Killzone: Shadow Fall developer talks Playstation 4

By Chris Schulz

The director behind the PlayStation 4's flagship title tells Chris Schulz what it takes to make a game for the new console

Steven ter Heide has a nice way of describing the difference between the ageing Playstation 3 console and the shiny new Playstation 4: "Previously, we've built rollercoasters. Now, we've built Disneyland."

He should know. The head developer behind Killzone: Shadow Fall has worked on several Playstation 3 games, including previous instalments of the popular first-person shooter that involves ridding the world of those red-eyed Helghast enemies.

But everything about Killzone's fourth instalment is bigger and better than ever. As ter Heide describes it, "it's leaps and bounds over what we've done before," and he promises Shadow Fall will showcase exactly what the Playstation 4 is capable of.

"The first thing people will notice are the visuals. It's higher resolution. There are a lot more effects. There's a richer picture. A lot of the changes are to do with the feel of the game, the atmosphere, and to pull that off you need a lot of different things working together and nothing to pull you out of the experience.

"What [the PS4] allows you to do is add heaps more polish. Launch titles often get a free pass [but Killzone] is there to show what the next generation is capable of," he says.

It's also a bigger gaming experience. At more than 10 hours, Shadow Fall comes with the longest campaign yet for a Killzone game, and it ships with 10 multiplayer maps. Upgrades, free downloadable content and more maps are promised in the future.

Making something that big comes with a cost. A development team of 150 people worked on it non-stop for three years at Guerrilla Games' Amsterdam studio, as well as two smaller satellite studios and "a whole load of outsourcing".

As a tired-sounding ter Heide says: "At some points I felt like we bit off a little bit more than we could chew ... It was tough but it certainly wasn't as tough as some of the previous titles I've worked on.

"It's scary and exciting and relief and happiness all at the same time."

With the delay of the social networking racing game Driveclub, Shadow Fall has - alongside the family friendly shenanigans of Knack - become the flagship title for the Playstation 4 when it launches on November 29.

But it wasn't always destined to be that way.

"I don't think that realisation kicked in [until recently]," Ter Heide laughs. "We were really focused on creating the best thing we could. When we made the decision to go with PS4, we said, 'It needs to be a big title, it needs to be a step above what we've done before, not just in terms of campaign length but how the game feels'."

So far, it must be feeling pretty good. Feedback has been positive, with a CVG preview calling it "crisp, beautiful and uncharacteristically artsy". And at the recent Armageddon expo in Auckland, Killzone proved a popular drawcard, with a whole room dedicated to a multiplayer experience that had fans cheering as they played.

When TimeOut managed to grab a controller, an overly enthusiastic PS4 instructor took particular delight in taking out his opposition, marking his kills with yelps of, "Come get some". From what we could see between death sequences, the graphics were impressive, motion capture was fluid and the entire map - from control towers to giant rocks - could be used as cover from enemies.

But unlike fellow FPSs such as Call of Duty and Battlefield, Killzone comes with an engaging story mode that's not just there to promote multiplayer options. This time, it takes a step 30 years into the future as gamers take on the role of Lucas Kellan, a Shadow Marshall agent in charge of defending humans against their Helghast enemies.

Without giving too much away, Kellan's main foe is the female Helghast soldier Echo. Ter Heide says gamers should expect a more inclusive, mature story than previous Killzone releases.

"I think what we're going for is a much more thoughtful story where we touch on themes that are a little bit more mature. It's not all out action - I think we've toned down the over-the-top gratuitous violence."

The main difference over previous releases is that gamers will never see the main character's face. This, says ter Heide, makes the game more immersive.

"We wanted to create a more personal story where you drive the story, you drive the actions, rather than all of a sudden the camera pulls back and the character does something that doesn't feel like you.

"That meant we had to look at the story itself. We can't cut away to the evil castle where the evil emperor is planning his big scheme, we had to get the player in that situation so they could witness that."

There are also nice touches that use the PS4's new Dualshock controller. The health status bar is on the new light panel on the front of the controller, and turns from blue to red as gamers get attacked. There's a swipe bar that has to be used to complete tasks. And the controller's vibrations can alternate between the left and right sides, depending on what's happening on screen.

Getting the new controls right was the biggest task developers faced, ter Heide says.

"The controls need to feel like a natural extension of yourself. I'm really pleased with how that turned out. From the second you pick it up it feels very natural, very intuitive, and that's a big win with this generation.

"The first time I got the finished controller, it was like, 'Woah'."

What: PlayStation 4's flagship launch title, Killzone: Shadow Fall
When: From November 29
For fans of: First-person shooters such as Call of Duty, Halo and Battlefield.

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