EXCLUSIVE Interview: Haze Creators


Posted August 15, 2007 - By Stephen Johnson

Halo 3
isn’t the only big shooter coming out this season. TheFeed is very excited about Haze as well, especially after talking to the game's screenwriter, Rob Yescombe and the project lead Derek Littlewood of Free Radical, the PS3 and 360 game’s designers.

Rob and Derek  wanted to get the word out about some of the interesting play mechanics in their game, and we’re happy to oblige… so click the cut to learn what’s so damn awesome about Haze, how it relates to rock, paper and scissors, which console you’ll want to play it on and how it all relates to the Atari Lynx.

As we saw at E3, Haze's combat system pits the Troopers against The Rebels. Each faction has a unique set of weapons and abilities that counter the other sides...like a deadly game of rock, paper and scissors.

Where the Trooper's rely on Nectar, a performance enhancing drug that they self-inject, many of the Rebels' abilities rely on exloiting Nectar's propensity to cause overdoses that throws a Trooper into a murderous rage where he is unable to tell friend from foe...but I'll let the insiders give you the details.

TheFeed: So tell me about Haze.

Rob Yescombe: In a way, we've been lucky because there's been a lot of attention given to the narrative of Haze, but ironically that's overshadowed some of the really cool gameplay stuff that we were trying to show at E3. We wanted to talk with you guys in detail about the combat system which is pretty unique.

TF: So what is it about the combat system in Haze that makes it so different?

Derek Littlewood: The central thing...it's not so much the gameplay system, it's the abilities that we've factored into the game on the two different sides...one of the things that might not have been clear from E3 was that we designed the game initially from a multiplayer perspective, not from a campaign perspective.

The thing we did was think, okay look, we've got these two sides and what would be interesting and what would be interesting about having two different sides in multiplayer and one of the things we thought would be interesting would be having two very different styles of combat. This idea of assymetric combat between the two sides and taking a very different approach with the way they fight...choosing a side wasn't just about choosing avatars that you like the look of, it was about choosing one that suits your own particular play-style...do I want to be full-on gung ho Trooper, dosing with nectar and charging at the enemy...or do I want to be more cunning stealthy Rebel who uses smart tactics to overcome the enemy rather than direct force?

That was the thing we really wanted to do with the multiplayer and that very much factored into our design of what the two sides could do.  The thing we tried to do was make it not just, you know, both sides just have a load of random disparate abilities but the abilities interlock, they actually overlap and each side has its own abilities but then they have exploits for the abilities the other side has and vice versa...

RY: Maybe the simplest way to put that is if you think about a game like Rock-Paper-Scissors, you know what I mean?

DL: It was just important to us that there was a balance from the design side before we got into implementing it, so that was where these abilities came from.

I think the key part of Rebel gameplay is exploiting the soldiers' use of nectar...the Rebels in fighting against the Troopers develop various approaches to exploit the soldiers' use of nectar...so Troopers, when they're using nectar, when you're playing as a Trooper you can administer the nectar to yourself by holding down a burn and dosing yourself up with it but if you administer yourself with too much nectar you're going to overdose where basically you lose the ability to tell friend from foe and you're basically running around shooting all of your squadmates. The Rebels have developed abilities to push the Troopers into this state...the most basic one is that Rebels can sneak up behind Troopers and hit them in their nectar-administrator pack that's located on a troooper's back and they can actually smash that and push the Trooper into an overdose state.

Another thing they can do is make knives covered in...I mean, Rebels have knives as a normal weapon and they can actually alter these so they  get slathered in nectar and if they manage to hit them with one of these knives it, again, pushes them into an overdose state. You can also throw the knives as well. The knives are kind of like a range nectar-overdose weapon.

The final thing they can do is if they find a body of a Trooper and they have a grenade spare what they can do is tear the nectar pack off the belly of the Trooper, snap it onto the grenade and throw the grenade back at the Troopers and that creates a nectar cloud and that's what we call a nectar grenade.  What the nectar cloud does is create these range-based effects that any Troopers in that area will be pushed into this nectar-overdose state.

RY: It's a big yellow cloud of gas, I'm sure we're all familiar with that.
DL: Yeah, it's a big yellow cloud of gas.  It has some quite interesting side effects as well that we've found, so it's quite a useful evasion weapon in multiplayer because if a Trooper's following you down quite a narrow alley, if you lob a nectar grenade down behind you basically it fills the alley and the Trooper can't get past because the Trooper knows if he runs into that cloud he'll go into overdose...so it kind of acts a bit like a smoke grenade that has a slightly more offensive element to it...which is quite a useful minor detail in mulitiplayer.

TF: So when players are in overdose mode they're not in control of their character at all, right?

They have a sort of partial control so what you end up doing is struggling to not kill your teammates or anyone else around you, in effect.

Wow, that sounds really interesting.

Yeah, its pretty cool...it's nothing that anyone's really experimented with before.

It's interesting because when you're in overdose state you are a complete killing machine because it's very easy to lock on to enemies and it's very easy to shoot at them...you will automatically shoot when your reticle is over what you perceive is an enemy...problem being that what you perceive is an enemy could be an enemy of a friend.  That's what you lose, the ability to tell the difference between the two.

How easy or hard is it to maintain the level of nectar that you would like?

Basically, it's up to the player, it's not just a single button press that gives you a dose of nectar. What you do is you hold the button down for a certain period of time and that fills up a bar...and basically, if you go over the top of that bar then you overdose but if you fill up close to the top of it you get the maximum time in the nectar-boost state that you possibly can but obviously the higher up that bar you are the more susceptible you are to being overdosed by the Rebels. 

So if you want to play it cautious and just give yourself a little bit of nectar then you're less vulnerable to being overdosed but at the same time if you do that you don't get very many of the benefits because you're not in the nectar boost state for a very long time.  Basically the Rebels can use the nectars against the Troopers...it's a tactical decision of the Trooper whether you're going to use nectar heavily or if you're going to be a bit more cautious with it because you're scared of the overdose. Maybe an interesting way to put it is that, you've got the nectar bar that goes from 0 to 100, let's say, your optimum state might be around 90% but of course that means you're only 10% away from overdose.  So it's easier for a Rebel to force you into that state.

The other thing you can do as a Trooper is if you're using nectar and you manage to kill a Rebel that gives you a little nectar boost as well so what you can do is if you dose up with nectar and you're continuously killing you actually get this nectar chain effect where you just continue getting boosted up with nectar because you're keeping on killing.  So there's a bit of kind of a time-based dynamic in there you know, keep your nectar dose nice and high but obviously all the time you're high on nectar you're risking the overdose.

One of the other cool Rebel abilities is the weapon-steal maneuver...basically the Troopers, relatively compared to Rebels, they're quite heavy and cumbersome and very powerful at short range but Rebels, if they're cunning about it and can get the drop on the Trooper they can leap in at close range and disarm the Trooper and turn their own gun back on them.  It's a very cool ability to use in multiplayer, it's very entertaining to use against your mates, that one.

Then there's the play-dead maneuver.  One of the things about Troopers use of nectar is that it sanitizes their perception of the world around them.  If a Trooper is fighting and he kills an enemy, that enemy falls over, that enemy will fade away very quickly because the Trooper has a very kind of videogame sanitized perception of the world.  Now, Rebels can actually exploit this by pretending to be dead and jumping to their feet when the Trooper has turned away.  So what happens is if you're fighting away there and a Trooper is shooting at you when you get down to a certain health level you get a short window in which to play dead and if you hit the button in that window then you fall to your back and lie prone and from the Trooper's eyes you basically fade out of existence as if you were dead but then what happens is that you have the choice of when you jump to your feet -- there's a little minigame that determines how quickly you jump to your feet -- if you time that right and the Trooper's turned away you can jump to your feet and go attack him...again, in multiplayer against your friends, particularly, it's a really really entertaining thing to do because people will be running over shooting you going "Oh yeah,I killed you really easily that time you know that was really horror" and you're lying there thinking "Yeah, just give me a moment" and he turns around, you jump to your feet and you're in there with a headshot!

Other things the Rebels can do, they can scavenge ammo...so, if you have, say you've got a minigun, you know, you're running around with your Rebel minigun and you're loving using it and you run out of ammo, normally in an FPS you'd be looking for another minigun or you'd have to drop it and pick something else up...what you can do in Haze is if you find a pistol or a rifle or any basic weapon you can recalibrate the ammo in that to work with your minigun so you can keep on using the minigun for a longer period.  It's just all about giving the player that little bit more choice in the way they fight and the weapons the use to do that fighting.

The interesting thing about scavenge is that the weapon placement and ammo placement of the game is largely based on setting up so that the AI to handle a situation.  But by giving the player the scavenge ability it means that they can effectively choose what weapon they might want to have for the entire game.  So you can only really do that when you have a genuinely smart, adaptive AI that we do.


The last couple of abilities the Rebels can do...they also have the ability to lay mines or create mines, so...if you've got a grenade in your inventory you can, basically if you look down at the floor you hold down a button to lay a mine...the Rebel places that in the ground and covers it up so the Troopers can't see it and then if the Troopers run anywhere near that itacts like a proximity mine and explodes.   It's a very kind of like interesting way of setting up interesting tactical situations where you can lay traps for them and things.

I mean, in fact, it's interesting because if you combine, you know, laying mines with playing dead, let's say, you can set up some pretty smart ambushes.  So the skills aren't just about things that you can only do in one single given situation, it's adaptable toys that you can mess around with and create your own ideas with.

The final ability the Rebels have is that they have a dynamic dodge-and-dive maneuver so they can roll out of the way of incoming dangers very quickly.  So if you've got a grenade land by you or rockets coming in you can roll very quickly out of the way and get out of the way a bit.  It's just a simple little evade maneuver.

Which side is going to own the other side? 

(Laughter) We deliberately designed all the abilities [to] have some sort of equivalent or tradeoff against the other side...all the things we said about troop use and nectar...things like, troops have the ability [of] nectar foresight which gives them the ability to predict danger just before it occurs.  And things like nectar perception, which enables them to see enemies in the dark.  Both of the sides have certain sets of those and they trade off against one other.  

To be perfectly blunt, it's been a combination of carefully designing it and then an awful lot of playtesting and balancing.  It's interesting because having two sides that are completely assymetric sounds like it's just a recipe for everyone going "Why would I want to play as that one side because the other side always wins" but the way it's actually panned out when we actually play it is it does vary because the abilities do have a nice balance to them, between the two sides.

If I want the best experience of playing your game, do I play it on the 360 or the PS3?

(Laughter) Hello? The phone is breaking up...

That's absolutely not a question we can answer.

I understand, but will there be any differences between the two versions or are they going to be pretty much the same?

DL: We're not actually allowed, er...able to talk about the different versions at the moment --

RY: except the version on the Atari Lynx...

The Atari Lynx is the one to go with?

Yeah, the Atari Lynx all the way.

When does it come out for the PS3? Wikipedia says November 23rd.

You believe Wikipedia? (Laughter) It's currently scheduled in November. We can't say more than that.

It's set in Rio, yeah? Brazil?

RY: Well, it's set in a loosely, thinly-veiled, alternately-named region of South America called the Boa Region.

DL: And that is not Rio or Brazil...fictional South America...

I don't mean to be asking any controversial questions

No, no no...we're in enormous amounts of trouble, we've just become very wary...

Well, what can you tell me that will get you into even more trouble?

DL: Don't ask him that!

RY: Well you can just paste up all the previous things I've been in trouble for in one place...

DL: We're all slowly learning about the wrath of the internet...

I've been on the wrong side of the internet too.

Good man, good man.  You've been there, you've been on the front line, I feel your pain.

Is there anything else you want to tell me about Haze?

RY: Uh...blimey.  The main thing is getting those Rebel abilities across so people understand what we're going for.  It's not just a great looking game, it's not just a great narrative...we've got a pretty fucking cool combat system in there and we need people to know about it.

DL: We have is this situation where you have weapon use and moving and shooting when you're playing the game but then we have these whole sets of other abilities as well which really elevate the experience and gives the player so many more choices in the way they play the game.

In a way, it's kind of been a blessing and a curse because we've got so many features that any other game might pin their whole campaign on...you know, we've got 4-player co-op, we've had it right since the beginning, online co-op of course, hot-swap as well and we've got the multiplayer assault  maps, we've got 24 players supported online, we've got this narrative that's attracted actors from the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, and we've got one of the bestlooking games that I can think of on PS3 and we've got this combat system that we're trying to get across as well.

What we want to get across to people right now is, ok...you've heard all these other things about Haze, you've read lists of features, you seen shots of our great environments but what we want to say now, what we want to put across to people is what the experience of playing Haze is going to be like.

EXCLUSIVE Interview: Haze Creators


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