Can you describe the decision-making process you went through to have a black protagonist? Was adding diversity one of your goals as a studio?
I know it may seem disappointing, but we had no larger social agenda to promote. To us, it was just another aspect that we explored during the development of the character iteration phase.
…One of the things that actually started the exploration of our "hired gun character" was actually a two-page short story I wrote called "The Brothers Divided." It was about two brothers who had a rift claim, and it came under attack, and they were both hit with rift energy. One brother was fully transformed into this Outcast warrior, and the other brother wasn't, and then the story ends up pitting them back against each other. And that was kind of the fuel for this very long and drawn out character ideation phase. We filled hundreds of pages of actor studies and head sculpts and character sketches.
We actually worked with Ken Feldman, who was an art director on God of War, and worked very closely with him to help refine in some of the traits of the character. And so ultimately Emmet ended up being black really because it just fit his character. We had some concepts where he was a white guy and it just—he didn't really stand out. He didn't look unique enough, we didn't like the way he felt, we didn't like the way the rift energy looked on his skin, and we didn’t necessarily like the texture of his voice. You hear a lot of gruff white guys in video games. It's almost kind of a joke now. "Okay, I'm going to go storm the bunker." You know, you hear it in everything.
We also knew that we had the challenge that we needed a voice for our third person hero character needed to be differentiated from the character who was up on the drop ship. And at one point Cutter—who in the game right now is sort of this Australian western guy—Cutter was a woman, because we wanted the two character voices to be very unique. And so we were able to get this really strong voice of a black man for your character, but this Aussie cowboy kind of feel for Cutter, the guy up on the drop ship, and both kind of feel very unique in gameplay. The rift energy looks really good on darker skin, and we really liked the tale—the brothers' tale, I thought, felt better with having the character be a black guy. It was just really more about design stuff. It wasn't about, "Yay, let's be the first to make a black protagonist." It was just, you know, the design evolved and he ended up being a black guy. And it was like cool, let's roll with it.
The sci-fi/western genre mash-up—it's got that Firefly thing gong on—that could lend itself to a bunch of different genres. Why continue to stick with shooters when that space is so crowded?
Right, well, we didn't start off wanting to do kind of a sci-fi with a dash of western feel. We ended up doing the kind of sci-fi/western feel because we wanted something that could be our own. I love shooters, I'm an avid shooter fan, whether it's Gears of War, or Call of Duty, or Battlefield, or Halo, but we felt like just doing standard sci-fi or doing standard just military was not the right way to go. And we wanted something that could be on one side completely unique to the shooter genre, but on the other side, could support the mechanics and story and universe. And so the western musical elements, the materials, the kind of vibe and the textures that you can imagine in that world worked really well for our gameplay and story.
But also, when you think about a gold rush, when you think about oil barons, when you think about massive expansion into new frontiers and new territory, with limited traversal between these new and isolated towns and outposts and mining camps, all of that just perfectly matched with the universe and fiction that we wanted to create. Because you have—you know, not all these ships are faster than light travel. You have these massive tugs, like trains in the wild west, so travel between system and system is still very controlled and very isolated. So, hell, there are some missions in Starhawk that kind of revolve around, essentially, big space train robberies at their kind of metaphor level. So not only did it give us a unique vibe to the game, but the whole gold rush—you've probably heard me talk about the rush for blue gold, the rift energy—all just kind of works together. And so that's how we ended up on it.
Have you guys taken a lot of feedback from both Warhawk and from the Starhawk beta, which has been going on since the fall?
Yeah, we have. Both Warhawk and the beta have been incredibly influential. Because there's a lot of overlap, one of the things that we identified upfront was since Starhawk—Starhawk isn't Warhawk 2. But it is a spiritual successor, certainly, because of its recipe for fast-paced shooter gameplay. I mean, I've always in the past commented that what inspired us to do that type of gameplay in Warhawk was thinking, you know, if Battlefield and Unreal Tournament were to have hot sweet lovin', what would be the game output? That's kind of what inspired us to do Warhawk. So that, at the core, that recipe is still in play for Starhawk.
…And even though our 1.3 beta actually ends, I think tomorrow (I can't remember, the days are all a blur right now), but our multiplayer tuning will actually continue well past that. Because you basically finish your game for your publisher and the disc is all set, ready, and that goes off for testing and manufacturing, but then there's a really great time for us to dig into the additional meat of all of our gameplay data from the beta and do the final tuning.