Interview: Tom Clancy’s HAWX

By Jim Rossignol on July 10th, 2008 at 10:57 am.


This week we got to ask a few questions of Thomas Simon, the lead designer on HAWX. Mr Simon already has a bit of Tom Clancy background in his career, having previously worked on the Splinter Cell series. This time, however, there aren’t going to be any silent takedowns: HAWX (“High Altitude Warfare Experimental Squadron”) is an air combat game that encompasses all the noisy, destructive things that modern aircraft get up to. It’s looking moderately spectacular, and certainly seems like a fresh, non-simulatory take in a world where modern air combat games don’t exactly dominate the gaming headlines. Interestingly, it also ties in with the other Tom Clancy games, as Simon explained.

Firstly, though, we have to ask just what sort of stuff are we going to be getting up to in HAWX? What’s the first hour going to do for us? Simon explains: “There are going to be all types of modern air combat missions in the game: Air Supremacy, Close Air Support, Escort, Infiltration, Bombing Raids, SEAD (Suppress Enemy Air Defense), Fleet Protection, Air Interdiction and Interception. The first hour will take first in a flashback and the replay of GRAW 2 airstrike mission from the air, above Ciudad Juarez. There you will have to provide close air support the Ghost team on the ground. Then you will start your career within a rising Private Military company with missions in Middle East, Africa and Afghanistan, until the story takes a whole new turn.”

Private military companies, eh? Everyone’s favourite baddies in the modern world. I wonder where that plot could take us… Simon explains that his team is trying to tell that story as much within the parameters of flying the aircraft as possible. It’s a tricky business: “You need a very specific approach,” says Simon. “Players cannot stop to look or read and will see everything through the eyes of a pilot. We decided that the actual story is not going to be so much in the background but precisely directly linked to the player’s actions, especially in the second half of the game where the military thriller starts fully.”

Interestingly, you’re going to be able to indulge in this Tom Clancy stuff with some chums, as the campaign supports four-player co-op. (I know!) “The campaign is fully playable in co-op,” says Simon. “From beginning to end, with the exact same features. The game has been specifically tailored to allow this and to make the experience as smooth as possible, allowing for instance to drop in and out of a co-op session without spoiling it for the others. We have also created special difficulty levels that will provide the appropriate challenge for multiple players.”

Of course all this stuff is somewhat moot if the planes aren’t going to be interesting to fly. HAWX isn’t going for simulation – in the same way that games like Splinter Cell and Ghost Recon aren’t really soldier sims. Nevertheless the game is analogous to real life air combat. “Each aircraft will have a distinctive behavior based on its real capabilities and supported by the physics engine,” Simon explains. “The player’s skill in controlling the aircraft and taking into account its specific strengths will make a difference in his performance. However, we didn’t want to restrict the game to a certain audience, which is the case if you go full simulation oriented. That’s why we decided to tune some physics parameters in order to ensure that a wider audience will enjoy the air combat experience, while still respecting the authenticity of air combat and keeping depth in the piloting.
We really wanted to take advantage of the latest developments in plane aerodynamics and vectorial thrust technology, and all the new techniques developed to help a pilot getting more solution to win a dogfight.”

Vectorial thrust whatnologies? “Basically, vectorial thrust allows a plane to take a high angle of attack, meaning almost be able to reverse in mid-air from a position; so if you have a guy behind you, you can flip the plane, bleed a lot of speed and finally find yourself behind your attacker and get a firing solution in a lapse of one or two seconds, while the enemy has basically seen nothing. It’s a very cool and powerful tool for dogfight.” Blimey. Sound exciting. Here they are happening on a real plane:

So that all sounds simple enough. Is there anything else that has been keeping the HAWX team up at night? “We had several complex technological issues to solve as we wanted to keep the game at 60 FPS while keeping it photo-realistic and full of life (I mean explosions, missiles, smoke, and units) and this forced us to really push the optimization and the quality of the engine. But still the biggest challenge from design point of view was the creation of the Assistance feature and especially the Assistance OFF mode, with its brand new camera and revolutionary dogfight gameplay. The mode was really a total new approach touching cameras, behaviour, AI, controls, weapons, physic, signs and feedbacks; basically: a big ecstatic mess for developers, really rewarding at the end.”

So what does that actually mean for the game? Simon explains: “In modern jet fighter, computer helps the pilot on every possible action. Without computer, it’s really, really hard to pilot a plane, and we want to give that sensation to the HAWX player. You have on one side the Assistance ON, where player gets full support from the computer. He gets access to all the battle network information, he can use the ERS (Enhanced Reality System) trajectories to intercept enemies, dodge missiles, and he gets access to computer anti-stall, anti-crush safeties. But this powerful technology comes also with some limitation, because the computer is designed to think you are standard. You are here to perform a mission, the plane and the assistance is tuned in a way that allows you to perform that mission. But when things start to get crazy, when a problem occurs… then you have the option to turn off completely the computer assistance, by just pressing a button; basically, you now take full control of the plane and deactivate all safety. From now on, what you do is what the plane will do, instantly, with no limit. It comes with a dramatic boost in the plane manoeuvrability, allowing you to do some high alpha angle dogfight and with an incredible (really) external camera that let you play and see the action as if you were in a replay.”

Okay. Let’s see that in action.

Tom Clancy’s HAWX, then. Definitely not a simulation, but not looking too shabby. I have to admit that the third person perspective doesn’t really do it for me – I keep getting flashbacks to arcade games that I was terrible at… Still, I’m looking forward to having a go at this when it comes out at the end of September.

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47 Comments »

  1. Nuyan says:

    Certainly looks interesting. Might be the best flight-game for me since Crimson Skies (which was awesome!).

  2. Radiant says:

    My main issue with airplane combat games [and this goes for most arena vehicle combat games] is that you always end up circling your opponent endlessly whilst staring at open skies. This goes all the way back to bloody Propeller Arena on the Dreamcast and if it’s not that then it’s you following arrows and firing at dots on your hud in the distance.

    You ever watch Dogfights on the History channel?
    Fantastic stuff and it gets surprisingly technical.
    If Hawx [jesus christ shoot me and use my blood to replace the X with a 'Ks'] brings a tiny bit of that into the game then it should be pretty cool.
    If they also drop the AMERICA WINS! bullshit that ruins the other Tom Clancy games then it’ll deffo be on the up and up.
    But you know… the 3rd person view just makes me think the gameplay will be as arcade manic as Afterburner or Commanche which isn’t a bad thing it’s just a bit dated.

  3. John P (Katsumoto) says:

    No cockpit view at all? boo hiss

  4. Ian says:

    I hope the jets are sponsored by Airwaves.

  5. Jim Rossignol says:

    The no-cockpit thing has been causing a good deal of debate across the interweb, but check out the video at the end – the even further out 3D is interesting.

  6. spd from Russia says:

    Radiant says:

    My main issue with airplane combat games [and this goes for most arena vehicle combat games] is that you always end up circling your opponent endlessly whilst staring at open skies.

    I second that. tried to play blazing angels – not for me

  7. Rodafowa says:

    HAWX (”High Altitude Warfare Experimental Squadron”)

    Worst. Acronym. Ever.

  8. Albides says:

    Yeah, HAWES would just be a joke if said aloud.

  9. John P (Katsumoto) says:

    Still. Bah. As an FSX addict, no cockpit outrages me. I might write a letter to the mail. I bet you don’t even get to take off and have to start in the air or something! Where’s the THRILL of reaching rotation speed and pulling back on the stick?!

    bring back EF2000! :) I realise of course that this game probably isn’t aimed at me. I love how they’re subtitling his perfect english btw!

  10. Jonas says:

    They should’ve just called it HAWKS: High Altitude Warfare Kickass Squadron.

    Or maybe not.

    In any case it looks like a smashing game and I anticipate its release. I am aching for a good arcade flight game – sims just don’t do it for me, I am too big a n00b to learn them.

    John: The subtitles are useful, I watched it at work in an office with 2 other people, so sound is out of the question ;)

  11. Albides says:

    Hired Allotment (of) Wanton Xenophobia works too, if you want to keep with the original acronym.

  12. MeestaNob! says:

    It looks like a bit of fun, but it’s clearly not a flight simulator by any stretch of the meaning. It’s pure arcade, with sim pretensions.

    I’m not complaining, but many people might, especially since its been so long since the last real flight sim.

    Also, subtitles: why? Sounded like English to me, but I don’t recall him saying localisation with a z at at any point.

  13. Radiant says:

    But with the further away view wouldn’t you lose a lot of the plane model details and texturing…the airplane porn?

    It’ll be interesting to see how that far view works out and also how they get around the usual problems for plane shooters to bring something fresh to the genre [as opposed to bringing out Blazing Angels 2040].

    btw I found some of the ‘Dogfights’ show on youtube.
    I really want to get /this/ technical in a plane shooter instead of the usual ‘airbreaks and banking’.

    Also look how bad this motherlover is:

  14. FunkyLlama says:

    Someone really should point out to them that High Altitude Warfare Experimental Squadron makes HAWES.

  15. Deuteronomy says:

    I would like to take this opportunity to bash consoles.

  16. AndrewC says:

    Wanton Xenophobia is a variety of Chinese cabbage.

  17. James T says:

    Did he design the title? Lawl.
    (I can’t decide if it’s better or worse than ‘Advanced Warfighter’. “Warfighter?!“)

    If they also drop the AMERICA WINS! bullshit that ruins the other Tom Clancy games then it’ll deffo be on the up and up.

    Splinter Cell is merely ‘realpolitik’ at worst, and eventually takes a pretty sour view of the American government, although unfortunately you’d have to play ‘Double Agent’ to get to the good bit. Here’s hoping ‘Conviction’ (that’s with a capital ‘V’ if you want to go all ‘HAWX!!!!!’ on us!) follows the ‘Ubi-Montreal SCs are good’ tradition. I wish they’d give us a bit more on it, it’s been the better part of a year since the last PR round.

    I’m not a regular ‘Clancy Games’ patron, but I thought CoD4 was more poisonously jingoistic than any Clancy game I’ve yet played — a game that so much as deigns to quote a clueless fuck like Condoleezza Rice, never mind one which does so uncritically, is not on politically healthy footing.

  18. AndrewC says:

    I don’t know, I thought she was pretty good.

  19. James T says:

    Who, Condi Rice or Wanton Xenophobia?

    (Same diff, hoho).

  20. Radiant says:

    I’ve given up with Splinter Cell games; is it still a covert break in if I’ve killed everybody within a one block radius and then pissed off in my giant helicopter plane?

    Btw Has anyone read the book Rainbow Six is based on?
    It’s about a NATO sponsored death squad vs evil Environmentalists [extra emphasis on mentalist].

    Fun multiplayer though [SC:Chaos Theory].

    I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again till I’m blue in the face but the original, non GRAW, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon on the PC [the one with island thunder and desert siege add ons] fully patched up is one of the best tactical shooters ever made and is worth another look [fully patched!].

  21. Al3xand3r says:

    Let’s not forget Tom Clancy is just a name slapped on products now, he has nothing to do with actual plots or anything… They could make Tom Clancy’s Dance Revolution or whatever now. Not to mention he was never a real author anyway, apparently it’s always been a sort of franschising as the dude who came up with him often hired others to do the actual authoring of the stories…

    Rainbow Six was good up to the flawed but still good Raven Shield. The original Ghost Recon was fantastic also, I was unlucky to have dial up so I didn’t enjoy the multi player back then though, aside from a few awesome sniping sessions on night maps which made it all worth it… It was also sad my choice of servers was further reducing with everyone having a different patch version (instead of just latest) and/or expansion.

    I’d love a remake of that over this GRAW business, with keeping the game the same, adding new maps and campaigns, updating the graphics and touching up the “feel” of moving around just a bit to make it more modern.

  22. James T says:

    I’ve given up with Splinter Cell games; is it still a covert break in if I’ve killed everybody within a one block radius and then pissed off in my giant helicopter plane?

    Boy, your mission ratings must be through the floor!

  23. Deuteronomy says:

    I agree CoD4 was jingoistic in the extreme, but come on Rice is not a ‘clueless fuck’.

  24. CLLMM says:

    Perhaps it is just me, but does anyone get the feeling this is Tom Clancy’s Ace Combat?

  25. James T says:

    We probably shouldn’t get into this at all, but… “never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”

    Actually, that adage does get a bit hazy in the vicinity of the Bush Administration, doesn’t it…

  26. Jim Rossignol says:

    We are going to rebrand RPX! Rock, Paper, Experimental Shotgun.

  27. dhex says:

    i would play tom clancy dance dance revolution.

    cod4 being jingoistic kinda requires ignoring the death from above sequence, no?

  28. UncleLou says:

    Complete lack of a cockpit view is bit of a shock – I don’t even need a graphical cockpit, just give me a hud. I generally dislike vehicle controls in 3rd person, whether in sims or arcade games. You’re just never fully in control.

    With a cockpit view, every movement you make is hapening exactly in relation to the space around you. With a 3rd person view, you have the movement of your vehicle, and the movement of the camera. You never get an absolute value of vehicle movement in the static. environment, but a relative value of vehicle movement camera movement in the environment. Unless you have a camera that’s fixed to the vehicle, which always looks ridiculous.

    Not sure if people understand what I mean. :)

  29. Al3xand3r says:

    Fixed camera wouldn’t look ridiculous and would be the only sensible option for good controls if this is sim-esque and not complete arcade type of thing. So that would give the same control as FPV except you’d react different with a better environment awareness I guess. But yes, it’s weird they don’t include a FPV.

  30. EyeMessiah says:

    You had me at ’4 player coop’.

  31. cyrenic says:

    Even though the game engine will probably bring my PC to its knees, and I’ll never find 3 other people to play it with, the 4 player co-op sounds dead sexy.

  32. UncleLou says:

    Hot damn, I edited the above post and removed a few essential words.

    Fixed camera wouldn’t look ridiculous

    It always does. It even looks unnatural if it’s filmed footage with a camera at the very back of a car or plane, let alone in a game. You can try it in Flight Simulator, it’s rather terrible.

  33. Watcher95 says:

    No Cockpit = Epic Fail

  34. Al3xand3r says:

    I guess it’s a personal thing then. Looks fine to me in space/flight games I’ve tried. Perhaps the angle or whatever is just wrong in FS? Cockpit is always best of course.

  35. darkripper says:

    WAIT it’s.. It’s..

    Ace Combat. Maybe with a little more political intrigue. Also, you basically work for some Blackwater lookalikes?
    I hoped in something more interesting, like a virtual battlefield that’s directly changed by your actions as a pilot. I’m a learning Flight Simulator pilot but I can play without crazy level of realism (I don’t think I will ever be able to pay attention to both the flying and the battle in those kind of games), I still wished for some kind of innovation. Also, I don’t really want to dogfight with a joypad.

  36. NegativeZero says:

    I hope that this has a better plot than Ace Combat 6 did. “Go dance with the angels”. God, that was dire.

    What they really need to do is get rid of this crap and give us a new Chuck Yeager’s Air Combat.

  37. Thiefsie says:

    Can’t wait for this really… Should be some exciting new spins on the combat from Ace Combat without the craptacular side story.

  38. Mr. President says:

    Yep. Definitely Ace Combat, but with cool graphics and not located on some fantasy planet. What’s not to like?

  39. Crane says:

    @dhex “cod4 being jingoistic kinda requires ignoring the death from above sequence, no?”

    Because killing people you can barely see from the safety of a gunship is less jingoistic than actually shooting them in the face up close? The only real difference is that you don’t have to wash the blood off yourself afterwards.

  40. rob says:

    Please tell me more about Tom Clancy’s Hawes.

  41. dhex says:

    Because killing people you can barely see from the safety of a gunship is less jingoistic than actually shooting them in the face up close? The only real difference is that you don’t have to wash the blood off yourself afterwards.

    no, because i thought it was an amazingly well-executed piece that brought home the actual impact of that kind of warfare almost entirely through minimal graphics and a responsive dialogue set that was slow-paced enough for the little taunts like “oh that’s gonna hurt” and the like to really set in.

    maybe i’m reading things in there that aren’t, but that’s an entirely different thing for the cod series. there are parts of it in the first game with the russian campaign, especially the beginning, but this was far more explicit. it undermines any kind of sense of extreme patriotism, along with being pretty awesome on its own.

  42. Rodafowa says:

    Yeah, blimey. CoD4 was the best game for bringing home exactly what circle of Hell war is situated in since, er, the first Call Of Duty. There were several genuinely chilling moments in it (the aforementioned Death From Above, and the Ha Ha! Remember All That Hassle And Danger You Went Through And Survived Just Now? Well, You’re Dead Anyway! So Here You Are Bleeding Out Your Last mission).

    Anyway. On topic, if this turns out to be Ace Combat 6 but without the jaw-droppingly badly-judged cutscenes, I’ll be first in line.

  43. FunkyBadger says:

    CoD4: bit on the first trawler, second time through the game I was quick enough to get into the first cabin to see THEM killing the crew while they slept. UnNice. To paraphrase Mr Y: “the SAS are portrayed as maladjusted psychopaths, just like in real life”

  44. James T says:

    no, because i thought it was an amazingly well-executed piece that brought home the actual impact of that kind of warfare almost entirely through minimal graphics and a responsive dialogue set that was slow-paced enough for the little taunts like “oh that’s gonna hurt” and the like to really set in.

    I thought the same, except I think I read on RPS itself — although it might have been, oh, Eurogamer or somewhere — that they intended no ‘subversiveness’ at all in the AC32023e2r349058 bit (oh I don’t remember the plane name), it was just a ‘something cool’ idea, which is even more disturbing, just… not in a positive way. Of course, dev teams are big these days — maybe some of ‘em ‘got it’ and some didn’t.

  45. Dracko says:

    I wasn’t aware intent informed art, but there you go!

    P.S. It’s an AC-130, just so you look less silly.

  46. James T says:

    I wondered if someone would pull that card — but when it comes to the topic “are Infinity Ward unthinking regurgitators of US State Dept talking-points or subversive questioners of received wisdom?”, intent is everything. Of course, there’s some natural overlap between videogame plots and the expressed worldviews of yer Rumsfelds and Rices, since they tend to package the latter to sound like the former — “We’ve killed loads of al Qaeda “deputy leaders” — we just have to beat Osama bin End-Boss to win the game War on Terror!” — so I don’t begrudge IW the CoD4 storyline, but quoting one of Rice’s pathetic ‘War on Terror’ talking points as though it was sagacious food for thought was taking the piss just a bit.

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