Guerrilla Games talks rocky starts, confirms new IP

GDC Europe 2010: Hermen Hulst describes 10-year history of Killzone, that E3 2005 trailer, and where the studio is headed.

Who was there: Hermen Hulst, managing director of Guerrilla Games.

Hulst and a certain glowing-eyed friend of his.

What he talked about: In a panel titled "Bottled Lightning: Game Development Guerrilla Style," Hulst led the audience on a whirlwind tour through the highs and lows of his studio's decade-long history. The main thrust of his presentation was that every studio, more than anything else, needs to constantly improve itself to survive. Hulst spoke at length about the ambitious nature of Guerrilla, how it led to trouble early on, and how they were able to more effectively channel that ambition in order to make last year's critically acclaimed Killzone 2.

Hulst led off the discussion with a look at a pitch demo, first shown to Sony in December 1999, for what would become the original Killzone. The video was simply titled "Marines" and showed a number of plain soldiers running through a warzone with abundant sound effects and explosions. The video was intended to show the technology the studio was capable of, and it lacked any of the familiar Helghast enemies that the Killzone series would eventually become associated with. Sony nonetheless took the bait, which left the Amsterdam-based Guerrilla with the daunting task of actually creating a game out of that pitch demo.

The process of developing Killzone was very much a learning process for the upstart studio. Certain decisions that Guerrilla made in those early days are ones that Hulst said still pay off today. One was the decision to create a custom game engine from scratch rather than go with an off-the-shelf solution such as Unreal. To Hulst, the engine has become part of Killzone's DNA, and a studio is at its best when it's free from being limited by someone else's technology, he said. Studios that use their own engines, Hulst claimed, are the ones best capable of making truly unique experiences because the technology and design grow alongside one another.

The other early decision that Hulst looked back on with fondness was the process of developing a memorable enemy over a hero. This creative choice led them to Killzone's Helghast race, which were designed from the start to resemble futuristic versions of Nazi soldiers in order to mix the new and exotic with the iconic and familiar. Hulst poked some fun at his studio's work, admitting that the game really just boiled down to "space Nazis versus space good guys," but the vivid image of the Helghast soldier is one that the series has become closely associated with, and it has led to an instant visual iconography that not a lot of games have.

However, Killzone didn't live up to expectations, and much of that was thanks to Guerrilla's unchecked ambition in those early days. Hulst described the development team as unguided but highly energetic, lacking professional leadership and proper structure to guide their vision. A few examples of that chaos: For a long time at the beginning of Killzone's development, Guerrilla didn't employ a single game designer. Only artists and programmers were building the game world, with no regard for how it would actually play. Later on in development, an overzealous technical decision left the game engine broken for several straight months, leaving the artists to come up with visual assets that they had to insert into the game with absolutely no idea how they would look in action.

Killzone ultimately accrued a 70 rating on GameSpot sister site Metacritic, and at first it seemed as if Guerrilla had bitten off more than it could chew again with the PSP offshoot Killzone: Liberation. Sony pitched it to the studio as a "showcase title" for its new portable, and Guerrilla simply couldn't turn down the allure of such a project. But Hulst said the studio managed to take some steps forward with Liberation, organizing the studio with a game director in charge of the overall quality and producers who would help make sure the game shipped on time. Add to that more of a focus on game design at the beginning of the project, and the result was a game that reached 77 on Metacritic. Hulst admitted this wasn't a tremendous leap forward, but it still showed a pleasing "upper trend."

Killzone 2 marked a turning point for the developer.

It wouldn't be until Killzone 2 that Guerrilla made that big jump forward with the quality of its games. Killzone 2 was originally developed as a PlayStation 2 title with a Christmas 2006 release date, but plans were changed early on when Sony decided to invest more in the studio and put it to work on developing a PlayStation 3 title. The original version of Killzone 2 was scrapped, and the team got to work on the Killzone 2 that sits in stores today.

Keeping up with earlier themes, there were some difficulties faced along the way. According to Hulst, the infamous E3 2005 trailer for Killzone 2--the one with the prerendered graphics intended to show what the final game would be capable of looking like--was created with the intention of being shown in small, behind-closed-doors settings to select members of the press. But Hulst said Sony showed so much confidence in the trailer that it wanted to air it to the entire gaming world at its press conference, and Guerrilla, being an ambitious studio, was proud to see its work on the big stage.

What came out of airing that trailer, according to Hulst, was both "a blessing and a burden." The burden was that, to a lot of people, the studio's reputation was smeared, they were regarded as liars, and they would have to work to recover Guerrilla's good name. The blessing was that now the studio had a lofty goal in place with no room for excuses. "Uh-oh, we're now going to have to make this, right?" Hulst joked.

The biggest problem was that the trailer was developed before they really got to work on the actual game. "Try to avoid announcing a game before you start doing any work on it," Hulst joked. That left them in an eerily similar position to the original Killzone: There was essentially an ambitious pitch video, but no game or engine to support it. So the team got to work on what is now Killzone 2, knowing this time that there would have to be a better organization and process in place if they wanted to improve that upward trajectory in quality that Liberation established.

Among the examples Hulst showed off, Guerrilla's new, more professional approach to game design was an almost obsessive-compulsive spreadsheet of Killzone reviews that took every point made about the game, broke them up into different categories, and assigned a numeric score based on the reviewer's opinions. The idea was to take the five best-received features of Killzone and do more of that, but also--and this was the hard part--take the five worst-reviewed parts of the game and instead of cut them out, turn them into the best parts of Killzone 2. Hulst cited enemy AI, death animations, and multiplayer as some of the parts of Killzone that reviewers panned the most, only to become among the most highly praised features of its sequel. To Hulst, this "bottom-up" approach was among the biggest reasons for Killzone 2 landing a 91 average on Metacritic.

After that game shipped, Hulst said that the studio still needed to improve. That's why instead of giving themselves another three-and-a-half-year development cycle like Killzone 2 had, they would release Killzone 3 in two years. Hulst described this as essentially putting their creativity in a pressure cooker, but a natural step for a studio that has managed to make itself more streamlined and efficient with every subsequent game. Echoing the title of his presentation, Hulst said that transformation has been like putting lightning in a bottle. The drive and ambition that got the studio into so much trouble early on has now been successfully contained, he said.

Hulst offered no shortage of self-deprecating humor.

Interestingly, Hulst didn't stop at Killzone 3 when talking about the studio's upcoming work. He confirmed that the studio is indeed beginning to work on a new intellectual property. No details were provided, but he did make sure to point out that this next project is not a Killzone title.

Quote: In reference to how the studio has maintained its own quirky corporate culture after the Sony acquisition, Hulst said, "We are by any and all measures Guerrilla Games, and not Sony Amsterdam." This was accompanied by talk of water coolers filled with sangria, "Friday Fragfests," and impromptu mustache-growing competitions.

Takeaway: Guerrilla is a studio that has come a long way in 10 years, but that transformation hasn't always been an easy one.

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Discussion

69 comments
Colonel-Snake
Colonel-Snake

Wow a lot of people here needs to recheck where the hell they get there information from. Nobody said this will play like Call Of Duty. They just took out the weighty feel in the controller so it wouldn't feel so sluggish. They also fixed the responsive time so that when you hit the trigger or button they do the respond to the action that you selected. I'm sure they tweak the speed of how the character move but it no way will it be like Call Of Duty jumping in mid air shooting nonsense.

lowkey254
lowkey254

@ nephili232 We'll have to play the game first to see. The most that they could clone from MW2 is the fast pace of that game versus KZ2's trudge (not a bad thing). I hope that GG knows that they are the par setters. Just like Bungi was a few years ago.

Vader993
Vader993

killzone rts for the win

nephili232
nephili232

Wow some of you people need to use your brains and check your grammar. @seriousplayer_d @ElevenHandMan @lowkey254 My comment was: "If creating a truly unique FPS and then selling out and making a MW2 clone is moving forward then great job GG, you rock!" If you were any kind of Killzone fan you would know I'm talking about Killzone 2 as the truly unique FPS and Killzone 3 as the selling out. The new fast paced Killzone 3 that's trying so hard to be another MW2 knock off is what pisses me off. I hate COD.

kweeni
kweeni

killzone ftw I liked all the games, yes killzone 1 aswell.

Ravage27
Ravage27

Great article Gamespot :) Hope to see their new IP in E3 2011!

Incubus420
Incubus420

I've really been itching to put that game back into my PS3 rotations...I just need to stop playing the Super Street fighter 4 and Madden.

BulletsnOctane
BulletsnOctane

It's always good to see gaming from the developer's point-of-view, from the inside out, so to speak. Like these types of conventions. Wished that I lived in Western Europe. Loved Killzone 2. Looking forward to their new IP.

scuffpuppy
scuffpuppy

As blancobob just mentioned below, a Killzone prequel would be interesting. Perhaps playing as a character during the initial colonisation of Hegast, before they became the evil buggers we love to hate. After all, the were just regular people before during the early days.

blancobo
blancobo

Wow! It is so refreshing to hear about a new IP. These days the poor cows are being milked like crazy: 1B dollar CoD franchise now has CoD like salt in the ocean, Ghost Recon, Halo, AC, PoP, Metal Gear, NfS... and many more. VERY TRUE that many of these have been GREATLY successful, but also undeniable that creativity tends to be constricted to variation and improvement. The creation of a new IP gives us gamers the hope for some innovation and yes of course... in the end exploits of game engines. I know the developed GEngine for KZ3 is going to be used for this IP but still... a great air for innovation. Guerrilla games, even after their "tumultous" or bumpy starts, created an IP so rich and deep in history that there is still space for a Killzone 1 prequel, etc, etc. Can't wait for KZ 3!

Palaxius01
Palaxius01

KZ 2 is still one of my favorite games for the PS3; still anticipating KZ 3, and by the looks of it, I don't really see it being much of a letdown thanks to the efforts that the developers continue to put into improving their subsequent games. Many thanks to Gamespot for this article. I really like the way Guerilla tries to expand their horizons across other fields. And with the announcement of a new IP, I really hope they make a game that is not necessarily a FPS. Any other genre that GG can present with such attention to detail and polished gameplay like KZ 2 or 3 is already a big win for me.

PSGamerforlife
PSGamerforlife

GG are great dev's. People just need the be educated on its history before they call it a bad studio just becuase of its early games... Ohh man. KZ3 and GT5 are my..by far most awaited titles I know of atm.

Episode_Eve
Episode_Eve

This is a very insightful write-up! GG are one of my favorite devs and Killzone 3 will likely be my primary online game next year :).

scuffpuppy
scuffpuppy

To those of you who have yet to play the original Killzone, I strongly suggest you do so. Granted it might be hard to find these days, but I'm sure you could get a copy on ebay. During Halo's peak (which I'm also a huge fan), Killzone felt like a breath of fresh air. Visually, it's quite remarkable, and certainly one of the best looking FPS titles on the PS2. But the game play itself was the high point for many. The ability to chose between a choice of 4 characters was almost unheard of in a FPS. Each distinctly having their own characteristics, weapons, and play style. Whether that be stealth, heavy weapons, technology, or a combination of all three. Each choice made Killzone play very differently than each other. Killzone 2 is one of my favourite FPS of all time, and from what I've seen of Killzone 3, that could well be my ultimate favourite. So if you've yet to play the original Killzone, I suggest you start hunting for a copy asap!

seriousplayer_d
seriousplayer_d

@nephili232 before you speak try another game. There are much more games besides MW2.

CTR360
CTR360

i cant wait for killzone 3 thanks for amazing game guerrilla

Vader993
Vader993

remember way back when everbody want kz2 to fail

Vader993
Vader993

good job gg games. i love the kz series kz 1 first fps ever,kz2 awesome

SavoyPrime
SavoyPrime

Hopefully the new project will be something different for them. A non-shooter.

ElevenHandMan
ElevenHandMan

@nephili232 People like you have small brains and can only think of MW2 when the word video game pops up. Expand your horizon, my friend.

edwise18
edwise18

I'm curious to know what their next project is.

lowkey254
lowkey254

@ nephili232 It's funny that KZ2 came out before MW2... How about you do some research before you speak.

nephili232
nephili232

If creating a truly unique FPS and then selling out and making a MW2 clone is moving forward then great job GG, you rock!

Pete5506
Pete5506

Good to hear that they are moving in the right direction

Ares360
Ares360

Awesome multiplayer trailer mechs, hornet gun turrets, and jet packs can you say multiplayer of the year (hopefully YES)

Ares360
Ares360

Great to see that GG is one of the few developers who actually take the worst things and make them more memorable in a good way instead of cutting them out like big developers. Great job GG hope to see a perfect or another 9 for KZ3 the skies the limit with these guys.

xtremeflem2day
xtremeflem2day

I just got a ps3 yesterday, I downloaded the killzone 2 demo today, and right there they had my 30$. I dont regret buying it, and so far i love it.

vasilakis141
vasilakis141

A new ip from a major studio.Very rare this days.My respect guerilla.

cjasko94
cjasko94

Killzone needs a good coop like Resistance 2 for matters

Blabadon
Blabadon

Great article GameSpot, GG gets the praise it deserves. Thumbs-up from me!

EKGProd
EKGProd

Wow, that was a great read. I am happy for them, because they deserve praise. Killzone 2 was a fantastic game that blew me away. And I am not just talking about graphics. The entire game was so polished and so fun that by the time it ended I went straight to the main menu and began playing it again....I never do that. I can not wait for Killzone 3, both the single player and the multiplayer are going to be amazing.

acasero44
acasero44

Killzone 2 was a great game too bad the first one tainted the sequel overall. People dont just buy the sequel. normally some of them want to see whats the prequel like. in the case of killzone we can put the prequel next to average.

maverick_76
maverick_76

After reading about the water cooler filled with sangria, I'm sold that these guys are awesome. Now just have another cooler filled with Amstel or another beer, and I would do anything I could to work for that company.

ChiefFreeman
ChiefFreeman

I like what he said about studios developing their own game engines (cough, cough, Unreal) and developing their games own identity through it. EA using its own engine for Dead Space and DICE using its Frostbite Engine are good examples of this.

ahpuck
ahpuck

Killzone 2's 2005 demo is tame compared to the actual game. especially if you play your games loud, like i do, that game is crazy insane.

PSdual_wielder
PSdual_wielder

This article just increased my respect for these guys. They've been through tough times for pretty much the entirety of their studio's life, but they still pulled through. But I'm still surprised by how sony still stayed so committed to these guys despite the quality of their early work. :P

SlowMotionKarma
SlowMotionKarma

This is one of the few developer panels I really enjoyed reading about. Most of them come off as "we're the top dev. team and this is why", but Hulst seemed to be very down-to-earth or humble and explain the "real" trials and tribulations of a development team. Their work reflects his story, and it's evident they're getting their team in shape. I'm hopeful for Killzone 3. KZ2 I rented, extremely skeptical considering their past track record and was pleasantly surprised. Keep it up, gentlemen (and ladies?)

rikjuh
rikjuh

Water coolers filled with sangria. I like that.

IceJester45
IceJester45

I'm not entirely sold on Killzone 3 yet. It looks good--excellent, even. However, it takes a lot to stand out in a genre filled with the likes of Bad Company 2, Modern Warfare 2, Halo: Reach, and Medal of Honor. I only need one or two first-person shooters. Still, I can't deny that Killzone 2 represented a sizable jump in quality over the original. If Killzone 3 continues the trend, I'll have to get it. I'm more interested in what Resistance 3 could have to offer. To me, if Sony has a Halo killer, it's Resistance.

ReaperV7
ReaperV7

gueriila you guys rock!!! killlzone 2 is the best shooter of 2009 and killzone 3 will be the best shooter of 2011!!!

XanderZane
XanderZane

Since they are Sony Amsterdam, when are they going to make games for the Wii and 360? lol!! KZ2 was good, but it still didn't look as good as the 2005 video. KZ2 still have some problems, but these guys should be able to fix all of that in KZ3. ********************************************************************** sonicmask Sony has to stop... THEY AR ETHE ONLY ONES RELEASING GOOD GAMES! and to top it off... THERE'S TO MANY GOOD GAMES COMING OUT! GETTING OUT OF CONTROL!!! -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Fanboys need to stop making silly untrue comments. Sony has released some decent games, but they've already released some bombs as well. So has Nintendo and Microsoft. Sony is far from perfect. 2 years of billions in losses is proof of that.

killa4lyfe
killa4lyfe

I only played Killzone 1 at a friends house once or twice. I cannot believe that it was literally rated that low, to me it looked like a pretty solid title. But I guess that is from a single impression. Nonetheless the second game offered a decent SP and an amazing MP. Still think it's better than most in my personal opinion.

CassadyH
CassadyH

Sony is becoming synonymous with solid first party development, and in the world of multiplatform i think that is a very wise effort on their part

sonicmask
sonicmask

Sony has to stop... THEY AR ETHE ONLY ONES RELEASING GOOD GAMES! and to top it off... THERE'S TO MANY GOOD GAMES COMING OUT! GETTING OUT OF CONTROL!!!

plm3d_basic
plm3d_basic

The 2005 trailer was the most incredible thing I ever saw ...at the time. It's still impressive today but some games including KZ2 and especially Crysis have come very close to emulating it. Looking forward to see what games are capable of in the next generation.

INewIRave
INewIRave

Killzone the original was actually a great underated game! the plot was good, the characters albeit over the top were fascinating and frankly when i saw that K2 wouldnt have luger or hakka the spy i was a bit annoyed. Killzone 2 was awesome the main problem was the online which though entertaining was fidgity and difficult to navigate on anything less than a perfect connection. I hope Killzone 3 meets expectations i really do...