The thing Cliff Bleszinski most repeated earlier this month at a hands-on event for his new game LawBreakers, is that this is something he is making having grown older.
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As a result, he announced to a room full of press in the downtown Raleigh, North Carolina offices of Boss Key productions, this game was going to be Very Mature.
The first way this coming-of-age revelation unfurled itself was an outward disdain for the overuse of bright colours in fellow class-based shooter debutantes for 2016, Blizzard’s Overwatch and Gearbox Studios’ Battleborn.
To Cliff, this is simply a knee-jerk reaction to a trend he himself set in motion many, many years before.
“In 2006 when Killzone and Gears came out we had the brownification of games – where everything had that desaturated look,” he quickly clarified, as if worried the very technical term “brownification” might be misinterpreted for disparaging toilet humour.
In fact, as if to even spite them further, he boasted of the diverse cast of characters LawBreakers featured on each of its two highly nuanced teams, the Law and the Breakers, who break the law and are therefore the de facto ‘baddies’. Some of them were even women.
To be fair, the characters themselves, even the LawKeeping ones, were described as aggressive, sweary anti-heroes – albeit ones with more relatable backstories than the cartoonish classes of Overwatch and Battleborn.
“You’re not playing as a gorilla or a mushroom or anything like that,” Cliff said, referencing Winston and Miko from their respective, aforementioned, games. “You’re playing as an assassin, or an ex-con, or you’re playing as, just…a DEA agent. All of these very cool characters that are aspirational, at least for me.”
CliffyB’s ex-con aspirations aside, although LawBreakers’ characters are grittier, meaner, nastier than their “Pixar-esque” brethren, they’re still cartoonish. Every time I, as the Vanguard Toska-9, would satisfyingly insta-gib someone who strayed too close with my pulse gauntlet, I would half recoil, half incapacitate myself with laughter as my virtual mouth spat “Eat this, motherfucker!” in a thick Russian inflection.
Throwing a handful of explosive shells at a wounded enemy to finish them off, and hearing myself growl: “Hope you bitches like shrapnel” I tried not to think about whether the 27 times I’ve gone round the sun are one time too many for peak LawBreakers character appreciation.
We get it. It’s gritty. Everyone’s gone too far towards Disney and Cliff wants to drag us kicking and screaming out of our playpen and into a viewing of the Hateful Eight. But perhaps there are other ways to mature your aesthetic without resorting to jobs that only grown-ups want or effin’ and jeffin’. Here are a few we’ve prepared for Boss Key’s next design meeting.
That’s not literary consonance, so you don’t need to worry about making all the guns sound like beat poems or anything. No, no, you just need to have a story which fits the theme of anti-gravity murder, with mature themes. It could be that one of the characters lost their father when he fell off a stepladder while putting their old uni text books in the attic. So, ashamed that their drive for education ultimately led to the death of their father, they went off the rails, eventually ending up in the penal system.
However, while in prison, they realised that it wasn’t their fault, it was actually gravity’s fault, and now they want to beat gravity into submission. You can actually have them say that in a cutscene, and then that can be the cut-to-black trailer finisher you’ve been waiting on for launch. Maybe another backstory can focus on some super mature themes, like how one of them took a menial labour job to support their significant other through nursing school, but then they slowly drifted apart and couldn’t reconcile the gulf between them.
What people want when they’re older is stories. Stories that make them feel something about their younger years, and reminisce, but also stories that can wash over a brain addled by three night-time feeding sessions for a newborn.
’80s power suits
Bleszinski spoke of his admiration for the CS:GO cosmetic model. Offering some highly desirable skins that do nothing to affect gameplay is the bread and butter of business-conscious game design. So, naturally, you’re going to have a wardrobe for each character. Now, as is tradition for Cliff’s mature, action shooter games, everyone’s decked out in armour with more more bulk than a Costco shipping container. It’s functional, it’s practical, and it looks pretty damn cool on boxart.
But if you were looking for aspirational clothing to appeal to the mature audience, you’re thinking too far into the future, and should be looking at the past. At a decade that holds fond childhood memories for those who lived through the extravagance, and are now suffering the economic downturn caused by it. A decade when suits were considered fitted if the jacket’s shoulders were twice as broad as it was tall. Give everyone a power suit, and earn the maturity that only an 80s kid knows.
Soothing pastel colours
Complaining about there being too much colour in games like Smite and Overwatch is a fair cop. There are times, sat at the breakfast bar island in my kitchen watching League of Legends on my Space Silver iPad Air, that I worry that all the E-numbers absent from my Jordans Country Crisp have found their way onto the screen. It’s sickeningly sweet, with gumdrop purple forests and lime green lasers darting across the Rift, and frankly it’s just not conducive to a laid-back Sunday when the kids are out at Judo.
But going back to your roots, to that classic HDR bloom over a sepia cardboard landscape, isn’t the way. LawBreakers looks great right now, just the right amount of shine and zing, but what if you were to throw a nice Mineral Mist paintjob over Axel’s rifle? Or how about making Bomchelle’s Hammerhead launcher a soothing Lilac Spring. If you need, I’ve got a colour matching wheel left over from when we did the utility room before Christmas.
It’s a little cliché to just be forced to watch your team-mates when you’ve been taken out of the fight. And it’s far too enraging to be shown your opponent’s flawless handiwork dispatch you from a kill cam perspective. Removing either option leaves a lengthy wait until your respawn with nothing to keep the mind ticking over. Perhaps that’s a solution in itself, meditative mindfulness, or is there something more you can use this time for? For a mature game, there is no subject more worthy of tackling than death.
The consequences of death don’t make for very fun gaming experiences, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be explored. For instance, what if when your character died, you were shown a montage of images from how their friends and family survived them. One, a child placing a single lily on a closed casket (it would have to be closed, did you see what that Hammerhead missile did to you?), and another your grieving widower, sitting in a stationary car in a closed garage, taking a moment of silence, just to cry.
Look, basically, maturity isn’t fun. So just focus on making fun things, alright?
How else could LawBreakers capture the realism and malaise of adult life? Let us know in the comments below.