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Spinning The Moral Compass: Designing Free Radical's Haze
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Spinning The Moral Compass: Designing Free Radical's Haze


November 2, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4
 

Could you describe a few changes you had to make in your games because of internal or beta testing?

DL: Several levels were entirely overhauled on more than one occasion to ensure they played well. For instance, the Asylum level where you rescue Jayne was our very first demo level for the game, and was rebuilt, and restructured, at least three times based on play testing. There wasn't really some amazing procedure we had for developing it though; we'd just play it, and if it wasn't right, we'd change it again!

One of the biggest fallacies in the industry, I've found, is the idea that you can somehow design a game on paper and "prove" that it will be fun before you even start making it. While a strong design process will always help create a good game, that core essence of "fun" is something you simply can't be sure of until you can sit down and play the thing.

How did you design Haze, step-by-step? What did you begin with?

DL: The core concept for Haze was developed by Dave Doak and several key team members, including myself. Initial design discussions very much focused around the idea of telling a mature war story in a game, which both covered plot details and technical issues that might prevent the player being immersed in such a plot, one of the results of which was the continuously loading nature of the game.

How did you come up with the Nectar idea?

DL: The Nectar was developed to enable us to communicate the message of the game. I think the thing that's most fun about the Nectar is that we needed the player to be using it -- and to want to use it -- right from the start of the game, but also for the player to not question what it was, or what it did. So we made it into one of that most common of video game staples, something players will all have seen hundreds of times before -- the power up.

In one of the gameplay sequence you showed in the Haze demo, the helmet fails and the player briefly perceives the horror of reality, the real violence of war, hidden behind the sanitised video game world the Mantel soldiers experience in their suits. This sequence reminds me of a powerful scene in John Carpenter’s They Live, where the hero, by fitting a pair of special glasses, discovers the truth: politicians or journalists are in fact horrible aliens, ad-panels reveal slogans such as "OBEY", "BUY" or "NO SEX UNTIL MARIAGE". How did you came up with this "hidden reality" idea ? What kind of war movies did you get inspiration from?

DL: Apocalypse Now was probably the biggest single inspiration for the concept of Haze. Although Haze also has some superficial similarities to the film, the main inspiration drawn was the idea of presenting a story in a war rather than a story about a war. The strongly anti-war message that Apocalypse Now carries is also something we were interested to see in a game, as, if anything, games mostly tend to celebrate war. And how better to explore that message than to put the player in a very stereotypical game world to begin with, and then to start stripping it away?

As you point out, the idea that Mantel are manipulating their soldiers' perception of the war to maintain control over them has wider parallels with other movies, such as They Live, The Matrix and Equilibrium, although none of them were a direct influence over the game.

In a lot of games (MGS2, Half-Life 2, Killer 7, FEAR), the player realizes that he’s manipulated, that he’s a kind of puppet, that he doesn't know exactly why or who he fights. How do you think Haze is different from these games?

DL: I think that one of the things that distinguishes Haze is the way that the player's fight to escape Mantel's manipulating influence brings with it a completely new way of fighting. When you join the Promise Hand to take the fight back to Mantel, you'll not only have access to new weapons and vehicles but also new abilities, which unlock extra layers of tactical depth to the game that previously were hidden to the player. Perhaps most interestingly of all, many of those abilities are only possible by exploiting Mantel's greatest strength -- Nectar -- and using it against them.

I think the other thing that marks Haze out is that the theme of manipulation doesn't end with the player changing sides -- it's a continuing theme throughout the game. But you'll have to play the game to find out exactly how!

Harvey Smith's new game, BlackSite: Area 51, is a metaphor about the war on terror and current American foreign policy. Games very rarely speak about our times in such an explicit, politically charged way. Actually, games very rarely speak about social, economical, political, historic or metaphysic issues in a meaningful way. A lot of games deal with serious issues without even thinking about the ideological messages they convey. For example, no FPS war game has ever shown the subtlety, documentary precision, emotional strength or cleverness of analysis that Clint Eastwood demonstrates in his two Iwo Jima movies --Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo-Jima. What do you think of all these issues? Why are games so stupid? Who's to blame? The publishers? The game designers? The lack of recognition of game designers? The players? The very nature of video games?

DL: It's about the immaturity of the industry more than anything else. Videogames are very new and are developing at an absolutely insane rate, particularly with regard to the fidelity and breadth of experiences they can provide. But while the potential to make more profound, more emotionally stimulating and more intellectually challenging games is increasing, the capability of the industry to actually utilize that potential is not necessarily expanding at the same rate.

And that's due to a combination of issues -- the rate of hardware advancement, that can distract attention away from content of a game to technical concerns; the lack of specialization in certain job roles (such as scriptwriting); and a lack of a more developed methodology for actually making games -- unlike movies, which generally all follow a fairly similar production process, the approaches taken by different game developers vary massively.

But perhaps more than anything else, there is a preconception in many parts of the industry about the sort of experiences games can -- or even should -- provide. In some areas this is due to commercial concerns -- do gamers actually want games that deliver a political message? Well, I've always felt the industry underestimates the intelligence of the average gamer. I mean, most gamers also watch films and read books, both of which regularly deliver strong messages and emotionally intense experiences, so why not in games too? But that level of doubt remains, which is why I think that games with such overt political messages are currently the exception rather than the rule.

Finally, what are your three favourite games and why?

DL: Ico, for telling a story of actions, not words; Rez, for exploring the limits of abstraction that games, despite their virtual nature, so often fail to even touch upon; and Super Mario 64, which is still the most perfectly designed game I have ever played.


Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

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