[Gamasutra spoke with Guerrilla Games' Steven ter Heide to discuss Killzone 3, and how the team strove to not only support new technologies like 3D and motion control, but to create characters that players could relate to.]
Amsterdam-based developer Guerrilla Games is entering the new decade by delivering Killzone 3. In addition to being Sony’s PlayStation 3-exclusive alternative to the Halo series, the new game has been tasked with evangelizing the PlayStation Move controller to core gamers and showcasing stereoscopic 3D for the truly cutting edge.
Here, Steven ter Heide, senior producer at Guerrilla tells Gamasutra about the creation of Killzone 3 and how the studio is keeping the series fresh.
The art direction for the Killzone series is instantly recognizable by its moody lighting, its cluttered, grim environments, and its deliciously chunky mechanical designs. “There is a whole group of people who ensure that Killzone looks the way it looks,” ter Heide told us.
“Our art director, Jan Bart van Beek, is the person who drives the team forward, and ensures that our visual concept designers provide moodboards, briefs for assets, and so on. Whether it is characters, weapons, props, or actual environments; everything is modeled with the same detail.”
Killzone 3 finds the series moving out of the shattered cityscapes that dominated the second title and into unexpected alien locations including a sickly crinoid jungle and a harsh arctic landscape whipped by razor winds. “For references, we looked at a variety of sources depending on the direction,” ter Heide said.
“For Killzone 3's environments we looked at some extremes in terms of landscapes. What is the nastiest ice environment you can find, and how can we make that Killzone? What would an alien jungle look like? The universe we have created is great in that respect, it provides us with a lot of freedom.”
The level design in Killzone titles often bucks the industry trend toward open environments. Instead, the games deliver a tightly focused experience that is driven by the rat-a-tat rhythm of small skirmishes that suddenly give way to relentless large-scale firefights. “Maintaining the pacing is all about balance. It takes a lot of play testing to find out if the pacing is correct and to insure that we're keeping the experience fresh and varied enough,” ter Heide said.
Punctuating the chaotic battlefield action with scripted events is a series staple as ter Heide explained, “There are a number of ways we can ensure dramatic visual events, things like choke points that the player will have to pass, or things we call 'look at triggers', as we detect a player is looking at a certain part of the world we can trigger events right there in the players view.”
Moving in Stereo
A significant feature in the new Killzone is stereoscopic TV support. While players with 3D televisions may represent only a fraction of Killzone 3’s potential audience, Guerrilla found stereoscopy relatively easy to implement. “It did not really add a lot to our workload,” ter Heide claimed.
“The world we put the player in has always been fully 3D, as things need a front and backside to allow for the freedom of player movement. That said we still needed to develop 3D support on the engine side. If I say this was straightforward, I’m not giving the engineers the credit they deserve. It is of course quite a feat to render everything twice.”
“We came across a few things that initially we did not think of. But these were mostly design aspects,” ter Heide noted. “Things such as where does the crosshair live in terms of depth. Overall there have been a very small number of people involved in ensuring 3D works, I would say about two percent of the team were involved specifically.”
As could be expected from a Sony first-party developer, Guerrilla also included support for the new PlayStation Move controller. But for a game that has traditionally strived to imbue player movements with a believable sense of weight and momentum, how would its controls translate to the twitchy mechanics of gesture recognition?
“Its tricky to get that combination right,” ter Heide admitted. “We kept the feeling of weight in movement and in things like the reload animations. For the aiming however, it was much more important that the response be direct. We put a lot of effort into making sure the weapon tracks the crosshair and that the weapon moves realistically but immediately.”
Figures In A Landscape
Above all, Killzone 3 is about the experience of ferocious combat. But stitched between the gunfire is a narrative that follows the behind-the-scenes machinations of various Helghast factions as they vie for control in the power vacuum of a disintegrating empire. Along with Brian Cox, who provided voice talent for the previous Killzone games, Malcolm McDowell, and Ray Winstone are adding their voices to the game’s British-inflected villains.
“We always want to make sure all aspects of the game are of the highest quality, that has to be our ambition,” ter Heide told us. “Although Killzone is very much based on action, stories are becoming increasingly important not just to propel the player forward and provide him with context for his actions, but also for entertainment value.”
Killzone 2 caught some critical flak for its expletive-laden dialog and generally dislikable characters, so in the third game Guerrilla put a greater emphasis on emotionally connecting with players.
“We felt we definitely had to improve in the story area, and with Killzone 3 we've put a lot more effort into our narrative,” ter Heide said. “We got a writer on-site who would help with the overall story as well as the dialog. We got an entire team of experienced actors, animators and directors together and put in a lot more depth and characters into the story,” he said.
Looking ahead, ter Heide sees an extended life for Killzone 3. “The bulk of the sales will always be with a disc-based product, but its longevity will come from the multiplayer and it is in downloadable content that we are able to cater to some of the fan feedback as well,” he said.
Guerrilla’s 2006 title Killzone: Liberation was well-regarded title for the PSP and with Sony’s Next Generation Portable on the horizon we wondered if the studio might return to portable gaming. “It's something we are looking at, but for now our focus remains on the PS3,” ter Heide answered.
“We have built up our experience, tools, and engine on that platform. But as with all Sony hardware, we will always keep an eye out and see if there is something we want to be involved with. That’s really one of the benefits of being a first-party studio, early access to all of the new toys!”