Boss Key’s upcoming gravity-defying shooter, LawBreakers, is the pinnacle of Cliff Bleszinski’s innovation through locomotion. This LawBreakers video essay is the first of our new weekly video schedule, by which we release a new video essay every Friday. You can find similar videos on the site, or at YouTube.com/OKBeast.
Transcript (For full experience, video must be watched):
When discussing the works of Bleszinski, we often discuss the attributes of his video games that are directly associated with violent combat, grotesque enemy design, and the harrowing aesthetic that his projects typically possess. We’re drawn to flashy & bombastic weapon design, to hulking creatures & structures, to – iconic – level design. You see, no one is wrong for celebrating these things. Every single one of these features play a crucial aspect in strong game design. Gears of War wouldn’t be what it is today without the nauseating scene of a lancer chainsaw eviscerating the flesh of an unsuspecting Locust grunt. Nothing can replace the sense of victory one feels after hearing the booming voice of the Unreal Tournament announcer shout “Monster Kill” through the entirety of their apartment at 2 o’clock in the morning – never mind the fact that it probably pissed off your sleeping housemates.
However, none of these things hold significance or weight without a core foundation to serve as the filter by which every facet of a game is processed. This foundation, this glue that binds the joints together, is locomotion. Locomotion, the ability to move from one place to another, has served as the nucleus of Bleszinski’s – and largely Epic Games’ – catalog of games for the past 20 years; and it’s what possesses the anatomy of Cliff and Boss Key Production’s upcoming first person gravity-defying shooter, LawBreakers. This commitment to fluidity as the basis of a hierarchy of needs is what informed a large swath of Bleszinski’s game design, and – ultimately – lead to the concept of his new game. To better understand the function of locomotion and how it’s relation to combative gameplay, we need to go back.
On November 30, 1999, Epic Games released what would become one of the most lauded multiplayer arena shooters of all time – Unreal Tournament. After surfacing on store shelves merely two days before id Software’s Quake 3, UT would go on to win dozens of Game of the Year awards, including an Outstanding Achievement in Visual Engineering from the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences.
So, what’s Unreal Tournament got to do with locomotive gameplay? How does it relate to LawBreakers? I mean, these two games are nearly twenty years apart, were developed by two completely different studios, and are separated by an ocean of class-based multiplayer design influences. Despite seeing remnants of the game in LawBreakers’s insanely mobile Spider-Man-like Assassin class, Unreal Tournament’s movement set was somewhat rigid when compared to its competitors. Bleszinski says it himself in an interview with GameSpot during E3 2017, citing Quake 3 & Team Fortress’ slight end-of-walk glide as direct inspiration for how LawBreakers’ basic movement feels.
But hold on, before we keep going. I want to stress how great of a game Unreal Tournament was. It possessed all of the characteristics of a great shooter: creative weapon design, an inspiring aesthetic, world building that brought forth more questions than answers, and legendary map design. What’s more fascinating is how Cliff Bleszinski slowly introduces locomotion and new avenues of movement to Unreal as the series progresses. Later iterations of the franchise introduced blade-wielding vehicles, freakin’ hoverboard tricks, and exploits that were oddly reminiscent of Lucio – the wall-riding DJ who moonlights as a healer in Blizzard’s Overwatch. Regardless, it doesn’t mean we can’t look back to criticize, ponder, and evaluate the role that Unreal played in the legacy of its creators.
I’d argue that, in actuality, Unreal was merely the genesis of Cliff’s journey towards discovering the role that locomotion plays within the modern shooter. A revelation of sorts. A necessary step in a process that would eventually lead to the creation of LawBreakers.
After the success of Unreal Tournament and Unreal Tournament 2004, it’s easy to picture a reality wherein the franchise could’ve become annualized. Instead, Epic Games pivoted towards something completely different. They took a risk.
In November of 2006, I powered on my Xbox 360 and began playing what would become one of my favorite games of all time. Gears of War seemed different. It was passionate, it was irreverent, It was raw. Its scope was largely focused on defensive assault; and it ran with the idea of a more grounded combat scenario in which participants would slowly overtake the battlefield by maneuvering between segments of cover. In a 2006 interview with G4TV, Cliff Bleszinski described the game’s combat as “stop n’ pop,” which focused on third-person cover mechanics rather than adopting the speed of its first-person predecessors – a move inspired by 2003’s Killswitch and certain segments of Resident Evil: 4.
This perspective was drilled into the player from the very beginning of the game, which started with a tutorial demonstrating the various ways that Marcus Fenix, Gears of War’s protagonist, could navigate cover. Players could even utilize a crouched sprint, called Roadie Running, to close the gap between areas where cover was scarce. Again, cover meant survival, and survival is everything in a world overrun by aliens hellbent on your destruction.
The locomotion of Marcus Fenix diving into a half-standing wall for the first time provided me with a feeling that I’ll never forget. Vaulting over sandbags felt incredibly smooth and afforded players a sense of weightiness and kinetic satisfaction. Locomotion provided protection, but most importantly, it provided momentum.
I’d spend the subsequent months after concluding Gears of War’s story mode by playing the game’s punishing multiplayer, eventually realizing there was a brand new tier of skilled play opening up right before my eyes. One that required much more from the players who would adopt it. A style of play built to rely on locomotion, on momentum, to carry the player forward through an environment. This specific movement combo became known as Wall Bouncing.
Wall Bouncing was and still is an offensive expertise that requires players to trade in their lancer chainsaws for the Gnasher shotgun, as users would quite literally bounce from wall to wall, cover to cover in a quick succession to dodge enemy fire and ultimately one shot the competition. Naturally, this changed everything and the standards of competitive play completely shifted. Cover that was once used as a barrier between two people now served as a springboard into combat.
Suddenly, Gears of War required vastly different play styles between its campaign and multiplayer modes. Casual players had difficulty keeping up and needed to quickly develop a counter strategy. This is where the two-piece, which serves as a traditional stun-lock, was introduced. When trapped in confined quarters, a wall-bouncing foe could become a quickly overwhelming problem, and the way to remove said problem, was to strip the enemy player of their momentum. A well-timed melee attack would immobilize the bouncing player, leaving them completely vulnerable to a swift death by shotgun.
In this clip, I demonstrate both play styles (Video Must Be Watched).
Whether intentional or not, Epic Games created a play space where movement was power, and immobilization meant death. It was an environment in which battle was enhanced by fluidity, and speed was rewarded; and ultimately, it’s what set the stage for LawBreakers.
Boss Key’s upcoming shooter is the culmination of twenty years worth of design philosophy and inspiration. It’s the direct result of Cliff Bleszinski’s experience in crafting intriguing multiplayer offerings that thrive on creative weapons and interesting movement. LawBreakers is the direct fusion of first-person twitch shooters and free-flowing games like Downwell or A Story About My Uncle; creating what I call, locomotive gunplay. It’s the idea that movement and marksmanship can serve two masters. Similarly to Gears of War, certain characters, like the Harrier who USES FREAKING LASER BOOTS TO KILL PEOPLE, employ movement as a primary means of execution; and roles that would normally be restricted to boots-on-the-ground gunplay suddenly become much more flexible since they’re equipped with the ability to blind fire their weapon behind their backs as a means of propulsion in zero g environments.
After spending time with LawBreakers in previous alphas and betas, I can’t help but be optimistic of the game’s release next week. I’m curious to see how and if the game sheds light on new and interesting ideas surrounding game design, and how those ideas will be sculpt the future Boss Key Productions. As I’ve previously stated, Cliff Bleszinski is one of my favorite game makers of all time, and I can’t wait to get my hands on LawBreakers.
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