Inside the Killzone

Guerrilla's cofounder and managing director speaks out on Killzone 3, the importance of fan feedback, and the current state of the gaming industry.

by

Guerrilla's Killzone franchise has found itself in some contentious positions over the course of its life span. The development of the first game in the series brought about cries of "the Halo killer" from the press. The second game found expectations dramatically raised due to a target render video prominently displayed during a Sony Electronic Entertainment Expo press conference, which prompted questions of whether or not its high visual standards could actually be achieved. Despite all of these things, Guerrilla has seemingly remained steadfast in delivering its own vision for Killzone, and with the fourth game in the franchise completed, we got a chance to speak with Hermen Hulst--cofounder and managing director of Guerrilla Games--to talk more about the design process behind Killzone 3, the franchise as a whole, and the good and bad characteristics of the video game industry.

GameSpot: For the original Killzone, you had to deal with the "Halo killer" moniker. For Killzone 2, you had the target render video from E3. It seems like Killzone 3 was the first time there wasn't any manufactured pressure from the outside. The team was able to focus on its own goals.

Hermen Hulst: Going back to a few things you're saying, the Halo comparisons were a press thing. I met the journalist who came up with that recently, and he apologized. It was a blessing and a curse in a way [that we were being compared] to a well-established game. That was an honor to us in a way, and it really raised the exposure to the franchise. It was also kind of awkward because they're such different games. We never really thought of them as a benchmark or even as a reference--even though, of course, [Halo] is an FPS.

It's a very different story for the second target you bring up. The studio [created that target render] as a benchmark. We created that as a concept trailer to capture the core experience of the game. It wasn't just a graphical benchmark--it was the intensity and the visceral gameplay style. All of that was captured. Then it was exposed to the outside world when we weren't ready. But that had little to do with it, so the pressure was a secondary thing to that trailer.

The pressure for Killzone 3 was self-imposed in that we didn't want our fans to wait for another four to four and a half years. We've suffered from that in the sense that after four and a half years, your game might be forgotten about. There are very few people that still play multiplayer on the servers. Now, I think we can bring a game to a loyal and still very active user base. We still have mindshare with a lot of the people playing Killzone 2. That's been great. That's one thing we wanted to do. For a lot of teams, I guess it's normal to have a two-year cycle, but for us, it was new and that was the big pressure with Killzone 3.

GS: What have you learned in terms of streamlining development while moving from one Killzone to the next? Have you seen any drastic changes in terms of how Guerrilla makes games?

HH: I think the single biggest thing is that we always had an extremely junior team compared to some of the competition that had very veteran teams, usually US-based. This was the first time we were actually able to do a project where the vast majority was veteran game developers, and that makes a big difference. You require fewer people to come up with new things and to develop through with the required level of polish. That was probably the single biggest change for us--to have that team ready. Then, of course, we could start from day one because we had a great base [to work with]. Killzone 2 was such a solid foundation for us that we said, "OK. Let's use that." Initially we actually said, "Let's not even go too deeply into technological improvements. Let's focus on the variety. Let's theme every level nicely and differently." I think one of the biggest gains over Killzone 2 was that it has such different environments, pacing, and gameplay--that's what we wanted to focus on initially. And, just the guys that we have on the team, they started developing, optimizing, and finding new ways to create more variety and more feature-driven gameplay. That was also a different mind-set from the previous game and a very deliberate one too.

GS: How do you respond to feedback? Are you actively looking at what fans want?

HH: It's part of our development philosophy. We listen and we listen rigorously. We browse through every review, forum post--we're very methodical that way. We list what people really, really like, and we take that and we try to push it as far as we can without changing the essence of it. On the other side, we look at the things that weren't as good. We try to take those things and really flip them over. Internally, we call it a funny name. We call it the "top and bottom-up approach." In the original Killzone, AI and multiplayer were examples of some of the worst-reviewed elements. We turned them around into some of the better-reviewed elements in Killzone 2. People thought it was a little monotonous through the first half of Killzone 2, so that's a really good example of something we took and really made sure that every level plays and looks differently. Also, within every single level, there's a lot of diversity and variety.

GS: Over the course of development, do you look at what other games are doing? Do you ever feel the need to integrate popular features from other games, or do you say, "We just need to stick with what we're doing"?

HH: I personally don't think development works that way. I think if you do that it feels very shoehorned in. At the very beginning, you need to look at your game. Now that we've been developing more games within a franchise, inspiration increasingly comes from within. You look at the current Killzone game--we brought in features like the jetpack from Killzone: Liberation. We brought in the bigger weapons like the mounted weapons from the original Killzone. Some of the wider, more open areas--like the harbor area and the Icy Incursion level--those were pretty much inspired by the original Killzone. I guess if you're working on a game and it's going so poorly, you're working with a publisher, and you're not getting green-lit for instance, you might have to go back and do another analysis of where the bar is at the moment. We didn't have any of those things on Killzone 3. We started developing, picking up where we left off on Killzone 2, and we just made the game we wanted to make.

GS: Since you're working with an established franchise where people think they know what to expect, did that make development more difficult or challenging knowing that people have these expectations? Does that hinder possibilities for innovation?

HH: The good part is that people understand FPSs, and there are certain things like controls that they have issues with. They're very eloquent in expressing what they'd like to see, so that's helpful. But you can't really ask the users to design the game for you. Typically, in my experience, people don't really tell you what they want to tell you--what they think they want. For instance, on the multiplayer side, we didn't really see anyone ask for a more cinematic or story-driven mode, but that's something that we, as a group of people sitting together--me and the creative leads--wondering how we can integrate the experience more. How can we bring some of the strength of single-player into multiplayer? These things are more design-led than feedback-driven.

"But accessible to me doesn't mean selling it out to the masses."

GS: For Killzone 3's multiplayer, what was the general philosophy behind presenting something that's a little more streamlined versus the nature of the class system in Killzone 2?

HH: We definitely wanted to--and I'm going to use a terrible word here--make it more accessible. But accessible to me doesn't mean selling it out to the masses. To me, it means just making sure people don't spend as much time with administrative tasks. I don't want people to browse through server lists. Again, with some of the feedback, people love Warzone--the quintessential part of Killzone 2 multiplayer--but sometimes a game can weigh in at about 30 to 40 minutes. [For those people] that have 25 minutes right before lunch or before going to work, they wanted something else. That's why we brought in a very classic mode--Guerrilla Warfare team deathmatch. That's just listening to the fans, and the other thing is just coming from us--that's an innovation we wanted to bring.

It's a bit of both. I guess the fans tell you the things you need to do because without it, it's kind of flawed, and then innovation needs to come from the creatives.

GS: Obviously, Killzone is steeped in the imagery of World War II, and while we get glimpses of how evil or sinister the Helghast are, the games never go to the extreme of depicting them as genocidal. Is that an intentional thing--not to draw too many comparisons between the Helghast and the Nazis?

HH: Not so much in a moral sense, but more in an aesthetic sense. We like to do the things that we think are right and they look good. I don't think we're really a team that thinks we should push what people expect or pass that boundary for shock value. I think that would be very wrong from an aesthetic point of view. I think the Helghast, particularly this character Jorhan Stahl--played by Malcom McDowell--you can really see that he's a prick. He's a real a******. But he also kind of does it in an understated, very cheeky way. When we did the motion capture, we actually changed the character to make him look more like Malcom McDowell. That cheeky part of it, I guess, has a certain fun factor to it. You can go all evil and go to concentration camps and get your inspiration from there, but we're making a game. It's entertainment, and it needs to be--at the end of the day--fun, sometimes competitive. But sometimes, it also needs to be lighthearted. There needs to be some comic relief, which is what we try to do. So, no, I would never want to push it in that area.

GS: Is there any fatigue from working on the same franchise over the past few years?

HH: Strangely enough, there isn't. We are now much more at a point where we're comfortable working in this franchise. You also get to understand your own franchise--your own creation--much better. That's also very liberating in a sense when you have that deep understanding of what's possible. I think it opens up creativity. We're not at all fatigued by having done--if you include Liberation--four games in this franchise. Also, our team was very small at the beginning, and it's grown massively. There were a lot of guys that just completed one game or a project and a half, and they specifically came to us to work on Killzone. We feel a lot of excitement about the game we just created. People, frankly, are very happy with it.

GS: In your experience over the past few years, are there things about the industry that you see are moving it in a positive direction?

HH: Yeah, there are a lot of things. Game development is becoming very broad. There are guys like us that make the very deep, big, and epic cinematic experiences. I was just talking to a guy that was working on a game, and he was at his [GDC booth] showing it off and said just two guys are making it. That's awesome. We're talking as developers, and the world is so different. I'm working with eight guys on special effects, and he's making a full game with two or three guys. That scale is very different, but also recently we've seen games for different audiences. Also, you were talking about fatigue in a genre, but increasingly we're seeing more influences from other genres and cross-influences between genres. I think we're at a point where no one really knows what's going to happen next, but you see so many different teams doing different things--it's a really cool phase in this age of our industry.

GS: There has been a huge emphasis placed on AAA, big-budget games, but we're also seeing independent developers rise to some prominence. Can the two entities coexist, or is this all going to come to a head at some point? What needs to happen to create a stable video game industry?

HH: We need to make sure the whole thing keeps growing. It seems like there's enough space for all of us at the moment. I would hate to see a situation where there wasn't a market for the bigger experiences like we make, and sometimes people ask these questions about disc-based games--does it have a future? What it's about is how deep and how big the experiences are. It's not about delivery mechanisms. They're just very different experiences. They're made for different people or sometimes for the same people but for different times of consumption for their entertainment. For what we're doing--and I know it because I talk to our fans a lot--there's massive demand. You know how excited people get. The fan mail we get and the participation--it's heartwarming. I don't see there being less of that.

GS: As a studio, is their a growing sentiment or pressure to keep fans active with a franchise in between major releases? We're seeing offshoot games appear on platforms like Facebook, as an example.

HH: Not so much pressure, but I think these are tools that we have at our disposal to keep people involved a lot more. We have our own community manager, and I think it's great to have somebody on the team that talks to the fans on a daily basis. He's sitting in an office right next to me, and his name is Victor, and I talk to him. He knows at any given moment what the sentiment is. That's a great thing to have, to be that close to your fans. It doesn't go through the PR man. I don't think we've been in a situation like this before where we're that close to the people we make our games for, and that's really cool.

"3D is one [trend] that I've said before is here to stay."

GS: Where do you see the industry in five years? We're seeing these trends with mobile devices and things like that picking up steam. 3D is another big one.

HH: There's a couple of things that we've experimented with in Killzone 3. 3D is one that I've said before is here to stay. Compare it to the transition from mono sound to stereo sound. It's really cool, and these experiences are increasingly immersive, and that's what we're doing with a game like Killzone. We want you to be in the middle of the action. We're experimenting with how things look on the screen through 3D, but also the input with motion controls. I think you'd be crazy not to try out these kinds of things. It's such a big part. You control your gun, then you get Move, and you want to toy around with it. If you spend that much time polishing and designing how to operate your weapons and then you get a new control scheme, and you don't experiment with it? That would be really weird. We took that and we tried to [bring it] even further. We designed a gun from the Killzone universe and made the Sharpshooter out of it. So on the control side of things, on 3D, and on the screen side of things, whatever is there, we'll try it out and kind of see what sticks for us.

GS: We have a few fans of the Sharpshooter in the office.

HH: Yeah, and it's cool because now that we've shipped a game, we have ideas on how to progress that. It's probably too early to talk about it, but there's some really cool ideas on how to progress from where we started. When we talked about listening to the fan base, I think we're the kind of developer that's very careful not to alienate people that are the core fans--the people that have spent the most hours playing Killzone. If they tell us to use DualShock, then we'll do both. But we still will always experiment, and when there's new technology, we'll toy around with it and see if it works. And we'll try to get as many people as possible to try it out, and if they like it, great. If they don't like it, by all means play it the way you used to.

GS: Finally, do you feel like the video game industry has lost anything over the years? There seems to be a different mentality present now than in the earlier days. Is there any element of that the industry should try to get back?

HH: Give me an example of something that's been lost. The reason I'm asking that is because I think it's pure nostalgia. Usually, when I hear questions like that, it comes from the guys that were there in the early stages when the industry was still in its infancy. If you see the kind of project or the nature of the projects being developed back then, you still see that now. But now we're talking about things that might be an iPhone game or an Android game. These guys are still there. If there are a couple of friends that have a good idea, there's a platform for these guys, and I think it's probably easier now than it has ever been to try things out. It's really quite easy. I don't think we've lost anything. I think we've tapped an enormous amount of creative talent. We're in a good space.

Discussion

116 comments
erickson483
erickson483

Wow a mi me ha gustado y no puedo esperar para la proxima entrega, claro que me hubiese gustado que sea mas largo...

bostadskontrakt
bostadskontrakt

They think that cod gimmicky scenery jumping is a GOOD thing? Wow.

geartooth
geartooth

I have always been a big fan of Killzone, but this #3 is too friggin short. I finished this whole campaign in less than 1 day. I was very disapointed to find out that the game already ended.

prontopup20
prontopup20

its a great game, the main storyline was pretty good, and the multiplayer is really fun, im glad i traded in black ops for it.

grey_fox1984
grey_fox1984

@pabloxiaoyi I hear that dude, Crysis 2 is the first post-KZ3 shooter i've played and I'm really feeling the lack of sharp shooter support. Developers should be on that like white on rice; easily the most immersive control system for a shooter ever concieved.

HoY4
HoY4

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

HoY4
HoY4

JOKER677, ya RIGHT I love KZ but in No way did it do better than Halo LOL. anyway, with all this article in consideration, my only beef with the developers is WHY is it in 720p... even kz2 was atleast 1080i, as a matter of fact I bought MVC3 recently for 360 because it was only 720p-was dissapointed because my my friends have ps3 only but I just cant Stand not having clear picture. the upscale on the ps3 doesnt do squat, what I wanna know is why Sony, is that you boast your console to be all "best graphics when about 80% of your games Not full HD..seriously wtf is up with That =s I watch blu-ray more than i actually play games on my console. I have a 50 incher and anything less than 1080 looks freakin terrible.. so far only GT5 is enjoyable-aside from the ridiculous forced install/loading. No offense to any one, just a unsatisfied consumer in general >_

JOKER677
JOKER677

I think this frachise has done better than the Halo in terms of listening to the community and putting out quality products for each game. Halo was good at first then just lost it as the years went on (release of ODST).

organbank
organbank

Yay, more awesome crap about yet another generic shooter...

threeunder3
threeunder3

Does anyone know if you can change hands to shoot? Sev is right handed which great if your hidden/crouching at a left corner - but not so great if your at a right corner. Sorry if this doesn't make sense.

TXMostWanted
TXMostWanted

Just finished Killzone 3 and man did it erase all the faults made from Killzone 2 (multiple weapon inventory, faster controls, better story, better graphics etc). I'm officially a fan of the franchise and can't wait for the fourth installment!

jasonzilla11
jasonzilla11

killzone 3 is super awesome. i luv the multiplayer, but it seems a bit too simple,so make it more complicated!!!

BuLL3Tz-_
BuLL3Tz-_

actually the main story idea is BS , aswell as for the online as for the terms of the graphics killzone is better than halo and cod havent you tried the it with a 3D Tv but the mp is not that intresting as killzone2 ...

GTA_fan999
GTA_fan999

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

pabloxiaoyi
pabloxiaoyi

also in kz4 please improve Sev and Rico AI.....they are so square!

pabloxiaoyi
pabloxiaoyi

the move controller works great, thanks GG!!!....I hope B3 will support it...:-D (shame that Crysis2 didn't bother buuuuuuuu)

EdibleFood
EdibleFood

@solidserpo Fail troll? Killzone 3 sold well, there are more people playing it online than the killzone 2 launch. I generally end up in large lobbies

grim0187
grim0187

Well, I have yet to play a Killzone game. Recently bought my PS3 though and need to get all three of them and play through it. Should be a good time :)

SolidSerpo
SolidSerpo

I'm thinking it's because I play late at night on the North American servers?. But anyways, other than that, Killzone 3 is part of the elite trinity including BF and COD. I was going to buy MOH, but glad I didn't after playing, KZ3 is unique experience.

axlroselm
axlroselm

everything is what it is. killzone is killzone not COD or halo. all of them are great games in their own way. but i prefer Killzone. and i want to buy a ps3 for that.

SolidSerpo
SolidSerpo

Why is there no body online playing KZ3? I always play with 1-3 people at most each match.

efunk25
efunk25

I love KZ3 I think it is a blast to play. The Multi to me is better than KZ2 just because they made it a little bit faster but kept some weight. my only complaint is I would like to see a few more Multi game modes. I think the graphics are amazing, there is so much going on on the screen yet the frame rate is smooth. I will say that Battlefield 3 is going to be a game changer though. Those graphics are off the hook!

LinusBlue
LinusBlue

KZ3 is great. Not quite as great as KZ2 but great none the less.

wars45
wars45

l.ove it online not has hard as 2

nonfanboygamer1
nonfanboygamer1

I enjoyed the campaign for killzone 3 and the multiplayer is a nice change from COD.

scorpgul
scorpgul

@Search_for_Vali dont post spoilers...

BasiK3108
BasiK3108

@devil3 please go and rent the game because everything you said about it is wrong

Search_for_Vali
Search_for_Vali

I think it's a shame they killed Templar. I just don't like Sev. He is not special or charismatic at all. I hope for Killzone 4 that they find some writers who could write a better story, some better situations and some better characters. That's all I want from the next sequel. And I think that's all that this series needs. It needs some strong characters to make the series truly grant.

StingrayX5
StingrayX5

I remember seeing that footage for the first time...it was AMAZING!

organbank
organbank

Yay, more awesome crap about yet another generic shooter...

Smiley451
Smiley451

@EKGProd With all respect, I just couldn't disagree more about the story. The pacing was just KILLKILLKILL, the cut scenes were kinda chessy, the characters were often annoying (Stahl was a total buzzkill). Once again, the gameplay, environment, and graphics of this game are absolutely top of the line, without a doubt, but the story telling needs some serious improvement.

lowkey254
lowkey254

Awesome games GG, keep them coming. I'm ready to see the new IP too.

Kid2812
Kid2812

@Harrymanhunter1 yayayay Killing COD noobs is super fun.........But the game has gone a bit CODish which is kind of disappointment to be honest. I wish Killzone 4 could take what Killzone 2 did well and remember that half of the complains about the weight was from COD noobs that realised that they could not quick scope coz you cannot do that with a sniper rifle

Harrymanhunter1
Harrymanhunter1

Good news guys the 1.06 update for Killzone 3 fixed a lot of the lag.SO now I can kill more COD noobs :)

EKGProd
EKGProd

I loved Killzone 3. I really don't have many complaints. I loved the variety in the things you do and the areas you visit. Despite what some reviews might say, I really enjoyed the story as well. The characters were developed well and voiced wonderfully. I loved the way the guns feel, the jaw dropping graphics, the pacing which doesn't just keep throwing you into monotonous gun fights, and the amazing multiplayer. If I had any complaints that would hopefully be fixed for the sequel, it would be that online coop is a must. Only IF it will not affect the quality and length of the single player campaign.

gawthy
gawthy

I hate anyone that tries to compare cod to kz3. n my opinion cod has a beter multiplayer but killzones campaign is 300 times better. Who cares if the story isnt as good the action makesup for it and its an improvement on kz2

raphaeljoash
raphaeljoash

Killzone 2 & 3 along with Bad Company 2 has the best multiplayer man its better than CoD anyway its not the same sh*t you see every year

devil3
devil3

I agree with what mad_krips said. Personally I really liked the online portion of Killzone 2 but when I played the multiplayer demo for Killzone 3 (and even the single player demo) I was really disappointed. I was really looking forward to buying Killzone 3 on day one but after playing the demo(s) I think I will just rent it for a short while and then continue playing other games. I'm not saying that Killzone 3 is horrible but it's kind of incomprehensible why one would sacrifice a very good and quite unique form of multiplayer for a COD/MOH clone. Personally I think Killzone 2 multiplayer kicked a lot of ass and was (and still is) way better than the multiplayer other FPSs have to offer. I don't play games because I think they are great clones, I play them because they are unique and that is why I remember them years later. And yeah, the menus are pretty bad and (judging by the demo) even the textures in the graphics took a hit. I'm not a person who judges games based on their graphics but it's kind of weird to see them being downgraded. As for the single player I still like Killzone 1 the most. It gave you a real sense of being alone in an overwhelming war and fighting just to stay alive. That's my opinion.

samus_my_life
samus_my_life

looool love you kill zone 3 love you yeaaaaaaaah lool keep moving to the top ....... O.

PayneKiller
PayneKiller

I'm not sure what kind of fan feedback they heard to change killzone 3 into what it is now, but is pretty bad compared to killzone 2. And don't get me wrong they do in fact have plants in the PS Forums discussing changes/improvements with us but the framework for KZ3 was already in place unfortunately. Certain things that only needed improvement were scrapped. The menus are not as good. The classes and unlock points are just bad. Tacticians play an endless capture and hold in Warzone modes because of TSP's. All these things served to make the game less engaging than Killzone 2 was, I'm about to give up on 3 only a month in and I played Killzone 2 til even after MW2 came out. I'm sorry Geurrilla, I loved Killzone 2 one of my top games this gen, but there was no need to reinvent (or for the most part *TRY* to copy Call of Duty) the online multiplayer and in turn mess it up for most of us who were fans of 2.

eboyishere
eboyishere

kz3 is good and at the sametime kinda meh....killzone 2 had alot of good ideas that needed reworking but it's like in kz3 they figured to scrap them and start over....the formula wasnt old and wasnt stale...it just needed to be tuned up. the spawn grenades needed work not scrapped and why did they get rid of spawn on squad leader?Now when i go into a warzone it's not about the objectives it's all bout the tactical spawn points(TSP).play on turbine concourse, if u cant get the spawn point your done... ive been following killzone since 2008 and one thing i noticed is that the devs have VERY good ideas but cant seem to execute them right.

Goods_Merchant
Goods_Merchant

@Big Dre D I didn't really like the fact that all the classes were available right off the bat in KZ3, in KZ2 there was a great sense of reward when you unlocked a new class to play with, and in KZ3 the sense of progression and reward was not as prevelent and strong as before. By no means am I saying that KZ2 is better, on almost every other front KZ3 is better, but they could have given you more unlockables to get.

Smiley451
Smiley451

This developer sounds like a good guy, I'm sending Guerilla a letter with my thoughts on KZ3, since he says they take fan's input seriously. I love KZ3, but I hate the story. I don't depend on a story to make a single player fun, don't get me wrong, but the Killzone universe is just a really interesting one that I feel isn't done justice by the games's story telling. It's like if you were a teacher and you had a student who was capable of getting an A+, but just kept deciding to half-ass it and get a D.

Big_Dre_D
Big_Dre_D

@beanofengland the majority of Helghast where masks because their lungs have been damaged by the atmosphere but some like Visari and Stahl have evolved a bit and have no trouble breathing without it.

Big_Dre_D
Big_Dre_D

@BuLL3Tz-_ your out your mind Killzone 2 was good but the controls made you feel like you were pregnant. KZ3 made the controls more responsive while keeping the weighty feel. As for campers n miners if you continuosly through yourself at someone u deserve the Pownage (pst if they're spamming mines like that just shoot them). The online is more accessible for everyone and the classes are made to be synergistic with each other on a team. It sounds to me like your the whiny guy I bend over n rape every time I play cus he's to dumb to change his class or strategy.

BuLL3Tz-_
BuLL3Tz-_

you dont understand what i mean is , that killzone2 was two kill melee but since the cod fanboys where saying that it is hard to kill with 2 melee kill they changed it to one melee kill as for the c4 the c4 are big in killzone3 you can spam c4s all day unlimtted c4 thats BS !

MEDzZ3RO
MEDzZ3RO

@BuLL3Tz-_ One hit for a melee kill is the standard for almost all FPS games now. The C4 was always used like that online in the original, it's not like they're hard to spot. Lastly Killzone isn't a run and gun shooter, it's often about tactical, stealth squad play online. I don't know why every fps has to be compared to CoD, CoD has little advancement from game to game, poor servers and has children squabbling over the headsets. Killzone's as much like CoD as Motorstorm is like Gran Turismo 5.

BuLL3Tz-_
BuLL3Tz-_

yep they made noticible improvements which werent good at all , they trying to be like cod in killzone 2 two melee kill but in killzone3 only one melee kill also the controls are much easier and faster like cod and camping with c4 is stupid you can take as much as you want c4's from the ammo box so simply you can take a sniper and c4 and camp all day that what ppl recently do in kz3 pffff campzone3