HAZE Interview

Recently I got the chance to speak with Rob Yescombe from Free Radical, Screenwriter on the hot new PS 3 Shooter Haze. I got the chance to play an early version of the game at the Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle, and Rob was kind enough to take the time to update me on what gamers can look forward to from this hot new titles.

GVK: What is the background and setting for the game?

RY: Haze is set in 2048. There’s a war going on in a region of South America where a bunch of evil skanky-ass malevolent rebels called The Promise Hand are trying to overthrow the government. Thankfully, a private military company (PMC) called Mantel Global industries is sending in its forces to iron things out. Now, mantel is a media-savvy company, and they don’t want the bad press of one of their soldiers getting killed or hurt. So, they give all their soldiers a ‘miracle nutritional supplement’ called Nectar. It makes the troops tougher, smart and faster. Basically everything they want and need to be on a battlefield.

The Promise Hand are led by a guy called Gabriel ‘Skin Coat’ Merino. He got his nickname by skinning the POWs in his prison camps, and fashioning those strips of skin into crude leather, from which he made his ‘coat’. Not the kind of guy you want to meet in a butchers’ shop.

GVK: What can you tell us about the A.I. in the game?

RY: One of the main focuses for the AI has been creating a noticeable difference not only between different character classes, but specific behavioral differences between the two sides, and also a whole extra set of behavioral differences within the mantel troopers depending on how much Nectar they have in their veins. Even after playing it over the course of a two and a half year development, I still find it pretty bloody challenging.

GVK: What are some of the locales gamers will see in the game?

RY: As you’ll know from the TimeSplitters series, we like variety. Unlike TimeSplitters, however, the levels aren’t separate – the entire game streams, meaning that you won’t see any loading screens once you’ve booted up the game. In terms of where you’ll be traveling to in the game, you can expect things like an enormous tourist centre connected to an observatory at the top of a mountain; a claustrophobic copper smelting plant; rebel villages and towns; the Mantel ‘land Carrier – an all-terrain air craft carrier; and a bit of jungle, of course.

GVK: What are some of the weapons we will see?

RY: Well, whilst both sides have their own unique weapon sets, with mantel’s being high-tech and the Promise hand set being quite run down and rickety, the best weapon in the game is Nectar. As a mantel trooper is improves your aim, speed, strength and awareness of danger. BUT! If you take too much, you’ll Overdose. If you overdose, you’ll go nuts and start shooting all your buddies, so the key is to be careful how much you inject at any one time. However, the rebels have tricky ways to force Mantel troopers to take too much and go nuts on each other.

GVK: How will vehicles be used in game and what will players be able to ride in?

RY: Each side have their own vehicles, but you’ll spend most of your time driving either the Mantel buggy (the ‘Boxcart’), or the Promise Hand’s equivalent – the ‘Stag’ – or the quad bike (the ‘Mule’). There are also helicopters and dropships that you’ll be shooting out the sides of, but the AI pilots those.

GVK: What gaming engine will you be using and what will enhancements will it bring to the genre?

RY: We build everything from scratch in-house. We hardly ever buy in technology from outside, which means we can tailor the engine to fit our vision for the game. We think it’ll speak for itself.

GVK: What forms of multiplayer will the game include?

RY: Apart from all the game modes that people expect as standard, like Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and so on, we’re also doing story-based assault maps. We’re not going into detail yet, but the idea is that your perspective on events that you see in the single player will be changed when you play the multiplayer maps and vice versa.

GVK: What sort of enemies will players face?

RY: Well, it’s common knowledge that you switch sides halfway through the game, so you won’t just be facing the sneaky, guerilla tactics of the Promise Hand, you’ll also come face-to-face with the brute force of Mantel and Nectar.

GVK: Blending action with a detailed plot can always be tricky, how have you attempted to create this element, and will scripted events be a part of the game?

RY: Yes, there are scripted events, but there are no conventional cutscenes as such. The entire game is in first person, including all the narrative stuff. We want players to feel trapped in the situation, locked inside the head of Shane Carpenter. Some pretty horrible stuff takes place in the story, and we want players to feel complicit in it all, and maybe even feel a little guilty about it all.

GVK: The scope of the game sounds amazing, what are some of the biggest obstacles you see in creating the game, and what are your biggest goals for the game?

RY: The biggest challenge is balancing two totally different sides, particularly in multiplayer. If we can nail that one – and we will! – the replay value will be pretty much infinite.

GVK: Can you describe how the Drug use works in the game and what special features players will have as a result?

RY: As a Mantel trooper, taking Nectar give you a whole bunch of useful abilities:

Nectar Perception: This allows you to see the bad guys who’re hiding in the dark or in camouflage.

Nectar Focus: A sniping aid. It tweaks your aim for the perfect head shot from a mile out.

Nectar Foresight: This allows you to see danger before it happens – if a grenade is going to go off by your feet, or if someone is going to melee you from behind, for instance, you’ll see a ‘ripple’ effect from the source of danger, giving you enough time to get out of the way.

The Melee Blast: When you’re on Nectar, punching a rebel will send them flying like they’ve just been hit by a race car full of anvils.

Nectar also makes you able to take more damage, and dish more damage out. But, like I said, the twist is that if you take too much you’ll Overdose and kill your friends – even in multiplayer and the four-player co-op modes.

As a Promise Hand rebel, your best weapon against Mantel is finding ways to force them to Overdose on Nectar. Here’s how:

Get a clean hit on the Nectar pack on the back of a Mantel trooper.

Make a ‘Nectar grenade’ by ripping off a nectar pack and taping it to a grenade. When it goes off it’ll make a huge cloud of Nectar gas that’ll drive any Mantel troopers in it crazy.

Smear Nectar on the blade of a knife – so, if you slash someone or throw it at them, it’ll make them Overdose.

As a rebel, you also get a bunch of new abilities:

Play Dead – Apart from giving Mantel troopers extra skills, Nectar also censors their perception of reality, so they can’t see death or blood. So, by pretending to be dead, a rebel’s body will fade out just like a corpse in a videogame. It’s a great way to get out of trouble.
Disarm – if a rebel can get up close to a mantel guy, he can whack him in the face, pull the gun right out of his hands and turn it back on him. It’s the perfect way to even the odds.

Dive / Dodge – Without the heavy mantel armour to protect them, rebels need to be more nimble to survive. They’ll dive, roll, anything they can do to avoid being hit.

Scavenge – Rebels can recalibrate the ammunition from one gun to fit another. So, instead of throwing away an empty minigun, for example, you can refit the bullets from a pistol or rifle to keep using the better weapon.

Traps – rebels can rig grenades, both Nectar ones and regular ones, and hide them under the dirt like mines. Anyone foolish enough to step there is going to lose their feet, or get a face-full of Nectar gas.

And finally! I can’t stress this enough – all those skills and Nectar effects exist not only in the single player and four player co-op, they also exist in the Versus maps in multiplayer. So, the multiplayer isn’t about choosing red or blue, it about choosing a faction that suits your playing style. If you’re sneaky and like to mess with people’s heads, be a rebel, but if you like to ball in there and shoot the place up like a loon, be a Mantel trooper.