Starhawk Developer Light Box Studios Interview
We had hands-on with the game before speaking with Harvard Bonin, senior producer at Santa Monica Studios. Check out our impressions in this Starhawk preview.
With Warhawk it was claimed that single-player would only be tackled with the right game, what makes Starhawk that game?
We didn’t make a lot of the mistakes we made with Warhawk. I wasn’t at the company at the time and I don’t want to know exactly any details, but Warhawk was obviously not a successful venture. What happened was, and I’ve said this to people, if the team had continued to work on solo and multiplayer and just said ‘you know what, we’re just going to battle through’ instead of just going multiplayer we would have had pretty poor solo and multiplayer.
And it seems multiplayer turned out pretty good. With Starhawk and when I came on, we took the key creative guys Incognito and started a new studio, so it’s a completely fresh experience. At the same time, it retains a lot of that gameplay. So when I say half-jokingly we did make a lot of mistakes with Warhawk, it’s actually true. There’s a lot of guidance that’s coming in from the God Of War team – those guys are being consulted on a fairly regularly basis.
And I also think there’s a lot of lessons we’ve learned with Warhawk, and one of the key ones was really ‘lean into your strengths’. When it comes to the solo aspect of it – you saw Dylan Jobe [President, Light Box Studios] outline it on a god-forbidden power plant – and it happens to fit really well with the gameplay we are already familiar with. I think it’s a natural process for us to get to where we’re at, and still retain that recipe of gameplay.
With the market at the point it is, do you think there’s pressure to build upon a franchise rather than a new IP?
I don’t know if it’s going to be a huge franchise for Sony. I hope so, but honestly we’re just trying to make a really good game. If it turns out it grows into something bigger then fantastic. I know for us, in terms of budget and everything like that, it’s not exactly small. But we do recognise Light Box as a start-up developer. Sort of.
We treat them as start-up, and they truly are, but there are so many people who have been going there for so long, the relationships really are the same as they always were. In fact, they’ve strengthened over the past few years since we’re going through this together. Within building a franchise for Sony – I hope so. At the end of the day, all I can do is set it up to be successful, and hope people will like it. And usually that matches up. Sony don’t really set out to build a future franchise – we’re gamers and we make gamers we want to play. You hear developers say that a lot, but I say ‘what if you want to play nerdy crap?’ From a publisher’s standpoint I want to make games that other people want to play, including myself.
There’s no sense in making a game that only you feel is good when the rest of the world may not recognise that. Does that play us in a niche title? I don’t think we’re a niche title – we’re a high-action third person shooter that has this unique component, if that turns into a franchise then rock on!
In the presentation it was mentioned that most shooters are very linear, but it does allow for monitoring and set pieces. With Starhawk’s arena type gameplay, how do you include those?
Dylan mentioned that and it is true. It is a component of the gameplay to give the player that variety. Though the piece you saw in the demo uses that, we have other missions where you are running in to set pieces and you are doing specific things in an albeit short linear path, it’s not completely open like that.
For us, it’s almost like it’s become too like a carnival ride in terms of third person shooters. It’s become too much like a rail shooter, but now things are so choreographed that even if you don’t think you’re on a rail shooter you probably are. Which is a great illusion if you can create that, but I think that so many games are using that recipe right now, especially in this particular category, and gamers are getting a little tired of it. They want at least something new to look at try, and maybe our game isn’t for everybody – but I think we gain a few points just for trying something interesting.
It’s our job to make it accessible to everybody and not be so overwhelmed with innovation that no one gets it. Within the arena-based combat, I think different set pieces arrive. You might have played the thing I did in a whole number of different ways, in fact my whole demo screwed up because one of the AI took my mech and I didn’t think they would do that. Those are our set pieces, ‘now I have a towering mech that is run by an AI trying to kill me when it was supposed to be mine’.
Obviously, we tell the story and have our set pieces for that kind of thing, but I think of what we gain right now with our recipe of gameplay fits so well. For example, God Of War is a fantastic game – we’re working with the studio – and they put up these incredible set pieces, and while they’re fantastic they don’t really fit within the flavour of our game. We’ll see how that goes, we’re kind of discovering for the first time – we’ll find out new ways of doing it. We’re making this type of game for the first time, and sometimes we hit and sometimes we miss.
How do you go about taking on something like Call Of Duty, which dominates the multiplayer gaming scene?
I don’t think you do. I think we would be silly to think that we could. Call Of Duty is a great game, but there a lot of other great games out there. For us, we take on really any game in any genre. I think, personally, when I think of that, I don’t focus on a specific title because I’m also competing against movies and time with kids and all these things that players have to spend time on, not to mention what they should spend their money on.
Why are they going to choose us? We compete with those guys through the genuine fun of gaming, discovering that sense that there’s a lot more in the game and you’re just scratching the surface – you know, the type of game that you come away from and you feel like you’re getting somewhere and you know there’s just so much to it. I think giving gamers a new experience – and that’s we wanted to go with Build and Battle – one that they don’t really know the recipe and they’ve got a unique piece of gaming in their collection.
Ultimately you’re getting value for your money; should you have been playing that game or should you have written that book that you haven’t written yet? You keep saying ‘Damn, if I wasn’t always playing games all the time I could do that’. To your original question, I do think you do compete directly, you simply offer something that is unique. This isn’t the Pepsi/Coke challenge, you should make a game that you hope people appreciate – it’s not a competition and there’s more than enough room for everybody.
Finally, will the Warhawk Arbiters – paid players who report cheaters and stat-boosters – be turning with Starhawk?
Ah, the Arbiters. Yes, in fact we have a much more robust system in looking, and finding, and locating and punishing the people who decide to cheat our system. We do have regular guys actually still in Warhawk playing to make sure things are reasonably on the upside. For Starhawk we’ll certainly come out of the gate with guns ablaze and ready to look for cheaters.
I hate stat-padding, I think it’s cheesy and a waste of time, but the biggest thing I get concerned about is when people infringe on other people’s experience. I don’t want to deal with, really, assholes in the game. I’ve got enough to do with dealing with all the things they say that offend me on that chat, people who are getting in the way of my experience as a player – I’m pretty hardcore when it comes to making sure they get what they deserve, and that comes in all sorts of way, including the Arbiters rule set and how they operate. I say ‘Get ‘em!’