GamerZines: Starhawk is a collaborative effort between SCE Santa Monica and LightBox Interactive. How has development been divided between the two?
Harvard Bonin, Senior Producer, SCE Santa Monica Studio: We’ve done everything, they’ve done very little. We put Dylan up there as a figurehead. He’s nothing but a mouthpiece, all the brilliance is coming from elsewhere (laughs). No, we’ve been working with those guys for a long time. We started up the studio with about 15 people from Incognito, all of which came from shipping Warhawk. They moved from Salt Lake down to Boston and we do a lot of support in terms of creative and day-to-day business, consultations and art direction and things like that with the God of War guys. They fly out, do reviews, and we build them up and nurture them into what we think will be a world class studio. They’re not a world class studio now and I say that only because they haven’t released a world class game, and until they do that they’re just not going to be. But we have an enormous amount of respect for them; we think they are a very special team and very dedicated. You can sense the vibe and energy down there, and I’ve been on teams where you just don’t see that. I think they know they’ve got something pretty cool and now it’s just making sure everybody else thinks it’s cool. And if they don’t, to find out why.
GZ: So Santa Monica doesn’t really have the hands-on role people might expect from the collaboration? You’re there more for guidance and overall support than actual development?
HB: We’re providing the river for them to flow down. We tell them to stay within these boundaries, stay off these rocks but go where you want within that. From a business standpoint it’s our responsibility to make sure they don’t crash or make mistakes that would destroy the company. They haven’t even come close to that, but creatively we’re taking a bit of a risk because we recognise ‘Build & Battle’ has aspects to it that people are very curious about. They’ll question how it works and whether it’s too complicated, or that we’re going into a crowded shooter market. All we’re trying to do is give them a lot of guidance. There are times when we’ve said, no, you’ve got to do this, but for the most part we’ve let them guide their own ship. We’ll help them as best we can.
GZ: Given the relationship Sony Santa Monica had with them prior, why was LightBox formed in the first place? Why weren’t the staff members absorbed directly into Santa Monica?
HB: They wanted to be independent. Dylan and his partners wanted to create their own thing and we figured the best way to do that was to help them out, and maybe we could get a piece of their pie too. Although we’re very involved we’re not going to rush them into making a game that isn’t going to do anybody any good. We’re also going to give them the room to fail to a certain extent. I don’t mean that in terms of the overall project, but from a day-to-day standpoint. There are so many things that they’ve done where I’ve said ‘I could have told you that six months ago’.
GZ: The multiplayer market has seen a complete shift since Warhawk’s release, with games like Modern Warfare and Halo 3 being released in the years since. Have you found the learning curve to keep up with the competition particularly steep, and what have you had to change in order to keep up?
HB: There was a lot of fun at the centre of Warhawk but it took a lot to get to it. We didn’t even have Quick Match at launch, you know? It was very much a success but it had its barriers. Since then we’ve seen a lot of systems introduced by a variety of games, and thankfully the learning curve isn’t that great because they’ve done it for us. We’ll borrow the best ideas, because at the end of the day some of those are just commodities. A party system or matchmaking system is just a commodity. There are creative things that you can bring to the table that happen in gameplay, but then there are things like our tournament system that a lot of people don’t have. We’ll see, some games do it well, some games don’t.
GZ: Are you able to talk more about those in-game systems? We’ve seen brief mentions of co-op, clans, calendars, tournaments etc.
HB: I can to some extent, but we’re holding on to some of it because we haven’t finished a lot of it yet! You can expect to see all the features from top of the line games. Communication and clan support is really critical, and there’s a party system. The one in Warhawk was pretty dismal, but this one is so easy I can do it. Warcraft has a fantastic calendar system that we have borrowed, the Android app has been designed to keep people in communication all the time, and the website is comparable to something like Killzone 3′s: a community site with deep statistics. But at the end of the day these should be expected by players; these are things you’ll get in top of the line games, and we certainly don’t call ourselves out as being great for including those, but I think it is important. Everything you want, we’ve got. If it’s not there, let me know and we’ll try and fit it in!
GZ: Given how long Starhawk’s been rumoured do you think the announcement timing is quite unfortunate given what’s going with PSN?
HB: Erm.. not for us. It’s exactly when we wanted to. Obviously the Starhawk rumours have been out there, but they were never quite that accurate, which was funny for us. Here are we building up this ‘Build and Battle’ aspect and I don’t think anybody knew that was coming. Did you know that was coming?
GZ: No, I expected these big outer space battles, perhaps a little like Halo Reach’s space battles. Are we going to see anything like that?
HB: Oh yeah, you’ll be in space. There are space stations and stuff like that. We’re not showing much of the ‘star’ in Starhawk yet! That’ll be in the coming months. I think of games like Colony Wars or X-Wing Tie Fighter, and just those space battles, and we’ll definitely.. We have them in the office and we’ll just roll them out later. It’s pretty cool and there are a number of other environments that we’ll show. But it was really funny with the rumours. I don’t think it was a huge secret; I think everybody knew they were coming here to see Starhawk today. But I think they’re surprised that it really isn’t what they thought it was going to be. They thought it was Warhawk in space, and I guess it is, but only because a lot of that recipe of gameplay has retained itself.
GZ: Do you think given what’s happened to PSN will negatively impact a game like Starhawk?
HB: You should talk to our PR rep for that!
SCEE PR: No comment.
Look out for our hands-on impressions of Starhawk in an upcoming issue of P3Zine.
Starhawk launches in 2012 exclusively on PlayStation 3.
Company of Heroes 2, Batman: Arkham Origins, Grand Theft Auto V, Watch_Dogs, Beyond: Two Souls and Night of the Rabbit previews.Download Now!