As part of GameSpy's Game of the Year Interview Series, we speak with Warhawk's Senior Producer, Harvard Bonin.
As the GameSpy editors gathered for our annual Game of the Year kick-off meeting, a furious argument broke out over the game Warhawk. "It's just a shame that the Warhawks were so underpowered," someone said. "Are you kidding me!?" someone else blurted: "A good player can dominate the map with one of those!" All of a sudden, everyone was chiming in: This weapon was unstoppable, that weapon was too weak, you're not using it right, etc. etc. It underscored the truth behind Warhawk's success as a multiplayer game: this game is so balanced that players continually walk a fine line between being a badass or a crater on the ground.
Aside from being a great game in its own right, Warhawk broke some new ground for the PlayStation 3. It was distributed both digitally and at retail. And as basically an online-only title, it really put the PlayStation Network to the test. There was no doubt in our minds that it should be a Game of the Year nominee.
On the eve of our annual Game of the Year awards, we took some time out to talk with Harvard Bonin, the Sr. Producer at Sony Computer Entertainment, America.
GameSpy: Thanks for taking the time to chat about Warhawk! Congratulations on being a nominee for Game of the Year.
Harvard Bonin, Sr. Producer, SCEA: Thanks very much. The Sony and Incognito teams are very excited to be considered... Our Incognito partners are working hard on the next booster pack called Omega Dawn, set to arrive in December.
GameSpy: Warhawk (barring the split-screen mode) is basically an online-only title. This was a risky move -- what made you think the timing was right for an online-only game?
Harvard Bonin: While releasing an online-only game may seem risky, to us it was the right time to do so based on the maturing PlayStation 3 online audience. The PlayStation 3 has an easy-to-access, robust network infrastructure and is extremely good at delivering a quality online experience. Online only games have been prevalent in the PC business for years and we felt that the time was right to deliver a really fun online game for our audience.
GameSpy: Warhawk was available as a direct download title on the PS3. Now that it's been out a couple months, how do you think the digital sales went? Do you think this is the future for console games, especially multiplayer?
Harvard Bonin: For Sony, Warhawk was a first when it comes to digital distribution. We'd never released a title that is traditionally released via blu-ray in the retail channel before. In the past, the sheer size of such a title prevented this. Now with the PlayStation 3 and the PlayStation Store we are able to offer our audience an alternative to the standard ways they purchase games. Warhawk is rather large and takes a bit longer than we'd like to download. In the future we'll work on this. As it stands it's another avenue for Warhawk to get onto as many PlayStation 3s as possible. Also, it's important for us to consider our retail partners and make sure we're working with them when it comes to trying new distribution channels.
GameSpy: One of the things that impressed us about Warhawk was that it simultaneously nailed the low-level infantry combat part of the game and the high-level, battlefield-wide scope of aerial combat. How did you go about balancing these very different parts of the gameplay?
Harvard Bonin: That's a good insight and one that we worked hard on. It's vital for the player to have all tactics be viable. It really just came down to play balance and ensuring that each theater of war (ground, air) overlapped regularly and that each could influence the other. For instance, we need soldiers to be able shoot down a Warhawk... so they have a rocket launcher. But they can't be so powerful that it always happens. Thus, a player flying a Warhawk can avoid surface-to-air missiles through some crazy acrobatics or simply by using the chaff function. We need to make sure that all tactics and player actions have importance.
GameSpy: Given the fast pace of the combat once you go online, do you think Warhawk suffered by not having any kind of offline tutorial mode?
Harvard Bonin: I think the game and our audience would have been better served if it had one. Unfortunately time didn't allow for it but you can bet we'll look hard at this feature for future products.
GameSpy: Warhawk changed gears substantially during development, from a single-player experience to a purely multiplayer throwdown. What triggered the change?
Harvard Bonin: The scope of the project coupled with brand new PlayStation 3 technology were the biggest influencers on this decision. While it was later than we'd have liked, in the end it was the right course. Warhawk has been nominated by the AIAS [Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences] for numerous awards, not to mention the coveted Gamespy Game of the Year! We did something right, I guess! As the PlayStation 3 becomes the system of choice and more people are won over by the great catalogue of software we're hopeful that our audience continues to grow. I'm glad we were able to focus on a specific experience that, while different from the way Warhawk began, turned out to be a lot of fun and an important asset to the PlayStation Network.
GameSpy: Capture-the-Flag or Deathmatch gameplay is familiar to veterans of online gaming, but the "nodes" mode -- where you gradually acquire territory by hanging around your own turf -- is a new flavor. What inspired this?
Harvard Bonin: Thanks, we like it too. Territory acquisition is a staple in strategy games and we felt it was an underrepresented component in our genre. The "node" mode slows down the game action for a bit and requires a player to be somewhat vulnerable while they acquire the territory. It was an interesting angle and one that turned out to be a lot of fun.
GameSpy: Now that the game has been out a few months, are you finding that certain game modes are proving to be the most popular? Are any strategies developing online that you didn't expect?
Harvard Bonin: Deathmatch continues to be popular but the others get their fair of action. Thankfully, due to our beta and extensive testing we've not yet seen extremely unexpected strategies. However, we are expecting some unique tactics in the Omega Dawn booster pack. It features a Dropship that can carry seven soldiers, six missiles and one powerful cannon. Not to mention that it can also pick up other vehicles along with their passengers. I've had a blast with it so far, especially in Capture the Flag.
GameSpy: We've heard that the PlayStation 3 is a real beast to develop on, but with Warhawk you managed to generate spectacular visuals running at a superb framerate. What do you think of the PS3 as a development platform? And what do you think we'll see from the system moving forward as more developers master it?
Harvard Bonin: Our experience has been very positive and, given that we are focused only on the PlayStation 3, reasonably straightforward. The extreme power built in this machine has only been touched on. Warhawk tapped into it but now that I've seen games like Uncharted I'm really excited to see what else we can tap into.
GameSpy: What's next to come for the Warhawk franchise? What are you cooking up?
Harvard Bonin: I knew that was coming! We are about to release our first pack called "Operation: Omega Dawn". It features a huge new map called the Omega Factory and also a new flying vehicle called the Dropship. We also retrofitted some of the other original maps with the Dropship. We're also continuing to focus on game updates with the next coming out around the time the booster pack is released. From there, we'll see. We are committed to supporting Warhawk in the future and are actively working on new Warhawk-specific offerings. We'll announce these in the near future.
GameSpy: We'll be all over that! Thanks for speaking with us and congratulations again on your nomination.
Harvard Bonin: Thanks very much. We're thrilled to be nominated and wish all the other great games "Good Luck!"
GameSpy's Game of the Year awards will run throughout next week. How will Warhawk fare? Stick around to find out!