Cliff Bleszinski Talks Making Medics And Inception-Style Hallways In LawBreakers

LawBreakers is the work of Gears of War creator Cliff Bleszinski and his team at Boss Key Studios. The game channels the style and mechanics of Quake-style multiplayer first person shooters, combining fast-paced shooting with gravity-defying maneuvers. It features distinctive ways to eliminate the opposition through its wide array of characters, who each come equipped with their own special weapons and skills. But the game has a lot to prove if it wants to stand a chance against its contemporary competitors.

The last time the public got to play the LawBreakers was when it went into alpha nearly a year ago. After a long wait, it’s finally returning in a closed beta coming later this month. We recently got the opportunity to catch up with Bleszinski and Boss Key Studios COO Arjan Brussee to discuss what’s coming, how they create characters, and their attitude towards esports.

GameSpot: It has been nearly a year since the LawBreakers alpha. What new stuff can we expect from the upcoming beta?

Cliff Bleszinski: The alpha was what it was; it was the appetizer for what we wanted the game to be. When I was playing with the alpha’s four available classes, it was fun. But it wasn’t fun for really extended periods of time, because the choices were limited. In the beta, things feel more robust; you’ll more often ask yourself: “How do I want to play?” The big reason why is because there are three new classes to play: the Juggernaut, the Gunslinger, and the Battle Medic.

The Juggernaut is a close-quarters-combat tank that can close the gap by sprinting and leaping up into the air, and then smashing down onto foes below.

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The Gunslinger dual-wields; his left gun is semi-automatic, while his right gun can deliver a charged shot he can use to snipe enemies from across the map. He also has an omni-directional blink ability.

Then there’s the Battle Medic. I wanted to make a medic class that I’d want to play as. When it comes to a support class, the elephant in the room is always Overwatch. I told my team, “We’re not going to out-Mercy Mercy.” Overwatch is a great game; I play Pharah and my wife mains Mercy. When we work together, we can be pretty devastating, but I never want to be the person following another with a healing beam. When it comes to support classes in our game, we’re much more “fire and forget.” When you’re playing the Juggernaut, you drop your shield and get back to shooting. When you’re playing as the Battle Medic, you send out a healing drone but get back to flying with your jetpack, unleashing hell on everyone below with artillery fire.

That’s our M.O. with LawBreakers: Don’t do the same exact thing that everyone else is doing. We’d rather be our own game and be different.

When you’re working on a new character and you’re having trouble honing in how to make them feel distinct and different, what is that process like?

CB: It’s a lot of arguing, playtests, and conversations. Honestly, we’re still figuring out that process out. Some of our classes were conceptualized quickly and easily, like the Wraith and the Harrier. But other classes, like the Battle Medic, took us a year of iteration in order to get right. It really depends on the character and what we’re going for, so there’s no real formula for that kind of stuff.

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Arjan Brussee: It’s one of the most difficult processes of development. We try to manage it, but every time, there’s something that stops us in our tracks. Every character we create has so much depth, sporting multiple abilities and weapon types. At times, it feels like a character is like multiple characters at once. And it’s like holy crap, Battlefield only had like four classes to deal with. We’ve got nine characters playable at launch that each need to stand out from one another, so It’s frustrating to balance it all, but it’s gratifying when you figure out how to pull it off.

CB: Yeah, one of the things that also slows the team down is that many of our designers and programmers pull too much from classic MOBA archetypes. It’s like, “Dude, don’t apply that philosophy directly to here. I want to have a healer that can actually beat up the big guys sometimes.”

A major point that I make is that a lot of MOBAs and character-based shooters often make you feel like you chose the wrong character. I’ll run around a corner and see another character I absolutely have no shot at defeating. In LawBreakers, if you play as the low-health Battle Medic and you’re up against a Juggernaut trying to close the gap, you can pop up in the air and unleash artillery fire to wear them down. I like providing these David and Goliath-type situations where the smaller, squishier characters can beat larger, beefier opponents, and vice versa.

You’ve touched on this in the past, but what’s your attitude towards esports?

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CB: I think saying a game is going to be an esport is like saying after your first date with someone that you’re going to marry them. It’s like, “Alright, calm down. Let’s work through this for a little while. Let’s build the relationship up, let’s meet the parents, and let’s see how compatible we are in various areas. Let’s walk before we run.” I’m asked that esports question a lot, and it’s the same answer for me. I would love for nothing more than for there to be pro LawBreakers teams and jerseys for sale, and kids making more money than some of our employees. But the key to doing that is for us to first be a shooter’s shooter. We’re not just a game that has RPG elements with some shooting. We are the kind of game that I hope Counter-Strike players or Battlefield players will gravitate towards.

One of the unique aspects that set you apart from something like Overwatch is the gravitational mechanics. I’m curious if we’re going to see more of that type of gameplay in other maps or in new characters or in different modes?

CB: We’re all about slowly introducing gravity mechanics. We’ve introduced microgravity in the past, and in our Vertigo map, we’ve implemented spherical gravity. We want to give players time to get used to using their tools, like the grappling hook and the jump jets, under these conditions. But look forward to future maps and characters getting even crazier. If we keep pushing it, we might be able to create a map that’s a full-on Inception hallway. But one thing at a time! I think the trick is to not make people sick.

Yeah, that’s tricky. But at least you’re not a VR game, because that’d be even tougher.

CB: VR is very near and dear to me. I have a few ideas I’d love to play with, but again the friction point is getting VR installed. Sony’s got a great headset but still it’s kind of clunky. The price point is also an issue, and there’s a lot of shovelware on VR right now. You see a lot of crappy Unity games where it’s like, ‘Oh look I’m throwing a can.’ Yeah, big deal right?

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There are no real games, and part of the reason why is this catch 22 of VR platform holders finding funding. You can’t make a really deep, great game arguably in VR for like a million bucks. So you’ve gotta really pony it up; you need to pony up. To me, the first example of a real VR game is Robo Recall, Oculus’ collaboration with Epic. It’s a wave shooter, but goddamn it looks good. That’s the kind of stuff that needs to happen, as opposed to more friggin’ roller coasters’ POVs and things like that. There are also horror VR games, which YouTubers love. But to me, if I want to tear the headset off, you fucked up. Developers often say, “Oh, you got sick in my VR experience, you just don’t have VR sea legs.” No, you made a terrible VR experience that made people puke.

There’s a lot more to it, but that’s a handful of things that are preventing VR from exploding in a good way.

To circle back to LawBreakers, I’m curious what the biggest argument was within the team when it came to creating characters. What are the hardest challenges to resolve as a team?

CB: For me, it’s about creating memorable characters. Sometimes I’d work up a description for a character and we’d give it to a concept artist, and we’d get back a cool person in armor. But I kept asking, “How can I better describe this person?” When we created Hellion, I was like, “Let’s have a double amputee who lost her legs in combat, but she’s still swinging around with a grappling hook and fighting people.” We had an employee at the time that was an amputee and we talked to her about how we could depict that and what the logistics of having prosthetics is like. It was a fascinating learning experience that enhanced the design of the character.

Then there’s the element of silhouette too. Instead of creating a medic character with a weapon that looks like every other gun, we decided to put two drones over their shoulder, so you can better spot them in the distance. We try to emphasize what makes a character unique while giving them a distinct silhouette.

That’s our M.O. with LawBreakers: Don’t do the same exact thing that everyone else is doing.

AB: For me, it’s always, “How do you box in that creative process?” Because sometimes we’re going so fast that we don’t have enough time. For example, we might design a character but only have time to playtest them once. Or we might have a character that’s really great, but then our team keeps changing things until the last minute. And by that time, the model is already made and the effects and sounds are already set, and then someone on the team wants to change the character’s gun. There are so many cool ideas, but we have to always be thinking, “How do we get this set in stone and shipped in time?”

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You both clearly have a deep love for the game’s backstory and the ideas behind its characters. Is there going to be much storytelling within the game? Or will we see visual storytelling that you only discern from looking at the characters?

CB: It’s definitely the way they look. It’s also the animations you see when you select them. For example, Kintaro, one of the Enforcers, is a cocky Japanese guy who’s a party boy; when you highlight him, he’s wearing a kimono and has a magazine open, but then he tosses it and points at you with a smirk on his face. When you have a game like this, you have a precious few seconds to display a character’s personality. You can’t have them giving a soliloquy or monologue halfway through the match, where they’re waxing poetically about their father or something like that. To reinforce a character’s memorability, you have to come from like five different angles in order for people to get to know them.

What would you say is your biggest anxiety and the thing you’re most excited for players to see going into the beta?

CB: My biggest anxiety is people seeing what sets us apart from the other games. People like to pattern match and dismiss things; they see character abilities and they go, “Oh you’re Overwatch.” First off, look at the way we look, we don’t look like Overwatch at all. Just get your hands-on with the game and give it an honest shake. That’s the beauty of a beta and alpha; you’re free to try it.

Everybody who’s had chance to play, especially here, has been like, “Oh, wow. Okay, this is different.” Getting that word out through folks such as yourself, as well as our publisher Nexon, will make that clearer. There’s also keeping in touch with streamers, YouTubers, social media, etc. You really have to go above and beyond in order to get them to pay attention. And there’s also making sure everything works on launch.

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But I’m most excited about seeing the entire team’s reaction. As we develop the game, the team can sometimes feel way too close to it. When people get their hands on the game, I know they’re going to dig it. Last night, I stayed up chatting with the fans for a little while until about 12:30 AM. By the time I got back, I couldn’t sleep because it was like, “Oh my god. This is crazy. It’s happening.” I wish that some of that excitement would rub off on the team; hopefully it will in the beta.

With the beta coming out so soon, what’s your best piece of advice to anybody that’s about to dive into the beta?

CB: Aim.

[laughs] Okay, aside from the obvious.

CB: My point about that is that in these types of shooters, you get an ultimate ability that kills the whole opposing team. You don’t have to do anything; it’s a win button. I don’t want to do that in LawBreakers. I want it to require a certain amount of skill to pull off. The big thing is look up, pay attention, and switch up your tactics. Try all the different roles and make sure your buddies do, too. Learn how they interact and connect together.

AB: I was also going to say look up, but we were also noticing a lot of people here were playing a class and only using the base weapon, pressing the left mouse button to fire. But you also have a right mouse button! You also have the ability to fire your weapon and abilities backwards. You have all these weapons at your disposal, but people don’t even try them, especially in their first hour. They just want to switch characters because spending too much time is too in-depth for them. But there’s a lot of stuff to learn; there’s actually a help screen where you can look at details about the mechanics.

But I’d say to players to experiment with what’s available to you. At the show, I’ve seen people do stuff that I’ve never seen before. There’s definitely a lot to understand that people hopefully can dig into and spend a lot of time with.

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