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Shooter Genre “Due For Next Step” – Starhawk Director

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There are many different avenues for design potential when it comes to video games, but few of these ever rise to the heights of popularity that can make them sustainable. In recent times, shooters have grown to dominate the market with their ilk seeming to make up half of all titles available on store shelves. There are sub-genres to be found beneath this banner, but the majority tend to stick to a linear design ethic, populated by setpiece moments to engage players in the experience in a visceral way. The success of this path cannot be doubted, given the commercial reception of titles of this type, but more than a few consumers are beginning to tire of the predictability of it all.

This is why some hold high the merits of the likes of Crysis and Far Cry, with their more open level design and range of gameplay mechanics. The upcoming PS3 exclusive Starhawk was always about giving players options in how they were going to tackle the objectives set before them via the Battle-and-Build system that is being implemented, but this caused problems when it came time for the team to create those missions, as director Dylan Jobe mentioned in a recent interview with Gamasutra:

The challenge in developing [Starhawk’s single player] was that players can do things in so many different ways. You can try to recommend that players take a certain course of action, but as we saw in playtests, players won’t always do what you want them to do — they’ll go and do their own thing.

“We eventually got to a point where five people would sit down to do a playtest, and all five people would take different approaches to the missions. To me, I think that’s a very successful moment, especially now, given the shooter genre.

Right now, so much of the shooter genre is just a linear consumption of blockbuster moments, but we wanted to make something that was open enough where two players could talk about their different approaches to the game.”

It’s an admirable goal; that of pulling a genre from a rut, but no one game is going to be able to succeed in that. We’ve already seen the announcements for Crysis 3 and Far Cry 3, both of which should build on their solid foundations of freedom, and Prey 2, if it is still alive, will deliver a similar experience. Of course, these are all still very focussed on the shooting, with none of them injecting quite the same level of diversity that Starhawk promises, but the beginnings of a new movement for the genre are very much in place for a shift in what is being delivered. Even with this, Jobe was willing to admit that this may not be the best direction for the genre:

“My instincts say that the shooter genre is at a very important fork in the road. It can continue to go down the same linear, blockbuster path or it can take a different approach. That’s not to say that Starhawk is taking the right approach, but I think the genre is due for a next step.”

I can’t say that I’ve ever been much of a fan of shooters, but those that offer something different from the norm have typically been more capable of drawing me in than the action-packed tedium of Battlefield and Call of Duty. There’s no denying that I may well enjoy Starhawk a great deal, but the multiplayer focus of the game means that I’m not likely to pick it up above a budget price, unless the campaign really does manage to live up to the promise of diversity and a stellar story, rather than simply acting as a tutorial for the meat of the game.

It is currently slated to release on the eighth of May.

Damien Lawardorn is an aspiring novelist, journalist, and essayist. His goal in writing is to inspire readers to engage and think, rather than simply consume and enjoy. With broad interests ranging from literature and video games to fringe science and social movements, his work tends to touch on the unexpected. Damien is the former Editor-in-Chief of OnlySP. More of his work can be found at https://open.abc.net.au/people/21767

Interview

The Long Return Creates a Beautiful Aesthetic in Each Level — An Interview With Max Nielsen

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Long Return header

The Long Return is a beautiful third-person puzzle adventure game, following the story of an orphaned cub. The player explores hand crafted levels as the cub retraces the steps it once took with his mother. The Long Return’s level design is familiar yet still distinct and refreshing, taking inspiration from both new and old games to create this muted low poly feel.

This gorgeous, debut project is the work of solo developer Max Nielsen. Although he is currently finalising the game ahead of its release later this year, he took the time to talk to OnlySP to reflect and tell us more.


OnlySP: What inspired you to bring The Long Return to life? Was it an idea you were sitting on for a while or did it come on quite suddenly?

Nielsen: Actually, I never planned on releasing this game, or even finishing it. I had just quit my job at Microsoft and wanted to create a quick demo for my portfolio, so that I could apply for jobs in the industry. At the time I was working on a 2D RPG mostly for fun, and I knew I would need to make something in 3D for the bigger studios to give me a chance. So I decided to make a fairly simple demo with around 10 minutes of gameplay. However, while working on it, I got offered a job as an application consultant at a great company, and they said they would let me work on my own games and run my own company on the side, so I accepted the job and since then I have been working on this game as a hobby on my free time.

OnlySP: Each zone in The Long Return has such a pleasing aesthetic, how did you go about level design in a mostly natural world?

Nielsen: I am a huge Nintendo fan, Zelda OoT is still my favorite single player game ever, and I had just played through Zelda BotW, and wanted to create a world with a similar color palette and feel. After trying out a few different things I decided to use the low poly style because that would mean I could actually model some stuff by myself. I think I’ve gone through the level design of each zone in my game at least 10 times since I started, it’s crazy how much you learn just by trial and error (although time-consuming).

OnlySP: Will the game have a stronger focus on gameplay and location or story. Is The Long Return is a mix of the two?

Nielsen: Since the start I really wanted to tell a story without any words or text, and I have kept true to that. Instead I tell the story using memories and visuals. This does set certain limits to how gripping and detailed the story can be, especially when working with animals, but I think the message comes across quite well. The game is, at its core, a puzzle/adventure game, and you spend most of your time solving different puzzles and finding your way past obstacles, accompanied by an amazing original soundtrack that I still cannot believe is for my game.

OnlySP: Being your first big project game, what have you learned during development?

Nielsen: That list is incredibly long, and hopefully I can create a post-mortem detailing most of it. But I would say the main things I will take away from this project is:

– Plan, research and test; When starting out I kind of just created features for the game by trial and error, this leads to some really messy code. Nowadays I always make sure to properly plan, take notes, research best practices and test everything in a dev-environment before putting it in my game.
– Marketing is a necessary evil, even as a hobby developer with very limited time, I still don’t do enough of it, shame!
– It’s okay to take a day off, don’t burn out, it’s supposed to be fun!

OnlySP: Overall, how long has it taken for you to develop The Long Return?

Nielsen: Roughly a year. But I’ve been working on games for 4-5 years before that as a hobby.

OnlySP: Do you have any plans after The Long Return is released?

Nielsen: Big, BIG plans, haha. While I love this game and all I’ve learned, I am so excited to start my next project. It is much more “my type of game” and I have very high hopes for it. I won’t say too much yet, but it will combine my two favorite genres of single player games; RPG and city management.

The Long Return is set to release in August 2019.

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