What lessons did Guerrilla learn from the much-hyped Killzone 2 and how will they apply them for Killzone 3? Pacing, difficulty spikes, and a sense of humour are all on the agenda. But not a lava level, sadly.
Chatting with Killzone 3 producer Steven Ter Heide, we didn't just talk about how they were using 3D technology. Here's the rest of the interview for your delectation.
Killzone 2 was in development for a long time, and I think it's safe to say there was a lot of anticipation for it, especially in the wake of the...
The infamous trailer? [Laughs]
Yeah, let's call it the infamous trailer. Killzone 3 has had a much quicker turn-around, there was no infmaous trailer, so is there less pressure this time around to deliver?
No. [Laughs]Obviously there's less external pressure, in that sense, we haven't released a trailer where people said "You now have to live up to that."
But our own ambition, that's kind of always our downfall. With Killzone 2 we thought we were maxing the PlayStation 3 out; we thought we were doing everything, we're firing on all cylinders and we're getting everything out of the PS3, and that's the story we told everyone. But we didn't expect Uncharted 2, God of War 3, we didn't expect it to happen so soon that, already, they've pushed the bar a bit higher.
But that pushes us as well. Even though we're colleagues - and we love the guys at Naughty Dog, we love the guys at Santa Monica - we still want to outdo them. We know we now need to make something that is as grand as God of War and as cinematic as Uncharted. We can see if we can adopt those kinds of things, take them into Killzone.
We also listen to what the fans had to say about Killzone 2. We were very happy with the feedback we received from the press about how good the game was. But we still feel we could do better. There are some things in Killzone 2 that looking back in hindsight... you always want to change things. Games are never done. There's always one more idea or one more way of making it look better.
With Killzone 3 we had some great momentum coming out of Killzone 2. So we started immediately. The team is now very experienced after shipping one game on the PlayStation 3, the tools are there, the technology is there, so everything we have is quite mature.
I think the level of variety is something that should have been better. There were a lot of people... of course, we look at the stats, we look at the trophies people have gotten and where in the game were the drop-off points,we analyse all the data we can get... and we find that there's not a lot of people who completed the game. There a certain drop-off points and not a lot of people make it all the way to the end.
It's not a massively long game either...
It's not. But it's funny, there's this perception, and the writers are all like, well, it's a six-hour game. But if you look at the actual stats and see just how long it takes for people to complete these levels, it's a lot different to what you guys are able to achieve.
So how do you approach that? Do you think, we need to make the game shorter? Do you think, we need to make it easier?
I think what we do is we need to make it more balanced, so that everybody has a similar experience. We can see there are a number of spikes, like some of the boss battles are way too hard, and so we need to tone those down and maybe bring some of the other things up. What we want to do is set a level playing field for everybody so that people who set it on Easy have the same great experience and the same kind of duration as those who put it on Hard.
And that's where playtesting comes in, so we can see where people are struggling and how we can make it more accessible for people who just want to come in and blow stuff up as well as the hardcore kind of people who want one shot, one kill - we've got to cater to them as well. We're aiming for a longer play time than for Killzone 2, but play-testing will sort all that out.
One thing we really want to change is the variety. Some of the negative feedback from Killzone 2 was that it felt like a corridor shooter, it's all in the city and it's very dark, you don't get to do lots of different things.
But that's part of Killzone's strong visual identity. You just think of these oppressively grey environments with tiny specks of colour.
Absolutely. And at the time we felt we had made the right decision, keeping you in the city until the very end where we take you outside and stick you in a mech suit. We thought at the time we had the pacing right, we had the variety right.
But a lot of people didn't make it to the final chapters of the game. And that's a shame, because they miss out on that variety at the end. So this time we're saying we need to introduce more environments that are distinctly different, it's not just moving from a really nice city block to a dilapidated city block. It's got to be you move from ice to jungle to space to a nuclear wasteland...
[Laughs]I can't promise a lava level. It's one of the things that frequently comes up in meetings... as a joke. You know, we need to do a lava level! And yeah... we certainly do, but not this time though.
I'll be asking you again for Killzone 4.
[Laughs]But yeah, it's not just in the environments that we wanted to introduce this variety, but in the stuff that you do from minute-to-minute. Ultimately we're a shooter so it's always about you shooting things and that's your only interaction with the world. So we say, how do we freshen it up, how do we liven it up a little?
It's introducing things like the jetpack where you can now have aerial combat and feel a lot more liberated because the environments are a lot larger than in Killzone 2. The level here [Frozen Shores]is about ten times the size of a level in Killzone 2, so it's just the sheer scale of it, the vistas, is a lot different.
With that you have more open space to play with; the AI has more open space to play with, which is a good thing. They were already quite clever in the corridors we had you in, but now they can be even more clever in these open spaces - they can flank you and do all these clever things. And with the jetpack you have the option of reaching all these areas that you couldn't reach before. So we want to open it up, we want to change the minute-to-minute gameplay...
So you've got the jetpack for the entire game?
No, it's tied to where we want you to be able to play with the jetpack. Where we set up the environment in such a way to take advantage of those kinds of things. A jetpack in the desert wouldn't make a lot of sense because it's just a flat plane, so we want to make sure there's a lot of things for you to jump on and climb and to make it pretty interesting. We want you to have different experiences.
So this level here, you start off on an Intruder shooting down on the troops below - that's something of a fan request because in Killzone 2 you were always on these Intruders and you could see these guys running around but you couldn't shoot at them. So that's something we give you this time - you get this big gun that does lots of damage and you can take out all these oil rigs. That's just the first bit.
Then we move into some traditional on-foot combat where you can run-and-gun, try out some brutal melee, and you can aim for a nice bonus at the end where you can knife them in the eye - that's kinda cool, I think. Then we have some new enemies like the jetpack troopers. Then you get a jetpack where we introduce aerial combat. And then at the end of the level you get this big weapon of mass destruction that fires multiple rockets at once... It's just different experiences throughout the span of that one level, and it's going to be like that throughout the entire game.
One of my criticisms of Killzone 2 is that there wasn't a lot of down-time.
It was just full-on action?
Yeah, with the pacing. I hope you can see that in this level. Even though it's just sections of a level, you can see where you get the jetpack we slow it down, there's a bit of traversal as you're jumping from island to island. We always want to have a moment where you can catch your breath. We want you to be able to soak up the environment, to notice the waves breaking, the platforms bobbing in the ocean. There's so much eye candy in the game, but a lot of people miss it. So that's something we want to take advantage of and we want people to enjoy that.
You were talking earlier about looking at God of War and Uncharted and trying to beat them in terms of the graphics and presentation. But do you also look at what's happening on the Xbox and try to beat the likes of Gears of War and Halo?
Of course, we always look at other games. What we try and do is look at what we can adopt and how we can adapt Killzone. We want to set Killzone apart from the others. But we also look at who are the leaders in certain areas that we want to be good at, too.
So, Uncharted did a great job with story-telling, they had a great cinematic experience and the story-telling was just spot-on. That's something that we got flagged for - your story is crap, your dialogue isn't any good - and we want to make that better. So you look at the guys who are leading the field and let's take a cue from them - how did they get their story across?
Obviously we're a different game - we're in first-person, they're in third-person, so it's easier for them to get the characters across, get the emotions across, get the interactions going. But we can look at other things. They had a light-hearted tone to the game whereas Killzone has typically taken itself really, really seriously. So maybe we should introduce some light-hearted elements into it - it's not going to be a comedy - but maybe there are a couple of light-hearted moments now that act as a little bit of relief. It's not just serious, full-on all the time. It's those kinds of things we take from other games. We look at who is the leader in the genre and who is really good at something and then what we can learn from that to make our game better.