At this very moment, a small group of lucky testers are putting the Starhawk Private Beta through its paces. During last week’s PlayStation holiday showcase for New York City media, I had a chance to go hands-on with the beta. But I wanted to learn more about the beta’s reception among the diehard Warhawk community, so I chatted with Senior Producer Harvard Bonin to learn some key findings from the beta: the most popular weapons and vehicles, the sneakiest tactics, and what beta players can expect next.
PlayStation.Blog: Obviously, there’s a private beta going on right now. What have been some of the key learnings?
Oh, boy. There have been too many to name here, but one of the key learnings has been how closely we need to listen to hardcore Warhawk players. We made some changes to the flight controls that they reacted to negatively. We’re now in the process of addressing that, and it’s only because of the beta that we realized. Without a beta, we have no way to do that.
We’ve also seen a lot of strategies we couldn’t have anticipated. The Build & Battle configurations are pretty interesting, people placing walls backwards so enemies can get in but not get out. Some players are employing a more aggressive use of the Spawn Towers, and they’re leapfrogging across the map while planting Spawn Towers in order to progress faster.
PSB: Where do we stand in terms of another wave of beta invites?
We have a lot more invites going out next week (read: this week), and then we’ll go through December with those. At some point, we’ll need to take down the private beta in order to prep for the public beta, which will include new features. So you’ll see us going pretty dark while we prep that public beta for 2012.
PSB: Have you seen any clear trends so far in terms of favorite vehicles?
Well, it depends on the day and the balance. The mech is very popular. In earlier phases of the beta, it was majorly overpowered and was able to forcibly take advantage of enemy bases. We just made some significant changes to the mech with a live update yesterday, so we’ll see how those go.
The jetpack is also very popular because it’s so versatile. On the outer space map we’ve had players going under the map in the outer space level. Just like Captain Kirk in The Wrath of Kahn, you’ve got to think in three dimensions!
PSB: Have you had to tone down or tweak certain weapons?
Every day something is too powerful. We recently went through a nerf session with the Shotgun, maybe we overdid it. When we make balance changes, we often prefer to swing the pendulum a lot, then in smaller and smaller increments to find the sweet spot. Your initial balance change needs to be big enough.
But yeah, like you mentioned earlier, this is a real beta. It allows us to take our time with balancing: it’s not like we’re scrambling to release the game in a week or two. There’s a big window between the public beta ending and the game releasing. Games need time in the pressure cooker, you know?
PSB: What’s been the reaction to the private beta so far?
Some days they love it, some days they’ve got constructive criticism! We had originally invited very top Warhawk players to join the Starhawk private beta, and they were apprehensive at first. But now we’ve seen some of the harshest critics from before begin to evangelize Starhawk. It takes some time to get your feet wet, but once you do, you begin to find layers to the game you didn’t realize were there. That’s what’s exciting about Starhawk.
Overall, though, it’s been a very positive private beta, both in terms of the constructive criticism and the feedback.
PSB: What was the logic behind keeping the Outcast and Rifters identical in multiplayer?
Whenever you start to differentiating the skill set of players, it’s tricky. We’re already treading on thin ice with our skill system, which we’ll be introducing soon in an upcoming patch. Our system of gaining skills is different than most games; you earn them by accomplishing certain goals. All of these are designed to encourage players to play in a way that is “optimal fun,” whether it’s assists or playing in a more cooperative way.
PSB: What’s the sneakiest move you’ve seen in the Beta so far?
People love the drop pods, trying to land on an enemy when they respawn. One of the most useful tactics so far is using the jetpack to sneak close to the enemy and then knifing him from behind. It’s not exactly a science, but some of these guys are great at it.
PSB: How is the single-player campaign coming along?
Really well, we’ve recently hit alpha. All the pieces are in place, and right now we’re going into each individual mission to make sure that the core structure, the moments are as fun as possible, and that everything works. Sometimes we have to change the entire layout of a scenario; other times we just have to upgrade the presentation level.
We’re going to start talking more about the solo campaign soon in the next few months, so stay tuned.