Killzone will always hold a special place in my heart. I worked on the original game from the moment it was brought into QA right up until it was released. It was one of my first titles and something a threw myself into whole-heartedly. It promised the earth, with phrases like "Halo killer" being bandied about long before people had seen anything but the concept art and a few models of the Helghast. Well, anyone who's played it know's how far it fell from the mark.
It wasn't meant to go like that. Of course, you could say that about any game that delivers such a poor experience after so much hype but really, it could have been so much better. Time constraints forced cuts to be made and the title was steadily whittled down from a free-roaming, atmospheric opera to a one-path, mundane, amatuer-theatre production.
Before I start enthusing about the game itself it's best that I let you know about my experience around the game! I'd just like to point out that Guerrilla are some of the nicest devs I've ever worked with. They would try to fix any problems they could as best they could, were always friendly and were also incredibly enthusiastic about the game and the world they'd created around it. I was fortunate to be invited to the launch party in Amsterdam, all my hard work paying off in a fantastic night out. I got to stay in a five star hotel for the first time in my life, see the sights and then get into the most exclusive party in the city, surrounded by girls dressed in Nazi-esque uniforms, Helghast soldiers and many of the heads of Sony. Champagne was packed into every available fridge at the start of the evening and within an hour and a half it was all gone.
Thinking about it, many things happened at that party that basically refined my direction in the industry and how I treated the people I meet within it. I met Phil Harrison for the first time. He was chatting to a few of the heads of my department when I arrived with four drinks in my hands. Yes four; it was my first time at a truly free bar and I was getting drinks for everyone. Sadly, everyone else had already got themselves drinks so mine were entirely unnecessary. I say sadly but they didn't go to waste. =) I chatted away to him for a while, having absolutely no idea who he was and we got along famously, much to the chargrin of all the people hanging onto his coat-tails I now assume. My manager came up later at the bar and asked how I knew Harrison.
"Phil Harrison, you were just chatting to him?"
"That's Phil Harrison? Hmm, I had four doubles in my hands while I was talking to someone who could swat me out of Sony in a second. Not so good."
I chatted to almost the entire dev team too! When I was asked afterwards about who introduced me to them all I had to tell them that no-one had! I introduced myself to a few of the people who had worked on the game. "Hey, you're that guy! From Sony!! Come and meet the designers and the rest of the team; they've been dying to meet you!" It all sorta went from there.
It was the people who I initially introduced myself to that I most wanted to meet though. Here's a juicy, insider secret that was one of the best parts of the early builds they sent in: before they had the cut-scenes they had actors do live-action versions of them! Doors were two large pieces of cardboard pulled apart! Guns were super-soakers! Swamps were long pieces of cardboard moved in waves from off-camera and explosions were leaves thrown into people's faces! It was all brilliant, especially the acting. Oh, the acting! Rico, the big, black heavy weapons guy was played by a large, white Dutch guy with glasses. He was really into it all, jumping about the place shouting "You want some, huh? Oh, you want some too, yeah?". The woman who played Luger was totally hot as well! Sadly, only Rico and Templar were there but I'd spent so much time on the game, laughing at the wonderful movies, that I just had to introduce myself. It just turned out that everyone was just as interested in talking to me! Wow!
It wasn't all good though. Talking to them, finding out about all the things they'd wanted to keep in, how much they hated some of the problems that were still there at the end... even though I'd had it drilled into me (ooer!) from the moment I'd started talking to development teams and working for Sony, never did it hit me harder than talking to the people who's love and energy had been poured into Killzone: every game is a SKU (Stock Keeping Unit). They are almost all ultimately made to make money. Somewhere along the line there is going to be someone who doesn't care how it looks or feels, how it plays, how long it is, how much detail it has, so long as it sells.
For a while, this really depressed me. This was what I wanted to do with my life and it wasn't the heaven I had imagined. It was a cynical, blackened cess-pit of money grubbing assholes just their to milk the consumer dry.
Then I remembered Guerrilla.
I remembered how everyone I had talked to had only wanted to make the best possible game they could. To tell a story, to lead you through a new world, to make you feel like you were there. Sure, they couldn't do everything they wanted. They had limits and constraints, encountered problems they hadn't forseen and genuinely messed up at points but their goals, their vision had always been pure.
They were so enthusiastic about the game and the future. Sure, they knew they'd been rushed but they also knew that Killzone was going to set them up to do a great sequel. They'd learned loads during the development process and would be given a lot more time to get the game they eventually wanted out the door.
When it comes to Killzone 2, I expect that everything that went wrong in the first one will be set right and a hell of a lot more. I have that much faith in that team, from that one, slightly drunken, meeting. Well, and working with them throughout the development of the original and seeing the way they worked through Liberation.
Hell, there's so much here I'll save some stuff for another time! So many more experiences! Having just enough change for a good friend to get a taxi to the airport when they left their wallet at the hotel. My first viewing of the red-light district. Dreadful Chinese food. Jelly Tuna on a silver spoon! Chatting up cute waitresses without even meaning to. But, most of all...