Doing the FPS dance
Just this week, Cliff Bleszinski and Boss Key Productions pulled back the curtain on LawBreakers — the free-to-play arena shooter that has been in development under the codename Project BlueStreak. It’s more than just the community that’s taken notice; high-level executives have quite an interest, too.
In an interview with Bleszinski at PAX Prime, he says that head of Xbox Phil Spencer contacted him almost immediately after seeing the gameplay trailer. “(Spencer) hit me up and asked ‘What’s the time to death in this game?’ He has a point,” Bleszinski said. “You can introduce all this crazy, awesome mobility in your games, but if you die in two bullets when someone pops around a corner, you don’t really get a chance to use it.”
That gameplay trailer was our first look at the true nature of LawBreakers. There’s a great emphasis on verticality and movement — a concept the gaming industry has taken to new extremes lately. The likes of Titanfall and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare are two recent examples that have had players moving through the air. Bleszinski wants to make it a bigger component than those titles did, though.
“I don’t mean to slag any other games, because those core loops of getting a lot of kills quick are what kill streaks and kill streak rewards are built on,” Bleszinski said. “With us, we want to have a little bit of that dance, a little more like Halo where if someone gets the drop on you, you at least have a shot at either getting away or at least taking a dent out of them so they might die by your teammate.”
The hook that allows LawBreakers this freedom lies in the world-building. Because of a cataclysmic event known as “The Shattering,” Earth is left with pockets of low gravity in certain areas. Conveniently enough, LawBreakers‘ maps are set in some of these areas, which should make for interesting and varied gameplay.
Bleszinski was visibly excited about this. “We see these moments where there’s this giant zero-gravity pocket where everyone’s vertical and people are actually knocking each other around with rockets. One of the comments on Twitter was someone asking if rockets actually propel people. Since you have a rocket jump now, you actually have a radius. We found that with rockets not being a one-hit kill (because we don’t really want them to be), even with Kitsune who’s a very light character, once we have the law equivalent of her, she probably might be a couple rockets minimum. Still, it’s a light character, but we want you to juggle.”
There’s a reason he wants players to juggle. “When you introduce low gravity and the concept of juggling as well as a rocket that you can air-burst with the alt-fire, you see somebody flying through the air blind-firing propelling themselves, and you can suddenly send them over to the other side of the map by air-bursting a rocket and then follow through with your stomp move and kind of chain your moves together. We want the FPS dance to kind of come back.”
That FPS dance means that players stay alive longer and actually get to make use of the game’s vertical axis. “It’s a lot greater than your Call of Duty grind. It’s a little bit faster than your Titanfall one. It’s somewhere around Halo-ish is what I like to say,” Bleszinski ultimately said of Spencer’s original time until death inquiry.
Figuring out exactly how to properly execute all that action is the tough part. LawBreakers‘ gameplay trailer showed a handful of different characters, each with their own abilities and traits. Bleszinski and his team are now in the position of getting all of those characters work in conjunction with one another without any of them sticking out like a sore thumb.
“Perfect balance is nearly impossible to get,” Bleszinski commented. “We’re still working on it. Right now, in the current build that people are playing off-site, it’s very asymmetrical — two unique classes on both sides. The Law has all sorts of weapons whereas the Breakers have like area-of-effect stuff. That’s been really hard to balance. One of the first things we’re going to do when we get back is, you have Breacher on the Law side, we’re figuring out who the Breacher equivalent is on the Breaker side. That’s something that when we go back to symmetrical gameplay, I think it’s going to be easier to balance. But, it’ll still be slightly asymmetrical.”
It may not be exactly what he’s shooting for, but Bleszinski made reference to a revered fighting game when talking about balanced gameplay. “I saw a graph where they’re pointing out the Smash Bros. characters from the original that we’ve used over the years. Smash Bros. may be the most perfectly balanced game ever because they kept finding a new character and a new exploit without the game ever being patched or updated.”
An interesting analog, but LawBreakers won’t take that approach. Bleszinski continued “Thankfully, we’re going to be a living product so we can keep introducing updates, hopefully every couple weeks. Pump that shit through, have test kitchens and things like that. Basically, if we find an exploit that breaks the game, fix it. But, also recognize when there’s an exploit that adds to the game. You know, rocket jumping is one of those accidents that actually is cool.”
Bleszinski and Boss Key can expect to find a lot of those exploits given the combination of possibilities between several unique characters and maps with variable gravity. There are a lot of factors at play. Some exploits will evolve into part of the game, some will get squashed. Those that make verticality more enjoyable and contribute to the FPS dance (as Bleszinski put it) have a better chance of surviving.