-[Jump Button is a weekly column by Drew Taylor, written specially for GameSetWatch, that focuses on the art and substance of video game culture. This week - following on from the interview with Julie Strain, Robert Atkins talks about the making of Ritual's game Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K.2, working with Julie, and things that matter.]

Human body parts.

Scratch the surface of game development, of the team responsible for Ritual Entertainment's third-person shooter, Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K.2, and it's hard not to be reminded of human body parts.

There, beneath the lines of code, the polygons and environmental shaders; beneath the AI path-finding, the gibs, the optimization algorithms, the user interface and multi-level database of localized text. There, beneath it all, are the individuals, the developers and creatives: desk-bound, human-sized, body parts, coming together to create new life.

Claw into the development of of F.A.K.K.2, and some found there will be livers, spleens, ocular cavities. Veins and ventricles.

Previously interviewed actress Julie Strain—the voice and inspiration for the game's lead character—she's the flesh and blood. The estrogen.

Scratch deeper, and others will be calves, vertebrae, toes, urinary tracts. Thumbs and tear ducts. All contributing something. A metaphorical and physical testament to the Biblical passage of 1 Corinthians chapter 12, verses 12-20. A fragile physiological ecosystem of talent, psyche and technological wizardry, melding to form a PC game, released in 2000, that would deliver entertaining, dual-wielding fantasy action.

But scratch deepest, scratch to the very center of it all, and there will be Robert Atkins—then art director and co-founder of Ritual Entertainment. Robert: the heart of Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K.2.

The proud, still-beating heart, ripped out.

-'Heavy Metal magazine has stood the test of time as an adult “cult phenomenon”,' Robert says to me.

'For over 20 years the magazine has been the ultimate illustrated fantasy publication in the world; the mind-twisting, provocative stories and sexy, stylized art being what every teenage boy's wet dreams are made of.'

'Even still, a third-party property was never the first choice for the Ritual's second major title,' says Robert. 'Or, so we thought. But when Kevin Eastman (co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and madman Simon Bisley came a calling, and wanted us to create a game from the pages of Heavy Metal, well that's a special once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

'Throw Julie Strain (Queen of all media) into the mix and you've just super-sized the combo meal.

'At first, fear ran through my bones at the thought of making a Heavy Metal product. Brilliant visuals are something the fans have grown to expect, but it's the twisted stories that keep them coming back for more.

-'The expectations for the game were no different. Given the history of Heavy Metal and its rabid fans, we knew we couldn't create anything that was less than spectacular.

'As a result, somewhere along the way, F.A.K.K.2 became my baby,' says Robert, 'and I did whatever it took to make sure it was as good as the IP (intellectual property) deserved. I took on way more than most people in this industry normally do within a single project.

'During the dev cycle, my daily tasks and roles included art director, 2D art (creating most of the world textures), co-lead design, creative director, web designer, video producer, in-house marketing, graphic designer for all print materials, PR monkey, game tester and office clown.

Adding, 'Before Ritual, I worked as the art director at 3d Realms, working on some cool titles such as Duke Nukem 3D. I created a ton of print materials, including most of their products' box and advertising designs, and on F.A.K.K.2 I got to flex some of those same design muscles.

-'Plus,' says Robert coolly, 'I got to be the point of contact for Kevin and Julie co-ordinating their efforts on the game as well.'

Mutual respect bubbles now in his words.

'As fellow artists, they understand how other artists think and work through the creative process. Without tying our hands, they allowed us to sculpt the product into a fun game within the franchise.'

Robert adding, 'Within a vast fantasy-driven universe like Heavy Metal, the creative field is totally wide open. So we didn't limit those creative boundaries by just rehashing the animated film (Heavy Metal 2000, on which the game was based). With great foresight, Eastman gave us total control to make content which worked in the gaming media. and we took full advantage of this unprecedented opportunity by simply coming up with the coolest stuff possible!

-'It was a real pleasure to work with people who understand the importance of “freedom” as a fundamental element to the creative process. Julie, Kevin and the entire Heavy Metal family are one of the most supportive groups I've met in my career. There was simply nothing that they wouldn't help with during the development process.

'I'd ask and two days later my request was sitting in a FedEx box, waiting on my desk.'

A brief pause now. A recollection.

Robert continuing with, 'One of the best memories was Julie coming to E3; to meet with fans, talk to the press and hang out with the design team. It was also the first time she saw herself as the game character, running around doing her thing. Sitting in a dark room on the “Gathering of Developers” lot, I'll never forget how Julie's face glowed as she watched the game. Totally moved by what we'd created, she began to cry and Eastman put his arms around me and gave me a hug.

-'As developers we just don't expect that kind of raw reaction, but when it comes, all of the hard work feels completely worthwhile.'

Human body parts. Feeling, nurturing.

Technically, too, says Robert, moving on, the game produced some rewarding results.

'It was the focus on combat that set the game apart from the “Tomb Raiders” of the world. Our original “Multi-Target Combat System”, with simultaneous defensive and offensive capabilities, giving players control over both the right and left hand independently, was just one example of the technology and gaming systems that caused F.A.K.K.2 to stand out and is what made the biggest impact on the industry. We sold our gaming systems—which were then bolted into id Software's Quake 3 engine—and the tech helped drive a wide number of award winning titles; Alice, Allied Assualt: Medal of Honour, and Bond: Agent Under Fire to name a few.'

More soberly now. Robert summing up with, 'In the end, though, F.A.K.K.2 stands as a great example for two reasons.

-'First, how fun a game can be when the designers are given control of the content and direction of a third-party IP. But secondly, it's also a prime example of how, without a focused marketing campaign, publisher support, and wide distribution, even the best titles can fall short of commercial success.

'When we created F.A.K.K.2, we made the initial push towards console development with the short-lived Sega Dreamcast in mind. During that time, like a number of other developers, we lost our funding prematurely when the Dreamcast lost favor in the marketplace. Our fall-back was to release a PC version of F.A.K.K.2.

'The interferences outside of the development process were also numerous and very distracting for most on the team. Many of the guys were broken from pouring their hearts into SiN, only to see it not succeed in the market. For the studio, then, we had two great titles back-to-back fall short of deserved market success, but not from the lack of efforts of the development team.'

This is Robert as a body part again. The aching heart, filled with paternal pride for a team and a project that gave so much of themselves. A pumping, aortic symbol of all game development that isn't Valve or Bungie. A studio attempting to pioneer episodic content with SiN Episodes; a studio now brought into the fold of casual game development. Heart-shaped dotted line indicating where to cut.

-Robert: the heart of Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K.2.

Ripped out, but proud, still beating.

'As far as the end result,' proclaims Robert, 'F.A.K.K.2 was everything that millions of fans have come to expect from Heavy Metal: a mature fantasy that was entertaining, colorful, wacky, ultra-violent, sexy and super fun.

'It was one of the best creative experiences for those who took part in the development process. A handful of us lived the game and everyday we came up with something cool to add,' he says.

'We simply loved the work.'

[Drew Taylor works in the games industry in Australia and writes video game culture articles for various magazines. He has, and is, an enlarged pupil.]