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Guerilla Games' Eric Boljes Talks Post-Launch Killzone: Shadow Fall, Next-Gen and More
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 10:27am 02/12/13 | Comments
AusGamers was given a chance to chat with Killzone: Shadow Fall Lead Designer Eric Boljes, post-launch, about the game's reception, the PS4's future and much more. Read on for what he had to say...

AusGamers: Eric, I believe you volunteered yourself to come and do some interviews just because you’re on a holiday here in Australia, is that right?

Eric Boljes: I did. Not a lot of developers take the time to come out here, so I figured if I’m here anyway on holiday, then why not. It’s really cool talking to you guys.

AusGamers: Well that’s some serious brownie-points right there for you.

Eric: Karma, I prefer karma [laughs].

AusGamers: Alright then, let’s talk about… I guess this is a really unique opportunity for a lot of game journalists and publications, because often game reviews come out, and then we don’t really get a chance to speak with the developer again until there’s another title, sometimes two years down the track.

So for you guys, obviously you’ve been working on the game for a long time; it’s a big transition. The game itself is very different to Killzone 3 in terms of player approach and development approach for you. So at Guerilla, how have you guys been taking the feedback? Because it seems relatively positive around the traps, but you guys have changed a lot and I’m curious to hear about the community feedback versus the critical feedback, and how that’s working within the studio. What’s the vibe there?

Eric: Well to be honest, when the reviews first came in, we were a little bit disappointed, because I personally feel that this is the best Killzone we’ve ever made; I honestly feel that. You’re right, we did try a lot of new things, we tried to innovate the gameplay, and we did try to make a different Killzone than before.

...and the reviews, they are mixed… we’re doing something different, and it’s really interesting in that a lot of people are saying we’re not different enough, and [what] the other side is saying is “what they’re doing is too different from the original Killzone”. It’s interesting, but I’m still really proud of what we’ve made.

We’re a launch title, and it’s the first time ever that Guerilla has done that. It’s a new direction, new core features; we’ve got a 12 hour campaign, we’ve got a fully-loaded multiplayer experience, all on day one on the new platform. I think overall we’re really happy with that we’ve done, and I hope that people [who] play the game see that and can enjoy the experience that we created.

AusGamers: For you guys, there’s a lot of talk at the moment in the reviews space -- and I’ve been playing the game myself a little bit over the last week -- that the first couple of games were kind of allegories to World War II, and this is more of The Cold War. It seems quite fitting, and like you’re wearing your influences on your sleeve. Can you talk at all about that sentiment among reviewers and the community, and if that is the route that you took, how far you guys actually took that? How much were you maintaining a bit of an historical basis for your operatic sci-fi adventure?

Eric: We draw inspiration from a lot of things, and history is one of them. I think with the medium we have with games, we have a unique opportunity to create an experience that is interactive, so we can try and make you feel or experience different things. What we wanted to explore this time around, was really the theme of ‘who is the bad guy in a war?’. The Hellghast in our games have always been the traditional embodiment of evil: red eyes, scary look, and kill ‘em all -- that was kind of the thought process when creating the games. But now we want to explore much more of the ‘in a war, who is really the bad guy?’, ‘how did the Hellghast become the Hellghast?, and ‘to what extent in our games are the good guys responsible for that?’.

In order to convey that to the player and for them to experience that, we needed to experience that, we needed a different theme; we needed something that was slightly slower in pace, and allows you to kind of explore the world and look at the implications of your actions essentially.

I think that’s an interesting thematic, otherwise we wouldn’t have done it, but maybe to an extent, other people were expecting another non-stop rollercoaster ride. This Killzone is slightly different than that, and in that sense, it’s a deviation from the previous Killzones.

AusGamers: To marry those two questions together: what’s been the most surprising backlash from the community, in terms of the new stuff that you’ve done, and what’s been the most satisfying adoption from the community as far as what you guys have done differently this time?

Eric: One of the interesting things that was slightly negative from the community was that on the multiplayer side of things, we really went into custom games. We said that we don’t want to dictate how you play our multiplayer game, we want to give you the power to create your own custom games and play the way you want to play it.

Some of the reviews and some of the feedback has been like “well they can’t make up their minds, so they went for this wishy-washy, you guys figure it out approach”, which is really interesting, because it’s actually a lot harder to create custom games and the whole setup we did, that it is to create a specific set of modes. So I felt that was a bit of an odd response, because we felt like we’re empowering the player, and we’re really reaching out there. Luckily, a lot of people actually do get it, but that response was a bit surprising from some channels.

One thing that I think has been really good to hear from the community is that just getting the recognition for the 12 hour campaign that we’ve put in. I think having a fully-loaded multiplayer component and a fully-loaded single-player component -- especially for a launch title -- is quite exceptional, and people are really recognising that, which I think is really cool.

AusGamers: Do you feel that, over the last five or six years -- you could probably go further than that even -- but the first-person shooter genre is the biggest genre in the world outside of mobile gaming, and there’s a certain level of stagnant expectation now, because it’s sort of become that cyclical year-in-year-out iterative thing with some of the bigger franchises out there.

In terms of some of that negative feedback that’s been circling you guys, do you feel that that is a greater problem with the genre as it stands now? In that, people have this really narrow expectation of what that genre is supposed to deliver, and if anyone tries to do anything left or right of centre, then it’s viewed as “wishy-washy”, as you put it? Or do you feel that people really just didn’t understand what was going on with what you were trying to do?

Eric: It’s tricky to put your finger on what exactly; the why and how. I do think that for games in general, not just FPSs, but games in general, the bar is going up. So other games like GTA, they create amazing experiences and people get used to that, then their expectations become that as standard, and they’re really exceptional games right now in terms of production, etc. That creates a level of expectation that’s really hard to meet.

I’m not saying that’s a bad thing; I think all companies need to get better at making games, and improve. What we’re going to do is we’re just going to analyse “What did they like? What didn’t they like? What can we get better at that?”, and take it as a positive step. But the expectations are higher, and I think especially when you release on a new platform like next-gen PlayStation 4, people look at you even more critically than they normally would, because they’re really expecting a next step.

I think with Killzone, we’ve made a large step towards deeper and more immersive gameplay. We’ve tried new things; some worked, some didn’t. Over the next decade, you’ll see more and more companies trying to innovate and do different [and] new things, because… I think you’re right, that a lot of people feel shooters have been standing still a bit, and that was the reason why we took the new direction as well. We were, like: we want to do something new, something fresh, something different that sets us apart from some of the others. I think it’s a step in the right direction, it’s just that we need to take more of them.

AusGamers: I don’t want this question to be missconstrued as looking for clickbait or anything like that, because it’s a genuine question built around the direction we’re going at the moment, and that is: is the studio ever frustrated, or do you ever feel that you’re not necessarily reaching that greater audience that you could, if you weren’t singularly tied to one system?

I’m sure the Bungie guys probably felt that for a long time with Halo, and now they’re liberated, going third-party with Destiny and it’s coming across all platforms. For you guys, is that something that you would love to be able to do, or is it better for you as a studio, having one piece of hardware to really milk as much of the energy and power from, as well as having one boss so-to-speak, as opposed to having to cater to so many?

Eric: We’re wholly owned by Sony, but we are our own company. Sony gives us a lot of freedom with what we do and how we do it. I actually think that the closeness, the bond that we have with Sony, is very beneficial for us. We were involved in the development of the hardware, the controller, so they give us a lot of support, rather than limitations. I mean sure, they do give a mandate in the sense that “hey, we want you to make a shooter game”, but how we do that is completely up to us.

Would it free up our minds if we weren’t? I don’t know; I don’t think so. I think we really get to do our own thing, and this is the Killzone that we wanted to make, and I think it’s a really cool product; and I think it turned out really well.

AusGamers: You touched on a good point there, and I wanted to head down this direction anyway. Were there many hurdles working with the new hardware? You say you guys had a hand in its direction and all that stuff, but obviously in the process of building something next-gen, it’s not just: put it on paper, then manufacture, then put it out; there’s a lot of iterative elements that go into that.

Was it difficult for you guys, being a launch title, developing alongside, and also putting your own hand up for features that you wanted? And with all of that in mind, how much did the production of the game change, based on how much the hardware changed, and how much input you guys had that made it in, or didn’t make it in? Can you talk about where the game started, and where it ended up? Was it the same vision beginning to end?

Eric: Overall, the high level vision we set ourselves has been the same from beginning to end. We basically wanted to give the player more choice. We wanted to create a deeper experience where players could define how they wanted to play, and have the tools to play how they want to play, and add that throughout the game. From the start to the end, that has remained the same.

With the introduction of the new hardware, we started before we knew what the new hardware was going to be. So that’s one thing that once it comes in, it’s like ‘ok, that’s it’, and you have to kind of review what you’re making and if that fits, etc. But it’s only a small change that you have to do at that point. With the new hardware, and it’s architecture being much more like PCs, and hardware we already knew, that made it relatively easy for us to adapt.

And with the new hardware: with the new memory and more processing power, we were just able to do more than we did previously, and we were anticipating all of that already. So it wasn’t that difficult in terms of the console, and we were able to build what we wanted, but what was kind of tricky is that we innovated on the core mechanics. With the introduction of the OWL -- the hovering drone that’s on your back that you can command -- we struggled with getting the controls right, because we wanted it to be useful in combat. You have to make split-second decisions in combat, and you have to be able to control this OWL during it. Before we got the new controller, for example, that was difficult to do.

But once we learnt that we had a touchpad on the new controller… at first I was a bit, like, “well, what do I do with a touchpad?”, but later on, we used it to control the OWL, and I think it makes the game better because of it; you’re able to control the OWL quicker, and more precisely through the touchpad. It’s little details like that, that I think make the game better, because we’re on the new hardware.

AusGamers: Do you guys ever wish that you could co-develop controls with mouse and keyboard in mind as well?

Eric: Well my background is from PC gaming. I grew up playing Duke Nukem, and Quake, and Unreal Tournament, and those kind of games, and it took me quite a while to adapt to console in that sense. But I think… well let me put it this way: I think that having more buttons, and more controllability is a good thing. I think with consoles, you have a limited set of buttons, a limited set of inputs, and that puts constraints on. Personally, I wouldn’t mind if somebody came up with a controller that has more buttons [laughs], so in that sense the touchpad is a great addition, because it just allows me to do more things. But no, we’ve never said we were going to support keyboard and mouse, because that would be a different experience, and we really focused our experience on the PlayStation hardware.

AusGamers: Ok. So you guys are a launch title, and the game has been out for a little while. I hope that you’ve all managed to have a bit of a look at what else has been in development and has come out. But knowing the hardware as intimately as you do, and knowing where Sony wants to push the PS4, can you talk a little bit about the future? Not specifically Guerrilla games, because I know you probably can’t talk about that, but I guess where you see this new platform, and the way games are going to be designed for it, evolve over the next five or so years? Do you guys, or you personally, have any kind of philosophical hope and desire built around what you know about the system?

Eric: Being my own personal views, and not necessarily company ones, but I think with every new platform, the first games that come out, because of just the way things work -- with the way the tools get developed etc -- it’s not using it’s maximum potential yet. Regardless of how beautiful Killzone: Shadow Fall is and how well it runs, I think games within the next five years running on the PS4 will be even more beautiful, and even better.

So I think that’s going to be cool. But more so than ever before, I think gamers and the gaming audience in general are hungry for something new, something different they haven’t played before. You can see it with the development of the indies: they’re bringing something new and fresh to the table, and I think a lot of people are catching on to that. I think and I hope that that will trickle through to bigger developers as well, so that they get the urge to innovate themselves, and ultimately the gamers will benefit from that. Because we’ll be able to get a lot of new, cool [and] exciting games and experiences.

AusGamers: Going down that road, are you guys excited about things like the Oculus Rift? I know Sony has been toying in the head-mounted display area for a really long time anyway, and it seems like it’s a perfect fit for something like Killzone.

Eric: [laughs] I can’t promise anything in that sense, but yeah, the whole Oculus thing is, I think really interesting, the larger development. I think it’s going to be really interesting to see what people do with it. I’ve used it in the past, and it made me very nauseous, but if they iron out those kind of things, I think we’re up for some really exciting things. But whether or not, Killzone or Guerilla will be using it, who knows?

AusGamers: Ok. So aside from Shadow Fall, what have you been playing lately, if anything at all? Or are you literally: “no, I’m on holiday”, and not touching games for a little while?

Eric: [laughs] It’s interesting, because finishing a game, you’re doing like 60 to 80 hours a week, and don’t get to see your family a lot. You come home, and I don’t get to play that many games anymore. The cool thing now, is that I’ve got this huge backlog. I haven’t even truly played GTA V, or The Last of Us, or any of those games yet, and now that the game is done -- after my holiday -- I’m going to be playing non-stop. I’m going to try those games like no tomorrow, and then hopefully get inspired to make something new with Guerilla as well.

AusGamers: One final question Eric: you guys have been working on this franchise for a really long time, and it’s the flagship shooter series for Sony. But like so many entrenched first-party studios, there’s obviously stuff you guys would love to do outside of the franchise. Is there anything remotely on the whiteboard back in the office that might one day manifest itself that isn’t Killzone?

Eric: Definitely. We’ve got two things going. We’ve been working on Killzone for a long time, and we’re going to be supporting Shadow Fall post-launch, for at least a year now; we’re going to do DLC, new map packs, new features and everything and be supporting that. But at the same time, we’re going to explore different things as well. We as a studio, and as designers, we would love to keep trying our hand at something else other than Killzone, so we’re developing a new IP as well. I can’t say much about that right now, but definitely expect that other thing from Guerilla in the future as well.

AusGamers: Ok awesome. Well, that was a great chat Eric, thank you so much for your time, and again, honestly, you win so many brownie points for time out of your holiday to chat to us today.

Eric: Cool. It’s no problem; I really enjoy it.

AusGamers: Thank you so much Eric, and enjoy your holiday.

Eric: Thank you.
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Latest Comments
Posted 12:36pm 02/12/13
Don't focus so much on graphics next time, make the story epic and compelling and people may take more interest. Also having limited MP is not good, I would have went with 64 players and larger maps, if BF4 can do it then surely KZ can?!
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