Helldivers Interview: Gameplay Mechanics, Stratagems, PS4 Development And More

Arrowhead Game Studios CEO and Game Director Johan Pilestedt on how the top down shooter is shaping up.

Posted By | On 13th, Feb. 2014 Under Article, Interviews | Follow This Author @GamingBoltTweet


First announced at last year’s GamesCom, Helldivers is an upcoming top down shooter from the developers of Magicka, Arrowhead Game Studios. We got in touch with the studio’s CEO and director Johan Pilestedt to talk about what Helldivers will be offering to shooter fans later this year.

Pramath Parijat: Helldivers seems to be cut from the same cloth as Magicka, but with a different setting. Where did the inspiration for Helldivers come from?

Johan Pilestedt: The inspiration to Helldivers is sort of a mixture of many sources – as with Magicka. The entire basis of the game comes from our love of top-down coop games and we wanted to make a classical one – trying not to invent that much but just go with a more known formula (you know, just going back to basics).

In the end it sort of got out of hand and what we have created is a game with tons of unique features that you probably haven’t seen in a top-down game before. I guess this was expected since when we just set out to do a “simple” project things get out of hand and we come up with all kinds of crazy ideas that we just need to implement.

That’s on the gameplay side, when it comes to the universe most of us at the studio are big-time into dystopian futures and especially those that are more or less saying that “hey, you wouldn’t necessarily know if you were living in a dystopian world unless you viewed it from the outside.”

So, I mean, there’s no surprise that we’re inspired by books and movies such as Starship Troopers, Dune, Star Wars, Aliens, War of the Worlds etc. (After all – it’s our childhood)

helldivers

"The story of Helldivers is more of a premise (in the old-school way), it’s the future – where mankind has united under the banner of Super Earth, the government has become more distant, secretive and has through clever propaganda marketed the three different conflicts that human is part of as defensive wars even though they are quite the opposite."

Pramath Parijat: Can you please tell us a bit about the story the game will follow?

Johan Pilestedt: The story of Helldivers is more of a premise (in the old-school way), it’s the future – where mankind has united under the banner of Super Earth, the government has become more distant, secretive and has through clever propaganda marketed the three different conflicts that human is part of as defensive wars even though they are quite the opposite.

For instance, the cyborgs are a break-out group of liberalists that have broken free of the propaganda spell that the rest of humanity has fallen for. They have in turn created sort of a socio-anarchistic feudal society where their conviction to differentiate themselves from humankind (by the use of cybernetic augmentation) and the trust of ones kin results in commanding positions. This is of course frowned upon by Super Earth and the entire Cyborg Nation has been labeled as rebels and terrorists.

Pramath Parijat: I do understand that players will be a part of a special group called ‘Helldivers’. But are there going to be classes within that group? If yes, how will they differ from each other?

Johan Pilestedt: The Helldivers are an elite unit that is deployed to solve problems which regular troops cannot. Each Helldiver is proficient in the use of all Helldiver equipment and as such there are no pre-determined classes – but the player only has the ability to choose a primary weapon, a perk and four stratagems which means that if you want to play as in a support, offensive, defensive or a mixed-role you are able to do so. Which is one of the crucial elements to Helldivers – make sure that the team composition is balanced… which of course doesn’t prevent the player from doing ‘air strikes’-only on all four players (which may be fun, but maybe not as good as a more balanced load-out).

Pramath Parijat: In the announcement release, you guys said that Helldrivers is a community oriented and not only limited to 4 player co-op. Can you please clarify what does that exactly mean?

Johan Pilestedt: In Helldivers, everyone that has an internet connection can play the galactic campaign – a global coop where the efforts of all players are counted towards the victory (or defeat) of the human race.

The way this works is that players complete missions on a planet; once an entire planet has been cleared this progress is counted towards the global effort, pushing the frontline one step closer to the ultimate goal – eliminating the enemy species. The same goes for the enemies – they will from time to time attack the cities of mankind spread throughout the galaxy.

In that sense, the player is on a low-level scale a four player coop game, but on the larger scale – it’s a coop game with everyone.

helldivers

"The game is cross-play between PS4, PS3 and PS-Vita. Basically we try to make the integration as seamless as possible, so joining someone won’t necessarily tell you which platform they’re on – this shouldn’t matter as the players will just match up with other players that are about the same rank as they are."

Pramath Parijat: Helldiver is, by nature, a social game. Will it utilize any of the unique and powerful social capabilities that the PS4 offers developers and gamers?

Johan Pilestedt: The PS4 has a lot of social features that are built-in to the machine which hardly requires any effort by the developers, such as screenshots and video (we even use the screenshot to capture any bugs we encounter while developing).
The game is cross-play between the PS4/PS3/Vita – which means that you can have your friends over with their vitas and have them join you while you play. Voice is another key feature and we’re encouraging players to use the capability to coordinate with everyone for the best experience possible.

Pramath Parijat: Helldiver will be cross play on all three platforms that it is coming to. Can you give us some insider info on how that works? [PS4, PC, PS Vita]

Johan Pilestedt: The game is cross-play between PS4, PS3 and PS-Vita. Basically we try to make the integration as seamless as possible, so joining someone won’t necessarily tell  you which platform they’re on – this shouldn’t matter as the players will just match up with other players that are about the same rank as they are.

Pramath Parijat: Do you have any plans to integrate the touchpad functionalities of the DualShock 4 controller for the gameplay?

Johan Pilestedt: On the Vita we will use touch-interface for certain commands, with the PS4 the touch pad will as of now only use the click-down functionality. At Arrowhead we’re pretty stubborn about using tech just for the sake of using tech – we believe that each feature that goes into the game needs to use the most sensible option for that control. This doesn’t mean that we think the touch-pad is bad or a gimmick in any way; it just isn’t necessary for this title – but we do have some ideas of how to use it for future projects. =)

helldivers

"There are plenty of other stratagems in the game, far over twenty in fact. I guess my favorite one is the jump pack; calling down a backpack that you can pick up and replaces your ‘get down’ (prone) functionality with a burst from the jump pack making you move across the screen in an instant."

Pramath Parijat: Helldivers focusses heavily on armory and different types of customization. What can you tell us about the same?

Johan Pilestedt: Yeah, the load-out is one of the most important aspects of the title – each player chooses his load-out based on the gear he has unlocked. The three different categories are: Primary Weapon, Perk and Stratagems.

Weapons are all kinds of small arms. This is your personal weapon which you will use most of the time – it ranges from assault rifles and shotguns to laser and plasma rifles. Perks allow you to tweak your secondary core mechanic (be it upgraded grenades, heavy armor, speed boost or emergency teleport shield)

Stratagems are probably the most important part of the game – each player can have four stratagems, these vary quite a bit but include stuff like napalm, automated defense turrets, heavy weapons, support packs and defensive equipment. The game doesn’t force you to select any of these; it’s up to you not only to create a good load out for yourself but a load out that works with the rest of your team.

Pramath Parijat: During the GamesCom demo the players call in an air strike. What other special abilities can we expect in the final game?

Johan Pilestedt: There are plenty of other stratagems in the game, far over twenty in fact. I guess my favorite one is the jump pack; calling down a backpack that you can pick up and replaces your ‘get down’ (prone) functionality with a burst from the jump pack making you move across the screen in an instant. This is really useful but creates a degree of confusion and has more than once resulted in extreme cross-fire situations with friendly casualties as a result.

Pramath Parijat: How do you plan to support the game after it launches?

Johan Pilestedt: The after-launch support has not yet been decided, but as with Magicka we do want to support the game with various updates in the coming year – it all depends on what happens after release, if people want more different enemies to fight – that may be what we’re aiming for.

helldivers

"The game will run at 1080p/60fps on the PS4, 720p/30fps on PS3 and native resolution on vita in 30fps."

Pramath Parijat: Let’s talk tech, from a development perspective, what are your thoughts on the PS4’s GPU? How has it helped the development team to put in more visual effects and complex compute calculations?

Johan Pilestedt: Well, sure the GPU is nice but what’s the real charm is the memory speed and amount – having that overhead when making a game in 1080p really allows us to use the appropriate texture sizes. Since the game is going to run on all three platforms our goal has always been to scale things up for the PS4 and scale things down for the Vita, the PS4 has been a charm to work on – there have never been any problems with the performance.

Pramath Parijat: Will Helldivers support 1080P/60FPS on the PS4? This is something the gaming community is expecting from next generation games.

Johan Pilestedt: The game will run at 1080p/60fps on the PS4, 720p/30fps on PS3 and native resolution on vita in 30fps.

Pramath Parijat: The PlayStation features 8 core CPU out of which 6 are available to developers. One core is dedicated to scheduling the tasks and the other five execute them.  How does thisallows for the creation of new opportunities for the developers and creating a more natural and believable game?

Johan Pilestedt: Since we use the Bitsquid engine, most of the threading is done in the engine and as such I wouldn’t say that the project really gains any creative freedom from the multi-core approach. It’s just a different way of approaching the technical side of things, we can dedicate a thread to do some performance intensive tasks (this is also true for the PS3) but since we come from the PC-development side of things we’re pretty much used to utilizing multi-core processors in an efficient way.

Pramath Parijat: As you are aware the PS4’s GPU is set at 1.85 TFlops compared to Xbox One which is 1.31. Do you see that as a big advantage or is it that numbers don’t always tell a true story?

Johan Pilestedt: I really don’t think that the number does tell you anything about the ability to create kickass titles – sure teams such as Naughty Dog probably uses every bit of the bandwidth but from a smaller developers perspective it’s more about the ease of use than the top speed.

Let’s put it like this, if you need to go from one town to the other you’ll get there faster if you take the car than learn how to fly a fighter jet and then go there. And in that sense, the PS4 excels – the ease of use is pretty much what sold the platform for us – and not the raw power itself. In this case though, the PS4 is both the fighter jet with the ease of use of a standard car.

PS4 CPU Turbo Core

Pramath Parijat: One last question. Will you be able to confirm that the PS4 has a base clock speed of 1.6Ghz which is capable to scale up to 2.75Ghz [as reported by IGN above]

Johan Pilestedt: Actually, I’m not sure – since the game needs to run on three vastly different platforms when it comes to performance we’ve never encountered a ceiling on the PS4, meaning we get to focus all optimization efforts on the PS3 and the Vita.

Well, clock speed increases the amount of processes each frame and we have never encountered any performance issues with the PS4. From a development perspective the clock speed isn’t important, only the percentage of frametime for each operation that we do – and with a faster clock speed each operation becomes faster.


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