Haze is Free Radical Design's first big push on next-gen, and a recent demonstration at UbiDays suggests it's got more ideas than most. Having talked about how the game itself is put together in last week's preview, today we're offering up the rest of our chat with David Doak, during which he deals with everything from PlayStation 3 and Halo 3 to making games more emotional.
Eurogamer: Why lead on PlayStation 3?
David Doak: I think there's an opportunity there to create a new brand and push new IP, and basically PS3 looks like a good place to do that. There's obviously the performance - the machine's a very capable machine - and I think we're in terms of development pretty well placed to take advantage of it, because we've got the history on PlayStation 2, so we're not frightened by the things causing people a bit of alarm. That's really it. There's some strategic element to it - it's us saying, well, let's go strong with one console version of it first of all, and we may very well do other versions afterward.
Eurogamer: Are you waiting to see how it does on one platform before making decisions?
David Doak: We're working on development on all platforms. It's just looking at the way to best get the return on the investment of making the game. And part of that is it's a timing thing; late 2007 will be a good time to be coming out on PlayStation 3 and saying here is Free Radical's next-gen game.
Eurogamer: Last year at E3 Rob Yescombe was talking to EGTV and he ripped into the way games were described as emotional roller-coasters. And he pointed out that game have a spectrum of emotion that's effectively "happy, sad and angry", and said that with Haze you'd be wanting to expand on that and embrace the full range of emotion. We've seen some of that. But how do you actually go about bringing out other types of emotions in players? What sort of techniques do you use?
David Doak: There's always the kind of dynamics we're doing with the Nectar going wrong and stuff like that, and showing the deformation to the world. I think one of the strongest that you can do, and we haven't really shown much... well, any of in fact are the cut-scene, kind of script moments in the game - we do a lot of the kind of denial-and-confrontation thing where you see characters and you have a relationship with them and that relationship changes because they do unpredictable things, or they do things that make you feel uncomfortable about being associated with them. So that's one of the strongest story-telling things you can do. And particularly in first-person, it's like saying, 'you're like me; look at me, I'm doing bad things'.
It's a big challenge, and certainly more of a challenge than I thought it was going to be, doing those things in the context of a war-game. Because, you know, who's the murderer in the warzone? It's a hard thing to do, particularly in videogames where life is incredibly cheap. It's an interesting thing to try to actually address the emotions of being a soldier in an environment which is by its very nature sanitised. I think we're going to make some good steps in that direction, and I don't see anyone else trying to do it.
Eurogamer: There's an obvious contrast with, for instance, Brothers In Arms and its mawkish heroism. Have you spoken to the Colonel [John Antal - BIA's military advisor] about that?
David Doak: I've not spoken to the Colonel. I don't really want to pass comment on what those guys are doing, but I don't think they...
Eurogamer: Well, would you almost say that while that's an American kind of war, this is almost a more cynical, British kind of approach?
David Doak: It's not John Wayne. And a lot of videogames are John Wayne. That said, it has to be a game where... everyone's paid their entry money to come and shoot. If halfway through I said, 'no more shooting, now it's a cake decorating game' or something, people would say, 'sorry, your game's broken, because you can't do that'. In a film you can do it, but in a game you can't do it. So in this game you're shooting at the start and shooting at the end. And we have to somehow change your opinion about that as you go through, and make you uncomfortable about it, make you pleased about it, make you upset or whatever.
It's funny, because the videogame industry almost damns itself by just going out and saying, 'hey, we're all generic and boring and we just do the same shooters all over again, and let's make another one,' which is a shame. And then people look at us and say, 'you know, you guys, you've got nothing useful to say about the world, because you're just there beating off in your little box making the same kind of thing'. I'd like to push it. I think with TimeSplitters we were also trying to push it, because we're saying, 'these shooting games - let's not take them too seriously, because it's good fun'. And some people get that and some people don't get that. It's most disappointing, when sometimes in the States people get TimeSplitters and say, 'well why's it so stupid?' Well, it's just trying to be fun.
Eurogamer: Do you think there's a concern that the way you've presented Haze might not appeal to American gamers because it's not the flag-waving, heroic sort of indulgence they enjoy?
David Doak: Certainly there's no intention to alienate anyone with this. Yes, traditionally the American - particularly the mid-west - wants to play a game that wears its heart on its sleeve, and off we go. But the world is not that naive a place really, and I think that also we've indulged a bit of caricature there too when we say 'oh well, all Americans do this,' because they don't, and it's... well, look at recent events, look at American opinion about the Iraq war. It's changed considerably. Really, this isn't supposed to be any kind of satire or parody of events; it's trying to say, 'let's make a game about a soldier, as opposed to a game about a war'. And 'let's make a game that is a character-driven story'. All the other things are just like a bigger backdrop to it.
Eurogamer: It is quite good timing in that sense though, because as you say things are changing in America and really you're tapping into the zeitgeist.
David Doak: Yeah. It would be nice to catch that wave [laughs]. Maybe I'm a bit idealistic about this, but I like the idea of trying to do something new, and again that was sort of the thing with Second Sight - to try and actually pretend we're not telling stories the way that they used to be told in 18th century novels; the kind of... 'and this is how we tell a story' because if you try and do it in a more complicated way people get lost.
Eurogamer: Changing tack, is your obsession with shooter games because you're based in Nottingham? I mean, er...
David Doak: Someone asked me the other day while we were here, about whether or not the fact that I grew up in Belfast made me obsessed with shooters. Yeah - I grew up in Belfast and things calmed down there so I thought I'd move to Nottingham [laughs]. It wasn't lively enough and that's where the action was! I disapprove of guns. I've never fired a real gun and I've absolutely no desire to fire a gun or have anyone near me firing a real gun. It's funny, because the worst case of the kind of censors who vilify games all the time, what do they think we do? Go home and sit in the dark and field-strip AK-47s? No! We're normal people just trying to make entertainment.
Eurogamer: There's rumours that Halo 3 is going to have four-player co-op. Are you relishing the prospect of your kind of co-op going up against theirs?
David Doak: [Smiling] I am very happy to go up against Halo 3. They have a different agenda. We're doing something, we're bringing a lot of new things; and it's a new story. New story and new types of gameplay is our edge there. I mean, their edge is they have a juggernaut driving them along and they have an almost fanatical following. On the flipside of that, they have too change it, and they've got all the people who liked 1 and all the people who liked 2, and both those sets of people expect different things from the one that they liked. So there's an inevitable compromise there.
Eurogamer: Rob Yescombe was talking about how it's 15 hours, there's no loading screens and so on. I'm curious about the pacing. Have you got things like puzzles in there to break things up, or is it fairly non-stop?
David Doak: The pacing is punctuated by things like dropship pick-ups and stuff that take you somewhere else, and then there are talky bits, so that's where we do a lot of the plot development and the character development. What you're doing is not always just going gung-ho, smashing some rebels in the jungle. There are times when you are being pressed by overwhelming numbers, there are times when you have a distinct thing like some escort stuff to do; there are even times when you don't have a gun.
Eurogamer: But you said you wouldn't take the guns away and make it into a cake-decorating game.
David Doak: [Laughs] Alright, there's a lengthy sequence where they take your gun away and give you a piping thing to ice your cake... [Returning to normal] It's a funny thing. Someone said to me earlier, 'where do you think first-person shooters will go in the future?' And I think not having a gun or not using a gun is a very interesting place to be. It's horrible because you just have this thing. Everyone's going, 'how do you break down the walls of this box that you've so happily constructed around yourself?' I can see a time when we'll be doing more interesting things. In fact, even Second Sight... Second Sight was at one point going to be first-person. Maybe if someone could give us lots of money we could make a sequel in first-person!