Researching guns, game developers came to U.S.

Killzone weapons have `heavy' feel
Game competes against Halo 2

December 11, 2004
Toronto Star
By Neil Davidson, Canadian Press

Making a video game in the Netherlands is fine, except when it comes to the gun laws.

The Dutch are very much anti-gun. Which makes things awkward when you are creating a futuristic first-person shooter that features 27 weapons.

So in developing Killzone, rated M for mature for PlayStation 2, the guys from Amsterdam-based Guerrilla Games came to the U.S. when it came time to test weapons.

"Every time we have been ... to America, a gun club has been sought out," said Alistair Burns, Guerrilla's product manager for Killzone. "The lead visual designer, a (Dutch) guy named Roy Postma who's a confirmed gun freak, he spends a lot of time in Las Vegas shooting Tommy guns and M-16s. Whatever he can get his hands on, basically."

The research worked out nicely. Weapons in Killzone have a chunky feel that seems right.

"I was in Leipzig not too long back and someone turned around and said, `Your weapons are really heavy,'" Burns said proudly from Amsterdam. "And I thought thanks, because that's the way we wanted it to feel."

"We want people, whenever they pick up a gun in Killzone, (to) actually regard it as a gun and not just a plastic toy that they have in their hands," he added. "And that's one reason as well why we stuck very much to bullets and explosives as opposed to ... laser guns or green blobs of plasma or something along those lines.

"Bullets are simply tangible, you can get your head around them an awful lot quicker."

Killzone is set in the future during a period of planetary colonization when a militaristic separatist faction called the Helghast is looking to take over. You play one of four characters in the ISA Command, the alliance loyal to Earth that the Helghast are looking to eliminate.

The game has a gritty feel to it, right from the opening sequences when you battle the invading Helghast among burned-out buildings on the colony of Vekta. Steam comes out of vents, smoke billows and twisted metal is strewn in the streets.

The audio is also excellent, apart from the occasional idiotic line from a fellow soldier. Boots pound on metal, bullets ring through the air or hit targets with a resounding thud.

Burns sees creating that kind of realistic world as essential to capturing the gamer.

Otherwise, "why am I really running from point A to point B?" he asked. "If you believe it, you're going to do it without question. ... The environment is incredibly important to Killzone. It's the first thing the player sees, it's the first thing he believes. He really understands he's right slap bang in the centre of the war and that all hell is breaking loose around him."

Game developers consulted industrial designers and architects to help create that world. When designing a space dock, they looked at submarine docks and "twisted around" that reality to fit in the game.

That warped perception is a theme throughout the game.

The dark foreboding Helghast, with their glowing goggles and helmets fitted with alien tubes, are actually based on the reality of the Second World War, says Burns.

"We drew inspiration from (filmmaker) Leni Riefenstahl, the various rallies that Adolf Hitler gave, from the types of uniform that were created both for Russians and Germans, but also for First World War British troops as well. Everything is grounded in reality. We've just taken certain elements and twisted them around."

The game arrives with great expectations.

Industry media hyped Killzone as a rival to Halo 2, made by Bungie Studios in Redmond, Wash.

Burns, a 31-year-old Scottish native who now lives in Holland, says Guerrilla and Bungie developers played each other's game at E3, the influential trade show earlier this year in Los Angeles.

"Quite happily and disarmingly," Burns said, "we agreed that we liked each other's games."