We got a chance to talk directly with Hermen Hulst, managing director at Killzone 3 developer Guerrilla Games. The pressure is on for Hulst to deliver another exclusive for Sony that will convince gamers to stick with or buy a PlayStation 3. His job is to make sure that his studio shoots high enough to show off what the PS 3 can do and keep Sony ahead of its rivals in the console war. Here’s a transcript of the interview.
VB: What convinced you that 3D TV viewing was the way to go with Killzone 3?
HH: Killzone has always been about immersive cinematic experience. We went through a lot of hoops to make it as immersive as possible. We put a lot of work into concept design to create the world in a very believable way. We wanted the audio to be realistic. Everything needs to come together. This is one more layer, adding 3D viewing, like high-definition graphics was one more layer. 3D is sitting on top of that. You are no longer looking at the world. It feels like you are in the middle of it. It’s a great tool. To us, it is a lucky combination of what we already make. The games we create are already in 3D. Things come right at you as you’re being shot at. There are cool effects, and when you turn on the 3D, it’s even better.
VB: 3D is still a controversial thing. People don’t believe in 3D in the home. Before Avatar, everybody said that 3D wouldn’t be accepted in theaters. There are probably gamers who have the same attitude about 3D TVs. They may not want to spend their money on a new TV. It’s a little risky.
HH: I don’t see why it’s risky, because you can still play the game in the traditional way. As you say, there were a lot of people who were skeptical and saw Avatar and then some of them are convinced. Making a movie in 3D is a lot more difficult than making a game in 3D. I have spoken to people who were skeptical and after they see it, it’s better. I feel it puts you at the center of immersion in the game. It brings a lot to the game world.
VB: There is potential for improvement between now and 2011 when you ship.
HH: Everything we are doing is pre-Alpha code (early version). There are still Killzone 2 characters in it now. There is no facial animation. Everything will improve.
VB: You are changing a lot of things in the game. You are living up to a tradition of pushing the edge.
HH: There is that. We are obliged mostly by ourselves to raise the bar. This time, we set out initially to add variety. But with variety came bigger environments, more unique environments, and different experiences. The scale increased and a level can be 10 times bigger.
VB: If you add a jet pack to the game, you have to have room to fly around?
HH: Exactly. If you have a small map, that is not possible. With Killzone 2, we thought we were scraping the bottom of the barrel in finding more processing power. But we actually found another 30 to 40 percent more performance in the PlayStation 3 to create these bigger worlds. Raising the bar comes through variety, improving the systems we had before like adding the brutal melee system to the close combat we already had, and improving things that we thought we could have done better. We had difficulty spikes in the game that were barriers for people.
VB: You are more fully utilizing the processing power of the PlayStation 3?
HH: I think we are using every clock cycle that is available. I don’t think we can get much more. I said that after Killzone 2, and I have been proven wrong.
VB: Your team took a long time to do Killzone 2, but it is a very short time later that you are showing Killzone 3. Do you still have a long way to go?
HH: You see where we are now. We are 1.5 years into it. We have playable demos, a full level. We can work a lot faster because we have a very experienced team now. We can work a lot faster, but Killzone 3 is a much more ambitious game than Killzone 2. We are under pressure, but we work well under pressure.
VB: You mentioned Killzone 3’s inspirations as Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and God of War III. What are the particular inspirations?
HH: These are the people inside Sony that we talk to most. With Uncharted 2, they had a game-changing approach to a character-driven story. You can’t get away with a lame story anymore. God of War gives you a different level of scale, with a boss fight on top of a boss fight.
VB: Fighting on top of a moving train in Uncharted 2 was a unique experience. What are your innovations?
HH: We are doing a number of things. We are taking systems that worked really well and making them better. The hit responses from your enemies, the brutal melee system, the different colors, levels, settings. There are others that I can’t talk about.
VB: How big a team is it?
HH: About 130 people. About the same as Killzone 2, which by the end was bigger. But we have started with a bigger team early on compared to Killzone 2.
VB: What do you think of the environment for high-quality console games now? Sales have been weak, on and off. And everyone is talking about Facebook games like FarmVille.
HH: I think all of those things are an indication that the industry as a whole is a lot broader than it was before. There is space for all of these areas. These core games will always be strong. I don’t see an indication it will get smaller. As a studio, we love taking a piece of great hardware and exploring ways to get the most out of it. That’s what we love.
VB: I guess five years from now we’ll be playing Killzone 3 on Facebook.