This past weekend, a few journalists and myself were flown out to Las Vegas to cover the H1Z1 Pro League (I’m working on a full editorial with my thoughts on the whole event for GameSpace, so stay tuned). We were also shown off some PS4 footage for the reveal announcement yesterday. I had the opportunity to sit down with Tony Morton, Lead Systems and Combat Designer, and pick his brain on some of the technical details, mechanics, and yes, Fortnite.
MMORPG: Elephant in room, there’s another Free-to-Play [F2P] juggernaut out there with Fortnite. What would you say to a 13 year old kid to say, “Hey I know you’re playing Fortnite, but you should check out this other game as well?”
Tony: Free To Play obviously removes any barrier to entry. But when it comes to a gameplay choice, they may show the same rule-set, but they are completely different games, right? So if you look at H1Z1, it’s more of a pure combat experience, it’s got the vehicles which are really fun, it focuses on airdrop, it focuses on conflict. And it’s about getting in, getting guns, and just shooting people. And I think it’s — while they may have the same rule-set, it is a completely different game, and I think there’s an audience out there that they’re willing to at least give that a shot.
The pure BR [Battle Royale], there’s an adrenaline rush when it comes down to like a me versus you, gun versus gun, and like that’s it. There’s nothing else on top of it, there’s no complications. It’s just my aim versus your aim, and I think it’s one of the things that, when you see things like the H1PL [H1Z1 Pro League], it’s kind of this gravitational force towards competitive because it’s a very competitive game. And I think that’s a different kind of addiction.
MMORPG: Compared to the PC version, the pace of the PS4 version is compressed. Do you think that increased pace, along with the low barrier of entry, is enough of a differentiator to entice people to say, “Hey I want to check this out?”
Tony:Yeah, “I want to give it a chance,” right? We made a lot of choices and we did our due diligence to make sure we didn’t just port it from PC. So whether it’s removal of inventory, removal of crafting, removal of salvaging, the weapon wheel, the match pacing, the airdrops, all these things went in with the cognizant mind-thought of like, “Let’s make this a great experience on console while preserving the ebbs and flows and the essences that are pure BR.” So when all these things kind of come together, I think it’s going to feel really good on console and all the way down to the control scheme. You just pick up and play, and just have fun.
MMORPG: What specifically is going to differentiate the PS4 Pro version from the base PS4 version?
Tony:Right now, from a more technical aspect, the biggest difference is the PS4 Pro is locked at 60fps. I think the normal PS4 right now is locked [to] at least 45fps. So there’s a slight frame difference. But even the normal PS4 version still runs really well. Outside of that, I’m not really sure from the technical aspect if there’s anything we’re taking advantage of.
MMORPG: So we’re looking at a locked 60[fps] on Pro?
Tony: Yeah, 60fps is the Pro version.
[Update 4/24/18 -- Confirmed to me via email that the PS4 Pro version is 60fps. The PS4 version is currently hitting mid-50fps with current internal testing, but Daybreak is working with Sony to optimize it. Both versions have a cap of 60fps.]
MMORPG: Do you know from a resolution standpoint, are you guys looking at a 1080p 60fps version?
Tony:That, I do not. I’m not sure if it’s 1080p.
[Update 4/24/18 -- Confirmed via email that the game is 1080p on PS4 Pro, 720p on base PS4.]
MMORPG: For shooters like this, I just prefer the dexterity of a keyboard and mouse. So when you guys ported over the control scheme into the DualShock 4, there are a lot of considerations one might make because going from the fluidity of a keyboard and mouse to a thumbstick, those are very different control schemes. In terms of things like aim down sights (ADS), on controllers there’s going to be some sort of aim assist. Some games have a very aggressive aim assist, some games are very loose with it, they have more of a free aim. Where do you guys want to sit in terms of assists to the console gamer because you had mentioned that you want to make this more action packed so it feels more familiar to those console gamers. What kind of balance are you guys striking?
Tony: The last I checked in, the console team — there’s usually a couple different types of aim assists. At least Call of Duty single player, you’ll notice they have a snap aim. You pull left trigger and it’s just boom, boom, boom. It’s more of a aim-shoot, aim-shoot, aim-shoot. And you just kinda lock and it feels good because you’re just popping around. Other games have more of a friction based. So you go to aim, and as you pan over somebody, it naturally slows down and speeds back up again so it helps you out. Last I checked, the console version for H1Z1 uses more of the friction-based. It’s not the snap-toggle aim. That's to allow a little bit more dexterity in terms of, "Do I want to aim for the body shot? Do I want to aim for the headshot?"
Because of the bullet drop as well as the bullet lead, if it was a full snap-aim on a running target, you're never going to hit him because the bullet is just going to keep dropping behind him. And so it's more of a friction-based where, as you get close to your target, you just feel the friction so it makes it a little bit easier to interact with.
MMORPG: As a PC gamer, that seemed like a very fun, fast pace. When I see that, I'm imagining it at 144 Hz with a keyboard and mouse. That seems like it could be pure chaos fun. Are there any plans or designs to have that mode as another kind of option for PC gamers?
Tony:The heritage of PC and where we're at -- we're excited for the PS4 because it kind of gives us a chance of a fresh slate of like, "Let's just try some new stuff. Let's get back to it, do a little bit of streamlining, do an innovation pass on BR," because BR is very much a 1.0. So if the PC audience sees stuff in console and are like, "Dude, we need that," then yeah, let's have that conversation. We're totally open to it.
There's a lot of things for H1Z1 and at Daybreak in general, we're definitely a "games as a service" company. Community is one of our pillars. And so if there are things or requests the community has that they see on one platform or another, then we'll totally be open to having conversations like, "Should we bring it over? Is it good for the game? Is it right for the game?" And if so, let's work with the community and get the right version out there.
MMORPG: I have to follow up on that because you mentioned "games as a service." As someone in the media and a consumer who spends money on these products, there is a concern that "games as a service" could go from "here's a full fledged product, and here's quality supplemental material that you can choose to invest in," to, "here's a shell of a game, and here are so-called 'free updates'" for content that should have been part of the game in the first place. How do you see H1Z1 as a "games as a service?"
Tony:There's a few different ways you can look at that, the "games a service" and more so how games go out there. H1Z1, we rolled into PC originally with the "Early Access" tag on Steam, which was a really good thing because the game changed a ton over the last couple years. It started as Just Survive, and split off to King of the Kill, and then back and forth. And so I think a lot of the expectation depends on how a developer/publisher kind of puts the framework out when a games comes out like, "Hey this is Early Access, this is super early just so you know." So I think there's a lot of responsibility on that aspect of it.
I think "games as a service" in terms of H1Z1 goes, it really comes down to the polish of features, the -- Battle Royale content is pretty much in line with what you would expect from any FPS [First Person Shooter], so more maps, or more guns. It's pretty standard, but even sometimes you get something crazy like -- for H1Z1 we do events frequently, whether it's shotty-snipers in different game modes, which comes with the whole "games as a service" tag because we're continuously looking to do new things where even on the PC front with Auto Royale. That was just a free piece of content that was completely different and everybody who owned the game already, may have not played it in a while, they reinstalled it just for that and was like, "oh cool." So I think that "games as a service" for H1Z1, and especially when done correctly, can be a huge win for the consumer.
MMORPG: So it's really about providing actual value rather than face value?
Tony: Daybreak for a very long time, it's MMO-company, MMO background. MMOs I think, when you look at an MMO from a content of standpoint, it's the holy grail of content. You buy the game and, whether it's sub-based or not, take the sub out of it. When you look at content drops, the content drops are huge like, "Here's another 200 hours of gameplay." That's like five or six boxed products in one. I think as we use that heritage to our advantage and what we're used to doing, it's definitely more about providing that free content for users. And if they want to engage or convert, then that's up to them. But it's always going to be cosmetic, so there's really no advantage to it.
MMORPG: It sounds like from launch, this mode shown off for the PS4 version, am I correct in assuming that's going to be the only launch mode?
Tony:What you saw up there was Solos. And we'll have Solos, we'll have Duos, we'll have Fives. I'm not sure what the actual plan is right now for the event-side. So like the Special Modes, whether it's Magnum Opus, where everybody has crossbows and Magnums, or shotty-snipers, which is self-explanatory. Those may be something we'll support. For the base game right now, it's Solos, Duos, and Fives.
MMORPG: The reason I'm asking is for cross-play purposes. Have you considered potentially adding some cross-play between PC and PS4? You have games like Rocket League which were PS4-PC cross-play. Obviously with Windows doing Play Anywhere, I can play Gears of War on PC with my buddy on Xbox. As a consumer, that's great because you don't have to worry about that barrier. Now it's not a matter of, "what platform?" It's, "I just want to play with my friends," and I can do that. Have you considered cross-play between PC and PS4?
Tony:Right now, we're not really looking into it. There are a few core differences. Bullet speed and bullet drop are completely different on the two platforms, so that's kind of a no-go. Even outside of that, when it comes to a game like H1 where the precision and dexterity that you gain on a mouse and keyboard, even with crazy aim assist on a controller, it's just night and day difference. So right now, the two platforms will play in their own playground. As we move forward, we may explore certain things. Maybe there's a chance through the events where we can do cross-play action, but at launch, and for the foreseeable future, PC will play with PC, and PlayStation will play with PlayStation.
MMORPG: Are there any designs to bring this to the Xbox family of consoles?
Tony:We get that one a lot as well. Right now we're focused obviously on PS4, want to get this out the door, want to make sure it can be the best version that it can be. And then once it's out there and we're happy, then we're totally open to exploring other platforms and other ideas, absolutely.
MMORPG: Thank you very much for your time.