The Order: 1886, Ready At Dawn's third-person shooter set in a alternative London of knights and zeppelins; or at least the idea of The Order, has been around for years.
But the time was never right to turn the rich lore of the title into something playable, at least not until the PlayStation 4 came along, said Ru Weerasuriya CEO of developer Ready at Dawn and creative director on the game.
"It was two or three years before we started on this," Weerasuriya said. "We waited for the right platform. This game could have been made before, but we didn't want to until the platform was ready."
As word of the PlayStation 4 hit developers, Weerasuriya said he saw in the upcoming console, a platform that could fully support the team's vision for the game.
"I came to Allan Becker at Sony Santa Monica and said we had something in mind and felt it was the right time to do it," Weerasuriya said.
And the timing for the release of the PlayStation 4 couldn't have been better. Ready at Dawn had proven the power and ability of the PlayStation Portable in 2008 with the highly-acclaimed God of War: Chains of Olympus. And then in 2010, the developer showed that wasn't a fluke with God of War: Ghost of Sparta.
"The point of doing games on the PSP was to show that the whatever the platform is, it is capable of delivering all sorts of experiences," he said. "The PSP was this small platform for small little games. We proposed Daxter for it. When we finished that, we went to them and said that this platform is capable of doing God of War. The reaction was that we were going to make this 2D platformer. So instead we delivered Chains of Olympus and Ghost.
"The PlayStation 4 is the same for us. The idea again is that you get on a platform so you can show what it can do."
To bring its vision of The Order to life, Ready at Dawn needed a console that could not only deliver a seamless cinematic experience, one that could flow unnoticed between interactive and scene setters, but also a system that could host a brand new physics engine.
"I do think a lot of companies want to create a physics system that will satisfy what they want to do.," Weerasuriya said. "For us, we took a risk by saying none of the physics engines available were capable of what we wanted to do."
What they wanted, what they felt The Order needed, was a physics engine that was completely real time, nothing canned.
"Everything interacts the way it should," he said. "From a rigid-body physics system, to a soft-body physics system. It's a hard system to build and a hard system to run."
But ultimately, Weerasuriya said, the team figured it out and created the Ready at Dawn Engine 4.0.
"Those risks paid off in the end in the way the game looks and the way it feels," he said.
Even before sitting down with Weerasuriya to talk about the game and the team's vision of real-time physics behavior, I couldn't help but notice how alive the world felt.
I had a chance to play through a chunk of The Order's fifth chapter, which takes place about a third of the way through the title.
Initially it was the little things I noticed: The way the wind whipped through the opening sequence outside the zeppelin, the movement of the fabric coating the framework of the airship. But it was the gun fight in the kitchen where the power of the game's physics engine came into full focus.
Missed shots would occasionally hit hanging pots and pans, sending them wildly swinging on their hooks, or popping them into the air. Items flew of the counter tops. Unlike the sterile settings of most gun battles, this exchange was hectic, confusing, a little stressful.
Later, when I talked to Weerasuriya, he mentioned the kitchen shootout.
"Playing in the kitchen, with things fly around, that's in a huge part due to the risks we took on the physics system," he said.
And of course this isn't a game driven by its physics. The interplay of items, and their life-like movement provides a impressive backdrop for what's mean to be the main star of the game: Its story.
The Order, due out exclusively for PS4 on Feb. 20, is a single-player only, narratively-driven, third-person action shooter. I couldn't help but think of Uncharted as I played through a section of the game. Not because its characters or story reminded me of Drake and his archeological adventures, but because The Order felt like an experience built on a rich tapestry of relationships, history and lore.
Weerasuriya said that's because the story of the game glides along the surface of a deep, rich universe.
"This is how we always start, by building a world that is immense enough that a team of 100 something developers can believe in it, can feel like they can work in it for years to come," he said. "In order to do that we have to pour so much energy not into the story, the story came afterwards, but the lore.
"All of that had to exist first and foremost."
The Order drops players into the middle of a centuries long struggle between humanity and a half-breed of monsters that threatens to conquer the world. As humanity continues a slow retreat into obsolescence, King Arthur and his knights arise to not just even the odds, but push them in favor of humans. By 1886, the alternative world has mostly won the fight with the help of a wave of technology that brings electric weapons, zeppelins, new forms of communication and extended life to the order and the people they protect.
The game opens as the order finds a new enemy in its midst, a lower-class rebellion threatening to unbalance the world again. The player takes on the role of the four main protagonists, which includes knights in the order named after some of King Arthur's most famous knights of the round table.
The Order: 1886, at least what I played of it, feels like a game that will live or die on this story and the need by players to learn more about it, experience more battles, meet more characters.
The gameplay itself, while solid, doesn't seem to be introducing any astounding new mechanics to the genre.
Weerasuriya said the team did make sure to pay attention to the pacing of both story and gameplay, to make sure that players always feel like there is something new to do, or find out.
"The different kinds of mechanics and how the mix, and the pacing of the story make players feel like they are always engaged and feel like always could be given control," he said. "You might have a puzzle to solve, or a lock to pick or combat, giving players the idea that they can't sit back and wait for things to happen."
In that way, the game feels very much like a pulp page turner, the sort of book that's hard to put down.
Which begs the question: What's next for this vast world created by Ready at Dawn.
"We have other games in mind, other things that could be done," Weerasuriya said. "The reality is that we never build a world with the mind set of ‘There is one story and that is that.' We build a world purely for the purpose of making more than one game.
"It takes too much work for this to be for a single title."