Recently I spoke with Antti Summala, lead designer on Shattered Horizon. Shattered Horizon is a multiplayer first-person shooter for PCs that tasks players to battle in the zero gravity of near-Earth space.
A closed beta test has just started. Some of the details below may change before the game’s final release.
GVK: What is the background and setting for the game?
The events in Shattered Horizon take place 40 years from now. In the game world, Man is back on the Moon and the companies that took him there are reaping huge profits. Their greed soon leads to the largest mining accident in history, when an explosion throws billions of tons of rocky debris into near-Earth space. Fragments of the Moon settle around the Earth and become known as the Arc.
You can see this explosion in our “Breaking News” teaser trailer.
With Earth now surrounded by debris there’s little chance of rescue or return. Survivors on the Moon are forced into conflict with those trapped on the battered International Space Station. Control of the Arc means the difference between survival and death in the cold of space.
What are some of the locales gamers will see in the game?
The entire game takes place in the zero gravity of near-Earth space. Gamers in the closed beta are playing three different levels, each designed to provide a different zero gravity experience.
Moondust is an oxygen-rich fragment of Moon rock where MMC miners have set up a mining facility. This is a risky venture, as the Arc’s rotation brings it right under the ISA’s nose. The MMC has little choice: with most of Moon’s oxygen farms destroyed, they are literally fighting for air.
Moondust is designed to be accessible to new players. It features a lot of indoor spaces, corridors and caverns. There are man-made structures which give a natural sense of “up” even though there’s no gravity. Combat tends to be close range and sudden.
The remains of Hadley Science Station now orbit the Moon. The station contains stockpiles of high-purity nuclear fuel that could sustain the conflict for years. Determined to cut the MMC’s fuel supply, the ISA launches a mission to confiscate the supplies or destroy them.
In Flipside players fight on both sides of a broken disc of Moon rock, moving between the two through cracks and fractures in the level. As players move from one side to the other, up becomes down. Teams must control both sides to win.
A meteoroid impact has severed the International Space Station nearly in two. MMC troops seize the opportunity to raid the crippled and understaffed station. A skeleton crew of ISA astronauts must hold out against the attack.
ISS is the most open of the three beta levels. The long axis of the station provides clear direction for the players. In this level players can make full use of zero gravity resulting in fast paced tactical play.
What are some of the weapons we will see and will there be alt fire modes?
The game is set 40 years in the future, and our weapon design reflects that. Players fight with automatic weapons, there are no laser guns. Some of the weapons, especially grenades, are designed for use in space. Even so, in space it is impractical for an astronaut to have a large amount of weapons and equipment. For that reason each player in Shattered Horizon carries a single multifunctional assault rifle. Using this weapon, the player is equipped for every type of combat scenario: up-close melee attacks, medium range fire fights and accurate long range combat.
Grenades are fired with the rifle’s under-slung launcher. In zero gravity, grenades have special properties: they fly straight and true, with no drop to limit the range. Players can also ricochet grenades off surfaces to attack beyond their line of sight.
The ICE grenade releases a fine cloud of water particles which flash freeze in the vacuum of space. The ice crystals block both sight and radar. This grenade can be used to provide cover, block lines of sight or disorient enemies caught in the cloud.
The EMP grenade disables an astronaut’s suit electronics. When a player is caught in an EMP blast their HUD crashes, taking away their radar and audio simulation. Their rocket pack also becomes less responsive, inhibiting movement until the suit’s OS reboots.
The MPR grenade’s blast pushes away astronauts and floating objects. Players can use the MPR grenade to dislodge defenders from their cover, or protect themselves from charging enemies by knocking them back.
GVK: Will vehicles be used in the game?
Everyone in Shattered Horizon has a rocket pack for moving around the levels. No other vehicles are necessary to get about. The rocket pack also has a boost mode, great for getting you into the action quickly, or for making a fast escape when under fire.
GVK: What forms of multiplayer does the game include and will there be co-op play?
Shattered Horizon is a multiplayer-only game. There are three game modes we’re testing in the beta. All the levels and all the game modes support a maximum of 32 players divided into two teams.
In Battle two teams compete to capture control points and dominate the map. Teams must defend their own control points while attacking the enemy’s.
Assault is a turn-based control point capture game. Teams take turns attacking and defending. Control points cannot be recaptured by the defending team once lost. The attacking team must capture all control points in order to win the round.
Skirmish is a team deathmatch game mode. At the end of the round, the final score determines the winning team.
GVK: What engine is the game using and what are some of the new features it will offer gamers?
Shattered Horizon uses a DirectX 10 engine we built in-house. It is based on the 3DMark Vantage engine but has evolved and improved as the game progressed. Game logic was developed with in-house technology, but we also use some great middleware: Natural Motion’s Morpheme, Umbra occlusion culling, Firelight Technologies’ FMOD and NVIDIA PhysX. We’re also part of NVIDIA “The Way It’s Meant To Be Played” program.
Because the game is set in space, we created a lighting system that would make the game look unique and authentic. As players fly around the levels they will see lots of cool lighting effects from the sun and the Earth. Adaptive tone mapping makes players’ eyes adjust as they move from shadow to sunlit areas. Lighting is also a gameplay element. It is possible to hide in shadows to ambush your opponents, and players’ rocket packs and their gunfire dynamically light up the environment, which makes it easier to spot them.
GVK: Does the game offer and ranking and rewards system?
Players can check detailed game statistics online as well as in game. We are testing a rewards and ranking system in the closed beta, but it is too early to confirm exactly how that will work in the final game.
GVK: What are the biggest obstacles you faced in creating the game and the biggest success?
The biggest challenge has been designing levels for zero gravity. There are plenty of established level design rules that still apply, but in a lot of cases we found we had to throw out the rule book. Learning to design and think about a level that is played in a space rather than on a surface required a lot of experimentation and iteration. We’re very keen to see which of the three beta levels proves most popular with our testers.
The biggest success so far has been our control model that makes moving around in zero gravity fun and intuitive. We let press get hands-on at Gamescom and we are very happy with their reaction to the game. We have an extremely enthusiastic and supportive community in the closed beta who are helping us fine tune everything. As we get ready to launch the game later this year we invite all FPS gamers looking for something fresh to check out Shattered Horizon.
GVK: Will additional content be available in the future?
We hope so. Zero gravity has plenty of potential for new types of levels, game modes and experiences. We also have a strong background setting that supports a lot of different gameplay scenarios. If Shattered Horizon gathers a strong community then providing additional content is something we’d be very interested in.
GVK: What formats will the game be released on?
Shattered Horizon is PC only.
GVK: What are some of the features the game offers that are new to the genre?
Zero gravity is the biggest difference players will experience between Shattered Horizon and other FPS games. Still, Shattered Horizon is faithful to the FPS genre in control scheme and game objectives. Our design aim is to make zero gravity fun. To achieve that, we made it as easy to get into the game as possible. Anyone who’s ever played an FPS game on the PC can just sit down and start playing.
Zero gravity affects every part of the game design. For example, players have inertia and will continue to move after firing their rocket pack. You can use this to move in one direction while aiming somewhere else. Combining zero gravity and the importance of lighting creates interesting tactical options: while you ‘coast’ your rockets don’t light up the environment, letting you move stealthily.
Another feature we’re excited about is our selection of grenades. All the grenades in Shattered Horizon are non-lethal tactical grenades. Rather than provide cheap one-shot kills, they are designed to support team tactics and enhance the zero gravity experience.