Interview: LightBox Interactive’s Dylan Jobe On Starhawk

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Lightbox Interactive’s 2007 PSN download Warhawk was a fairly decent shooter that helped prove, fairly early in the Playstation 3′s life cycle, that large sized downloadable games were viable for the platform. It got pretty solid reviews and decent sales, despite the fact that notably missing from Warhawk, which combined 3rd person combat with flight combat, was a single player campaign. That aspect was scrapped early in development.

For the sequel, Starhawk (no relation to the 1977 arcade game of the same name), Lightbox seeks to up things considerably. They’ve brought back most of the features seen in Warhawk, including the mixture of shooter combat and arial fighting. They’ve also added a robust story-based single player mode set in a universe in which space is a lot like the old west (think Firefly). Better, they’ve built in a a new feature called Build n’ Battle, which inserts RTS elements into the game giving players the ability to create structures with strategic or even offensive value.

Last week, we sent Game Front’s James Heaney down to Sony Santa Monica to talk to LightBox Interactive President Dylan Jobe about the game, which launches tomorrow. They spoke at length about topics ranging from an integrated cutscene/gameplay experience, why Austin, Tx is awesome, and James’ grandmother’s future in a carney freakshow (really!)

JAMES: I was taking a look at some of the things you’ve worked on; you’ve been part of the Twisted Metal series?

Dylan Jobe: I have a long lineage, spanning from simple texture maps, to owning a studio. On Twisted Metal Black I worked at Incognito with Scott Campbell and David Jaffe. I did cars, levels, all that stuff and eventually kind of worked my way up.

J: I’m assuming you’re too young to have worked on the first Warhawk…

D: I appreciate you thinking I’m too young! I did not work on Warhawk, yet I did work at Single Track a long time ago. A LOONG time ago. That was my first game job, actually.

J: What was that job?

D: I was a 3D artist. I quit my career – I was a prop designer – I pretty much said “fuck it’, and changed careers, and ditched it. I was doing quite well for myself and moved to Utah and worked at Single Track. And of course, then we moved everyone to Austin.

J: I love Austin, I was there a few years ago for the comedy festival. It was a lot of fun, that place knows how to party.

D: Yes it does. We are one block away from 6th street…

J: So, I want to cut to the chase. We are in Santa Monica, California, at Sony Santa Monica Studios. Or.. am I right? Sometimes I don’t even know where I am.

D: Well that’s because we put a bag over your head before you arrived. Which is just standard protocol. We have some Jack Bauer role playing at work too.

J: The reason I’m here is that you guys have an upcoming game, Starhawk.

D: And you played Warhawk.

J: When I played the original Warhawk, I was stunned by the graphics. It was just ‘this is it. This is photorealistic. Video Games will never look better than this.’ I don’t know if I could go so far as to call myself a Warhead, because the community is extraordinarily dedicated.

D: It’s voracious.

J: There are few games with that kind of following.

D: Yeah, we’re very lucky, and I think one of the things that benefitted us with Warhawk and will be the same case with Starhawk, is we have a very diverse set of game play. One of the things we’ve been really lucky to see through the beta with Starhawk, and we know will carry on after release, is that the game is so broad, we strategic elements, shooter elements, aircraft, ground troops, that it is a way for one shooter to bring a bunch of different types of players together.

Players can find a role for themselves in the game that doesn’t really have a role system and I think that’s what’s rad about Starhawk.

J: I played the beta before it was publicly released and I had a lot fun with it. This might sound almost cliche but I love the art standpoint you guys are taking that space is the wild wild west.

D: I picture right now if you could edit in Wil Smith’s song. Our style is a little different (laughs).

J: Yeah, a little bit. I would go so far as to say it’s a lot better. Thinking about the world in the game, I’ve never seen that. (Laughs) Maybe I have havn’e tplayed enough video games!

D: To build a battle system, the way we execute it in Starhawk, is like nothing that has ever been released on any console. But there have been other games with similar elements. And if you remember back – and you’re an ooold gamer – you might remember a PC game called Battlezone.

J: Yeah…

D: And that was great, it allowed you to build some structures, but it wasn’t the same detail, the type of interactivity. The type of complexity we’ve been able to achieve here, there’re aspects of Battlezone, there are aspects of Plants versus Zombies, aspects of section 8.

J: One thing [I notice] when I’m playing Starhawk, when I’m building a building, it’s almost like building something in a dream, a very random, dreamlike experience-

D: We worked incredibly hard, we worked on a ton of prototypes, on how to get the Build n’ Battle system just right, and ultimately what it came down to was a very simple maxim that we used within the studio. We didn’t want to get into the RTS tropes like ‘HARVEST GOLD!’, they’re absolutely boring. We wanted to make building a structure as visceral as killing someone. Pull the trigger, you should build a building.

J: It’s great to hear you describe it like that, because that’s the way I feel when I’m doing it.

D: Right, you have to think of the Build n’ Battle system as an extension of your arsenal. In fact, in the single player campaign, Emmett (game protagonist Emmett Graves) and his gear man, Cutter, refer to it as an arsenal. It’s not like ‘let’s go manage a facility!’, it’s like ‘no, let’s just friggin’ drop huuuge buildings, from orbit, and a fireball smashing onto the ground’. And you can crush people with it, crush AI, crush other players, it’s incredibly visceral.

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