“There’s this saying about a boss versus a leader: a boss sits in the back yelling ‘Mush! Mush!’ to his employees, while a leader is in the front pulling with them. That’s why Arjan is so awesome.”
That quote comes from Cliff Bleszinski. He’s the co-founder and CEO of Boss Key Productions, a new studio working on LawBreakers. Bleszinski is talking about his other co-founder, Arjan Brussee.
As I sat down with Bleszinski, our chat initially focused more on how happy he was to be working with Arjan again than on the game itself. “He’s a framerate nut, he loves that stuff,” Cliff told me about Arjan as we talked about LawBreakers.
What is LawBreakers? Well, it’s an arena shooter with a unique take on gravity. It’s fast, it’s class-based, it’s a premium title. That is, it isn’t free-to-play. You can read more about the game and watch us play it in our recent hands-on coverage.
Arjan and Cliff founded Boss Key to get back to making games they wanted to play. Bleszinski openly admits that Overwatch, an arena shooter from Blizzard, is going to be an awesome game. “Blizzard can do no wrong,” he explained. Cliff and Arjan wanted something more mature, something bloody, something adult. So, enter LawBreakers.
Before that, enter Boss Key. I asked Bleszinski what it was like founding a studio and if it was liberating to be completely in the driver’s seat.
“For me, being the primary owner of the studio, it’s liberating and it’s sobering,” he told me. “You know, we had a crawfish boil at my house last summer, and I’m looking around, and I just start thinking about all these employees and their beautiful children, and, well, no pressure.”
Cliff managed to bring this back to Arjan, too. “I’m doing this talk at the end of the month in Croatia,” he said. “It’s called ‘Being a Creative CEO,’ and one of the bits I’m gonna go on about is getting along with the significant others of the people that you’re employing.”
“The other thing I love about Arjan is his wife. She’s the neck that turns the head while being the queen of his kingdom. She keeps me honest. I had a time period this winter where I was having a few too many out of office trips. ‘Let’s go to the Super Bowl, **** it!,’ right? And she’s like, ‘Wow, you’ve been traveling a lot lately…’”
“Arjan,” Cliff thought about him for a second before continuing. “I have so much respect for this man, you know? He’s like ‘Oh, the UI’s not working?’ And he’ll sit down and start coding.”
The relatively small studio is packed with talent like that. As we toured Boss Key, we saw developers working on all sorts of stuff. What each and every one of them reinforced with us was that the small team was able to stay nimble, agile and quick to act. “We’re not afraid to kill our babies here at Boss Key,” one developer told me. If something they’ve been passionate about and working on for weeks and months on end doesn’t work, they’ll ditch it, no problem.
That’s probably why the game is shaping up to be as well made as it is. About its performance?
Arjan Brusee actually told us that the high-end rigs they had for the demos were playing the game too well. It was running up at 140 frames per second, and all that action was actually overheating the GPUs. They had to quickly develop a temporary limiter to keep things running smoothly. If you have a relatively modern machine, you should be able to run LawBreakers at above 100fps.
The good news? It scales pretty well. Arjan offered that a six-year-old machine would be able to run the game at above 30fps. We asked Bleszinski about that, too.
“That’s the goal,” he told us. “And our friends at Epic always ask how we did it. I’m fortunate enough that I surrounded myself with talented people.”
“When someone says, you know, ‘24 frames is more cinematic,’ I think if you want to jump down to that for your cutscenes, that’s fine. But we’re an interactive medium. We’re a game where 50 milliseconds can make or break you, especially when it comes down to online play.”
Cliff seemed to be especially proud of the talent he and Arjan brought in for network play. “I wound up hiring the head of networking from Wargaming.net, this guy named Billy [McCarroll, Principal Network Engineer], and he’s this crazy unicorn. It’s so important these days to have, you know, no lag, good framerate, the whole thing. All shooters need to do 60 and up, fighting games are like that and so are driving games.”
LawBreakers, so far, is a shooter that relies on fast reflexes and performance that facilitates twitch gaming. LawBreakers is as much about shooting as it is about playing with momentum and speed. It has tricks and caveats seemingly peppered in all areas of play to keep players fast.
“One of my mantras was this,” Cliff explained. “Give me a heavy class I wanna play. I normally don’t, because they’re so slow. However, if I spawn behind someone with the enforcer class, I can actually draft behind them. I can blind fire in low grav. I can be a heavy and still have these moments in speed.”
LawBreakers lets everyone move quickly. If you use gravity and other players to your advantage, you can actually make the heaviest character rip across the map with ease.
“One of the things that I put in this game that I never really put in Unreal Tournament is this real sense of momentum,” he told me. “I was taking a good look at games like Counter-Strike and TF2 [Team Fortress 2] and those old the old Quake physics. One of those things that those old games do is that as you stop you actually coast a little–”
“You slide,” I interjected.
“That’s right, you slide. Exactly. And when you add that into a game with odd gravity and aerial play, when you land and you jump, the friction of the ground doesn’t get you, and you skip and hop.. It’s almost like Tribes, what is it, skating?”
“Skiing,” I answered. I loved Tribes.
“Yeah, there’s a little bit of that in there. That’s one of the many things that adds to the good feel.”
LawBreakers, so far, has good feel in spades. We’ll have more on it as it comes.