Interview

Thomas Simon exposes HAWX

We take to the air with the lead designer

Tom Clancy's assent as a gaming stalwart has been one of the success stories of the last five years or more, and having secured an all-encompassing deal for the IP, publisher Ubisoft now seem determined to push forward with Clancy-inpired games in multiple genres. Shooters, RTS games, and even rumours of MMOs; Clancy knows no bounds. And now? An action-packed aerial dog-fighting game called Tom Clancy's HAWX. We sat down with lead designer Thomas Simon to learn more.

Why are you opting to create a new air combat game now?

Because we've never made one before! This sort of project takes a lot of time... this project you see now has been in the mind of the creative director for years and years. The first step was when we decided it was possible to have an air combat game in the Clancy world. Can you do air combat in that world? Just to develop the concept - the wrapping - took years, so its such a big project. Ubisoft have been working with Clancy for many years now, and they were ready to explore new areas, too.

The plot follows on from Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 I believe?

Actually, in the first mission of the game you are replaying a mission from GRAW 2. The role of the air-strike was included so that the game could open here; it was already in peoples minds. So you're actually replaying the mission from the air providing support, and you can see things you couldn't in the previous game. You have the bigger picture. So, you'll be playing with the Ghost Recon forces, it's just the beginning, you are there with the US air force then you will join a private military company which will take you on missions all around the world. The storyline you see is a proper Clancy story, there are many elements; as well as Ghost Recon we also hook in with EndWar...

Does this game lead into EndWar?

Not quite, we have a few more years between the two, but its not so far. For example the missile systems included in HAWX are in the other games, they actually have an important role in the storyline. You have to reactivate it because a satellite has been destroyed, and they need to launch a new satellite and re-start the missile system to protect against a nuclear threat. This game is all about air supremacy, and we include prototypes of vehicles from EndWar.

There's been a deliberate effort to blend this game into the Clancy world?

Yes, it becomes very natural. The story is now very strong... I worked on Splinter Cell myself; it gets natural, we know the series, so we don't have to work out every detail, we can take things from the world. So of course HAWX has its own personality, universe, and gameplay. But it is a product designed from the start to be a part of the storyline.

How do you blend realism with action in a game like this?

First, a very realistic setting. You're playing in a real universe, with real locations. We include Air Force One, you play over Chicago. You have real, meaningful places. You support the troops in Afghanistan, its one of the most realistic settings included in an air combat game to date. On top of that, we've tried very hard to find the right balance; I talk more in terms of 'authenticity'. Of course its not exact, it's not a flight simulator, but it has logic - we just reduced the physical time it takes to play the game. There's a lot of combat, and there's diversity. We want to make things fun for the player. Its logical, but its not as realistic as the real thing, but at the same time, we didn't want this to be too simple. Accessible doesn't have to mean simple.

The game should be fairly easy to pick up and play, but we leave huge margin for progression. You will master the game as you play it, and you can turn on and off aids. As in an FPS, the controls are clear, but there is still room for the player to push their skills.

The Air Force One mission was an interesting experience. Do you have any other unusual backdrops against which to set the game's action?

Yes, yes. We put a lot of focus on the level design. At the end of the day this is the game 'in practice'. Nice systems, visuals, are just the bricks. The levels are vital. We have many interesting missions, lots of variety. There's one in the Caribbean, you have to use a special guidance system. There are many stages. You pave the way for a bomber, which you must then protect. We also have many other missions... we wanted to avoid repetitivity, by adding context, making the combat meaningful.

The story helps?

Yes, but we also add new features - to expand the experience.

There is an element of voice control I believe... why was that included?

Yes, actually it does of course come from EndWar. We used it because we could. We checked with them, got the key tools to do it. The integration was pretty smooth because we had the support. So then it was a case of choosing what to do with it. We decided to keep it very functional, so it's not complex tactically, its more for switching weapons and targets, issuing instructions to your wing-men... it is efficient and simple. But it isn't as complex as in EndWar.

Does your use of voice control suggest we might see more collaboration between Clancy games in the future?

Possibly... we already have several features in common. Storyline links, etc. We are opening the door; starting that process. I, we, really hope we can take it further. Everyone talks about integration as a great idea, and I think it is.

Visually, what have you tried to achieve with HAWX? What was important to you?

We set up quite a new process that allows us to ensure we have 60fps. We build with this in mind, and every time it drops, we stop and we fix. So, it is almost impossible to get 60fps the whole time, you can't have it in certain situations, but we build with this in mind, so we had choices to make. Actually you will discover that we're doing in 60fps what hasn't been done at 30fps before. So, that's why the technology is important. 60fps was our aim, and we use satellite data to make the terrain realistic, so we got a contract with the best satellite information company, and what they gave us was so detailed we could use only part of it. We would need one DVD per map otherwise! What they gave us was amazing, and one day we'll use it all...

HAWX... 8?

Maybe HAWX 3! For sure one day. We really want to create a feeling of space; shoot-space. We want depth-of-field, huge maps, etc.

You have some major online plans I gather. How do you hope to foster a community around HAWX?

From the beginning we will promote co-operative play; the co-op feature is key. We don't artificially create teamwork, when you play you have to work as a team. You can send requests to other players as well, you will help your team and your team will help you. Choosing the right plane is important, it works like classes in a first-person shooter game. You need a balanced team. You must co-operate together, synchronize your actions. The great thing is that it happens naturally.

Do you have any DLC plans?

We'll have to see... I think I can tell you we'll have new planes, but as for the rest, we'll give you more information later...

Great. Thanks for your time.

Thanks!

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