Hermen Hulst Discusses the Transition From Killzone to Horizon Zero Dawn

Hermen Hulst is the Managing Director and Co-Founder of Guerrilla Games. The company is best known for the Killzone series of first-person shooters for Sony PlayStation consoles. Those games have enjoyed a solid following and critical acclaim. In 2017, Guerrilla hit a new level with Horizon Zero Dawn. An open-world action-RPG with a lush setting, the game was a radical departure from the grim-and-gritty shooters Guerrilla was known for. Many consider it one of 2017’s best games.

At DICE Europe 2017, Hermen Hulst will be talking about Guerrilla’s evolution and the challenges he faced preparing the company for Horizon Zero Dawn. Here’s an excerpt from my chat with Heremen Hulst.

In the keynote I’ll be talking about how long this process has been. During the Killzone 3 days, we already started wondering about doing something new. “Is the time there now? Can our creatives do their best work within the same franchise? Is there enough room for wild design ideas?” We actually made the decisions to start investigating new roots towards the end of Killzone 3. That’s when we started the internal pitching processes of new ideas. So we’ve been working on this thing for six-and-a-half, seven years. That’s a very long time.

There were such a wide range of changes. For one, we had always focused on games in a particular genre — the first-person shooter genre. With that comes a certain set of expertise, which you would expect from a studio that operates within that genre. So when you move into a different genre, you’re looking for new areas of expertise. We moved from first-person shooter to open-world action-RPG, so we had to build out our narrative capability. The requirements in that new genre are much higher in narration then they are in the fps world.

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Mary DeMarle Talks Deus Ex (DICE Europe 2017)

Here’s a chat I had with the absolutely delightful Mary DeMarle, narrative director of Eidos Montreal. She’ll be speaking at DICE Europe 2017 about maintaining motivation and innovation during long game development cycles. We talked about the challenges of reviving the Deus Ex franchise — bringing one of the most lauded IPs in PC gaming to a new audience more than a decade after the original release. Aside from talking to Mary DeMarle about Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, I had an excellent time enjoying her company. She was charming and fun. Yeah, yeah, I know you want to hear more about the game stuff, so here’s an excerpt from my interview with Mary DeMarle.

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Why Kazakus Will Be My New Favorite Hearthstone Card

I’ve just played a dozen or so games of Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft with the “Mean Streets of Gadgetzan” expansion cards shuffled in the mix. Blizzard’s BlizzCon 2016 press room had one-on-one matches featuring paladin vs. priest brawls. As priest is my favorite way to play and I generally suck with paladin, I played all the games using the priestly Anduin Wrynn. As expected, I enjoyed the new cards introduced by “Mean Streets of Gadgetzan,” but one stood out — Kazakus.

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Original Diablo Coming to Diablo 3

At BlizzCon 2016, Blizzard announced that the original Diablo will be recreated in Diablo 3. The original game is considered a classic — one of the most popular, critically acclaimed, and influential role-playing games of all time. It’s fantastic that 20 years after its release, Diablo will get to be enjoyed and appreciated by a whole new generation of gamers. For those that were around for the original, the reimagined version is certain to be a glorious stroll down memory lane. Whether you’re a veteran of the series or a newcomer, this is a fitting tribute to a legendary game.

Here’s some of what Blizzard has promised for the upcoming remake.

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Hearthstone Mean Streets of Gadgetzan Expansion Unveiled

Mean Streets of Gadgetzan” is the fourth expansion for Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft. Blizzard announced the latest addition to its enormously successful online trading-card game (TCG) at BlizzCon 2016. The expansion adds 132 new cards to the mix, including several legendaries. The theme revolves around a shady corner of the Warcraft universe, with several cards poking fun at gangster themes. You’ll see cards like “Little Friend”, “Second-Rate Bruiser”, and “Small-Time Recruits”. Naturally, there will be a new game board (pictured below) as well.

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Hilmar Petursson Interview (DICE Europe 2016)

Saving my favorite DICE Europe 2016 interview for last, here’s my chat with Hilmar Petursson, CEO of CCP Games. Many gamers know CCP for the popular MMORPG EVE Online. More recently, the company has been a pioneer in VR gaming, with titles like Gunjack and EVE: Valkyrie. At a previous DICE talk, Hilmar Petursson spoke about the human brain as a gaming platform. At DICE Europe 2016, he’ll be speaking about how gaming can benefit humanity.

As you can tell from the topics he chooses to speak about, Hilmar Petursson thinks a bit differently from most people in game development and game publishing. This is why chatting with him was so much fun. He has a beautifully creative mind, but he’s also kind of out there. Here’s an excerpt from my conversation with Hilmar Petursson.

I think we’re just beginning. How old would you say computer games are? Let’s say 30-years old. For the greater part of those three decades, the majority of games have been single-player. It’s one person playing against a device, not unlike solitaire. I am personally very interested in when you add a social dimension to it — when people are playing with other people. What we’ve learned through our work on EVE: Online is that once you start playing with other people, you’re part of a society. If you look at society as a computer game — at least the socio-economic aspects of society — it’s a fairly upstart endeavor. Money, debt obligation, and the concept of possession are really virtual phenomenon. They’re social constructs that we’ve trained ourselves to adhere to over thousands of years. They’re upheld mostly through paper, as well as our own understanding of rules and regulations. I believe that with computers, we will be able to elevate and accelerate those concepts quite a bit.

We’ve been inspired by a lot of what we’ve learned though EVE: Online. You could basically call it a society. I wouldn’t call it a country, because that’s a very specific thing, but it has all the expressions of a society. It has its own social economy. People value the things in that world. They have a similar relationship to their possessions in the virtual world as they do in the real world. Even though EVE: Online was one of the first games made like this, in many ways it can be improved upon a lot. It’s the first hint of what can be done with games. And then we see virtual reality and how we can really engage with the rest of the human senses. Then you can buy into the notion that not only do you belong to a virtual world in the abstract, but you can also buy into the notion that you are part of a virtual world in a concrete, physical sense. Even though you aren’t, so many of the body’s sense are engaged that you feel like you are. The illusion takes a step further.

I believe that with advances in both concepts — these vast, massive social worlds and economies — coupled with advances in the visual domain with technologies like virtual reality, we will be able to really bring about a virtual world where we have higher and deeper relations with each other. Physical reality is, in many ways, kind of primitive. We have to implement the atoms of the Earth to create clothing to express our personalities. It’s taking away resources that could be used for something else. Ninety percent of what we buy for our homes is out of them six months later as trash. We have all these very wasteful processes that we’ll be able to implement much more efficiently using technologies in computer games. In many ways, we’re trying to tell this to ourselves in science-fiction, whether it’s The Matrix or other works that discuss the virtualization of social interactions.

Please check out my full talk with Hilmar Petursson when you have a chance. He’s a wonderfully creative person that supports my theory that all Icelanders are at least a little bit crazy (see Guðmundsdóttir, Björk).

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Jeff Hilbert Interview (DICE Europe 2016)

It was fun chatting with Jeff Hilbert, founder and CEO of Starting Point. One of the oldest agents and managers in the videogame business (in terms of experience, not chronologically), Jeff Hilbert was also the founder of Digital Development Management (DDM). Think of him as the Ari Gold of videogame agents…but with less tantrums and profanity. At DICE Europe 2016, Jeff Hilbert will be talking about “Realistic Opportunities in AR/VR.” In addition to touching on that subject, he spoke to me about traditional movie and television agents entering the videogame business. My favorite part of the conversation was when he spoke about aspects of Hollywood he’d like to see come to games. Here’s an excerpt from my conversation with Jeff Hilbert.

I’m indifferent to Hollywood talent coming into games, to be honest with you. I don’t really see any individual that makes me care whether they make a game or don’t make a game. I just don’t care.

Now, there are some IPs I’d love to see in gaming. I love the fact that Robotech is being discussed. I think that would be awesome! I love that Marvel, DC, and Tolkien have been coming in. That’s been spectacular! I don’t see Kim Kardashian as an individual because of the way that she’s managed herself. She’s done a brilliant job managing herself as a brand and that’s great to have in gaming.

So, I’m not really into individuals coming in as much as I am into the brands. I love when new brands are introduced into the gaming industry, because they bring in new people that didn’t realize that they love playing games.

Additionally, he mentioned some videogame properties he’d like to see get a second chance in movies and television. He also had some great stories of the attitudes some Hollwood talent had when entering the gaming world.

Kindly check out my full conversation with Jeff Hilbert when you have a moment.

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Henrique Olifiers Interview (DICE Europe 2016)

Here’s a chat I had with Henrique Olifiers, the cofounder of Bossa Studios. The company’s Worlds Adrift is one of the most ambitious online worlds ever conceived, combining the broad aspects of MMORPGs and sandbox videogames. Given DICE Europe 2016’s theme of “World Builders,” Henrique Olifiers was a perfect choice for the summit. His DICE Europe 2016 talk is titled, “A New Dawn for Simulated Worlds: the Making of Worlds Adrift.” During out conversation, he spoke about the evolution of online worlds from the earliest MUDs to what we have today. Here’s an excerpt.

As a game designer, I’ve always looked at what could be the perfect online experience. That was never something that was possible because of technology restrictions and game design paradigms that we have to deal with. If you look back at the history of online interactions, ever since the first MUDs — multiuser dungeons — came along, up to today where you have massively multiplayer online role-playing games like World of Warcraft, EVE Online, World of Tanks, and so on, there was always this progression curve going upwards in terms of what you can achieve and how you could interact with your friends. All of a sudden, we seemed to have hit a wall in that the same tropes and same design mechanics have been repeated, essentially with a new coat of paint.

Some terms came up, such as “amusement park,” from the players. They feel like the worlds that they’re playing in are on rails and that the experience is very scripted. Which is a shame, because as a big fan of MMOs and online interactions on a large scale, I always expected this to go all the way — into virtual worlds where people are free to do what they want. And so, this is what I mean by a means to an end. For me, it’s about being able to show people that we don’t have to be restricted anymore. There’s technology today that’s available to us and that will allow us to continue that trajectory. This is how I see Worlds Adrift — being part of a puzzle, if you will, and part of the evolution of online interactions.

When you have a chance, please check out my full conversation with Bossa Studios’ Henrique Olifiers by clicking the link below.

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Tanya Forsheit Interview (DICE Europe 2016)

It was fun talking to Tanya Forsheit on behalf of the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences. Most of the people I chat with for DICE and DICE Europe interviews are game developers or game publishers. Tanya Forsheit is a partner at Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz and the co-chair of the firm’s Privacy & Data Security Group. She is considered one of the leading privacy and data security counselors and litigators in the world. At DICE Europe 2016, she’ll be talking about “Building Communities through Big Data.”

While many people have a fear of data collection, Tanya Forsheit believes that gamers, developers, and publishers should embrace big data. Here’s an excerpt from the interview.

In California — where we have a lot of privacy laws — there’s a requirement that we include in privacy policies a disclosure about do-not-track signals. This is a largely meaningless disclosure. What it’s about is if I’m online using just about any browser these days, I have the ability to send a do-not-track signal. If the website I’m visiting chooses to honor that do-not-track signal, then I theoretically won’t be tracked as I navigate through it. Almost no websites respond in any shape or form to do-not-track signals. There was this effort over many years to try to reach a consensus on what it meant to respond to do-not-track signals. It was almost impossible. They couldn’t come up with a solution. California got impatient and instead of looking at the substance of the matter — looking at what’s best for the consumers and best for business — they decided to require putting a disclosure in privacy policies. Now, every single privacy policy out there has this paragraph in it that says “we do not respond to do-not-track signals because there isn’t an industry consensus for it.” Who cares, right?!? Why do we have to put that in there just to confuse people and make them feel like there’s something going on that they don’t understand.

The bottom line is that most websites are doing targeted advertising or behavioral advertising based on people’s browsing, including gaming sites. That advertising is based on things like your browser type, IP address, and device information. It’s not a “Big Brother” type of situation that a lot of consumers are afraid of — this idea that somebody out there is watching me all the time. It’s really not like that. This is a machine-automated process. It’s designed to bring people free or low cost services online, using more relevant advertising. And, by the way, even though do-not-track doesn’t work, there are ways to opt out of these programs through self-regulatory organizations like the NAI (Network Advertising Initiative) and the DAA (Digital Advertising Alliance). The funny thing is, if you opt out of targeted advertising then you just end up with a lot of advertising that you don’t want. It’s not an ideal situation, but if people want free or low-cost games or apps then there’s a trade-off. People should look at it as benefit that we could never have imagined having 20 or 30 years ago.

Kindly check out the full interview to get more of her take on big data’s role in videogames, as well as to find out her favorite lawyers from movies and television.

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Clive Downie Interview (Unity 3D, Dice Europe 2016)

Here’s a chat I had with Clive Downie, chief marketing offer at Unity Technologies. He’ll be speaking at DICE Europe 2016 on “VR and the Next Generation of Immersive Experiences.” In addition to touching on the topics he’ll be discussing at DICE Europe, Clive Downie told me about the three principles that fuel Unity Technologies and the latest on his Pokemon Go adventures. Here’s a clip from the interview.

One of the challenges in creating in a new space with all the dimensions is something called “The Bubblegum Phenomenon.” If you create a VR environment with a table in it, you can bet that someone will look under the table to see if there’s bubblegum there. Developers have to think about what happens when someone does something like that. This isn’t a problem they had when they created 3D environments experienced on a 2D screen.

Another challenge is story. How do you tell a story in a VR or AR space? How do you tell a story when people can look everywhere and people will want to interact with everything? What are the new rules for storytelling?

Then there’s the challenge of, “How much is enough?” You’re immersing people in a space they haven’t been in before. You have to teach them a whole new set of control conventions. You’re bombarding their synapses with new kinds of stimuli. What’s the optimum time session? How do you design with that time session in mind? You want to provide people with a wonderful and delightful new experience, but you want them to keep coming back without making them sick or completely overloading them.

We’re seeing all these challenges associated with a pioneer moment and exploration. It’s really exciting for us to see developers go through that and it’s really exciting for us to help them work through these challenges with our regular updates to Unity.

Be sure to check out my conversation with Clive Downie to learn more about his take on AR and VR, as well as why he’s a big fan of Pidgeotto and Rhyhorn.

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