Killing Floor 2 Interview - PAX Prime 2015
We chat with Tripwire Interactive about gore, Early Access, and fan expectations
At PAX Prime 2015, New Game Network got an opportunity to sit down with three members of the team behind the grisly cooperative shooter, Killing Floor 2. The game is currently out in Early Access on Steam.
New Game Network: So let’s start with you guys first introducing yourselves and your roles with Tripwire Interactive.
Mike Schmitt: I’m Mike Schmitt:, Senior Marketing Manager.
Jared Creasy: Jared Creasy, Community Manager.
Thomas Dahlberg: Thomas Dahlberg, Associate Producer.
NGN: When you started working on Killing Floor 2, what was the biggest change that you wanted to make from the first game?
Creasy: I’d say the biggest change was introducing several new classes to the game to change up gameplay a little bit, to specialize some of the classes that were covering a wide swath of gameplay in the original. So we started towards that, and have a couple more classes to add to the beta still that were working towards.
Dahlberg: Coming from the original, we had a really fun, solid core gameplay loop and we just wanted to expand on that.
Schmitt: We definitely didn’t want to reinvent the wheel, we just wanted to take what everyone loved about the first one and bring it up to speed with the latest hardware so we can just build upon that. We wanted to make sure we got what people loved about the original right this time.
NGN: So what influenced your decision to bring the game to Steam Early Access?
Creasy: The way we’re currently running our Early Access is not very different from how we’ve always released our games. We always released our games with a small set of content and then kept building on top of it, and taking community feedback and enhancing our game - making a better game. We’re doing that now, just there’s this new tool/term which is Early Access. So we’re just making use of that term and allowing our fans to purchase the game early and once again gives us feedback while we keep iterating and creating more content.
NGN: Do you think having that term “Early Access” attached is a good thing, bad thing, or does it even matter?
Creasy: It means different things to different people. We were very upfront about what it meant to us and how we were going to proceed. Several people and large groups got that. There are other groups who tell us we’re doing it different than how they perceive we should be doing it. So we’re always having to react and communicate what we desire to do. Every once and while we still think, “Is this the best path forward or should we make changes to how we’re doing this?”
Schmitt: For Early Access we wanted to have something that was totally fun, systems all playable, something that felt like a finished product - just with reduced content. We’ve seen other publishers put stuff out in a really sorry state and use Early Access as a way to do their QA. That’s something that we didn’t want to do. A lot of the comments when we released were like, “Wow, this feels like a finished product already.” Now we just want more levels, and more perks.
Creasy: Which has lead to what people say now which is, “We thought you guys would have everything done in three months.” I mean - no.
Schmitt: [Laughs] We’re moving as fast as we can, but it’s gonna take a little time.
NGN: What is the biggest piece of feedback you’ve had since entering Early Access?
Creasy: That people want more, more, more.
Schmitt: And faster, faster, faster.
Creasy: And we’re always looking at ways we can speed that up and improve that. But we don’t want to break away from that core concept of releasing good, polished content. We want feedback on how it actually plays and not feedback on alpha material and bugs. That way we can actually concentrate on gameplay changes.
Schmitt: With this current update right now in beta, Incinerate and Detonate, and when it officially comes out we’re excited because it’s a huge update. There’s two new perks, two new maps, all the Flex technology for the Nvidia card, just tons of work that was done. So when this actually comes out we’re excited because we’ll have more content in The Killing Floor 2 - which is still in Early Access - than we had in the original game when we shipped it.
NGN: The Killing Floor seems to have a very passionate community. How vocal are they when it comes to development and does it ever make the process more challenging?
Creasy: You always have a core group that is very vocal. They all like to think they speak with the same voice but oftentimes they do not, and they all have different opinions on what is important and what you should be focusing on. It’s always a tough balancing act of where you are putting most of your development resources. There’s a group out there who wants us to fix balance - fix all these things right now. Then there’s another group which going, “No. Just give us all the new content. then go back and change everything.” We’re trying to weave this delicate balance between those two groups which have infinite smaller groups among them which are saying, “No do this, do this, do this!” It’s a very, very difficult juggling act. And it’s the biggest thing that we try to communicate to players.
NGN: One of the ways the game stands out is how over the top it is in its gore and violence. Where do you guys find your inspiration for this?
Creasy: I would say our art director and the project lead on Killing Floor, David Hensley. This is his baby and what he would like to see in a video game. He grew up watching all these crazy movies, these over the top gore flicks, and he really wanted to bring that out in a video game because he didn’t think it had been seen before. He put a lot of his effort into figuring how what systems it would take to see this happen in a video game. We prototyped these systems and thought, “These are really cool!” [Laughs] So it’s become how can we do more; and just recently with our partnership with Nvidia working on Flex - this a physics system that allows us to do soft body, and fluids, and cloth, and it all interacts. Normally these systems can’t interact with each other, this is the first time there is a physics system when everything can interact. We’re the first people working with it so we’re going to be improving it over time and just going nuts with it.
Schmitt: Yeah, it’s pretty insane - the Flex stuff. Like Jared said, we’re the first game that’s got it implemented and you can play it right now. Just, you know, like the innards and stuff coming out of the Zeds and the vomit from the Bloat. It’s pretty insane
NGN: Do you guys ever get desensitized to it, or are you always grossed out by what you can do?
Creasy: Every once and while I still see something and I’m like, “Ugh, I forgot we had that in the game.”
Dahlberg: It might have started as, “Ew, that’s gross” and now it’s like, “Yeah! That was awesome!”
Schmitt: The game is just so over the top that it just seems kind of funny. You never take it seriously.
NGN: One of the complaints from the first Killing Floor was a lack of story. Do you ever feel a need to explore a narrative?
Creasy: Those are things we’re interested in, however those are also difficult things to do and do well as we’ve learned over the years. We do play around with things the community never sees because we never think they are good enough to release. We tried things like a PvP mode in the original Killing Floor that we just didn’t think was fun. We’re gonna keep experimenting, we’re gonna keep trying new things and when we think things are working well we’re gonna push it out there. We played with a story mode in KF1, there’s a chance we’re going to be expanding on that and doing a better one this time around, if we find a good way to do that.
Schmitt: Back at the office there’s actually a ton of backstory that’s been written for the universe in terms of what’s going on, what’s happening in these locations, stuff about the evil pharmaceutical corporation that’s behind everything. So we got all that stuff on paper. I think we’re looking at all sorts of possibilities, like a comic. That would be a way for us to reveal more story to fans and stuff like that.
NGN: What are some of the challenges to designing a cooperative game like this that players may not know about?
Creasy: Balance, balance, balance. This goes back to what different segments of fans want. This is something which is really hard and something we’re playing with now in our preview for our next update. There are players where all they want is to jump in the game, get the big guns, and blow sh*t up - and that is perfectly fine. There’s another group of players who want to be challenged, they want to be excited all the time, to have things go to hell. They want to run out of ammo and a Scrake pounding through the door - and they want to have that excitement the entire time, which is also perfectly valid.
It’s hard to mesh those two things so both sets of fans can get what they want, and so whenever we start playing around with either end it usually causes a change that someone doesn’t like. Especially with Killing Floor... let’s call them “faithful” or “hardcore”, they’re usually the ones who want the harder, more exciting, more challenging gameplay at all times. But people who came to Killing Floor late in the game, they came for the fun, cool events, like the X-mas event, or the summer event. They come in to just kill these crazy freaks with awesome weapons and that’s their love of the game; we just need to find that perfect balance to cater to both sets and it’s super challenging.
NGN: Does that happen internally as well? Different developers landing on different sides of that debate?
Creasy: We have a wide range of players, even within the company. We have people who aren’t great at shooters, we have people who are the ultimate twitch shooter champions. We do a lot of internal feedback and a lot of internal playtesting. Before the community sees an update we’ve gone through probably several iterations over several weeks. But even then, I had opinions about how the Demo(lition) and FireBug were balanced and the community had their own opinions - generally the complete opposite of my own. So we have to take that and go, “Okay, why do they think this?” We work with that. We try to make it how we thought it would feel.
NGN: A lot of great games development these days comes from having an abundance of patience. Is it ever hard to have that restraint and not wanting to put something out quickly and show it to your fans?
Creasy: We definitely always want to push things out as fast as possible - especially when we have new things. Watching the microwave gun, which is one of the new FireBug weapons, come online over the past few weeks has been awesome. It just went from here’s a model that doesn’t do anything cool and is just placeholder, to now it shoots a crazy beam and the Zeds puff up like marshmallows and explode. But we didn’t know if that was going to work, even when we were testing it, until near the end. So we didn’t want to tell the community out of a fear that we would have to kill it. Telling the community something and then going, “No, you can’t have it,” is always a very sad event. So we have to be very careful about what we announce, which is frustrating to us and the community because they want to know why we’re not telling them about things. We really, really want to.
Schmitt: It’s also frustrating when we know we want to bring something out, and communicating dates, that whole thing. Until we’re sure on the content or when something is going to be available - it’s tough because we want to tell them but we can’t.
NGN: You expanded the setting to include all of Europe. How has that affected the maps and the world you’ve built?
Creasy: We never really modeled around real world locations in the original and fans made whatever they wanted in the SDK (Source Development Kit). We had a - maybe not idealized - but a view on what the UK would be like during a Zed outbreak/apocalypse, but now we can look at locations we didn’t think were in play during the first time around. To be fair, during special events we said things like, “Moon Base!” But we just have more things we can look at now. Some of that stuff is still going on internally, but we’re bringing new SDK support online so we’ll see more community maps, as well as we allow for more things to built. Like we have landscape online now, so we’re gonna see more content from the original [game] start coming out of the community. We’re also doing our own prototypes with maps using that tech as well. I don’t know if we’ll have new experiences, but the tech has allowed us to do new things.
NGN: Where are you at in the development process? How close are you to release or what content is next up for you guys?
Creasy: What’s immediately next is finishing up our Beta preview of the Incinerate and Detonate content update, which is FireBug and Demo, their weapons, some balance tweaks, and two new maps. We’re also adding dual weapons to the game which should be a hint at some of things we’re looking at currently. We’ve announced we’re doing the Gunslinger, which is a split off of the Sharpshooter which was more specialized in the long rifles.
We’ve got four perks left, some will be easier to do than others. With the Demo and the FireBug we had to create a lot of new system to support those perks. We don’t - at least not right now - have to create any systems to support the creation of the new perks. I don’t know what will make it out the door first. It’s one of those things that I can’t say because we’re not sure yet. We have to watch how things are developing, which weapons are going to be online, what perk skills. Then we have to play online with these perk skills and go, “Are these fun?” Then we might scrap the system and try new perks skills. So we have four new perks, we’re working towards new maps, several of those are being prototyped and we’ll see which shape up the best and get them through the art pipeline. Until we’re sure of what they are, we don’t want to talk about them in case we’re wrong.
Schmitt: One thing we’re debating in the studio is - I mean, Incinerate and Detonate is a huge piece of content. So we’re thinking about if people would prefer the huge updates or would they like smaller chunks with less time to wait. So that’s something polling the fans about.
Creasy: There’s definitely been a push for that in the community, but the flip side of that is that when we’re stopping to do smaller update and pushing smaller builds out it actually increases the amount of time till the final release. Because we have to stop for a two to three week period to focus on pushing an update out and that will prevent some work from going ahead on other content. So while they may get content sooner, overall it will delay the whole set of content. There are challenges to whatever way we decide to move forward, but we have heard the community and are having those debates.
NGN: Prior to Killing Floor 2 coming out there was a palpable excitement. Since its launch, that excitement continues to grow. Can you talk about how you deal with the expectations of not only launching an anticipated sequel, but then also a successful Early Access campaign?
Creasy: It’s hard. We’re excited, internally, we think what we’re working on is cool, we always want to be doing more. We get crazy ideas and wonder how we can do them, then it turns out they take a lot of work and we’ll have to look at them later. Then of course there’s the community expectations which often run rampant, they wonder why this doesn’t just happen. It’s like, no, no, no, there’s a whole process - we even have a post in our forums that says how long it takes, on average to create a piece of content, just so you guys know and have an expectation of what goes into this. It’s hard because people are super excited. It’s been our biggest problem - and it’s a good problem to have, but still a problem - being able to produce content fast enough to get it out to the masses and create more, more, more.
NGN: It’s interesting to see how developers communicate to their fans during Early Access. Do you feel like Early Access has encouraged you to be as open as possible, or do still try to hold things back?
Creasy: We try to be as open as we can without setting unrealistic expectations like giving dates or talking about things before we know they will happen. We are working on things that might get scrapped so we are not talking about them. We’ve seen what happens when you do that. There’s a segment of fans who feel like they can deal with it and be fine, and they might, but there’s a different segment of fans who won’t. As much as there are people who love to follow games and eat up everything we talk about, there are groups of people who miss large swaths of what we say. Going into this update, I’ve been doing weekly updates to keep people as up-to-date as possible and even then you see people who are confused. It just gets lost in the crowd.
There is a set of rules when you are in Early Access - I won’t say that no other developer is following those rules, but we try hard to follow the exact rules that Valve have in place which are: Don’t promise things which don’t exist and don’t talk in definitive dates. We try to be as open as possible.
NGN: It feels like a process that is in discovery.
Schmitt: Early Access has been a big learning experience for us. With everything we do we feel like we’re learning something so next time we can make better decisions.
NGN: What has been your favorite part of development has been?
Creasy: My favorite part has been watching our Graphics Programmers as they got the first pass of the dismemberment system online. Sitting in a conference room where we have a large TV so we can show presentations and whatnot, and we have the game up there while our Graphics Programmer is doing some tests and he’s giggling madly. That’s how I know we’ve gotten it right.
Schmitt: I’ve only been with the company since 2013, and I think the exciting thing for me is how the first [game] was a hardcore PC game. When we marketed and started showing off the sequel, we got tons of people into the game. The product has become so much more high profile. It’s been exciting to see people react to it - press and fans. Going to events, doing panels. I thought it was going to be more niche and here it is going mainstream, which is kind of exciting.
Dahlberg: Mine would be the process in general. Getting in levels that are under development and coming back to them a few weeks later and seeing what’s new. Then, all the sudden, it’s done. It’s like, “Woah! This awesome! How did we do all this really cool stuff!”
NGN: Thanks for taking the time to chat, guys.