We’re back with another developer interview, people! This time, our host is David Sears, a true veteran of the industry who previously worked on both the SOCOM and Rainbow Six series. He is now creative director at SOF (Special Operation Forces) Studios, a new development studio working on H-Hour World’s Elite, a tactical, team-based military shooter being crowdfunded via Kickstarter (five days left as of today).
Without further ado, here’s the result of our chat.
First of all, welcome to Worlds Factory! Please, introduce yourself and your game to our readers.
I’m David Sears, the creative director of H-Hour: World’s Elite. Most recently I was creative director for Rainbow Six: Patriots but I’m probably better known for directing the first two SOCOM games. I’ve been making games professionally for over twenty-two years now. H-Hour is a tactical, military, team-based shooter developed in conjunction with Special Operations forces veterans. The core gameplay is very similar to that of the firt two SOCOM games with greatly expanded support for clans and community.
Let me start by saying that I’m a die-hard fan of tactical shooters, so I’m extremely glad to have this interview and generally to see the genre coming back to life. However, my favorite franchise in the genre has always been Rainbow Six, so after hearing that you worked as a Game Director on Patriots I can’t but ask you what happened there. I understand you might be under NDA contract, but can you shed even the tiniest bit of light?
You’re right. NDAs are forever. I can say that the vision for the project had support from the top levels of management and the community at large but despite being well planned, something can always happen to derail even a great project. I can’t say what that was, unfortunately.
Onto H-Hour. You mentioned that you intend to “push the PC to the limits of its rendering possibility” and that “the game will be visually stunning”. That’s a pretty strong statement – what kind of engine are you using with H-Hour to make this happen? Also, what do you think of Sony’s PS4 and do you believe you’ll be able to match PC graphics in the console release?
Yes, it’s a strong statement. But that’s really the easy part about making this game compared to getting the multiplayer aspects right. Our artists have been doing this a while and until now they’ve been frustrated by hardware limitations. We have less of that problem with next generation consoles, and the PC will continue to evolve after those consoles are released. I think we’ll have remarkable graphics on PS4 and the PC is scalable so if you want to spend more on a tricked out rig, you’ll see some improvements graphically there.
We can’t announce the engine we’re using just yet because we haven’t signed the contract for the license. Announcing early would put us at a disadvantage in negotiations. However, we’ve been working with it a while now and not only does it have a great renderer, but it’s generally easily customizable for our needs. And of course people are familiar with it, having seen multiple AAA titles ship with this engine.
You’ve already said that there will be no regenerating health in H-Hour, which is a relief in the current shooter roster. However, I’m wondering to which extent of realism are you willing to take gameplay – for example, let’s say that our player takes a bullet in one leg, will he be penalized in movement for the rest of the match? Also, is there any way to use patch oneself/others or be patched with bandages?
I’ll say “no” to that example. Our approach is that even after you take a couple of non-lethal wounds (and you can’t take very many) adrenaline keeps you going. We assume that after the round you visit a medic. Rather than slow things down with a limping character, we want to keep character responsiveness high throughout a match. Also, it’s fairly expensive to create the design, animations, and code for a good “limp” system, not to mention the tuning. We’d rather put that effort into more maps, modes, characters and so on. Plus the community has been very clear on the subject: they want a return to the style of core gameplay that was so addictive in the early SOCOMs so we’re going to stick to that.
You mentioned how the game is a hybrid third person/first person shooter. However, I must admit I’m not the biggest fan of such a solution it creates a conflict where third person users clearly have an advantage in terms of awareness – will you add a server option to limit the game to third person or first person only? Also, will the player’s weapon be displayed in first person? That’s very important for immersion.
Third person POV definitely gives you an edge in terms of situational awareness. However, the first person view, with its FOV shift is about precision and feeling closer to the enemy target. Both POVs have their strengths and liabilities. Having said that though, we’re giving players the option to choose to limit a game they create to first person or third person views if they want.
Another important aspect for tactical shooter gameplay is the inclusion of the prone position. Some games have it, others don’t – will we see it in H-Hour?
Prone was a big part of character navigation and player tactics in SOCOM and we’re supporting it for H-Hour. Crawling through brush, trash, tall grass—all while feeling concealed—is fun and a lot of players like to be able to do that. So, yes.
Many games, with the power of PC and next-generation hardware, are betting heavily on environment destruction. What kind of physics based interaction will be featured in H-Hour?
I’d say overall this will be used in moderation. There are some major, tactical destruction events that players can trigger but to make sure these always synch properly, we’ll focus on getting that right rather than trying to support lots of smaller physics/destruction events. You will not be able to tear down a building with machine guns or grenades—H-Hour is all about the “boots on the ground” experience, not urban renewal. Of course we’ll be supporting a lot of aesthetic damage such as chipping, scorching, pocking, cracking, and so in. Since these sorts of visuals are less an influence on tactics we can be generous with them.
I have checked but couldn’t find anything on player count. What kind of numbers are you targeting right now for the final release?
Right now we’re targeting 8 v 8 players online. The main reason for this is that we know how to create maps and game modes that will absolutely work with that number of players. We do not want to commit to adding more players without taking time to carefully investigate the effects that more players would have on the classic balance that was created in the early SOCOMs. But if the experiments reveal that we can enhance play through adding players without destroying what we’ve already built, we may do that. Ultimately it’s up to the community to tell us how they like it.
As a clan leader, I’m extremely happy to read that you intend to develop specific tools to help the community. I really feel that many recent shooters have dropped the ball on this. You mentioned being able to “issue and accept clan challenges” – does that work with a betting system, like in Killzone 2? Also, is there a working clan matchmaking system, where an entire clan can queue up and find another clan with ease?
You’ll be able to issue challenges to other clans, select the clan members to participate, have back-up team members standing by in case someone can’t make the match, and the option to invite a neutral third party (or two) to spectate and arbitrate (among other things). Clan leaders will be able to communicate with other clan leaders privately outside of matches and will be able to find one another easily. And of course there will be a clan ladder.
I’ve read that you intend to launch with six maps and add more via DLC. That certainly seems a good approach given the nature of the project, but – at least for PC – more and more games are supporting modding tools, which majorly extend the longevity of a title. Are you considering the release of modding tools to the community?
That’s right. Since we’re going through Kickstarter for the funds to pull together the demo, we have to be careful to not over promise. That’s why we projected a launch with six maps—but we should have no trouble shipping more than that. It’s the same with the launch date itself. Rather than be another Kickstarter project that falls behind, we gave ourselves a generous timeline but hope to release sooner than our initial deadline.
Regarding modding, we don’t really need to release tools since the engine itself is quite accessible. At launch we are not intending to fully support user created maps simply because there is so much other stuff to do. But we are not discouraging them, either. After the launch, we’ll work on actually supporting that kind of user generated content and rewarding people for creating great maps. We believe that the game is the players game—it’s not a hermetically sealed “product” that can’t be explored. We want it to spark player’s imaginations after all. Having said all that, we have a strong stance against cheaters and exploits, so we don’t mean explore the game that way!
Is anything else you would like to tell our readers about H-Hour?
Sure. We often say this is old school gaming for the modern era. But this doesn’t mean we’re overly hardcore or short on features. What it means is that you can customize your game to be harder or “friendlier” as you see fit, and that most of our features are targeted at the core gameplay and community/clan tools rather than meta-features that don’t really reflect to the skills of players.
Our Kickstarter campaign concludes this Saturday at 5:00 PM. It looks like we’re going to make our minimum funding target but exceeding that makes more features and content possible in the game early on. Plus we’re only offering most of the pledge rewards though Kickstarter. Once the campaign is over, you’ll be able to but the game, but you won’t be able to get the cool digital rewards. I don’t want people that like this kind of game to miss out on the chance to enter on the ground floor.
Thanks for your time.