Lawbreakers is an upcoming multiplayer shooter from Cliff Bleszinski's Boss Key Productions. Bleszinski famously worked on major franchises like Gears of War and Unreal Tournament back during his days at Epic, and at PAX East we got to talk to the man himself about Lawbreakers and where it's at, where it's going, and how it looks to set itself apart from the crowd.
We started by asking what happened after the alpha stage last summer, as there was a bit of radio silence from the studio during this period. "So if this was a meal, the alpha would have been the [...] appetiser," he explained. "It was a really small taste of what we were going for with the game. It was eight characters, but let's be honest, it was really only four classes, which doesn't necessarily make a full multiplayer shooter experience, so now that we have a full seven on the show floor, it's really starting to become a lot more robust. We have a new map called Mammoth, and you can really see how our environment, our team, is really starting to gel. Grand View is an okay map, looked decent, but now Mammoth is starting to look really fantastic, as well as the upcoming maps you'll see beyond that."
"The alpha was also a stability test, we're also getting feedback," he continued. "People thought the game was a little bit too slow - we sped it up, allowed your abilities to happen, as well as clarity of experience, little red outlines over enemies, health bars over their heads. [Also] being able to play with these three new characters, three new ways to play. We finally have a close quarters actual tank, our robot juggernauts, and then we have a really high-precision aim character, with the gunslinger, it's almost like a sniper without the sniper rifle, and then we have our version of the medic, a battle medic. So it's very much like a fire and forget type of medic where they sling healing drones out at people and they get right back to shooting, as well as creating giant bubble shields to kick enemies out of your base. So everything's really starting to come together, you know. If this was a machine, for want of a better term, with cogs in it, it'd be more than just a few cogs, and you can really start seeing like, when the final two come on board, the Wraith and the Harrier, which we kind of teased in our panel yesterday as you saw, you'll really see that the nine roles really give you that Team Fortress 2 level of variety that you expect in a game like this. And beyond on release of course."
Bleszinski also explained some of the key features that distinguish Lawbreakers from other character-based shooters. "Well with our roles and our characters we actually go a little bit deeper than a lot of other character-based shooters," he explained. "The majority of the characters and weapons have a secondary fire on mouse two [for instance], which strangely a lot of gamers haven't figured out yet. I'm like 'alt-fire's not a new thing,' or maybe I'm showing my age, as well as many of them have a secondary weapon with mouse two, which again a lot of the character-based shooters don't really have."
"The other thing about our game and our ultimates [specifically], is that they're not just a win button. Some of these games, once your timer's up it's like 'ha, killed the other team,' and [we're] like 'okay, let's make it so you actually still have to aim a little bit.' You're still very, very powerful, but you still have to get your crosshair over the enemies. That's one of the things for us, that we wanted to be, not an RPG-ish game that's like a shooter, but we wanted to be a shooter first and foremost."
We also asked, picking up from what Bleszinski mentioned in the panel at PAX East, about how the studio has grown with the game. "We started safe with the first couple of characters, you know, the Assassin with the grapple [...] you look at the Enforcer, it's the army dude, your kind of standard shooter character. So when it comes to our later classes, you know, talking about Wraith and Harrier, we start getting pretty weird with the abilities and the ultimates as well as the characters, and the funny thing is is that our later characters are starting to become much more iconic, and so it's one of those things where I want to go back and make sure the skins for the earlier characters that you can find in the game are really, really crazy."
Another reason for these character designs being crazy is that Bleszinski said "I just want cosplayers. You've got to give a shoutout to Borderlands and Overwatch, I mean, half the cosplayers around here are that, so it's like if you've got cosplayers, you did something right."
With these characters, though, there's plenty of room for growth. "It's the old saying - I'm always learning," he continued. "With the characters, they are what they are at this point, and I'm always a big fan of walk before you run in regards to what our game is. I always talk about League [of Legends] having a catfish in a top hat. You don't start with a catfish in a top hat. You start with a cool enough character and then you can start getting really, really whacky."
We asked about how the map design had evolved during our interview as well, and Bleszinski said: "Our problem, and if you look at the majority of shooters, is, when players are given a choice, the majority would like a custom game. You could make however many maps you think are great, but inevitably they're going to settle on the one or two which are standard maps they want. I think that's partially the nature of that sport-like thing, you know everyone talks about esports, but whenever you show up to watch American football, or soccer, or hockey, or any of the other sports, it's still the same rink, the same arena [...] maps like Vertigo may end up being our penultimate ones."
There's plenty of little details in these maps too, and Bleszinski hopes this is where some of the flavour can come into the game, and his priority is "that passive narrative stuff [...] is in the environment, that there's, you know, a poster on the wall saying 'Join the Valkyries! Join the fight, girls!', 'It's been 0 days since our last accident' sign with blood all over it. Those are the little things [...] all those little things that, ironically, if you stop and look at them you usually wind up getting killed, but they really help flavour the universe."
In terms of what specific things will become fan-favourites, Bleszinski said: "It's like Mel Brooks used to say: do 100 jokes in a minute, and if 50 of them hit you're doing pretty good. So we're going to hit it far and wide on the map in regards to what's cool and interesting from a narrative or 'meme' standpoint possibly, and it's up to the gamers to think whatever's cool, and whatever becomes a thing, then we'll double down on that for t-shirts and mugs and things like that."
The Wraith and the Harrier classes were mentioned by Bleszinski at his panel at PAX East, and we also asked how these fit into the game. "It comes back to verbs for me. What am I doing in a game, am I running, am I jumping, and I diving? What kind of things can my character to in order to continue to have that enjoyable first person feeling of flowing throughout the world? And I think these characters really have a lot of that [...] when I worked on Gears [of War] for years, kind of doing this cover-based, stop and pop game, it worked for Gears, it worked for what Gears is, but for me getting back in that FPS flow where I could seamlessly flow through an entire map, there's something very pleasing about that. It goes all the way back to the classic shooters, and it feels good to be back in that space and have two characters who are going to continue to support that."
In terms of what the studio are looking at from the beta, Bleszinski said: "The first thing is skill-based matchmaking in there. The higher your skill level is the higher your skill-based matchmaking needs to be [...] so we want to see what's overpowered and underpowered. It's still going to be a guess, like, what we think is balanced in the office is total bull, because once it gets out in the wild they're going to find techniques, bugs, exploits, those kinds of things, and like I always say it's going to be a matter of reading the data behind the scenes, reading the forum feedback and the Twitter feedback, and then trusting our gut instincts. And then continue to hammer it out, you know - I still think Blizzard's tweaking Bastion as we speak."
Speaking more about the future, Bleszinski hopes that they'll keep working on Lawbreakers for a long time to come. "If this game hits as we hope it's going to hit, we'll hopefully never be done for years," he explained. "That's the new world order, right - have a game come out, telegraph that more stuff's coming, get that treadmill going at the studio, and just keep it coming. And tease it too, you know, show a silhouette of a character that may be coming, get the fans speculating [...] change a map, do sneaky stuff. People are smart, gamers are smart, they'll figure it out."
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