Upcoming PlayStation 3-exclusive third-person shooter Starhawk is aiming to be a little more inclusive than other entries to the genre, in more ways than one, says Sony.
"The shooter genre seems to mean an M-rated game," says Sony senior producer Harvard Bonin, talking to Gamasutra at a recent demo event in New York City. "We felt like many gamers were not being addressed."
"You can still get the very powerful feeling of shooting, and running and gunning, without gore," Bonin suggests. Although there's not some inherent anti-gore mandate in effect on the team -- the game is being developed by LightBox Interactive for a 2012 release -- Bonin says visceral violence "narrows the audience."
"And in a lot of ways," he adds, "I think M-rated games are at times much more immature than regular ones. I'm not sure why it is; you get a lot of game makers that grew up on M-rated games, and I don't think they give a lot of the players enough credit."
Bonin is candid about modern limitations on video game storytelling, and refreshingly, doesn't promise that a shooter about alien planets, infected lifeforms and machinery gadgets is going to revolutionize multimedia narratives.
Starhawk is supposed to be fun: "For us, I wouldn't say this is War and Peace, but it is more sophisticated than your normal [game] -- Emmett, as a hero, was actually an outcast, abandoned by the very town he was a part of. And he's in pain."
With the third-person perspective, the game wanted to bring a greater focus onto the character of Emmett, an outcast infected with the gameworld's "ripped energy", causing him numerous challenges.
Working in the third person is "critical when you're making something based around a character," notes Bonin.
Although Emmett's character design is interesting, complete with visual details of the world he belongs to, more uncommon in the shooter landscape is the fact he's a black protagonist. In an era where fans and developers alike are calling for more diversity in games, and in a landscape where the "bald white space marine" is an exhausted trope, the Starhawk team hopes Emmett will stand out.
"He's instantly recognizable from a brand standpoint, and we think he's pretty unique, so we're happy to show him off," says Bonin. "It's a very funny thing; there've been a few people that have mentioned that, obviously, he's a black guy, but it's been such a non issue to the point where, are people not saying anything because they're sensitive about it?"
"We didn't think anything of it; we thought he was an awesome, interesting guy," enthuses Bonin.