At gamescom earlier this month, we got a chance to sit down with Boss Key Productions’ LawBreakers Lead Designer Dan Nanni to talk all things LawBreakers, as well as the obvious comparisons with Overwatch, as well as how the game development has changed from the game’s original concept to what it is today.
At the event, Nanni was found in amongst the queues and PC rigs on the show floor getting elbow-deep with players getting hands-on with LawBreakers. Immediately this showed a sense of compassion for the game as he was keen to mingle with those who have essentially shaped the game from its very first Alpha phase earlier this year.
Fortunately we didn’t have to conduct our interview in amongst the swarming crowds of excitable gamers, as we were taken to a nice quiet area to discuss the game. Of course before we jumped right in to the core of LawBreakers, we had to get the Overwatch comparisons out of the way.
LawBreakers and Overwatch have been compared a fair bit since the launch of Blizzard’s shooter, solely on the fact that for the most part, both games are hero shooters. But when it boils down to it, the two games couldn’t be more different. Nanni explained to us that while both games do have heroes, that’s really the only comparison which can be made.
“We’re actually offer more of an asymmetric or symmetrical back & forth mode that’s more sports like, more like playing football or basketball where it’s going back and forth,” he said.
“At the same time gravity is a huge differentiator in our game, that verticality in the game just changes the playscape completely, and all of our characters are built to play within this fear of gravity. On top of that, our characters and the way they play. I think once you start getting into it you begin to realise it’s very much about the gun, it’s very much about that high-skill shooting style, and at the same time it’s not about a very hard RPS, it’s about one character capable of doing something in a very heroic way.
“So we really want to jump in on that hero shooter sense. Look at football right now, in football a defender is not necessarily someone who’s going to score a hat trick but some days he does, and that person becomes the hero of the moment, he’s capable of doing it, he’s got a right leg, he’s got a ball in front of him, maybe he can do it, but it’s not his main style.
“We wanted to make sure we empowered all of our roles to be able to become heroes at any given moment whilst still having a niche in the game that might be more about playing with the objective to return it, while another is better at defending it, another is better at ranged support, but they’re all capable of becoming heroes.”
“It didn’t make sense to have the same person on both sides”
In addition to being a hero shooter, compared to Overwatch, LawBreakers doesn’t offer the same heroes on either side, you won’t find two of the same characters on opposite steams, instead each class has two characters each with their own personalities. This, according to Nanni, brings the world’s story to life.
“It didn’t make sense to have the same person on both sides fighting against each other as just a clone of themselves, we really wanted to embrace the idea that there is this world and this world is being fought over. And how do you do it? With a same identical role? Well you do it with two different characters so that way Axel is right up against Kintaro, they both have the same weapons and the same load out, but they’re two completely different personalities and two unique ways of interacting with our world’s environment, and y’know altering its universes story.”
One of the biggest unique appeals to LawBreakers is the aspect of gravity playing a key part of the game. While one minute you might be happy trotting along on the ground, if you stray too far into the centre of the map, or a player adds zero-g into the game, the whole thing can be turned upside down, and this adds a completely new way to play shooters.
“Gravity adds a whole X-axis or Z-axis of mobility, you just fly up into the sky and what that does is changes the way you interact with the game. If this entire thing was a play space vs. the floor, you’re going to be interacting and shooting people in different ways, but at the same time you’re using it as a traversal mechanic which means that things like blind fire isn’t just about shooting behind you, but actually ways to reverse propel yourself forward, so you can use the centre of the map to get to Point B faster, but at the same time you put yourself in a No Man’s Land where long-ranged characters can actually snipe you out of the air.
“It’s a mechanic that gives us a lot of combat potential so it increases the playscape in those areas and at the same time in those parts of the map that don’t have it, other characters can inject it at any time, so something that everyone was used to playing on the ground, suddenly an implosion incurs, zero-g is added into a room, and now this whole entire room is completely vertical.”
In LawBreakers, each of these different classes have their own unique abilities, one of these abilities caused a “happy accident” to occur according to Nanni. In the game, Assasin has the ability to grapple hook her way around the map and in some cases she could escape the play area and swing outside of the map. Interestingly, this wasn’t intentional.
“The way Assassin uses her grapple was one of those happy accidents when first we started out. We wanted to give her some sort of grapple hook to get to different ledges seeing as she was so squishy, we wanted her to have different availability for sneaking in on her opponents, and first it was about actually sticking to the wall and hanging out on the wall. We realised, while it was cool, it made her a camper and camping just doesn’t work for our game as it slows everything down, so somebody came up with the idea ‘can we make her more like Spider-man?’ so she doesn’t stick, but she swings around, and you can actually use the WASD controls while she’s swinging so you can actually wrap around corners, then that was really fun.
“Then someone tried doing it around the map and our levels, and we were like ‘woah, this wasn’t meant to go outside of the map’, but it’s fun, and sure, why not. As long as there’s nothing for players to land or get to a point that no one else can get to and mess around with the game mode, this was her unique way of getting around the map, it’s her escape exit, which is perfect for her as the Assassin, she’s very flimsy, so if she can get to that point, run away with the battery or try to break into a base, that’s perfect, it’s exactly what she’s built to do.”
“blind fire mobility is key to our game”
LawBreakers seems to be full of happy accidents too. Nanni explained that while gravity works as a great way to switch up gameplay, with the addition of blind fire it became a new way to actually move through these zero-g areas, which again, came as a complete surprise.
“Blind fire started out as one of those abilities to shoot behind you, and it was cool but it was really rare that you actually got killed from firing behind you, you can’t see anything so you hopefully are hitting a target. It’s really satisfying when you get it, but it’s really few and far between. We were still going to keep it in, then we realised that inside our zero-g areas, wherever there was low gravity, when you fired you started to propel yourself in the other direction, we had impulse on our weapons and it was like ‘what happens when I do this?’ and sure enough you start going forward.
“So we started playing around with this mechanic, and it turns out that our Titan, because he’s got a rocket launcher which has massive impulse, he can fly throughout these zero-g zones really fast, and it wasn’t intended so much as it seemed fun. And it seemed like it was a cool addition so we decided to keep it and focus on it. So now blind fire mobility is key to our game. If you don’t blind fire and use it as mobility to infiltrate bases or use it through zero-g areas, you’re actually at a disadvantage to those who do use it, and that was another happy accident.”
Right now, LawBreakers has just had its first Alpha phase which consisted of a chunk of sessions, and already things have changed dramatically from the game’s first iteration, namely in terms of speed. It turns out, players wanted the game to be much faster, and while Boss Key didn’t agree, they threw it in anyway due to sheer demand, and it became a pretty successful addition.
“At first when we launched, we weren’t really planning on messing with speed too much, we’ve tested speed out a lot, and as it got into players’ hands the large amount of feedback was ‘we want the game faster’.
“We were hesitant to do so because we’d tried faster before and then we realised, our audience wants it faster and it’s a really big demand, so we cranked up the movement speed, increased the FOV, we wound up increasing reload timers, we increased ability reuse timers, some of them drastically, and we just tossed it in and said ‘it’s going to break the game, but we’ll fix it’, and we’ve slowly but surely re-balanced all of these changes so it’s back at a point where there’s relative balance. There’s a little bit of fall-off that’s occurred because of it, but at the same time it’s a better experience overall, its what the players wanted and we support that.”
At this point during the interview I realised, the game now has fast movement, as well as the ability to rocket jump. It sounds quite familiar, right? A little Quake-like if we’re going to point fingers. Of course I wasn’t going to stay silent, so I simply asked, “Are you sure you’re not making the next Quake?” Fortunately it got a laugh and I wasn’t kicked out of the interview, also it actually raised a good point about where LawBreakers actually came from.
“We definitely have elements of that arena shooter in the DNA and the core of the game, and that’s not accidental, we really started out thinking ‘this is going to be an arena shooter’ and when we started playing around we started to realise we’ve been playing arena shooters for 20+ years now and we don’t need to make that exact experience again. Other people are already doing it anyway.”
“So back when we were making the original LawBreakers there wasn’t this whole team-based shooter thing, no five to seven studios trying it, it was just us thinking about it not knowing other development studios were doing it, so at that point it wasn’t a crowded market.
“Now it’s a little more crowded than it was before, but at the same time we think it’s the right direction, and I think we are all thinking along the same lines, this is a great place to be in the shooter world.”
“I know that we’re not going to be free-to-play, but we’re not going to be a $60 title”
To wrap up, we dove into the future of LawBreakers. Right now, the game actually has no release model, nor does it have a release date. With heavy testing going on, it may be a little while away before we actually hear of a release date. Though Nanni did reveal more about the game’s pricing model.
“I know that we’re not going to be free-to-play, but we’re not going to be a $60 title,” he said.
“There’s no fixed price on there. What we don’t want to do is allow people to buy some parts of the game and not others when it comes to gameplay. When it comes to cosmetics, that’s a different story, but from a gameplay perspective what it does is brings in a pay-to-win mentality, and for a competitive shooter, that’s something the shooter market doesn’t seem to be keen on. If I can buy something ahead of you, and I can spend more money to give me more firepower and that firepower caused me to win, it’s very sensitive discussion.
“So what we’ve decided to do is just say, it’s one price to buy it all. Now if we have different tiers, it’d probably be tiered more for collector’s editions that’ll have cosmetic differences, something like that, but right now we don’t even have those thoughts, it’s just one price for the base product all gameplay for life. No DLC, nothing like that, you’ll get all the characters, modes, maps from the very beginning.”
LawBreakers is currently in Alpha with various playtests being held in the coming months. You can sign up to get access to the Alpha through the game’s website.