Comic-Con 2011: Starhawk Panel Recap
Starhawk, the spiritual successor to the PS3 launch-title Warhawk, has some decently sized shoes to fill. Though not a blockbuster smash success, the multiplayer-only sixaxis-touting Warhawk garnered a good deal of attention and a great number of loyal fans. So all eyes are on where LightBox Interactive and SCE Santa Monica Studio are going to take the franchise. Fortunately Creative Director Lars DeVore, Writer Koen Wooten, Studio Director John Hight, and Senior Producer Harvard Bonin held a panel at SDCC11 to give us some details.
The first, and most obvious, aspect of note about Starhawk is that it has a single player campaign. What?? Blasphemy the Warhawk fans cry! Don’t worry, multiplayer is still a key component of Starhawk and every cool gameplay element in the campaign will carry over to the online battles.
The story takes place in a Western meets sci-fi universe where a new and lucrative form of energy has created a new frontier. Known as Rift energy (think Tiberium but nastier), this elemental force is capped and mined by prospectors in a highly lucrative business. The danger is that too much exposure to Rift will change the genetic structure of a person and turn them into an Outlaw (originally called Order). These humanoid creatures have a skeleton that protrudes from their skin and require regular consumption of Rift to stay alive. One energy source, two sides vying for complete control. This is going to get ugly.
That’s where Emmet Graves’ story begins. A prospector exploring the universe, looking for riches. Emmet worked with his brother, Logan, to cap their first Rift vent but an explosion sent them both flying. When the Graves brothers came to they realized neither was the same. Logan had been highly exposed and turned into an Outlaw. Angry and ambitious, he sets out to lead other Outlaws against settlers. Emmet’s exposure was fortunately minor, and with the help of a device built by buddy Carter, is able to subdue the turning.
Carter also plays a large role in Emmet’s quest to qualm the Outlaw uprising and save some outposts on the way. Flying a massive ship from low-orbit, Carter gives Emmet intel on the current situations, offers humorous quips, and most importantly, supports the Build & Battle system, Starhawk’s most unique new addition.
The Build & Battle system allows the player to use the Rift energy obtained from defeated foes to call down buildings from the sky. Installations include deterrent walls, auto-turrets, vehicle garages, and more. Selection and implementation is fast and easy. Just pull up the wheel, select the structure, then point to an unoccupied area (with a zoomed-out camera view), and voila! a pre-constructed building smashes down from the heavens.
I think it’s an interesting note that originally the team had buildings being manifested in a pseudo-magical fashion, pulling from the mystical energies of the Rift. Fortunately they decided that Western and sci-fi were enough genres for one game and created Carter, a much more befitting source of sky support.
But even the choice to mix the wild west with inter-planetary conflict was not an immediate decision. The team originally planned to go straight sci-fi, exploring character customization and open-world environments. However, as the story of Starhawk progressed they realized that the two warring sides brought about connotations of the American frontier. The next step, then, was to design the art.
The highly-regarded Concept Artist Ian McKay was brought in to help focus Starhawk’s design. During the panel I got to view many of the original designs and it is clear that Ian worked closely with Lars, as the movement of progress and direction was clear. Ian then brought on Ryan Church to further assist and push the “trajectory” of the style. The question for Lars was, “How do we bring this frontier aspect into science fiction?”.
Ken Feldman, another great artist who worked on God of War, acted a key member of the development team, specifically focusing on the design of Emmet Graves. The impression I got was that Ken was supposed to be brought on in an advisory capacity, but quickly became a part of the day-to-day structure.
Even with all of these artists hard at work, the team still drew outside inspirations. The work of Ben Given was cited as a major influence, as were street print artists, and the recent craze of Alamo Drafthouse movie posters.
But visual art is only half of the aesthetic treasure of a game. While Warhawk’s music was best described as “epic”, the team felt that too similar a style would not fit as well in Starhawk’s new universe. That being said, Warhawk composer Chris Lennox is toiling away to find that sweet medium between country travels and star battles. In fact, a currently unnamed harmonicist of the old Morricone (Sergio Leone) spaghetti westerns is supposedly signed on to perform for the soundtrack.
Still not sold that Starhawk is trying to do something cool? Well have you seen the namesake vehicle in action? Cause it’s badass. Transforming between a fighter jet (no hover) and mobile mech unit is smooth and intuitive. Not to mention totally awesome. Prepare to bring death from the ground and skies when Starhawk ships for PS3… sometime in the future. Really, that’s all they’re giving us.