Unlike all the others, this Eurogamer Expo Session interview was not conducted before the corresponding developer session at Eurogamer Expo 2010. This is because Killzone 3 producer Steven Ter Heide is a busy man (he's probably on a plane somewhere fancy right now, being busy).
We did talk to him eventually though, fresh from playing Killzone 3 live with Sony's fancy Move controller to a packed Earls Court auditorium. Here Ter Heide goes in-depth on how Guerrilla Games has improved the PlayStation-exclusive series in almost every way.
Eurogamer: During your developer session you identified three complaints about Killzone 2: variety, controller lag and story. How will Killzone 3 be more varied?
Steven Ter Heide: Steven Ter Heide: Variety is difficult to explain. What people commented on most in terms of variety was the environments themselves. They said for the first half of the game you're stuck in these urban environments. It felt like a corridor shooter. It didn't feel open or varied.
The end of the game had more variety, where you're also in a desert and a spaceship. But the majority of people didn't get that far. They only got the initial bit.
Eurogamer: They stopped playing the game?
Steven Ter Heide: Yeah. Funnily enough, not a lot of people complete the game. That's something you see for a lot of games. We track a lot of that data. With the Trophies and the telemetry we gather from the servers, we can see where people are dying a lot, where they're tailing off and which points don't work as well.
We use that to counterbalance what people write on the forums. If they say, yeah, that's the best thing ever, or it took me a long time to complete that, we can look at the average completion times. We can balance that out. There is a lot of vocal fanbase out there, who shout about a lot of things. But you have to objectively look at it as much as possible and see what is true.
So, for us, variety was about introducing more variety in the environments. We'll take you across the planet this time, from alien jungles to the icy plains you've just seen, into space, to nuclear wastelands, to the nuclear aftermath of the city.
But at the same time the variety in the stuff you do from minute to minute was important. First and foremost it's a game where your only interaction with the world is through a gun. So we want to make sure that there are different things you get to do and there are different ways you get to play it as well.
Eurogamer: Can you give us any examples?
Steven Ter Heide: A jetpack, for instance, something that allows you to explore the environment better. Rather than your run and gun times, where you take a shotgun and always go into a room and clear it out that way, with the bigger environments we have this time around, dropping a jetpack in there means all of a sudden you can go past encounters. You don't have to engage every enemy you see. You can sneak up on them because you can get to a higher vantage point.
We break up the gameplay and we offer a more varied experience throughout. We just keep bombarding you with new stuff. The E3 code is out here - we start off flying on an Intruder with a big mini-gun, and you get to shoot a lot of stuff and blow up oil rigs. Then you get to do a bit of on-foot combat. You get to use the new Brutal Melee system, where you get to encounter jetpack troopers. Then you can put on a jetpack yourself. Then at the very end we give you a massive rocket launcher that fires multiple rockets at once. So we change the gameplay just over the span of one level with five distinct experiences.
Eurogamer: We saw the Brutal Melee animation where you use your thumbs to squeeze the guy's eyeballs in.
Steven Ter Heide: There is a variety of them. Especially when we show in 3D, some people go, oooh!
Eurogamer: It literally is eye-popping 3D. You also mentioned you've eradicated controller lag. With Killzone 2, did people make more of it than was necessary, or was it a fair criticism?
Steven Ter Heide: The controller lag was an issue. It should not have been there. We'd been developing that game for a long time. We spent about three and a half years on it. At some point you get blind to certain things because you get used to it. You get used to the button configuration being a certain way. You get used to how things respond.
We didn't get enough objective data to get those kind of bugs out. They are bugs and they should not have been there. If you press a button stuff should happen on screen. It's as simple as that.
Eurogamer: You mentioned the story as well. How will it be improved for Killzone 3?
Steven Ter Heide: We're doing a number of different things. What is the story to certain people? For certain people it's the stuff you do and your objectives, that they make sense and you have context on why you're doing certain things. That's fairly simple to do. That's not the overarching story. That's more understanding why you're there and what it is you need to do, and your body's giving relevant feedback on the stuff you're doing. That's something we needed to address.
Eurogamer: Can you give us an example?
Steven Ter Heide: In the level we've got on show here you need to get to the harbour, but there are oil rigs in the way with anti-aircraft guns on them. You need to take out those anti-aircraft guns in order to get to the harbour. We make it clear to you that you need to go to the harbour. Your intermediate objectives you understand because there's a big threat in the way you have to eliminate in order to get there. It's basic stuff, but all of a sudden it makes sense because you understand, yeah, I do have to take these things out because they block my progress. It's those kind of things where the set-ups are a lot more readable.
At the same time, your buddies need to point out relevant stuff. One of the comments we've read quite a few times is Rico, the buddy who was with you for most of the game, was annoying. A lot of people had strong emotions about him. Having strong emotions about a videogame character, to us, it's great. Strong emotions are good because that means you're doing something right. But it shouldn't be out of frustration. It shouldn't be about that he's useless or he always gets in my line of fire or he doesn't help me.
Those kind of things we have to fix as well. That's a lot of AI work. Rico can now heal you. Rather than him being incapacitated on the floor and you have to heal him, if the same thing happens to you, he'll heal you. It's a simple trick but all of a sudden you don't feel angry with him any more. You get shot down and all of a sudden he runs over, heals you and you're back in the game. You're like, oh, thank you. That was quite useful.
We wanted to not completely take away his personality. He can still be an arsehole at times. But we do want to make him more useful and be a better buddy for you in the game.
Eurogamer: What about the plot? Some people criticised the storytelling in Killzone 2.
Steven Ter Heide: A lot of people commented on the Helghast culture, and they want to know what their planet is like and what their life is like. So we're focusing in Killzone 3 more on the Helghast side of things. There will be cut-scenes from the Helghast perspective. We'll show you what's happening in the world, why things are happening and what their plans are. You get more insight into what makes these enemies tick. That's important.
And as the dressing for the whole thing, we've taken cues from, we think, a couple of guys who did a good job with storytelling: the guys from Naughty Dog with Uncharted 2. We said, why did people pick up on that? What makes that storytelling so good? They don't take themselves too seriously. You're allowed to have fun.
Eurogamer: Killzone 2 was a very serious game.
Steven Ter Heide: It was a very serious game. We took ourselves too seriously at times. With Killzone 3, it's not going to be a comedy. It's not going to be Uncharted light-hearted. But we will take the edge off. It won't be as serious as it was last time. It will feel lighter than before.
Eurogamer: Killzone 3 supports Move. Will core gamers always prefer DualShock over Move?
Steven Ter Heide: There needs to be a couple of experiences that are exclusive to Move, that will pull people into Move, and start them using it. I was born and raised with a DualShock, and I'll probably play Killzone 3 with a DualShock simply because that's my method of control. I know where the buttons are. I don't have to look at a controller. I get it straight away.
But at the same time, as soon as I pick up the Move I get it as well because it's easy. I do see why a lot of new people, as soon as we give them a Move, they run away with it. Whereas people who have DualShock experience struggle a little bit. They say, okay, I have to find my footing again and see what it's like.
Eurogamer: So the idea is it's designed to attract people to Killzone 3 who would otherwise not play it?
Steven Ter Heide: Absolutely. It should be about accessibility and opening up to a new audience. But at the same time if there are a couple of good exclusive Move titles out there, that have a good implementation or it's an interesting game, that get people to experience what Move is like, they might want to start playing that as their default method simply because it's their preference.
As I mentioned in the presentation, it's a skiers versus snowboarders kind of thing. A lot of people say skiers are wimps, I don't like skiing, I'm a snowboarder guy and I'm tough. But there really isn't a good or a bad one. They can both do excellent tricks. It's just a preference. This will go the same route, where people will take to Move and say, I'll ditch the DualShock and I'll stick with Move. Time will tell.
Eurogamer: You've said 'who knows?' when asked about campaign co-op. How big a job is it to make Killzone 3's campaign co-op?
Steven Ter Heide: Co-op is a lot of work. It is. If you have two guys running around in the world the AI has to respond to that and the world has to respond to that. That is work. Initially everything is focused on one guy. All of a sudden there are two standing next to each other. Who do you focus on? Where does the fire come from? How does the gameplay change? You have to invent new systems for, what if one player jumps ahead? Or the other one is stuck? Or you can't get to each other? Doors close behind you. Doors open up in front of you. It's simple things initially you don't think about but it's a heck of a lot of work to get that going.
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Eurogamer: Be honest. What are the chances of campaign co-op being in Killzone 3? 50-50? 60-40?
Steven Ter Heide: Honestly, I can't comment on that.
Eurogamer: You've confirmed a public beta. What do you hope to learn from it?
Steven Ter Heide: We play the game extensively ourselves, but that's feedback from a hundred very hardcore guys. For multiplayer you need thousands. You need to get a good solid grasp of the player base out there. You need to make sure we get objective feedback.
A lot of times, as soon as the game goes live, you'll see things we haven't encountered before, not even in a public beta, simply because the player numbers are higher and people get more inventive over time. They'll find new camping spots, new ways to break the game, and we'll have to fix that. That's how it goes.
Eurogamer: When will the public beta launch?
Steven Ter Heide: We'll announce details very soon.
Eurogamer: Killzone 2 was probably the best-looking game ever made when it was released. When people play Killzone 3 will they say it's the best-looking game ever made?
Steven Ter Heide: I certainly hope so. At the time, with Killzone 2, we said we're firing on all cylinders and we're maxing out the PlayStation 3, and this is as good as it's going to get. But then Uncharted 2 comes along, and God of War 3 comes along. It's like, okay, there's a little bit more power in there and we need to find it.
The guys go back and they look at stuff. We find ways of doing things smarter and differently. We talk to the guys at Naughty Dog. We talk to the Santa Monica guys. We learn from each other. We're all different games. I've seen a couple of comments where they said you've used the Naughty Dog snow. It doesn't work like that. We can't get a bucket of snow from Naughty Dog and put it in our game. They're different games. Different technologies.
But of course we look at their tricks and what things they employ and see if that could apply to our stuff. And vice versa. There's a lot of knowledge sharing, but it's very low level and more about what the experience is like rather than code being transferred from one game to another. It simply doesn't work like that unfortunately. I wish it would, but unfortunately it doesn't. We have to write it all ourselves.
Killzone 3 is due out on PlayStation 3 in February 2011.