Killzone: Mercenary Art Director Interview

As you can tell from the footage and screenshots released last week, Killzone: Mercenary comes very close to its console counterparts in terms of visual fidelity. This week we talk to one of the Guerrilla Cambridge developers chiefly responsible for achieving that feat: Art Director Thomas Jones. Hi Tom, is this the first Killzone title you’ve worked on?


Tom Jones: Actually, it's my third! My relationship with the Killzone series goes all the way back to 2004, when I worked as an environment artist on Killzone 1. I followed this up in 2007 by leading a team focusing on assets and multiplayer levels on Killzone 2.


KZ: How were you able to match the distinctive visual style of the console games so closely?


TJ: A large part of it is due to the fact we're using the Killzone 3 engine. This has allowed us to utilise a lot of the post-processing and lighting effects that are synonymous with the visual style. With regards to the content, particularly our new environments, there's been a big effort to make sure it feels grounded and fits Killzone's “hard sci-fi” look. We look at real life objects and settings as the basis for everything we create. Despite being a futuristic world, it’s still important that everything makes some sort of structural or mechanical sense. I think it’s this attention to detail that stops things getting too fantastical, and helps create a more immersive, gritty and believable world.


KZ: How did the Killzone engine and the PlayStation Vita platform affect art direction? Were you able to achieve what you wanted?


TJ: Honestly, I'd be lying if I said we've achieved everything that I wanted to, but I think that's part and parcel of wanting to push the tech and graphics to their limits. It’s important to be always looking for more, whether it's bigger explosions, more particle effects, or just more content! Ultimately though, when I take a step back I think we can be really proud of what we have achieved so far with the tech. Our ultimate aim is to make the best looking FPS that there has ever been on a handheld. It's a high target to set ourselves, but I believe we are getting close to where we want to be.

KZ: What was your biggest challenge as an art director during the development of Killzone: Mercenary? What are you most proud of?


TJ: For me the challenge was following the previous games. I was very mindful of this game being perceived as a low quality port or the 'little brother' of the franchise. It was extremely important to me that it could stand proudly next to Killzone 2 and Killzone 3. Seeing the very positive public reaction, particularly those likening it to a PS3 game, has been very satisfying.


KZ: Killzone: Mercenary revisits some familiar locations from earlier games, but also introduces many stunning new environments. Where did the inspiration for those come from?


TJ: As I mentioned earlier a lot of the inspiration comes from real life. For instance, one of the levels takes place on these big smoker stacks in the middle of the ocean. Essentially they're based on hydrothermal vents that you get on the ocean floor, but magnified massively. The idea was to make the mineral rich smoke a resource that the Helghast could mine, and therefore create a reason for a city to spring up on these isolated towers. This then sparked a chain reaction of ideas for who lives there, what the architecture must be like, how they mine the smoke, et cetera.


We're lucky that there's a pre-existing universe to inspire us as well. A bucket load of concept art was created for Killzone 2 and Killzone 3, and as with all games, not all of it was realised. A lot of what we're doing in Killzone: Mercenary is born directly out of this.


KZ: The game also features a lot of never-before-seen enemies and weapons, in addition to some “old friends”. How were you able to keep them grounded in the Killzone universe?


TJ: One of the key elements has been the collaboration between Cambridge and Amsterdam. Throughout production, there have always been people to turn to for advice and rule sets when creating new content. Ultimately this relationship has ensured that everything stays stylistically cohesive within the universe.


KZ: Thanks for your time, Tom.


TJ: My pleasure!


Check out some of the breathtaking environments of Killzone: Mercenary in the concept art gallery below!

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