At PAX East 2017, I sat down with Cliff Bleszinski to chat about his upcoming game LawBreakers, his thoughts on VR, and more. Read on for the full interview!
Game Informer: The market is full of competitive arena shooters now. What is going to set LawBreakers apart from that?
Cliff Bleszinski: Well, I always cite the style, right? The majority of character-based shooters has that kind of like Pixar look to it, which, it’s not for me. I play the s— out of games like Overwatch, Paladins is pretty cool too, but that’s not the kind of game I wanna make, you know? I wanna make the one that looks, you know, like it’s more set for the Battlefield, Call of Duty audience, so…
That’s one of the main things I’m banking on. The fact that the game is so vertical, the fact that we say “death from every angle” is the cheesy marketing line, but it makes a lot of sense. Literally, if you play the game right, you never touch the floor. So it’s a lot of fun in regards to that. And overall, the core of the core of the core of it is that it’s the super, like, shooter DNA in it. It’s not an RPG masquerading as a shooter, it’s a shooter that then has some of those elements in it first and foremost. You know, the aiming is crisp, the hit feedback is crisp, the hit boxes are one-to-one, so like, if you have a projectile weapon, it’s not beach ball-sized. You know, I don’t wanna do any things where like you freeze people or do Scorpion “get over here” type things, it’s just not my jam. Works in other games, not for us. So much of that DNA that’s on the game that I don’t feel a whole lot of the other character shooter games and I think we wanna be the character shooter game for the Counter Strike crowd as well.
So that’s kinda what we’re gunning for.
So this is more of the core audience here.
Absolutely, but there’s more to it than that in regards to what the game is. It’s like… I really, the more I play some of the MOBAs, the character-based shooters, I feel penalized sometimes for the character I chose like I chose the wrong one, like I come around the corner and face the other guy it’s so hardcore rock paper scissors, so in our game we wanna make every character have a chance to take out any other character potentially. So if I’m playing as the squishy battle medic, who heals people but also has a decent gun, and I encounter a big f—— tanky juggernaut with a shotgun, I can use my jump jets and stay away from him ‘cause he’s a close quarters guy and if he’s already been in a skirmish and had his health worn down a little bit and doesn’t have his ultimate shield, I can pepper him away and actually take him out. So we have a lot of like David and Goliath scenarios in our game that I don’t see in a lot of these other character-based shooters. Plus, you can shoot your gun behind you in zero gravity.
Okay, okay. So who’s your favorite character in the game and why?
Depends on week to week. Right now it’s – and I’m not just saying this because it’s one of the new ones – the Juggernaut. I was never that big on tanks, but this is a character that can armor up and let you feel like you’re in the cockpit of Gipsy Danger. It’s got a really nice shotgun with a great sound. The shotgun has a blade attached to it. Apparently I have a thing for putting pointy things on weapons.
(laughs) All right.
He’s got a really good run, so he’s a tank that can actually run. But most importantly, when you hit jump while he’s running, he gets a super jump, and then you can hit shift again and butt stomp. I’ve just always loved butt stomp in games. And if you time it right, you can actually squish other people. That feels really good. And then his regular is throws out a shield. That’s the other thing about our game: a lot of character-based games have the whole, you know, persistent “I’m gonna follow you and constantly heal you.” Our healers fire and forget, and they get back to shooting. Same thing with the Juggernaut: you’re not walking forward with the shield, you drop the shield, get back to shooting. That’s kind of been my MO for the game.
So here’s your least favorite character and why?
I’m terrible with the assassins, Katsumi and Hellion. I just, I’m not that good with the grappling, I’ve seen people who are amazing and I’m terrible at closing that gap. I always get shot by everybody else, so I usually gravitate towards Gunslinger, one of the new ones, dualwielding badass with headshots from a distance and has a blink which is omnidirectional and tacknife which lets you know where the enemies are, as well as Maverick the older class that has the jump jets and the hand blast and of course the Juggernaut. It feels good that we’re at a point now where there’s seven roles, fourteen characters, we announced the other two are coming soon, the Wraith and the Harrier, to round out a good set of nine, so we feel like we’re finally at that like Team Fortress 2 level of variety in the game.
So talking about character abilities, which is the coolest move in the game?
Let me think for a second.
Sort of the one that hasn’t been done in other games.
I still like Starfall, ‘cause it’s basically like you’re a meteor coming from above and you can get double kills with it if you aim right, and then it takes any area and turns it into zero g. Which is kinda, you know, the whole gravity manipulation, staying off the floor, jump jets, grappling hooks, that kind of stuff, that’s really the core of what the game is, working up from there to the characters and then abilities. I’m also actually really surprised and happy with how the ultimate for the battle medic turned out ‘cause it’s kinda like the Halo bubble shield where you hit it and it creates a huge shield that the enemies can’t shoot into, but at the same time pushes all the enemies out of the shield and then gets them a bit of a heal buff to your teammates inside. So if someone’s trying to grab the objective and your teammates are defending it, you pop that, juice up your teammates, your enemies can’t just shoot in, they have to come in and penetrate. It’s almost like we’ve been watching the show Vikings where they do the shield wall. It kind of has that vibe to it, so it’s like defense that actually feels kind of exciting, which I don’t see in a lot of games.
So have you considered bringing it to console? Is that on the table at all?
I mean, it’s the elephant in the room. And so it’s one of those things. There are a lot of talks going on right now and we’ve looked into a little bit of it. I think the controls would be the biggest challenge, because if you’ve played it lately, it’s fast as hell and very twitchy. If we were to do a console version, it would be like a completely separate branch with a separate build, so we could modify say maybe the rockets home a little bit or maybe there’s all the games that have that aim assist. I don’t wanna do crossplay, I think crossplay’s stupid.
Sure. Okay. So monetization model, is that already out there, or…?
No. So we haven’t announced a price point. I can say we’re not going to do $60 being one. We’ll probably have some sort of option where if you wanna hemorrhage money but you get an awesome package, you can do that. At the base price estimating 40, maybe 20-40 bucks, right? And then also inside the game possibly a soft currency, possibly some sort of crates where you get the cosmetics of that base skin and what’s the ultimate skin, highlighting the character, the weapon. Tiny little side note that no one seems to know is in the game, if you press “I” you inspect your weapon. So it does an animation where the character holds up the weapon, kind of “oh,” looks at it, which is kind of a nice way like if you, I spent a little bit of money to some of that soft currency or played the game, you can really study and kind of show off what you’ve earned with it. So all that stuff is in the pipe right now. We wanna make sure the players feel like they get a good value and that they’re also playing the game too and getting points and then putting it back in the ecosystem.
So what game modes are going to be available?
So right now we a turf war, which is kind of my speed version of a domination mode, where it’s fast fast fast as opposed to watching things grow over the course of fifteen minutes, which bores the crap out of me. We have our battery capture home mode, which is kind of like a one-flag CTF. And then we haven’t announced the other ones. There’s one of my favorite fun ones and we’re gonna be announcing it in the coming months. It’s slightly sport-like, I’ll leave it at that.
And then there’s a couple other we’re noodling on. We’re still debating how many you need at launch. We’re estimating maybe three-ish, four-ish, we’re not sure yet. We find with game modes that after like three or four, it’s an exponential fall-off for player counts and then at that point you’re just fracturing your player base so matchmaking gets harder. I think sometimes at launch less is more, but the thing I’m excited about is after launch is having this separate bucket of like a test kitchen where we have like wacky game modes. Maybe we do like it’s all assassins versus titans. And that’s on the server. A lot of games do that now, but you learn things from that kind of stuff and then you can acquire back to the main game. The other challenge we’re gonna have on launch is whether or not we allow stacking. Like what happens if an entire team selects all the tanks and juggernauts?
Can you counter that? Or do we have to fall back to the whole mode of “only one person can be a juggernaut?” which I’m not a big fan of. I know why games do it, but it just feels like, ah! So I really wanna work through so we can allow stacking, but then if they stack, we’ll stack a class that knows how to defeat that character.
Yeah, they tried that with Overwatch, and then they had to dial it back.
Yeah, it’s, I mean, it’s iterative, man. I still think they’re trying to balance Bastion.
Yeah, good luck with that. Back to the fractured player base thing, is there gonna be season pass, DLC, or anything like that? Or is it just all gonna…
All DLC will be for free.
So I don’t wanna fracture the player base, I don’t wanna nickel and dime people. That’s the beauty of being in this new world order, it’s like, I dunno, we’re not gonna have like the “go to Walmart, preorder to get the purple gun, go to Target,” ‘cause everybody really hates that and that’s not us. We’re still working and iterating through all of that basically.
So when is it gonna be available for everybody?
When it’s warm.
When it’s warm. All right. (laughs)
Well it’s funny because originally we were targeting early access.
And then we found out that the game didn’t look like… You know when Ark first came out it looked bad? It was obviously early access. And then, so we look, you know… considering we’re very very early access, we look good. But too good. And now we had to get to the point where we’re gonna double down and have a bigger game, so we had to settle for great.
So my problem with what we did with the alpha… To be frank, the alpha had a lot going for it, but we got, we learned a ton from player visibility, player feedback, putting health bars over enemies’ heads, audio tells, dialogue, new characters, new arenas, things like that. So it’s getting to the point where we have the full set of player classes so that it really feels like a real game. The other thing is our maps that we’ve shipped like Grandview, one of, the first maps that was built. When Grandview would come up in the play test lab a few months ago, I’m like, “Are you f—— kidding me? It’s Grandview again?” ‘Cause that map, at the beginning of our team working, looked okay at the time, but then compared to the later maps, which are really starting to hit their stride with their [9:39 artist mastery UI forced lighting,] I had to put in a couple cycles working with the art director to go back and make sure Grandview got more love. So that like you could have a little bit of like looking at the, coming into a room and being like, “Oh! This person was tending to the rock garden and they dropped their rake and ran when the combat started breaking out!” like and it kinda has some storytelling as well as making it just look better. So now that map’s really starting to look good and I feel like our overall set of them are really starting to shine.
So other than LawBreakers, what upcoming game are you looking forward to?
It feels like everybody’s wad, for lack of a better term, is blown right now. It’s weird. Like, that’s the thing about being here, it’s like there are some games here, but I’m like… There’s the zombie game I can’t remember the name right now, where the zombie are spilling forth kind of like the Brad Pitt slash adaptation of the book World War Z. Yeah, I believe it was World War Z, which is a terrible adaptation of a fantastic book. But like the zombies just river, I can’t remember what it was called, it was like third person and they’re like fighting them off.
That one looked really cool. But honestly I just wanna get home and get back to Horizon Zero Dawn, I wanna play Zelda, I think I wanna check out some of the DLC from Resident Evil 7.
My wife and I got together because we have a love of games, but having worked in the industry, I’m starting to become the plumber with leaky pipes at home, and everything was boring the s— out of me, because, you know, all these things that are padding for gameplay. So like when Resident Evil 7 came out and they did, not to act like I’m the coolest dude in the world, but it’s basically what I told them to do, is go back to your roots, I didn’t tell them to do first person, but it was awesome, and like go back to the suspense and the horror and what makes resident evil great instead of all the crazy over the top action and they did it and it’s such a tremendously great game. And then also get digging into Zelda and I’m still gonna be kicking around in Overwatch.
I like Pharah, my wife mains Mercy, and when we combine together we’re a pretty good pair of awesome.
What’s your favorite game of all time?
I always say the human brain is a computer and that code needs to compile, either through sleep or through hobby, and so when I play Tetris my brain in the back sorts through all the issues of my day. It could be the year 3000 and that game would still be fun.
What do you think about VR?
How long do you got?
Okay. I love VR, I’m a big fan. It still has major issues. It amazes me how every stakeholder in VR still has too many friction points for the average person. PlayStation VR is really good, but there’s still, it’s a peripheral, which means you’re already limiting your install base. Getting it set up is still clunky. It’s like, getting the cameras positioned and everything, it’s like, I go back to when this stuff still hit mainstream in the world, I mean, and I’m old enough to remember having a VCR. And everyone’s parents plugged that thing in, hooked it up to the TV, and then the clock was never set. And that’s my metaphor for all this. It’s like, you damn near need a, and I love the Vive, but you damn near need an IT person in your house to set it up. Oculus is still a little clunky too and even like my Oculus will have been working fine for weeks and it will make me go through the entire set up routine again and I’m like, “What is going on here?”
The other problem with VR is, the second problem with VR is the time until you entertain somebody. You can convince somebody to strap this thing on their f—— face, which mind you is a commitment and it requires a certain amount of trust, you better entertain them within fifteen seconds tops. If they’re not entertained, they’re gonna not wanna do it. The other thing is VR experiences that don’t follow the good rules of VR, that make people sick. There’s some great things on Sony’s VR, but to be honest, Rigs made me pretty nauseous. And I can do the DK2 roller coaster. And it’s like a lot of people are riding the VR hype train just to get attention for their stuff at the cost of getting people sick and turning them off to VR. The other problem is scary games in VR. All the kids want to do their Twitch streams and YouTube just wanna get a reaction like the Pewdiepie and Slenderman, they play all these jump scare stupid games, and your average person, if you wanna yank that headset off, you’ve failed at your VR experience. Like a good horror experience would be just like that first scare in Resident Evil 7, where the father of the family just walks past. No scare, nothing, just super subtle. That’s the way to do it, right? Like the scene in Signs where they see the birthday party.
Way more effective than “Boo!” Cause that’s not a scare, that’s a startle. The other problem with VR is price. Right now, VR’s the thing your rich friend has when you go over to watch the game and you look at it and you’re like “okay.” The other problem with VR is that of the budgets. A lot of the shareholders aren’t having decent-sized budgets, so you’re getting a lot of games that aren’t really games, they’re tech demos, and it just keeps going on and on and on. So there’s all these factors affecting it, but luckily the powers that be all realize they wanna move headsets and get this to people’s hands, cause when VR works, it’s really magical.
Like I played Eagle Flight one night with my wife in the kitchen. We both wrapped up dinner and she’s like, “I’ll handle the rest of this, you just go check out the Eagle Flight game you wanna play,” and I’m like, “Thanks hon.” So I go over and I start playing it and she hears me going (laughs) (laughs) like a kid. And I’m like, “Honey, you have to come see this?” and she’s like “What’s the big deal?” And I put the headset on her and she’s like “Why’s it wet?” and I’m like “Cause I was f—— crying.” ‘Cause I’ve had that dream since I was six years old of flight and that game came the closest it’s ever came and showing people Henry. That’s like my gateway for VR is like I sit ‘em down, we have a whole VR room ‘cause we had a dining room we never used so I was like f— that so it’s just for VR. Sit people down, their first experience VR, put the headset on, and just they’re there in the room with Henry, sitting on the floor, very solo experience, and then like once the balloons show up and everything it’s magical. Then you get that VR face. So I love it and I speak ill of VR because I love it so much and I want it to happen. Ever since 1992, I read an article in Rolling Stone about VR and then we got Dactyl Nightmare, so. Come on guys, get your s— together. Pack it up, put it in the s— museum, get it all together.
(laughs) All right. So we saw the rise of MOBAs and survival games, what do you think the next big break-out genre is gonna be for games?
I think everyone’s gonna be chasing Overwatch.
It’s like, “Oh, it’s time for my interview sessions. I’m tired of being asked about Gears 4 and Overwatch.” The thing was they were working on that game for a while, we knew they had something in the queue, but we were already working on LawBreakers, you knew what it was gonna be. A 5v5 or 6v6 character-based shooter makes a lot of sense these days. So I think it’s gonna, you know… Could be a bloodbath out there. But you know what, there’s room for Call of duty and Battlefield. There’s room for Tekken and Street Fighter. I hope there’s room for us.