Christian Allen is a man with an impressive CV. He started life as a Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear modder, led design on Ghost Recon 2 and by the time of GRAW 2 had become Creative Director. From there a role as lead designer on Halo: Reach beckoned. Now, though, he’s going back to basics. He’s making his own game, and for that he needs money. He’s gone to Kickstarter to fund the game that hardcore tactical shooter aficionados have been demanding for years….
“Go to any news story on Kotaku about military-based games, and some of the first comments will always be someone who wants that old-school hardcore game.” he explains, firmly laying down his line. “This project is going to prove once and for all if that is really just the same dude with lots of different handles…”
“Mainstream shooters have eschewed realism and tactics for regenerating health and fancy gadgets.” he continues. “It doesn’t mean that they aren’t going to be good games, but they don’t fill that hardcore niche. While I appreciate why the decisions have been made to streamline the games (because I made a lot of those decisions), it was done for business reasons. You aren’t going make a design decision that will cost your company millions of dollars if your job is on the line.”
Allen has been working on his project since finishing a stint at Warner Bros last November, and his campaign for funds has just fired off over at Kickstarter – an opening flourish that will help him build a team that capable of fulfilling the desires of an oft-ignored community. “Double Fine certainly showed that a motivated fanbase that wants what is considered a ‘niche’ product can get things done, so I decided to see if the tacsim community was just as motivated.” he explains. “We’ll see!”
An instant retort to Allen’s plans is the longstanding conviction that developing shooters requires massive teams and inordinate expense. This, however, doesn’t appear to be the case. “Having worked on big AAA shooters, the reason that they cost so much is because they are all trying to compete with Call of Duty and Halo, and so they try and replicate their scale and visual fidelity.” Explains a man with more firearms trivia than you suspect is legal. “But it’s extremely difficult to beat them at their own game, especially when they are so far ahead of you.”
“Instead, my approach is to look to the fans and what they have been asking about for so many years. They don’t care about a blockbuster cinematic experience; they can already get that from COD or Uncharted. They want a focused, challenging experience that leaves them satisfied in conquering it.”
“Pitching that to a publisher, though, is like pitching a new flight sim. They think the genre is dead, like point and click adventure games supposedly are. I think Double Fine showed them the error of their ways…”
It’s early days, so exact details on Allen’s strategically bullet-ridden blueprints are being kept close to his body armour. It’s clear, however, that user interaction and community projects are a massive part of his future. If there’s one lesson he’s learned, it’s that the fanbase need attending to.
“That’s the whole reason I went indie,” he underlines. “So I can connect to that fanbase directly, and get their input into the kind of game they want. You can’t do that as much as you would like when you work at a big game publisher. There are all sorts of people at studios that influence a game; from lawyers to business folks and marketing. Hell, even office politics play a role.”
“It would be hard for a big studio to let the fans vote on what levels are in the game, or what weapons are in it. There is just too much money on the line. But that is exactly what I want to do.”
That, then, is the mission statement – and anyone wondering whether this former AAA knows enough about smell or cordite to pull off such a hardcore scheme need only casually ask him about his favourite guns. Hookshot Inc once fell into that hole, and ended up with a thousand word email essay on the representation of sawn-off (or ‘sawed-off’, apparently) shotguns in games and Hollywood.
“I grew up in Alaska, and was around guns all of my life.” laughs Allen, in the confident firepower-y way that Americans do. “I started shooting competitively as a teenager, both in skeet and long-range rifle. But I really got into collecting while researching for Rainbow Six mods and Ghost Recon. I learned that there is nothing like real world experience.”
“To design a weapon in a game, it helps to actually have fired it, which is why I used to take my design team on shooting trips at Red Storm. There are lots of details that you just can’t find with google like, say, the difference between actual recoil and felt recoil. I feel my experience gives me a leg up when it comes to weapon design: whether it’s a M4A1, MP5K-PDW, or an M2 .50 cal, I’ve shot it. For some reason Top Shot keeps turning down my applications, though.”
And with that, Christian Allen, sent us a picture of the custom grips on his 92FS – and the interview was over. Good luck Mister Allen, the best wishes of Hookshot Inc and the hopes and dreams of tens of thousands of virtual gun nuts fly with you…
To join Christian’s Kickstart Tacsim revolution why not visit its Kickstart page? It can be found behind these very words.