Tramell Isaac is the art director at Cliff Bleszinski’s Boss Key Productions. He’s been developing games for 22 years, having worked on Planetside 1 and 2 and Fallout 1 and 2 over the years. He’s now one of the elder statesmen at Boss Key overseeing LawBreakers’ look and feel. The new shooter, which Nexon America will publish, is coming to Steam. He talks about the new game, which was playable at PAX East, and how the Raleigh, NC studio’s make-up is impacting the characters gamers will play.
Can you talk about the diversity in LawBreakers’ cast of characters?
It starts from Cliff himself. One of the things that he wanted to do was build a diverse game and develop a diverse workforce. If you look around, you’ll see a bunch of people that we have working here are minorities and females. We have a little bit of everything, and that’s going into the game. So my opinion, Ned’s (Gasorntip’s) opinion, Lee (Hind’s) opinion—all of these people are minorities or people of color. They all have input into these characters that we are making, so that we don’t make stereotypes. And it’s going to make this a more solid game. It’s going to make it a more well-rounded game. It’s going to give different perspectives on Latinos and African Americans and Asians that aren’t necessarily just your typical stereotypical African American or Latino or Asian characters.
How do you see this impacting the players you can reach?
We’re trying to build a brand that is acceptable for many, many people and not something that’s exclusive to one group or another. It’s an all-inclusive type game that actually includes all different types of people from all different walks of life, so people can identify with one character or another in some way. It’s not filled with your typical Army dude with no females in this world, because that’s not the real world that we live in. Cliff wants to make sure that we make games that stand the test of time, mainly because they include everybody. Hopefully, we can get to the point where we have a class that fits pretty much every ethnicity out there, transgender, who knows? We can make whatever we want, but it comes from the top to the bottom, saying, “Okay, we need to make sure that we include these types of people and make sure that they have something that represents them accurately.”
You’ve been making games for 22 years now. What’s it like being an elder statesman at Boss Key?
It’s been great, man, because it’s been really good to learn from everybody. Just because we’ve been doing this for 20 something years, even Cliff himself, we’re all learning new things every day. It’s great to be in a situation where we can use what we’ve learned to teach other people, and at the same time, learn from the people that we’re bringing in. It’s been a blessing because I get to learn new things and I get to pass on some information to these youngins and give them a little bit of something from the old days.
Can you break down the four new characters on display at PAX East?
We have Kintaro, who is on the Breakers side, and Bomchelle, who is on the Law side. We have Hellion on the Law side, and Toska-9 on the Breakers side.
What are their abilities?
We’re symmetrical on the ability side, so we have the Titan class, which has a rocket launcher and the crisper (an electricity gun). We have the Mavericks, which is basically our flying stealth jet class. We have got the Assassin class with the dual wielding swords. And we have the Enforcer, which has shoulder rockets and the traditional aim-down-the-sites rifle.
What influences the art direction in LawBreakers?
We really wanted to give the players something different, something they hadn’t seen before. A lot of the ideas came from Cliff himself, so we’re consolidating them to something that’s a little bit more believable. Cliff comes up with these wild ideas, and it can come from left field, but at the essence of it is basically what we’re trying to achieve. Right now, what we have on the screen with these eight different characters is the boiled-down essence of what this is. This space is a more vibrant, different take on what reality could be if this cataclysmic event (The Shattering) actually happened.
How have these characters evolved from the switch to a paid game from free-to-play?
What you see is where we want to end up. Before what we were talking about was basically adjusting the characters so that they weren’t as over-the-top and exaggerated. We were going a little bit more exaggerated for visuals sake, and it’s more to identify what things were in the distance. But we quickly realized that we didn’t actually need that, so we brought things back to more realistic proportions to keep it more within the fiction of what we were trying to go for. This is a Mature rated game. We want it to feel a little more realistic, a little bit more gritty, and what we had before didn’t really fit that paradigm.
Can you talk about this first playable level you’re showcasing in the Grand Canyon?
The game takes place after a cataclysmic event, but everything has been rebuilt. It’s a little bit different from a lot of games where the world is destroyed and then it stays that way. That doesn’t happen in real life, so we wanted to ground these things in reality. You’ll have multiple locations that are familiar to you. Grandview happens in the Grand Canyon, so you’ll see landmarks within the game, but then we take that and put a twist on it. You have these gravity wells and things floating in space, but then you also have a giant base that’s in the middle of the Grand Canyon that’s sitting on a rock that’s been tethered down so it doesn’t float away. You have this anti-gravity, but how do you make that world feel realistic with those rules? So we changed the rules, and then we built a world around those rules, and that’s basically how Grand View came to play.
Can you talk a little about the verticality of these levels and how that’s been designed to take advantage of anti-gravity?
All the maps have been designed for 360-degree combat. You can get attacked from any direction. It’s not like the linear flow that you’re used to in most first-person shooters. You can basically swing from one end of the map to the next end of the map, go up over the top of buildings, go through the buildings. You can fly up and down and go in and around and all these things. You can blind fire. You can propel yourself through the space. There are a lot of different paradigms that LawBreakers has that you won’t ever see in any other game.