Starhawk Q&A: Building Better Worlds

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Starhawk Q&A: Building Better Worlds

Starhawk: First Sunset On Echo

Starhawk is a rare beast — a big-budget shooter with a story to tell. That tale centers squarely on Emmett Graves, a reluctant protagonist saddled with some serious baggage. I spoke with Harvard Bonin, Sony Santa Monica Studios’ Senior Producer on Starhawk, to try and get a grip on what makes Emmett Graves tick.

PSB: A gigantic multiplayer shooter that includes RTS elements has been seen as something of a gaming Holy Grail. Which part did you conceptualize first — shooter, or RTS?

Harvard Bonin, Senior producer, Sony Santa Monica Studios: At first, we just wanted to do a sequel to Warhawk and set it in space — just bring a new setting, story, and a solo campaign. But we realized that we needed to bring something extra, so when LittleBigPlanet came out, we thought, “wouldn’t it be cool to make your own shooter?” So, we tried it, and we actually have test levels back at the office. Instead of LittleBigPlanet giving you these macro tools, we gave you these almost jigsaw puzzle pieces — anything that you saw in a level, you could’ve built in this early prototype. It had this cerebral appeal, and game developers are geeky that way, so we liked it. But as we showed it to Warhawk fans, they asked, “where’s the bad-ass action and the running and gunning? Where’s the fun stuff?” So we thought that probably wasn’t the way to go.

We still loved this idea of changing the battlefield, but we needed to do it easily while retaining the speed of Warhawk. And that’s how we ended up where we are. Actually, we even had an older version where the camera would go top-down very much like a strategy game. Through working with LightBox Interactive, we got to the point where we decided to go real-time. We kept telling ourselves, “this is a shooter, and don’t forget it!”

Starhawk for PS3Starhawk for PS3

PSB: Starhawk’s story is told using graphic-novel style cinematics. How do they transition into and out of gameplay?

HB: We’re doing the cinematics in a style that best matches the game. The cinematics that you’ll see are actually Emmett’s Rift visions showing the player what happened with his brother Logan, what happened in White Sands, why he got kicked off the planet Dust — that sort of stuff.

We don’t want to break the player’s concentration on the game. We want to keep it fast, and load times get in the way of the player’s immersion, let alone the fun! So if you come to the end of a mission, it will catch the last gameplay frame and transition into the Rift vision sequence. At the end of the movie, it transitions right back into the next mission. We don’t have classic load screens, so it’s very seamless. Our objective is to make load times completely invisible to players. We think its pretty elegant and you should really see it in action to appreciate it.

PSB: And so Emmett retains his humanity through this surgical regulator? Is Emmett in pain? Does that impact his personality?

HB: It does! He’s not Kratos (and he’s not full of vengeance). Emmett is a little more subtle, a little more cerebral. He’s been victimized, but he handles it in a different way than a character like Kratos. He’s not out to kill everybody. He feels bad about what happened on Dust and what happened to his brother Logan. He’s been ostracized from the Rifter society, and he’s not trusted. He feels abandoned and alone. He’s pretty ticked off about how he was treated and has a big distaste for the miserable Outcasts that he blames for his situation. That’s why he’s never been back to Dust since he got the boot.

The regulator helps him control the Rift energy. Emmett didn’t fully mutate after being exposed to it and nobody really knows why. Emmett is kept sane by the release of this energy that has taken over all of these other Outcast monsters — they’re psychos, fanatics, almost like crazed addicts for the energy. Emmett’s contraption protects him, though he’s in pain. Cutter is his partner and is pretty much his gear man. He created the regulator that Emmett uses to keep the energy at bay.

Starhawk: The Brothers Stand off

PSB: A troubled, vulnerable protagonist is a rarity in video games. The only other game that jumps out at me is Metal Gear Solid 4…

HB: Snake definitely has his demons and so does Emmett. He’s not a fantastical superhero, he’s just a guy who got caught up in a bad situation…we like to think he’s a bit like John McClane, kind of an “everyman.” Granted, the Rift energy does allow him to be a little stronger and a little faster than the other Rifters. I don’t think that a cookie-cutter superhero character is what sophisticated gamers are looking for. While we want to be a popcorn blockbuster type of action game, we also think there’s room for smart storytelling. Even Batman is a tortured guy, and you’ve seen how well that’s done.

We’re aiming the story, and the gameplay, toward a bit more of sophisticated gamer. I’ve been quoted as saying “This isn’t your mom’s game…it’s for gamers” and I stand behind that. While we are trying to make the fun in the game more accessible, that doesn’t mean we’re dumbing it down. We’re making this for shooter game players. It’s not going to be watered down to try and please casual gamers that don’t know no-scoping from a hole in their head.

PSB: Emmett has a foot in two different worlds, Outcast and Rifter. How does this impact his relationship with other characters?

HB: He doesn’t like other people that much. He was kicked off Dust because he became the representation of the thing that the Rifters hate — the Outcast, who are killing off settler families and taking over their claims. And now Emmett’s been overtaken by the Rift energy, through no fault of his own. The Rift energy is mysterious, they don’t know what it is, and the Rifters think Emmett could turn into an Outcast at any time. So he decides the best thing to do is get off-world. When he returns to Dust it’s many, many years later. He’s been out in the space systems making a living with Cutter and hunting down Outcast fanatics.

PSB: From what I’m hearing, Starhawk will offer a lot of multiplayer customization and flexibility. What’s your strategy there?

HB: Hells yes! We feel like a lot of games have been making choices for gamers; we’d rather have gamers make the choices. We’ll have matchmaking, game lists like Warhawk, party systems, tournament systems, and custom games where you can send out invites to bring your friends in. A lot of console games have gone to the “only matchmaking” solution. While it might streamline the game for new users, we think that our players are more sophisticated and deserve to make their own choice. You’ll be able to customize your skills, too, and you’ll gain skills as you level up. Character outfit customization as well…everything that you would expect in a top-of-the-line shooter. Some of the hardcore Warheads (the team’s nickname for Warhawk fans) are very concerned about the skills system and they think it’ll throw off the fairness of the game. We don’t think so and we also know that collecting stuff and making progress online is fun. So we’re going to do it.

Of course, it’s forefront in our mind to make this a very fair game. A public beta will be part of that. Our beta plans are being worked out right now, but we will have one for sure. Our hope is to take care of Warhawk players first.

Starhawk for PS3

PSB: Does that extend to weapon customization?

HB: We don’t do that because we like to keep an arcade-y feel. That can be fun in some games, but we prefer to keep a faster pace and keep your choices more macro. When you make a choice, it will be a big choice. The skill set that we offer will allow fans to drastically change the kind of player you want to be online. We’ll be rolling out the list down the line. Also, its not a “skill tree” exactly, but we do have a system for gaining skills. We’ll also talk about that later on.

PSB: In vehicle-centric multiplayer shooters, balancing infantry and vehicular combat is often a touch-and-go process. What’s the philosophy regarding infantry versus vehicles?

HB: I have experience in making RTS games so I’m very familiar with people being concerned about balance. My normal response is, “yes, that’s always a challenge but we’re working hard on it,” but my inside voice is saying “it’s cool, don’t worry about it, it’ll be fine.” There are so, so many dials that we can tweak in the name of balance. For instance, maybe your rocket launcher is weak but it fires quickly. And we have armor types, so maybe that rocket launcher is particularly strong against a certain armor type. There are cooldown times, speed of reload, all sorts of things. Our massive amount of testing should clean out oddities and we also learned a lot from Warhawk. We’re counting on our public beta to squeeze out a lot of issues as well.

In Starhawk there are a lot of weapons at your disposal and it’s up to you to find out which is the most effective against what. It’s a typical rock-paper-scissors approach. Honestly, I’m not too worried about it, and I think the public beta and play test sessions will be a gigantic help. If we see balance issues we’ll either tweak the knobs or even add new gameplay abilities. We actually just added a new anti-infantry attack for the mech, which is a stomp. It’s perfect, because we used to make you wade through these minions blasting away and it really wasn’t satisfying as they little guys are hard to hit. Now you just R3 for melee and they get crushed.

PSB: What’s your personal favorite weapon so far? Favorite vehicle?

HB: We have the Grinder, our flamethrower, which we haven’t really shown so far. But I’ve always been a huge fan of rocket launchers, particularly for multiplayer matches. As for vehicles, it’s probably the jetbike. You can do these crazy jumps and it’s so much fun riding over the plains of Dust, using it for Capture the Flag…its definitely today’s favorite. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

PSB: What’s next for the Starhawk team?

HB: We’re going to be rolling out our Space level at Gamescom in Cologne, Germany on August 17th. I can’t wait till everyone sees it…Gotta love dogfighting in space! Also we’ll be at PAX in Seattle with the same demo the week after, August 26 to 28th, but there we’ll have our Observer Cam up and running so the crowd can enjoy the action too. It should be a blast!

Comments are closed.


10 Author Replies

  • hi sid, i saw you at e3 w/ the tablet asking twitter questions as the game was running so obviously you had a good look at it but have you played it on multiplayer mode and if so how was frame rate an issue( i know its still in an unfinished state) because it looks to me that a ton of stuff is going on and its almost mind blowing and awesome how a player can build and use structures that operate like functioning bunkers( opening doors/wall gates ) and also i enjoyed reading your street fighter write up a few days ago about the tourny etc. game looks awesome. mech-hawks,wow

    • Typically framerate optimization comes later in the development cycle — closer to launch — but what I’ve been seeing runs pretty smoothly. That said, it’s very early in development, as you mentioned.

  • Sorry.. but was brong with Motor Storm Apocalypse Server??

  • what is brong*

  • I can’t wait to see the dogfighting action myself.
    You can’t go wrong with a Dogfight in space! :P

  • Game looks good…..what up boston john….reppin that 617…I like the avatar

  • @MGSNULL617 i see that you are local :) add me if you want i have a few friends from mass along w/ a few from everywhere who team/clan up. welcome to play sometime.. and yes this game looks intense, wow theres tons of [DELETED] going on in what i saw in some multiplayer clips.. warhawk on steroids.

  • I can’t wait for this game to come out. Multiplayer on other games has the lifespan of a month or two but Warhawk has lasted me over 3 years. More of the same please!

    By the way, does Starhawk have all the usual aerial pickups like homing missile, lightning, air mines etc or are we stuck with only swarms and machine gun? I understand that you need to balance ground combat against air combat but removing everything except swarms would, in my opinion, be a very poor choice and would take a lot of the fun out of flying which is what made Warhawk so awesome to begin with.

  • All i ask for is, if in the future you decide to add new vehicles or features, please make sure they can be used in the same maps. Please dont pull another dropship/apc/jetpack separate servers deal. That splits the community.

    Also speaking of allowing people to create your own rooms what will you do to make sure that people dont create rooms with rampant clan stacking or people who kick players out when they’re loosing. There was a LOT of that in Warhawk, how will you control that?

  • Question:

    Is – StarHawk – also going to be following suit and also implementing a PlayStation Network pass into and onto it’s multiplayer? I ask this because, I am a fan and long time player of – WarHawk. Unfortunetly I just don’t agree with Sony’s implementation of this absurd and crude “pass”. So, I am hoping that fortunetly this great title will not follow down that path, and limit itself using that “pass”.

    The only other thing I hope for from this title is to see normal flight (arcade, noob spin, spinning fligh) done away with.

    Just for my haters — Pro Flight > Nub Flight — all day.

  • Will it have cover system?

  • This game was so awesome @ E3…..really really impressed!

  • I have been interested in this game since the teaser. It’s great about the single player campaign because it might add a new audience to the already great warhawk community. @ Rorek_IronBlood, I actually see nothing wrong with the pass being offered with new games and for free with the purchase of said new game. The downside is if one household has 2 members or more of the family playing the same game with diff. accounts =(

  • Looking forward to seeing that space level; dogfighting was one of my favorite things in Warhawk! I was also very good at it…..

    Very much want to play this game ASAP.

  • Awesome Bike!

  • Don’t these 2 statements seem contradictory:
    “Some of the hardcore Warheads are very concerned about the skills system and they think it’ll throw off the fairness of the game. We don’t think so”

    vs. “The skill set that we offer will allow fans to drastically change the kind of player you want to be online.”

    I want to be an “all-around” player. Statement #2 sounds like all-arounders will be penalized. Because if I don’t specialize in tank, then whenever I want to tank, I’ll be at a disadvantage to all the tank specialists.

    Also, “some of the hardcore Warheads”? Doesn’t it seem that at least 75% of the Warheads HATE the idea of skills/perks?

    • A) Nobody knows what the skills are B) Harvard mentions nothing about “all-arounders” being penalized, there’s no way to know if your inference is right or wrong yet.

  • @KillerDante,

    Actually there is more issues conerning the “online pass” system then just that, and I think it’s brash to wave it off by just saying to the public that if you purchase it “new” you can avoid this. Having more then one houselhold member within the same house and multiple playstation and/or accounts is just one reason among a myriad. I won’t start another debacle over this or destroy another blog, but surfice to say that it is a major concern and problem to many people world wide and is an intrusion into the rights of consumers.

  • Just wanted to know what kinds of perks us Warhawk players will be getting when we upgrade to StarHawk? I haven’t played in awhile, but would be willing to jump back in now if I knew of some kind of stat boost or xp gain for boosting my KDR or something. Doesn’t matter… Already have my money…FDP

  • And off-topic…how do you get that “PRO” tag under your avatar?

  • @1BostonJohn32
    Ill add u when i get home from work….tell me what games u got ill see if i have em

  • I never played this game is it like halo?

    • It’s different. Warhawk/Starhawk are quite unique for a bunch of reasons. Lots of vehicle action, faster movement speeds, and Starhawk has the Build and Battle system for deploying bases, vehicles, walls, etc.

  • “Customizable player outfits” *sigh* Yet another game where people will tell me to dress in pink if I want my character to look girly. Some day people will realize females are part of the market too and want to be able to customize too.

    Game is sounding really good. Get me a release date and I’ll be looking forward to it. :D

  • So I get command and conquer with a little shooting action sign me up Sid!!!
    thanks for answering my question hey I have on more question…are these basses and walls destructable I love destuctable environments

  • + Gamespawn on August 8th, 2011 at 9:03 am said:

    And off-topic…how do you get that “PRO” tag under your avatar?

    Sid Shuman’s Avatar

    + Sid Shuman on August 8th, 2011 at 9:20 am said:

    PlayStation Plus! ^_^

    @Sid Shuman…Ummm i am a PS+ member and i looked on that link and didn’t see anything about it…

  • I heard about Perks being in the game and that gets me pretty worried, because now oneplayer is going to have the advantage on another player. Then again youc an say it was like that in warhawk because one player wouldhave the better weapon.

  • Is there going to be any customization for the player or weapons if there is what kind.

  • Are we going to be able to snipe people in vehicles, like through the glass and such?

  • hope theres a deathmatch mode every player for them self

  • any female player online

  • Skills/perks suck. The playing field should be even, where anyone can make the same choices as anyone else, at any time, if they so choose. If you have an RPG and I want one too, I can go get one, and your RPG is the same as mine. That worked awesomely in Warhawk.

    If someone can be a tank specialist, the game is no longer even/fair/level when they’re fighting a non-tank specialist. I want to be beaten only by superior abilities, not because someone bought a better tank than me.

  • @jason_ac so true

  • @18 1/2, Sid: (gasp) I think you gave the wrong answer to gamespawn. The “pro” label, like my “select” label, are from the late, lamented Playstation Rewards beta.

  • The game impresses me every time I see it. Can’t wait to jump in :) Rather glad we’re getting a single player mode this time around.

  • Collector’s Edition?

  • ok,i know this is hella off topic but i have a problem i was gaming and playing dc universe then it froze,then aferwards i cut the ps3 off then attempted to turn it back on…as i was turning it on it didnt go to the xmb instead it said ”THE HARD DISK’S FILE SYSTEM IS CORRUPTED AND WILL BE RESTORED” at first i was like omg noo but then i was like oh ok…but after it restored and everything it still said it was corrupted and needed to be restored…and it did it about 7 times..i really need help sony i dont know what else to do and i love my ps3 :(

  • Sweet, there going to be server lists again, I would have been dissapointed if it was only matchmaking

    @33 Im guessing you didnt have a surge protector, that sucks 4 you

  • P.s. You have to be a pro to fly pro against the advantageous normal and still win

    Pro Flight for life !!!!!!!!!


    Good to see more and more old school WarHawkers making themslves seen and heard again. I hope to see Slash Seven members really make a push in StarHawk. Hopefully we’ll see a lot of old clans, and new ones too. Though the whole community could do, without some more notorious members of said community and especially some few infamous clans.


  • Can;t wait to play this, Warhawk is one of my favorite games ever. I spent so many hours playing it and with clans:D

  • Halo u r going down because starhawk is the new king!! Ohh YEAH!!!!

  • If only Sony would advertise this game like crazy + some crazy promotions/bundle/collector’s edition, they could have their next 3-million+ selling franchise. And I’m not even kidding. Starhawk is looking that good.

  • By the way I HATE HALO!!!!! SONY RULES!!!!!!!

  • Hi Rorek_IronBlood, I Don’t know you, but I have seen you, and I like to say Hi. So Hi :D
    Hi Sid
    Hi Everyone else

  • U r correct MarinoBrea this game just need more promotions!!!! Maybe a satellite named starhawk!! YEAH!!!!!!!!

  • @33 your best bet is to try to put the system in safe mode or delete corrupted data

    By the way I’m very interested in this game look great never played warhawk but I love what i see.

  • I got a question. Is the focus on this game going to be as good or better than it was in WarHawk? Because WarHawk was my first game on the PS3 and I loved it. I really have high hopes for this one!

  • You guys better have a private beta (that is done 4-5 months before the games release), because we all know that public betas don’t mean jack squa as they are just glorified demos. 95% of the problems in public betas transfer right over to the final game. And usually problems from the public beta don’t get worked out until 4-5 months after the games release.

    Also you guys really don’t seem to understand about matchmaking do you? You say “Oh we give the players the choice!” What BS, if we want to play ranked we are stuck with crapmaking, sorry but that is NO choice. Nice PR feel-good speech is all that is, but the truth is we have absolutely no choice when it comes to ranked games.

    As for everything else, I have learned to be very skeptical of developer hype. You guys always make your games sound like they are doing something unbelievably fantastic, but they usually fall short of the mark. Definitely losing more faith in this game as each day passes.

  • You what irritates me the most about gamers these days. How the groan and moan about perks as if they don’t have the exact same perks that I do. They play the victim as if because I am using mine better then you are that means that its like cheating. You have the same resources as me and even if you don’t you will eventually. They act like a perk is some magical thing that points the gun for you as if even if i increase my accuracy I still don’t have to hunt you down or aim the gun at you or shoot you before you shoot me. Don’t blame your crappy skills on the other player’s ability to use things to their advantage. If you so damn skillful then take out your opponent perk or no perk and rise up to their level instead of whining about it.

  • love this game

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