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PSU Interview: Free Radical

30 September 2006

Recently I had the chance to interview Free Radical's Rob Yescombe, screenwriter for next gen title HAZE for Xbox 360, PC, and PS3. If you haven't heard of Free Radical Designs they are the studio behind awesome titles like Timesplitters and Second Sight.

So on with the interview:

About the Game

PSU: How does title "HAZE" play into the game?

Rob: Well, to be too specific would spoil a few things. But in broad strokes, a ‘haze’ implies something unclear – something obscured. In the heat of battle, it can be hard for a soldier to think clearly. Haze is also a military slang word, associated with initiation tests and ‘Code Reds’. That said, those definitions don’t necessarily imply the content of the game… We’re enjoying being very non-specific at the moment.

PSU: First person shooters are becoming more common on consoles, and are already in abundance on PC - what's different about Haze?

Rob: It’s early days, so in fact, at the moment we’re keen to show off all the FPS aspects that gamers are familiar with – and to show how we’ve improved them. Things like AI and level design are key to a top quality FPS, but so many games don’t give them the care and attention they need. Beyond that, you can look forward to all the physical and mental benefits that Nectar provides for Mantel’s private army... Vague enough for you?

PSU: What can you tell us about Jake Carpenter?

Rob: Jake is a young guy, a college graduate. He’s recent transfer from a conflict in Seoul, so he’s well versed in combat but he’s new to the South American war zone where this game is set. He’s pretty much the standard Mantel Trooper – a well-paid tough guy, obeying orders with a smile on his face.

PSU: Does Jake follow a fixed storyline, or is there scope to his mission?

Rob: The game is a visceral war story, told over a continuous three-day period. The plot is linear, but there will be some flexibility in how you tackle the objectives. It’s choc-a-block full of rich characters and some really dazzling set-pieces, but it’s not all explosions and gunfire – we think tat downtime is just as important in a dramatic experience. You’re definitely going to feel something for your comrades. Really, war isn’t horrifying because of the blood – it’s horrifying because of who’s bleeding. If you care about the people who die, your gaming experience will be richer. It will mean something.

PSU: The game takes place in South America I've read, what kinda terrain should we expect to see?

Rob: Well, rest assured, HAZE isn’t just a jungle shooter – you’ll be travelling from sea level through a huge range of environments up to the top of a mountain and beyond. I’m not allowed to tell you specifics yet, but you’ll know from TimeSplitters that we’re obsessed with providing plenty of variety in locations. You won’t be going to Egypt or a Space Port, but you sure as hell aren’t going to get bored.

PSU: Why is Jake fighting The Promise Hand, and who are they?

Rob: Well, The Promise Hand is a faction of guerrillas who have overthrown the government in the Boa region of South America. They’re lead by a vicious warlord and would-be dictator known as ‘Skin Coat’. Skin Coat earned his nickname by flaying the skins of POWs and fashioning the pieces into crude leather, from which he makes his clothes. He is an extremely dangerous man, and his soldiers are terrifyingly dedicated.

PSU: To what extent will destructible environments go in HAZE?

Rob: There will be many destructible elements throughout the game. Furthermore, we’re really focussing on a life-like appearance to the environment overall – the lighting, the textures, the sounds. When you step out of the Mantel dropship, it’s going to look like the real world.

PSU: What multiplayer modes should we expect to see in HAZE?

Rob: You’ll be able to play the main narrative campaign in four-player co-op, split-screen or online. And, what’s more, the multiplayer maps are going to blow everyone away – they’re objective based, missions that will support two full teams going head-to-head, each with their own specific aims and goals.

PSU: Free Radical has been known to add a Map Maker to their FPS games (Timesplitters), will there be one for HAZE?

Rob: We’d love to, but there’s really isn’t the time. We’re throwing ourselves into making an incredibly focussed single-player experience, with top end co-op and multiplayer maps. We want those elements to be perfect, so we need to spend as much time on them as possible.

PSU: What weapons/vehicles/items will you be able to utilize in HAZE?

Rob: I can’t go into detail yet, because I’ll be spanked – in the bad way – but the weapon and vehicle set is based on real-world stuff with a near-future twist. But the really exciting thing about combat in HAZE is the difference in fighting styles between Mantel, who are highly trained military badasses; and The Promise Hand, who really know how to use the terrain and their own ferocity to their advantage.

PSU: What is your favorite weapon as of now?

Rob: Personally, I have a bit of a pistol fetish. It’s got a real snap, so you blink when you fire it. That’s our rule of thumb: if it makes you flinch, it makes it into the game.

About Development

PSU: How many years has HAZE been in the works?

Rob: The engine has been in development for about two years, and the game concept itself has been in the works for about eleven months. Really, HAZE is the accumulation of all the great ideas we haven’t had time to put into other games in the past.

PSU: I've read that Free Radical has built the game engine from the ground up, what new technologies should we see in this new engine?

Rob: Oh, you can be sure to get a plethora of next-gen excellence. HDR, Normal mapping, Depth of Field… The list goes on, but the important thing is this: HAZE will be one of the most visually spectacular games of 2007.

PSU: Any differences between the 3 versions (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)?

Rob: The three versions are planned as the same right now. That said, we are looking into extra content to see what’s going to be feasible.

PSU: Are you using the Blu-ray technology of the PS3 to add additional game material?

Rob: Nope.

PSU: Any difficulties in developing for the PS3 due to new Cell structure?

Rob: We certainly haven’t encountered anything particularly difficult about it so far. It’s a powerful tool, and we’re using it to do some pretty amazing stuff.

PSU: What is the best thing about next gen consoles, more specifically the PS3, that enables great game development?

Rob: Next-gen technology has really opened up the possibility of creating environments that look, feel and behave in a realistic way. Just being able to do post-processing, something that movies have been doing for years, has been making our artists robot dance with glee.

PSU: How would you describe the power of the Cell and RSX?

Rob: There’s a huge amount of potential there, but it’s going to take time to really blossom. Certainly in the next few years, we’re going to see some very special things coming out of it.

PSU: Will HAZE be utilizing the tilt sensors of the PS3 controller?

Rob: We’re looking into it. It’s a possibility.

PSU: Will HAZE be shipped to play in 1080p?

Rob: We’re testing things now. Hopefully, yes.

PSU: What will be the framerate at which HAZE plays in?

Rob: Again, we’re still testing. But you can rest assured that it’ll be the best it can possibly be.

PSU: Is there an official ship date set for HAZE?

Rob: 2007.

PSU: If you would like to add anything else about HAZE that would be great. For example: multiplayer features, how the PS3 and Xbox will run multiplayer, etc.

Rob: Actually, one of the cool features we’re implementing is that all the multiplayer maps and objectives are tied into the single player campaign – events that occur in the main narrative will cause incidents in the multiplayer and vice-versa. If you want the whole experience of the story, you’re going to want to play all the multiplayer levels too. It’s going to be cooler than Walt Disney’s urine.


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