Interviews// Starhawk: Havard Bovin, Senior Producer

Posted 13 May 2011 17:14 by
The announcement of Starhawk is quite a surprising one. No doubt Sony has always been keen to create a follow-up to its wildly successful multiplayer-only predecessor, Warhawk, but the grand departure from the usual modern-day military setting is one that fans were likely not expecting.

Even more curious is the brand new story-driven premise and the introduction of dynamic building mechanics. I had a go at just how these new elements impacted the traditional third-person shooter gameplay - which you can read all about here.

After some strategy-blasting fun, I sat down with Havard Bovin, Senior Producer at Sony Computer Entertainment America’s Santa Monica studio, which has been helping startup Lightbox realise its Starhawk dream.

SPOnG: Starhawk looks very much like a space opera epic. Do you see this challenging the Mass Effects of this world?

Havard Bovin: Oh, I don’t know. I think at this point, we’re just trying to make a really good game. It seems to me that from a publisher’s perspective, you never know a game’s huge until you’re done and you’ve released it. Having said that, I don’t think we’re in the business of making niche titles. We do God of War, for example.

But I really want to see this thing take off. The shooter genre could use a little refresher - it’s the most popular genre on the face of the Earth, and it seems that almost everybody is just happy with changing the story and keeping the same mechanics.

Of course, we wanted to create a new universe too, but also fundamentally change the way people were playing our game. Maybe that could change the way we play other games as well - I think we’ve found something pretty unique here. Something innovative. The problem with thinking of something innovative is that, because it’s a new concept, you have to get people to relearn a lot of things about the genre.

What we’ve tried to do here is change the third-person shooter just enough to make it feel fresh and new, but really retain a lot of the conventions that players expect. So the control layout is very much the same as a lot of shooters out there. And in terms of accessibility, we learned a lot from Warhawk to make it that much easier to jump into.

SPOnG: What sort of things did you learn from Warhawk?

Havard Bovin: Well, Warhawk was released pretty early on in the life cycle of the PlayStation 3, and in a lot of ways it could be compared to a hard candy. It’s hard to get into on the outside, but once you break through it’s really satisfying and you have a lot of fun. We didn’t want people to really experience those barriers of entry that you were seeing in Warhawk.

That’s not to say we’re dumbing down the game. I don’t think accessibility has to be about that at all. The shooter genre has the hardest of hardcore players out there. And the guys who know how to play shooters, they’ll pick up Starhawk just like that - even with the building and construction stuff. But the ease of putting structures down and keeping the controls simple… I think that helps everyone.

We really don’t care if your mum plays our game. This is not a game for your mum. This is a game for you, as a player. This is for gamers. I mean, I sometimes play Facebook games and some of them are great, but they are for a different audience. If you like to kill stuff, build stuff and get that adrenaline rush, this is for you.

SPOnG: You’re gunning for a whole new universe With Starhawk. Do you guys consider it a brand new game or a sequel of sorts? What’s its specific relation to Warhawk and do those two connect with each other at all?

Havard Bovin: That’s a good question. The reason we wanted to create a new universe was mostly to do with us wanting to be creative. Warhawk was fine, but I think we looked at it and thought, ‘you know, is this the place where we want to build a large-scale universe?’ We knew we wanted to do a space game because we’re all space nerds, and we ended up coming up with Starhawk after months of working together.

From a creative standpoint, we wanted to approach it like a lawless frontier, but when we say Warhawk and Starhawk there’s obviously a connection because of the ‘hawk’ in the name. We like to put that connection down more to a recipe of gameplay - there is no unit in our game called a Starhawk, for example. You see that sort of connection with a lot of games.

I think when we had Warhawk there was such an emphasis on getting the Warhawk and engaging in air combat. We didn’t want to have that here, to have the focus on one particular kind of battle. We wanted the flying, we want the exciting exhilaration and we wanted to give it a much more balanced approach on the ground driving. And I think we’ve achieved that so far. We’ve got a lot of balancing left to do.
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