In his GDC Europe keynote, Guerrilla Games managing director Hermen Hulst discussed the genesis of the KillZone creator and its successes and failures in building up to become a Sony-owned AAA console powerhouse.
Hulst started by noting: "To survive and to grow... you need to consistently improve yourself", and Guerrilla's experiences have informed their history. Hulst explained that in December 1999, they demonstrated a tech demo to Sony Computer Entertainment in London called Marines, which he actually showed to the audience.
The Guerrilla MD joked that at the time, "sound design had to gloss over ropey art", but Sony signed the title that would become Killzone, and along the way, he explained the key decisions they made.
Firstly, they decided to make a console sci-fi FPS. He said that "it's very hard to imagine how risky the idea was in these days". The only console FPS success was GoldenEye for N64, and only PC FPSes were really popular. Of course, there's a massive market for FPSes now, which means titles like KillZone 3 can now command big budgets.
The other key decision, according to Hulst, was "developing our own technology from scratch". Although Guerrilla has discussed the ramifications of this "enormous investment" a great deal, he's overall happy that they built their own engine.
The technology "becomes part of your game's DNA" -- the tech is custom-created, and can be tailored very specifically for Guerrilla's titles. Hulst referenced titles like Uncharted 2, LittleBigPlanet, and God Of War 3 -- which all have aspects he believes can only be done with custom engines.
Discussing the creation of the Helghast, the Guerrilla MD noted that in the Aliens movies, the bad guys are given much more history than the protagonists. So, the concept of a game where the bad guys take center stage was very interesting to the Dutch developers. Simply put, it's: "Space Nazis vs. Space Good Guys."
After showing the intro to Killzone, which is oriented much more towards the efficiency of the militaristic Helghast and defining them, rather than showcasing the relatively weak humans, Hulst explained they took the look of the Helghast from both Russian and German military uniforms, alongside its glowing eyes.
He referenced the Japanese anime Jin-Roh, which has Helghast-like 'red glowing eyes' characters in it, and which the team found out about very close to the release of the first game. As he mused: "If you think you have a killer idea, chances are somebody else has had it as well." But that shouldn't stop you from trying to "own" the imagery or the concept.
Growing up swiftly, the team shipped Killzone 1 for PlayStation 2, and delivered "a game... not the game that we hoped, but a game." They had their technology in place, and could focus on improving and fleshing out their team with designers, producers, and more focus.
They then moved on to make what was intended as "a showcase title" on PlayStation Portable, Killzone: Liberation, and started to build out their structure -- with a game director and game producer. Gameplay was proved early, and the team started working on vertical slices of gameplay and technology.
With established rules and proven gameplay, Liberation had a 77 Metacritic rating, much better than Killzone's 70 rating. And in the meantime, Killzone 2 started production for the PlayStation 2, for a Christmas 2006 release date -- but Guerrilla was also looking at the PlayStation 3 and Killzone 2 as more of a "stealth project."
Being asked to make a "behind closed doors" demo for the kind of technology they expected to make on PS3, the Guerrilla team made a trailer. Then, of course, Sony showed the CG trailer in public, and "it created a lot of buzz around both the PlayStation 3 and Killzone." It certainly created a lot of buzz, but it "also created quite a lot of controversy [and] smeared our reputation as a studio", Hulst said.
Hulst noted that the much-discussed Killzone 2 CG trailer proved to be "both a blessing and a burden" to the studio -- since they had to accelerate their plans and move up swiftly to the PlayStation 3. And around this time, the acquisition of Guerrilla by Sony happened -- Hulst noted: "Theoretically being an independent studio give you a sense of freedom, but really, for us it was a distraction."
The company has managed to keep company culture intact, even through the acquisition by Sony, thanks to the relatively hands-off nature of Sony Worldwide Studios (also home to Naughty Dog and Polyphony Digital).
As Hulst noted, for Killzone 2 and its CG trailer, the company had somewhat accidentally created "a trailer but no tech and no design" -- quite similar to the first Killzone title. So where do go from here? The company looked in a lot of detail at the worst-reviewed aspects of the previous title, and made sure they were some of the best things within Killzone 2.
It took three and a half years to make Killzone 2 -- which shipped in 2009 with a 91 Metacritic rating -- quipping to any marketing people present, "really try to avoid announcing a game before you've actually started doing any work on it." It rated much better, but there was room for improvement, and the Guerrilla Games team were committed to making Killzone 2 swiftly and efficiently.
Changing the process, Guerrilla has been getting its processes and technology even more co-ordinated, and it's currently in alpha on Killzone 3, which is due out in early 2011. But he concluded by revealing that the studio is expanding to work on a "game with a scope and a level of ambition that once again makes us nervous" -- specifically a "brand new IP."