Like Breach or even The Punisher: No Mercy (God, how I try to forget about that game), Blacklight Tango Down hopes to capture the kind of audience who just wants a straight-up multiplayer-oriented FPS. Blacklight is based 25 years in the future--a future that sees the world gone to crap. But because it shirks a real narrative, there's no sense in grounding you with plot specifics.
No, the real focus of Blacklight is its non-class-based multiplayer mechanics. As an uber-soldier, you'll have the ability to unlock weapon parts and customize your guns. In fact, there's over a million ways you can tweak your gun with various scopes, stocks, barrels, tags, and even magazines. And because the game's run-and-gun style of play doesn't cater to campers very well, you'll also have the ability to see through walls via a handy device dubbed the "HRV."
As of this writing, I still haven't checked out the game, despite its arrival on Xbox Live Arcade this afternoon. But I did get the chance to talk to lead designer Jared Gerritzen before launch. You'll notice that Gerritzen is a witty and candid dude, totally willing to reveal all about Zombie Studios' latest product. He also answered my totally ridiculous question about a future Robocop game. What a guy.
== TEASER ==Before we get into Blacklight: Tango Down, I have to ask, where did the name of your studio come from?
Jared Gerritzen: Better yet, why our studio is called Zombie and we have a Devil girl as the logo. I know it’s strange and I really don’t know the answer to it. My mom was kind of stressed out about the whole devil thing when I first got my business cards. I had to explain it was just a logo and I’m not working for Satan.
Can you list some of your favorite experiences that you've had while playing other first-person shooters? What's been your favorite in Blacklight so far?
Jared Gerritzen: Hmm, I’ve had so many great experiences from shooter. The most memorable is easily Half-life 2. I got it and played until 4 AM the day it came out. I finally got to a spot that I could quit for the night. Then laid in bed thinking about it so much I got up and played for 5 more hours.
I like dark and gritty. Others complain about browns and blacks or broken buildings. Is Zombie doing anything to twist the setting of Blacklight to satisfy both parties?
Jared Gerritzen: It’s funny how much people complain about games being brown and grey. Yes, we did go for a cinematic feel with our post-process. However, we added overbuild to add color to the world that I feel really make it look different. Billboards and signs add lots of color and pop to the level. But until someone makes a game that is bright and shiny in looks people will still bitch, then when that game comes out they’ll complain saying it looks like Mario.
Blacklight focuses on weapon customization--scopes, stocks, and barrels--instead of bothering with tricky skill trees or less impactful clothing options. Is this true? And what does the unlock system say about Blacklight?
Jared Gerritzen: With a first person shooter what are you looking at the whole time? The GUN, we made the gun the focus of all things. I want players to make that gun their own. I want to pick up a gun and think “THIS IS RAD”. Fooling around with skill trees and clothing really wants want we wanted to focus on with this project.
As for the unlock system, I wanted it to be very simple for players to get gear and try new weapons. I notice lots of games making player specialize and put points toward one weapon class. WHY? Why not let the player get new items they wouldn’t normally try? I play with a SMG for speed half the time, then switch it up depending on my mood. Shotguns, sniper rifles, and even the heavy weapon are gear I like to jump on from time to time. I want players to get everything. All they have to do is play. Simple…
I've read that there are millions of options available for weapon customization. How ridiculous can your gun get? What's the craziest you've seen thus far?
Jared Gerritzen: Oh, the craziest is the last preset of the shotgun. It has a pistol grip, extended barrel, 4x holographic optic, with an extended magazine. It’s nasty.
How effective can each weapon be? I ask because Gearbox's Borderlands offered millions of weapons, yet most were less than ideal for combat. I chocked it up to the chaotic gun caldron, the computer behind the game. In Blacklight's case, it's the player creating the weapons. But is there room still for duds?
Jared Gerritzen: In Borderlands you’re hunting for guns, it was a great idea. With Blacklight the weapons are made by the player. If you want speed you use the lighter attachment, but they may not be as accurate. Kick, spread, and speed are just a few of the attributes that are affected by the weapon. You can’t make a “dud” really. If its super accurate it will be heavier, if it’s light it may be less accurate. It’s up to the player to balance the weapon to their play style, OR you can just make a crazy looking gun and deal with its draw backs.
What about super weapon combos? I'm thinking Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2's akimbo shotguns here.
Jared Gerritzen: JESUS, I hate that combo. I use it all the time just to get the guys using that combo. We have a pretty big play test team off site and haven’t heard of any combo that makes anyone “INSANE WITH RAGE” like the marathon, akimbo, shotgun combo. I think I play less COD now that everyone seems to be playing with that. Oh well, Blacklight will be out soon, I’ll have that to play.
Each user gets his own Hyper Reality Visor, a hip device that allows him to see all the enemies on the battlefield--even though walls. I'm under the impression that the HRV has a heck of a cooldown, which should lessen its impact, but not kill its battlefield usefulness. How often will players be able to use it?
Jared Gerritzen: The recharge time for HRV is only about 5- to 15-seconds depending on the uses. I use HRV about 4 times per life.
When did the idea for the HRV come along during development? How will it affect the pacing and strategy of Blacklight Tango Down?
Jared Gerritzen: We added HRV in to the game right at the beginning. HRV happened in a bar, one of our team members had a cell phone app that show restaurants (bar) in the area. We spent the night using it and talking about how crazy it would be to track other people with the app. We ended up putting it in game and testing it out, to our surprise it was really fun and made the combat even more fast and fun.
Everyone uses HRV differently, you can instantly use it to try frontal attacks, or use it to sneak around and take out the lone snipers. It’s really cool to see how the developers use it or don’t use it at all.
Could you tell me a bit about the four-player co-op mode? What type of missions will it have? How will we work together?
Jared Gerritzen: Co-op missions are very intense--our lead level designer really set the combat to “eleven” with the amount of AI that are attacking. The idea of co-op with Tango Down is to give players that just want to play with friends a way to do so.
The missions are simple and straight-forward. We didn’t add a story for everyone to sit through every time they play the mission. We wanted them to be more re-playable rather than story driven. The mission has you hunting down objects and moving them to points in the map in one map, and just escaping in others.
The Black ops are focused on co-op, but a player can go in solo. However, its best to bring a friend. Working together and flanking the AI is the best way to get through the maps for the score bonus. We added some pretty big bonuses to the COOP missions. We also made sure everything you do in COOP will go toward you Multiplayer score. All weapons and loads outs are used in both game types.
What is the advantage of not creating a full-blown, packaged title like Zombie has in the past?
Jared Gerritzen: I’ve done huge games before. It’s not as much fun. Most “full-blown” games are based off a franchise, remakes, sequels, and prequels now days. I’m hoping we start a trend and show others small groups can still put out content that is as good as the big studios with 100 plus people. Look at District 9. It was filmed of a fraction of what other movies are made with, they really change a part of Hollywood. We’ve done Blacklight with a fraction of the budget and time. I hope we change a part of the game industry.
How has Zombie's experiences with previous games impacted the development of Blacklight?
Jared Gerritzen: Most of the experience is from other studios, not only am I from a different studio but most of my entire team has come from other studios. I believe only three worked on any other Zombie game. We have developers that work all over the world. It’s a melting pot of talent.
Random question, but I need to ask: do you think there's room for a new-age Robocop action game?
Jared Gerritzen: Robocop! Hell yes, that’s a great idea for a new game. I want to do a remake of Daikatana, but the Wayans brothers have to do the writing.
How much support will Blacklight have post-release? Can we expect regular DLC and patches across all three platforms?
Jared Gerritzen: We’ll fix any bugs or nasty issues that pop up. We could do “map pack” and “weapon packs” and eventually make so the fans pay full price for the game after a few months. But with other games bleeding the fans for maps they already had, it really put me off of map packs. We have 12 maps in the game, we could have easily pulled a few back and made people pay for them later, but I want people to be fans of the game not think we’re trying to pull the same crap others are.
Last question: what do you hope players will get out of Blacklight Tango Down?
Jared Gerritzen: The only thing I hope people get out of Blacklight is a great game experience and a respect for download games. They don’t have to be arcade games from the '80s that you remember being way better than they are.
Many thanks to Mr. Gerritzen for his time!