima’s land­mark ti­tle gave birth to a grow­ing fear in the team that the for­mer was ready to dec­i­mate the lat­ter. “I still re­mem­ber the first time I saw MGS at E3 on the jum­botron,” says Ham, “and we were all just in the crowd, star­ing up at this. Some­how the gods – the 3D, real-world, ac­tion ad­ven­ture gods – had de­cided to step down to Earth and show us, ‘This is how you do it.’ And we were like, ‘Oh my god, we’re gonna die! This is go­ing to be Bubsy 3D all over again! We got de­stroyed

The ex­e­cu­tion could have been bet­ter ac­com­plished, Eide­tic [in­tro­duced] a few ideas of its own, and these go a long way to­wards pro­vid­ing the game with its own iden­tity edge, 1999

by Mario 64, now we’re go­ing to get de­stroyed by Metal Gear.’ And those last few months, they were a death march. Be­cause as more and more in­for­ma­tion came out about Metal Gear, it was stun­ning to us.”

This was in large part be­cause of the un­canny re­sem­blances, from the sim­i­lar­i­ties of their un­usual names that ex­plained very lit­tle of the prod­uct to var­i­ous as­pects of both games that were, frankly, too close for com­fort. “We had a plucky, fe­male Asian side­kick that talks to you on the ra­dio all the time. They had one! We had a big boss fight with a gi­gan­tic big guy with a Gatling gun who you chase. They had a boss fight like that!” The sim­i­lar­i­ties were nu­mer­ous, and yet all Eide­tic could do was make a hand­ful of changes where it was pos­si­ble to, and just hope that Syphon Fil­ter could stand on its own, away from these glar­ing sim­i­lar­i­ties.

With only a hand­ful of months left in de­vel­op­ment, there wasn’t much more that could be done about it, the sav­ing grace be­ing that at least Syphon Fil­ter favoured gun ac­tion over stealth – ba­si­cally the op­po­site of Metal Gear Solid. It drove ev­ery­one on the team to do what they could to make their game be the best it could be, even if they each felt they were work­ing to­wards in­evitable de­struc­tion. “[Konami] pushed us so hard with­out even know­ing we ex­isted, be­cause we were just this plucky, lit­tle group of a dozen or so devel­op­ers in Ore­gon, and they were just this mono­lithic, mega-devel­oper – they had like 50 or 60 peo­ple!”

But what stood out the most about Eide­tic’s game was not its sim­i­lar­i­ties with any other game – or its in­spi­ra­tions – but in­stead its smooth amal­ga­ma­tion of ex­ist­ing con­cepts. The team brought to­gether so many ideas that the sum of its parts felt com­pletely new. Syphon Fil­ter even skipped the tra­di­tional must-hit hol­i­day sea­son be­fore Christ­mas and still man­aged to be­come a huge suc­cess for Sony and the PS1. “Metal Gear Solid launched in time for Christ­mas 1998, we launched in Feb­ru­ary of the fol­low­ing year,” says Ham. “We were go­ing to bed that night know­ing that the re­views that were gonna come out were just gonna com­pletely de­stroy us, and they didn’t. They said, ‘This is some­thing re­ally cool,

THIS IS GO­ING TO BE BUBSY 3D ALL OVER AGAIN! WE GOT DE­STROYED BY MARIO 64, NOW WE’RE GO­ING TO GET DE­STROYED BY METAL GEAR

this is a fu­sion of all these cool things. You might think it’s a Metal Gear clone but it’s not! It’s stands on its own.’ And that was ab­so­lutely amaz­ing. All that hard work ac­tu­ally paid off.” Eide­tic had as­sumed it would be his­tory re­peat­ing it­self, that the ghost of Bubsy 3D was to curse them for­ever, to al­ways find them­selves one step be­hind oth­ers. But in fact quite the op­po­site hap­pened, and the team was re­warded.

Eide­tic lives on to­day, with many of the orig­i­nal cre­ators of Syphon Fil­ter still work­ing at the same com­pany, now un­der the name of Sony Bend and work­ing on Days Gone. It’s in­cred­i­ble to think of the up­com­ing zom­bie sur­vival shooter, and con­sider that if not for Syphon Fil­ter and the “con­stant panic of de­vel­op­ment” – as Ham puts it – the devel­oper per­haps wouldn’t be here now, es­pe­cially af­ter its mis­step with Bubsy 3D. And while the fran­chise of Syphon Fil­ter may not have stood the test of time, the heroic de­ter­mi­na­tion that went into the cre­ation of the orig­i­nal has, at least, helped the spirit of Eide­tic to live on.

the later syphon Fil­ter games, eclipsed by the likes of splin­ter cell, strug­gled. they fared much bet­ter, how­ever, on PSP.

de­signed as mul­ti­player, but made sin­gle player late in de­vel­op­ment, the first Ps2 syphon Fil­ter game did not turn out well.

there was enough va­ri­ety to the pace of the game that each level felt dis­tinct. the op­tion to play most stages stealth­ily or gung ho was not com­mon in game de­sign at this point.

the taser didn’t have too sig­nif­i­cant a role in the game, but it still man­aged to cap­ture gamers’ at­ten­tion as they found great hu­mour in elec­tri­fy­ing an enemy to the point that they set alight.

A com­bi­na­tion of dra­matic and ex­plo­sive cin­e­mat­ics were paired with Fmvs of char­ac­ters talk­ing at ‘the Agency’, the lat­ter be­ing a cheap so­lu­tion to mov­ing the story along on a bud­get.

Syphon Fil­ter re­ally was a sum of its parts. For as much as com­bat was the core ele­ment, there were sec­tions where tomb Raider-style plat­form­ing was nec­es­sary, too.

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