The Firing Line: Exclusive Blacklight Retribution Evac Q&A

Jef Reahard
J. Reahard|10.30.12

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The Firing Line: Exclusive Blacklight Retribution Evac Q&A
The Firing Line - Exclusive Blacklight Retribution Evac Q&A
It's been a while since The Firing Line took a look at Zombie Studios' Blacklight: Retribution title. The sci-fi shooter, published in conjunction with free-to-play giant Perfect World, has added quite a bit of content since that pre-launch preview, and more is coming this week courtesy of the Evacuation Update (including a new map and premium/private server functionality).

Join us after the cut for an exclusive chat with Zombie devs on that and more.
The Firing Line - Blacklight Retribution Lilith
What was your inspiration for the Evac map?

Rick Lesley, Level Designer: From a level design perspective, I initially wanted to have a map that felt very open, but also have a lot of safe routes throughout. The theme for the level from the beginning was inspired by the earlier scenes in the film I Am Legend. I wanted to try and capture the feeling of the aftermath of a failed evacuation, with cars all rammed into each other in a panic, heading toward the helicopter and decontamination area.

I started out building around the corner itself, which spread into the shopping area. It was a priority to establish visual landmarks like these early on. In the level, you have the helicopter, tents, traffic jam and upper & lower shopping courtyard.

Originally, the shopping area was actually above ground, but Erik Bretz, our Lead Level Designer, suggested that we sink it below ground, which makes it feel unique and a lot of fun to battle within. I also wanted to add in some sniper perches, since some users have asked specifically for more sniper points in our maps. The sniper point locations jumped around a bit, balancing their sight-lines with flanking routes to take them out. I think they are in a great spot where they are: offering a great sniping perch, but that can still be taken out by one or two people working to sneak up on them.

Once we felt the level was ready, we put it through weeks of internal playtesting. Every day, the entire Blacklight: Retribution team would stop and play a couple rounds in Evac. You always find things to improve and change in a map the more you playtest it. One thing that we noticed was the map was too large and needed to be made smaller. Erik and I went back and reduced the space and after a couple playtests, it was just what the level needed, making combat more engaging and fun.

In the end, I am really happy with the layout and it is all thanks to lots of playtesting and great feedback from the team. What really took it to the next level was the art team's revamping of it, in my opinion. I am blown away with what they have done with aesthetics of Evac.

The Firing Line - Blacklight Retribution Evac map
What ultimately led to revamping the entire map?

Lesley: The first revamping came pretty early on and that consisted of a perspective change for the street, as well as adding the waterfront area. It felt like a cool opportunity to take a downtown street and really give it a good landmark outside of the level for people to reference. Again, the art team did a fantastic job with this first revamp, and this was all before the full-on overhaul, which completely brought the map to life.

David Sursely, Senior Environment Artist: We strive to make every map stand out from all the others and we really wanted to push Evac. We noticed that Evac was missing something truly memorable, and it just happened that we were experimenting with weather, so we quickly decided that weather was going to be the key visual difference for Evac.

We had never tried any weather effects in any previous maps in Blacklight: Retribution and as we started adding it into Evac, we realized we needed to change a lot of the design in order to accommodate it. We changed the lighting and sky as well as added garbage throughout the map in order to reiterate the oppressive and gloomy feel that the rain produced. We even added real-time reflections in the street in order to finalize the rain effect and make it shine on DX11 machines. We feel that Evac really stands out from the rest with its own feeling and story.

The Firing Line - Blacklight Retribution Lilith again
What was your inspiration for the Lilith hero?

Luke Dodge, Character Artist: When we started designing the pilot for the Hard Suit, Lilith, the first thing we did was look at how the Hard Suit behaved and operated. One thing about the Hard Suit is that it's good at protecting from bullets and direct impact damage, so we knew it would make sense for the pilot herself to have relatively light armor. However, it is less effective at protecting the pilot from environmental effects such as toxic gas and fire.

With these ideas in mind, we started molding a character that incorporated elements from environmental suits, complete with a re-breather, but made sure the suit was still form-fitting enough to fit comfortable inside the Hard Suit. All this, and at the same time making sure to have a finished design that would stand out as unique from the other heroes.

Will we ever get to see under Lilith's visor?

Dodge: As for seeing under her visor, we don't have plans to reveal her face at the moment, though it's not out of the question.

The Firing Line - Blacklight Retribution chopper
Of all the new game features included in the upcoming Evacuation update for Blacklight: Retribution, which was your most favorite and why?

Chance Lyon, Lead Engineer: Premium servers are definitely my most anticipated feature. In Blacklight: Retribution, all of the game servers are centrally hosted in a few datacenters around the country. We decide what game types and maps are available to the players, and we realize this is limiting.

Premium servers are our way to give control back to the players, to experiment with and manage servers of their own choosing. With a premium server a player can manage what maps and game types are used, as well as tweak many different mutator options to their liking. A Premium server can be a private server or be a public server that anyone can join. We have some very cool mutators that will be available at launch, from adjusting the round time to disabling HRV altogether. This will give players a lot of very experimental and game-changing options to play with.

Want to start with 1500CP and have everyone buy a hard suit at the beginning of the game? You can do that! Want to play a hardcore clan match with no HRV, no depots, and stock equipment? You can do that too! How about a pistols-only round? Awesome!

In addition to very cool mutators, we also give the owner of the game moderator abilities. Moderators can ban people or clans from the server, or allow only specific people or clans. This should greatly facilitate clan matches and competitive play. You can very easily modify your server to only allow in certain clans if you like.

Josh Stanger, Weapons Artist: The Tomahawk is probably my favorite new feature! It is really versatile, fun to use, and deadly. It's got a fairly decent kill ratio. Because you can detonate it like a claymore, you can lob them from afar and detonate them over enemy heads, or toss it and blow it up almost immediately in a CQC fight. Adding further versatility, you can stick it near a corner and wait for somebody to come around to blast them. If you stick a guy with it he'll die and you can pick it back up to use again. And it's a decent melee weapon. It's super versatile and ridiculously fun to play with.

Brian Sprague, UI Artist/Engineer & Community Support: The new Twitter integration is great! Being able to easily let people know what server I am playing on or automatically letting people know when I am pwning others in Blacklight is great. I love that it will provide a stronger presence for the game on Twitter and hopefully raise more public awareness! Plus I just love telling people when I level up and acquire new gear items!

Josh May, Senior Engineer: I'm looking forward to seeing the missions system go live. Starting with "First Win of the Day", Blacklight will begin hosting daily missions with rewards for completion. Not only does this system reward the Blacklight: Retribution faithful for playing the game on a regular basis, but it gives them a new set of short-term goals to work towards during each play session. Also, some missions will reward teamwork over individual skill, so I'm interested in seeing how this system will impact our team-based game modes.

The Firing Line - Blacklight Retribution sword dude
The Firing Line's Jef Reahard has a twitchy trigger finger, a love of online shooters, and an uncanny resemblance to Malcolm Reynolds. OK, maybe not, but at least if he ever kills you, you'll be awake, you'll be facing him, and you'll be armed.
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