Blacklight: Tango Down
11th May 2010 | 16:08
Blacklight: Tango Down is a 2GB DLC first person shooter, which has little choice but share a battlefield with some of the biggest names in gaming history?
But are Zombie Studios really the underdogs here, or could they actually be the pioneers that could force the big boys to up their game?
CVG talked to Project Leader and Lead Game Designer, Jared Gerritzen, to find out what was driving the small team at Zombie Studios and what he thought about some of the firmly established names they were in competition with.
Which came first the desire to do an FPS like or the idea that you might be able to do something this big for download?
Well how it worked was we had the universe, we had the Blacklight universe, and we had a very very big game that we were working with a big publisher on and the market fell out and all the money for new IPs went away across the market. So we said, "Ok we've got a few months, what do we want to do? We still want to do this game, how can we do it? Change it into first person, pull the team out and let's go make it a multiplayer only game, worse comes to worse we do something like Battlefield 2 but we do it ourselves, and we just publish it, put it out on PC and see what happens to it."
So we did the three months and in that three months Trials HD came out and everyone stopped working for a week because we were just playing that stupid game. So that came out and DLC really kind of popped, you know, there was Castle Crashers and Trials HD and we thought, "This could be it, this could be how we get it out on the consoles."
We finished the project and right around then Battlefield 1943 came out and we were like, yeah we can do this, we can totally do this. We took it to a couple of publishers and we found Ignition and Ignition fully got it and so we kept on going from there.
So the DLC thing was in our head but we didn't know if we could do it and then we started talking to Microsoft and they were kind of shocked by it. They said "Hold on, are you sure you want to put this much out?" They actually said, "This might be too much to put out on DLC..."
From a logistic point of view or...
Well because it brings the standards up, you know? Anyone else that puts out a game on DLC will have to put out as much as we did and it was a lot of work. We really busted our asses on this project. We have a really small team, but it's a small team of passionate guys who really work smart and work hard so it's really turned out good.
How big is the game?
For consoles it's going to be under 2GB. Right now it's 1.6 or 1.8 and PC will be a little bit larger because we're going to put out larger textures. On both consoles the textures get baked down. All of our textures are 2048 so they're really really big.
What's enabled you to do this? To put all this in such a small space for DLC? Is it the technology you've been using or just technology more generally?
Well, I think the way we've been able to do it is we're using Unreal 3, we've been using Unreal 3 for, gosh, 6 years. We've been an Unreal 3 studio since the beginning so we knew the engine and we knew the tech.
A lot of the time, the big thing that developers hit is, "Ok we make it on this, how do we get it on the console?" and we knew how to get it on the console because of all of our experience so that went away almost instantly. Then just the laser beam focus we've had for this game. We knew this is going fast paced first person Shooter. Every time anyone would bring that up, they'd say something like, "Hey can we add Prone?" That is not fast paced first person shooter.
So we just kept on going, that was our mandate that was our guideline. Then when we had the art direction of it we had these amazing concepts done in the beginning and it was like, "Yes this is the visual look, this is how its going to be. It's going to be this very broken down society with this over built technology." So we had all those pieces and the design team really busted their asses making the maps good and the art team's done an amazing job on the art so it's been really that kind of power train where it's been sheer will not only of one person to put it out, it's been sheer will of everyone.
We've really really crushed it I think. I want to see other games, DLC especially or 60 dollar games, bring their level up to that magnitude. I think a lot of studios that have 120 people or 200 people would never be able to what we did in a year.
What do you think the difference is?
I've been on both sides of development. I've been at a big studio with 30 producers and it's like, "Oh we need to have a meeting about that. Oh we need to have a meeting about that." The bull crap that happens, it happens in offices all the time, you know? You have fast and agile systems and then you have meetings and reports and a crap load of documentation.
We have the whole game documented but when we documented the game, it was in lock down, we documented it in the first month of the game and after that it never changed and it's because if you have people constantly coming in and changing it and saying, "Mmm this doesn't work" it ruins it.
But I think for a lot of the big companies and a lot of companies with a shit load of money it's like, "Oh we can let it slip." and when you have 'we can let it slip' in your mind, that's when you ruin it. It's like "Oh I can paint the house next month." With us it's, "We need to paint the house today" and the mentality's a lot sharper.
And you found your publisher when you had a pretty much finished product?
We had the first playable. We had four maps, what we would consider an alpha. The look and feel was there and the core gameplay was there. We had the core weapons systems but not the customisation added to them. So you were able to select all these guns and play the game and have fun with it as well as connecting with everyone, but there were still systems that we added after we worked with Ignition. Ignition's been an amazing publisher. They've done nothing but make sure that they've given us everything that we've needed. It's been a really great project actually.
I suppose you only need to look at Activision and Infinity Ward to know how wrong it can go...
Yeah and that's kind of the sad thing. Everyone wants to do the best thing and there are formulas that publishers use and we spoke with publishers that were interested in it but were like, "Well we need five new USPs." Ok well, you know, what about the game? "Yeah yeah but we need these things. We need to make sure it gets approval by thirty different departments." I think that's where a lot of things get held up. There would be a lot more new IPs if people were to understand a different mentality.
I think DLC is going to have that different mentality. A lot of new cool things are going to come out of DLC because of that. If you want to do a 60 dollar game you need to do the big budget movie. You have District 9 that was a small awesome passion project and was done with 3 million dollars, but it looks like it's been done with a hundred million like other big movies. Why did that do that? It's that passion and the beliefs that they had. It's just making sure that the others can be just as good.
You know, when you're buying our game for the price of five maps from the other guys, step it up. I mean really if there's a little guy snapping at your heels all the time you'll catch on otherwise we'll catch you.
What would you say is the overall philosophy behind the game?
It was the fast first person shooter philosophy and from there, we're hardcore shooter fans. We play Call of Duty all the time. I love that game and as much as I might be saying "You need to step it up", it needs to be just brought to that better light. When you ship five maps for the price of a game it's not that great for the consumer and it's the consumer that gives you the Porsche or Lamborghini.
So with this we were like, "Ok I'm a huge fan of Call of Duty and I'm a huge fan of Halo but there's that middle ground that hasn't been done. There's that cool dark and gritty real world but I don't like the idea that... I mean, for people I tried to get to play Halo or tried to get to play Call of Duty, there was that growing pain where they turn the corner and they get shot once and they don't know what happened and it's frustrating as hell. So we brought the speed of the Halo universe and kind of the look and feel of Call of Duty and we kind of mashed them together.
And as much as people say, Oh it's a Call of Duty/Halo knock off, those are two of the best games out there so I'm fine with that! So we really wanted the player to have enough time to receive damage and find out where that damage was coming from and hopefully escape or try to be the better shot and take them out too.
There's been a lot of epic battles just with some of the players at my work and it's turned out to be really fun.
So are you necessarily trying to drag people away from Call of Duty and Halo?
No, you can't drag them from them. The way the way I always see it is, of course people always ask, "Well what makes you different from Halo? What makes you different from Call of Duty? Why should they stop playing?" Well, you know, you're not going to listen to the same Jimi Hendrix album every single day, you're going to listen to other music that was influenced by him and they're good in their own way.
That's kind of how I see games period. A new game comes out; you're going to play that game if you're into those shooters, especially if the quality's there and the quality's there with our game.