Mirror's Edge Catalyst will make it to our screens early next month, and then we'll be able to explore the beautiful looking city of Glass more fully than we were able to in both the beta, and looking back, its predecessor. This game, unlike the first iteration, lets you roam freely around the environment, not restricting you to a level system as was the case in the original. The world has been painstakingly moulded in order for you to be able to get around it in the most satisfying way possible, with different routes letting you move through the city as smoothly as possible.
We recently sat down with Erik Odeldahl, the design director for Mirror's Edge Catalyst, and discussed with him how DICE went about building the game's world. As it's a reboot of the original, and not a sequel, Odeldahl elaborated on how they went about creating the revised setting, explaining how their refreshed designs started with protagonist Faith.
"We wanted to really explore Faith Connors, our heroine, and her place in the world, in the city," Odeldahl told us. At least in comparison to the last game, Mirror's Edge Catalyst more deeply explores Faith as a character, from her troubled past to her efforts to impress the Runners, a faction that exists on the edge of this futuristic world.
"Where we started was, we sat down and thought 'how do we create this world, how do we make this a believable place?' We want a believable dystopia, it's not our world, it's not here, but it's a place you as a player should believe in."
Societal structure is a complicated thing, but it feels like DICE has tried to symbolically represent their futuristic vision in the very fabric and structure of the city that they're creating for Catalyst. "We have these different stratas in society, the Runners have their part of it, and we have the Conglomerate families that run all the major corporations," Odeldahl explained. The higher you go in the city, it seems the more wealth you'll find. Within that framework, the Conglomerate families think of the Runners as less worthy, almost slaves, while the Runners consider the privileged elite as pompous, holding them responsible for slow decay of the city.
The city to which we keep referring to is located in the fictional country of Cascadia, a nation fraught with turmoil. Cascadia and Glass are ruled by the sinister Conglomerate, a collection of huge corporations that run the entire city and keep an eye on each and every one of its citizens.
At the head of it all is Kruger Holding, led by the merciless Gabriel Kruger, who holds a deep seated hatred for those living off the Grid. The company itself is a security, weapons, and resource mining giant that holds the most influence within the Conglomerate. It controls KrugerSec, which acts as the city's security force, using particularly heavy handed methods to maintain order. Under Kruger Holding is Silvine Systems running the electronics market, Callaghan Construction Corp for the building industry, Maya Media Group controlling all major news and entertainment outlets, and the mysterious Anansi Group filling in the gaps.
Standing as direct opposition to the Conglomerate is Black November, a resistance movement that has turned violent in order to try and free themselves and their country. Recently, Black November have been dragging civilians into their antics, reasoning that anyone who doesn't speak out or take action is in support of the conglomerate. Somewhere in-between the two is Faith, our protagonist, who operates as a member of the Runners, a group that operates outside of the claws of the corporations and their laws, performing burglaries and courier jobs for anyone who will pay.
There's obviously an element of class conflict at play, because the wealthy elite are "also our game's bad guys, the Conglomerate really keeps this country in check, everybody is under surveillance and the military and police forces don't have a really nice way of handling the country."
The fact you can now free roam means the developers need to pay much more attention to the entirety of the world, hopefully making it feel more unique and more fun to move around, not just a blur of white buildings. To achieve this variety everything, from the tops of the buildings down to the streets below, needs careful design in order to make sure that it not only feels different, but that it feels alive.
"We built it from the ground up. The city, we want you to explore it. We want you to find out about the history of the world, we want you to get in contact with the people that live in it etc. But it's also a game. Each area is different, each area has its own distinct signature visually, with audio and the soundtrack." Something that the devs seem to be particularly fond of is the soundtrack, which cleverly changes style depending on what you are doing in the game. According to the studio the music is influenced by your movement, interaction, location, time of day, and even narrative progression, changing depending on where you are and what is happening. That alone isn't going to make a city feel real, and DICE had to look at other ways of making it feel functionally real.
"We looked a lot at street grids, and how cities in our world are built," Odeldahl continued. "A street in Mirror's Edge is not something you follow. It's something you jump across, or need to cross. If it's too wide, it's gonna stop you. We said we can't have all the life going on just at street level because you are going to be really high up a lot of the time in the game. So what we did was we pushed the life from street level up. You're going to look into offices and see people working, you're going to hear lots of conversations behind windows and doors; you're going to see a lot of people that live their daily life as employees and citizens in this world."
The standout feature of Mirror's Edge Catalyst is of course its trademark visual style. A lot of the game is a brilliant white, with sharp bright colours to contrast that purity. This is definitely something that follows on from the first game. A big worry that we had with the switch to the open world format was, as expressed in our beta preview, that much of the world would look really similar, making it hard to navigate intuitively. We asked Odeldahl about how the team went about making the world more identifiable, making it feel more like the dystopia they want it to be.
"When we looked at the people that run the world where the city of Glass is, they run corporations. And corporations, they are branding themselves. And they've got slogans, they've got audio signatures, and the city of Glass is really alive with those slogans, those brands, [for example] you get audio booming from animated billboards around you. I think the corporate culture of the Conglomerate in the city of Glass is really what gives the city its identity." There are a number of different districts in the game that are characterised different colours. The coastal district, The View, is filled with deep purples and pinks on the buildings and in the environment. It makes for a visual style that you don't see elsewhere, and it helps you navigate between areas more quickly and easily.
"As a Runner, you get to see what's behind the façade. You get to scratch the surface; you get to see the stuff that the corporations want to keep away from you. There's a great juxtaposition of what the Conglomerate wants you to see or experience, and then there's what happens if you don't obey the rules. When the KrugerSec knock on your door in the middle of the night and take you away; that we also wanted to show to the player. As a Runner, since you're living off-grid, you're not part of society, you can see both sides."
This becomes clear the first time you take control of Faith. Before meeting an ally at the very beginning of the game, you get to see what every worker sees, and it's horrible. Imagine a commercialised Google Glass that takes up 90 percent of your vision. The corporations spam you with positive visions of their products, parading propaganda at every turn. Every citizen is practically brainwashed not to question the world around them. As if that wasn't enough, you'll also see giant, animated billboards and hear loud advertisements rolling out across the city while you're running across the rooftops. If you didn't hate the corporations before, you'll certainly do so after living in their world when Mirror's Edge Catalyst lands on PC, PS4, and Xbox One on June 7, 2016.