With Killzone 3 revealed (somewhat prematurely) this week, announcements, details and our old friends rumour and speculation have been flying around like nobody's business - but the gushings of journalists can only ever reveal so much.
So while we were at the announcement event in Amsterdam, we took the chance to have a chat to senior producer Steven Ter Heide for some cold, hard facts, an insight into the creative process, and to see if he's been listening to the fans.
As it turns out, that fan feedback is very much at the top of the agenda, alongside a certain control issue. Read on to find out more, and don't forget to check out our Killzone 3 hands-on preview while you're at it.
Eurogamer: Killzone 2 was a huge launch, with tremendous pressure from the press and community. Did you learn anything from it? Will the launch of 3 be similar?
Steven Ter Heide: Well, hopefully not exactly the same! Last time we had that infamous trailer - this time we're doing things properly - showing proper gameplay footage. We have a very vocal community, there's a lot of buzz around the internet. We keep a very close ear to the ground, to see what's out there and see what people think. We implemented a lot of the feedback from the community for Killzone 2, in the patches we applied for things like the controller lag. We're fixing those kind of things even further for Killzone 3 - we feel that responsiveness is a big issue. We can't really judge that on the pre-alpha code because the framerate's not up there, but response is important.
There's a lot of work going on to make sure the controls more responsive, as well as the button layout itself - we've got a lot of new features, like the jetpack, and obviously you need a button to control that. We also need to rethink the button layout, because that was also one of the complaints which people levelled at Killzone 2. People were used to a certain set-up, and Killzone 2 was different. So people were asking for something they were more comfortable with, for more options to configure it.
I think some of the other criticisms had to do with how seamlessly the game played - so any streaming hiccups during gameplay we want to get rid of completely - so much so that we want to completely get rid of any loading screens at all, even between the levels. So you can start up the game and play it right through to the end and never see a loading screen. You can see already, even in this build, that a lot of those problems, the little frame drops, are pretty much gone.
Another criticism was story, we need to improve on that end - we're working with a lot of Hollywood talent.
Eurogamer: There seems to be much less swearing this time!
Steven Ter Heide: (laughs) Yes! Our sound director is here today, we said to him, 'go through the entire database, and anything that's got 'sh**' or 'f***' in it, just get rid of it, we don't want to hear it ever again!
Eurogamer: Still an 18 though?
Steven Ter Heide: Yes, definitely. That's a lot to do with the violence though. Things like the brutal melee system, we're firmly aiming for an 18. But we feel that the dialogue which is in there shouldn't be gratuitous. It should be about advancing the story, natural responses. It shouldn't be this sort of off the scale swearing.
We've toned it down a little bit to make sure that the story comes across in the way we wanted it to come across. That's definitely one of the points we took on board from Killzone 2.
Eurogamer: Hermen (Hulst, Guerrilla MD) was saying (in the opening presentation) that every process in the Killzone engine is now completely streamlined - that everything is working at its hardest. Do you think you've hit the bricks in terms of hardware capability now, or is there still more to come from the PS3 and Cell?
Steven Ter Heide: Undoubtedly there'll be more. When we were doing Killzone 2 we were saying 'OK we're firing on all cylinders, we're maxing it out.' Then along came Uncharted 2 and God of War III and they raised the bar even further. There's always new tricks. At the end of Killzone 2 we figured that there are smarter ways of doing things, so we're implementing all of those features.
Of course, we're working with the other studios too and seeing what sort of things they come up with. I think, over time, much like the PS2 - at the end of the life-cycle you're seeing games like GoW 2 coming out - compare those to the early games, there's a huge difference. I don't think we've seen the end of the possibilities yet, especially in our genre. There's a lot of talented people hard at work out there, we'll see a lot more.
Eurogamer: Are you allowed to talk about any technical details?
Steven Ter Heide: Absolutely. It's 720p, like Killzone 2. It's always a trade-off between how crisp you want things to look and how much you want going on on-screen. We feel that with our cinematic feel, with lots of particles and graphical filters and motion blur which we put on top of each other, that works best in 720p. We're aiming for 30fps, both for 3D and standard. 3D is obviously a little bit of an overhead, because you have to render twice.
Eurogamer: And it'll work with all forms of 3D?
Steven Ter Heide: Yep, we don't have to do anything differently - we just supply the TV with the images and it does the rest.
Eurogamer: You talked about how UC2 and GoW influenced and inspired you, what about things on the other platforms, and elsewhere?
Steven Ter Heide: There's lots of inspiration to take. We've all been to Avatar by now, I guess. That's a source of inspiration because it's in 3D and they're creating this amazing make-believe world, but there's lots of different games out there, and movies and books.
Eurogamer: That's a lot to cram in.
Steven Ter Heide: In this level which we have on show today we have four distinct experiences, which was something we wanted to focus on in Killzone 3 as well. In Killzone 2, in was much more, well, I wouldn't say it was just one experience which you got, but it wasn't as varied as we wanted it to be. This time around we're introducing a lot more gameplay experiences, in this level you start on the intruder, shooting - which was something else people said about 2, you spend all this time on an intruder and you don't get to fire the gun - this time around you're allowed to do that.
Then there's the regular gameplay, where you get your combat rifle and off you go, you encounter the jetpack enemies, and then you get the jetpack, which opens up this whole new experience - all of a sudden you're able to jump around and do this aerial combat and reach new areas and have new routes open up. Then we introduce the big rocket launcher, this portable weapon of mass destruction, and suddenly you're able to take out tanks and vehicles really easily, that feels really powerful. So there's these really distinct experiences, even in the scope of a single level, and that's going to happen throughout the game. We want to keep the user experience really fresh.
Eurogamer: You also talked about how much more the environments will vary in Killzone 3, because although Killzone 2 did have some variation, it was largely uniform in that sort of devastated, urban way. The stuff we've seen today is quite similar, quite bleak with the trademark washed out greys and stark reds and yellows. Will we find ourselves in completely different environments at all? Surrounded by lush vegetation?
Steven Ter Heide: Absolutely. The idea is that, not even going from level to level, but within individual levels, we'll be switching it up a lot more. I wouldn't say we'll be introducing a lot of colour because that's never been what Killzone is about, we've got this very distinct look, but we do want to get a lot more variety in the environments - so, different colour schemes, different things going on, throughout the game. Right at the beginning of the game, if you remember how Killzone 2 finished, on the steps of the Palace with the cruiser coming in, that's exactly where this game begins. It's completely seamless and continues on - so it starts in that nuked urban environment, the environments you played in Killzone 2, but since the bomb went off everything's changed. Then you're taken off on a journey, across the entire planet, basically.
Eurogamer: Was 3D always part of the plan?
Steven Ter Heide: Absolutely. The first thing we looked at was whether it was just a gimmick or if it would actually offer something different. So we implemented it and looked at it, and for me, I can't go back. We know it's not going to be for everyone, because not everyone's going to have a 3D set at the time, but I do think that in terms of gameplay it offers something different, something new, because you do have that sense of immersion, you're drawn into that world. You're able to read the gameplay a lot better, for FPS obviously the world is very detailed and there's lots going on so you can look around corners etc. But also for things like racing games, Motorstorm is coming out in 3D, you can read the road a lot better and, something that I never personally liked is being inside the car, but now I can actually inside the car and drive, so I think it really adds to the gameplay as well.
Eurogamer: So talking about immersion, can you tell us anything about Move? Will there be Move aspects to Killzone 3? Is it compatible?
Steven Ter Heide: We really like Move as a platform, but we're not talking about any of that stuff today.
Eurogamer: What about the characters? Everything we've seen today has been in Sev's shoes, is the whole game going to be played from his perspective?
Steven Ter Heide: Absolutely, yes.
Eurogamer: Killzone 2, although it had different ways of approaching situations, and some different routes, was quite linear; has that changed at all?
Steven Ter Heide: Well, as Hermen mentioned in the presentation, the footprint of the levels is much bigger - today's level is about ten times the size of a typical Killzone 2 level - so not only do you have these great viewing distances and these incredible vistas, you also have multiple routes and new ways of dealing with situations. You don't even always have to engage enemies, some of them you can sneak past. Obviously the jetpack opens a whole new realm of possibilities as well, you're on these oil rigs and whatever way you want to attack these guys, you can do that.
Given our AI and the way we've set up the game, it's not scripted, in the way that you'd see in other games - our AI is much more responsive in terms of what is the current situation, where is the player and how should I behave? So we've taken that from Killzone 2, but rather than having confined spaces we now give them a lot more space to breathe in so now you start to see them do a whole host of new things because they've got a lot more room to play with.
So rather than you always being able to sidetrack them, they'll be able to hunt you down and find you, a whole new kind of encounter set up. So however you take it, however you play it, it's going to be different.
Eurogamer: Killzone 2 was very much sold as a cover shooter, with a big emphasis on that, but a lot of people played it in a more run-and-gun style. What we've seen today seems much less cover-based, less static cover and potshot taking, it's much more pro-active, getting involved with close combat. Was that a conscious decision you made because of the way people played Killzone 2 or was that something you wanted to change anyway?
Steven Ter Heide: Well, we wanted to make the game a lot more accessible this time around, and make sure that different types of player can enjoy it. So, whether you're run-and-gun or a more tactical player, however you want to play it, you can find that in Killzone. So that was a conscious decision.
Obviously the melee system means that you'll want to get up close and personal rather than being 20m away with you both behind cover. We wanted to give you the opportunity to get into close combat with these guys, so the combat distances are much shorter. Also there are situations where it'll work really well to use the melee kills. With the introduction of the new weapons you feel a lot more powerful.
With something like the mini-gun you can take out rows and rows of enemies really quickly. There's a lot different options now. The cover's still there, so you still lean and peek, all those things that you're used to, but at the same time we didn't want to stifle the run-and-gun players. One of the things we're playtesting a lot at the moment is to make sure that there's a really broad range of gamers that can enjoy the game.
We felt that the original Killzone was aimed at the hardcore, a little too much, and it should be opened up a lot more so that everyone can enjoy it.
Eurogamer: How long do you expect the single-player game to be?
Steven Ter Heide: It's going to be, I think, longer than Killzone 2. So whatever you're play time was on Killzone 2, it'll be more.
Eurogamer: And do you have a release date?
Steven Ter Heide: Yes. 2011.
Killzone 3 is due for release exclusively on PlayStation 3 in 2011, Steven Ter Heide is the game's senior producer. Check out our Killzone 3 hands-on preview elsewhere on the site.