Interview with Antti Summala, lead designer for Shattered Horizon

Posted By | On 02nd, Dec. 2009

We recently had the opportunity to speak with Antti Summala, lead designer for Shattered Horizon and ask a few questions about Shattered Horizon as well as their studio and the status of PC Gaming.

What prompted Futuremark to create a game development division?

For over 10 years Futuremark has been making benchmarks for gamers. Our community has been pretty vocal in pushing us to do more and make our own game, to make the 3DMark scenes playable. And we’ve been interested in getting into games ourselves for quite a while. We set up Futuremark Games Studio in January 2008 because the timing finally seemed right. 3DMark Vantage, our latest DirectX10 benchmark, gave us a solid rendering engine we could use as the basis for the game engine. So we took the plunge, launched the studio and announced to the world that Futuremark was going to make a game.

What made you want to make an FPS rather than any other type of game?

Before the launch of the studio we had a lot of ideas under consideration. For our first game we wanted to set a high standard for ourselves: to create something original and exciting that would give gamers an experience they couldn’t find in other games.

Multiplayer FPS games have large communities on the PC, and as our roots are in PC development it was a natural choice to focus on making an FPS game. Of the game ideas we had, a zero gravity FPS stood out as something ambitious that very few developers had attempted.

What inspired the setting for Shattered Horizon?

There was no specific source of inspiration for the setting although most of our team are big sci-fi fans and between us we have probably read every book and seen every film set in space. That’s a lot of influences to draw on. We keep our eyes open for interesting ideas that could work in a game. We also play a lot of other games and always look for what works and what doesn’t and try to figure out why.

With Shattered Horizon one thing we decided quite early on was that we would aim to make a realistic sci-fi game, one that was believable and fairly true to current knowledge and understanding. So we ruled out aliens, miraculous technologies, heavily armored space marines and far off planets.

Instead, we set the game around 40 years in the future and in near-Earth space. None of us have ever been in space but we are all familiar with the amazing images sent back by NASA. When you first see the Earth below you in the game it is very powerful. Maybe you could say that it was the dream of being in space that provided the inspiration.

We also needed something dramatic and world-changing to create an interesting environment and give the players a reason to start shooting at each other. That gave us the idea of a dangerous Moon mining technique that leads to the massive explosion that creates all the debris encircling the Earth.

With such an interesting setting and back-story, was a single player campaign ever considered?

A single player campaign was never considered for our first game. It would have been a stretch too far, and as Shattered Horizon was primarily self-funded it would have been way beyond our budget. However part of the reason for investing time and effort in the back-story was to create an interesting game world that gives us options in the future.  We think there is a lot of untapped potential in the setting and in zero gravity gameplay to create further games, both multiplayer and single player.

What made the zero-gravity gameplay something you would want to do?

Zero gravity combat was the key idea from very early on. Using that idea in a skill-based multiplayer FPS was a different approach for the shooter genre. Our main design aim with Shattered Horizon was to make zero gravity fun. We had the feeling that extra freedom of movement would allow players to create new and interesting tactics that would be fun and rewarding. Now that the game has launched we are really seeing that happen. There is a lot of evolution in tactics as people find new ways to use zero gravity to their advantage.

What were some (if any) of the challenges in making a game set in zero gravity?

There were challenges all right! In terms of game design, we chose a game concept that was pretty ambitious, and that brought us two major obstacles. The first was that giving the player complete freedom of movement could easily make the controls overwhelmingly complex. We knew that a key part of making zero gravity fun would be making it accessible for the player, so we spent more time prototyping the control scheme than anything else, going through several different control concepts and movement models. We ended up with a control scheme that is based on standard WASD and mouse with a few extra keys. Anyone with FPS gaming experience can pick the game up and start playing.

The second challenge was level design. There are accepted rules of level design, best practices and lessons learned from hundreds of games and mods. However, once you give the player freedom from gravity, a lot of those rules become harder to apply. When players can go absolutely anywhere in the level, designing for balance and competitive play becomes very difficult. How do you ensure that the level has a good flow – that the player knows where they are and where they need to go next?

We started off experimenting with different ideas, and ended up with a set of rules. We are now using those rules to create four new levels for the “Moonrise” content pack. We have selected players helping us refine the levels and when they are ready they will be released for free for all players.

What advantages come from developing exclusively for the PC?

Making Shattered Horizon exclusive to the PC gave us the freedom to make exactly the game we wanted without compromises. We didn’t have to make sacrifices to our technology in order to incorporate console versions for example. We have dedicated servers. The controls are optimized for keyboard and mouse. The interface is designed for PC gamers.

In short, we could take the best of what the PC offers and make a game that is best played on the PC. And the reception to that has been fantastic. Shattered Horizon is for all those gamers who have decent, modern gaming PCs and are desperate for a fun and innovative FPS game that actually uses that power.

Have you now or during development considered bringing Shattered Horizon to consoles?

Futuremark has over 10 years experience making high-end 3D graphical benchmarks for PC so it was only natural that our first game would be developed for the PC. The platform has a lot of strengths right now including technical superiority compared to this generation’s consoles for hardcore games. We’re not ruling out making future projects for consoles, but PC gaming is where we are the strongest.

Did you believe the game would become a hit with gamers and critics as quickly as it did?

Our belief is that Shattered Horizon has the best chance of being successful if it delivers on providing a new and fun experience for FPS gamers. In that regard we are very pleased with how things are going so far. Many reviews have highlighted that the game is a fresh idea that is well executed.

For gamers part of the appeal is that Shattered Horizon manages to be both familiar and different to other FPS games. On the one hand, it is easy to pick up and play. On the other, you need to learn new skills and tactics before you really start winning.

Do you believe you have created an FPS that will stand the test of time like Halo or Call of Duty?

One thing we learned in our beta is that there is a core group of gamers who really get into the game. These are players who love FPS games but are looking for something different from what they are used to. And now we are seeing the same trend after launch. Shattered Horizon will probably always be a niche game, but niche games can still attract a committed and dedicated following.

As a studio, we have committed to supporting Shattered Horizon with free downloadable content. We recently announced the Moonrise pack which will add a further four levels, effectively doubling the number of levels in the game. We are also extremely active with our community on our forums, on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. As long as there are players and it makes sense for the future of the studio we will support our games and their communities.

Aside from the zero-gravity, what do you believe your game offers that games such as Halo or Call of Duty don’t?

Well, dedicated servers for a start. 😉

But frankly I don’t think there is much point comparing sequel games that cost up to $60 with a studio’s debut game that sells for just $19.95. All three are different games that offer different experiences. Buy all three, play all three, but if you don’t have much money, buy Shattered Horizon first!

Do you have any plans at this time for other games?

Right now we are working full time on creating the Moonrise content pack for Shattered Horizon. We hope to develop and release more great games but supporting and growing Shattered Horizon is our priority.

What is your opinion on the status of PC gaming. Many gamers, especially console gamers, believe that PC gaming as we know it is dying. With developers like Infinity Ward adopting a console like matchmaking system and abandoning dedicated servers, many believe this is the future of PC gaming. Do you share this opinion or are you more optimistic?

This is a very complex subject. Big publishers have different agendas and priorities than smaller, independent developers. I can only speak from our point of view which is that the PC platform gave us a lot of benefits. Digital distribution made it easy for us to self-publish Shattered Horizon and cut out the middleman. And with services like Steam it is simple to update our game regularly and add new content. These things would not have been as straightforward if we had been making a game for a console.

Another strength for PC gaming is the diversity of games available. This is possible because the PC is so much more open to independent developers than the console platforms. There are loads of smaller, independent developers making great PC games that offer something fun and different from the mainstream console games.

If gamers support the developers who are committed to PC gaming then there’s no reason why it shouldn’t continue to have a great future.

I would like to thank Antti Summala for taking the time to answer our questions, we at Gaming Bolt really appreciate you taking the time to do so. Shattered Horizon is currently available on Steam and the Futuremark Store for only $19.95, so do yourself a favor and go pick it up now and start getting in on the fun. If you want to know if it’s the right game for you check out our review here.

As always keep it here on Gaming Bolt!

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