Futuremark Talk Shattered Horizon

By Jim Rossignol on October 29th, 2009 at 11:19 am.


Earlier this week we spoke to Antti Summala, the lead designer on astronaut shooter, Shattered Horizon. The resulting interview covers a bunch of topics, including the advantages of self-publishing, the reasoning behind making the game DirectX 10 only, and the problems of control systems when there is no universal up or down. The game itself is out on Steam for €20/$20/£15 on the 4th of November. Read on for a peek into Futuremark’s adventures in near-future sci-fi.

RPS: Can you tell us a little about the background of the Futuremark Games Studio? Obviously lots of gamers are familiar with the benchmarking software, but how did this move into full-blown game development come about?

Summala: Futuremark was founded in 1997 as a spin-off from Remedy Entertainment. Futuremark’s focus has always been advanced real-time gaming graphics. For the last 10 years we’ve been making 3DMark, a 3D graphics benchmark for gamers, creating a new version with each step up in DirectX.

Many of our artists and programmers have backgrounds in the Finnish demo scene. For 10 years they’ve been pretty vocal in pushing us to make our own game. We set up Futuremark Games Studio in January 2008 because the timing finally seemed right. 3DMark Vantage, our latest DirectX10 benchmark, gave us a solid rendering engine we could use as the basis for the engine. So we took the plunge, launched the studio and announced to the world that Futuremark was going to make a game.

RPS: Can you explain a bit about how you settled on Shattered Horizon’s concept? Was it slowly evolved, or was there a single idea that you just had to turn into a game? How did it come about?

Summala: Although the studio was officially created in January 2008 the idea for a zero gravity shooter had been floating around for a while, so to speak. With the launch of the studio we refined the concept and then started designing the game and building the extra technology we would need to make it work.

Shattered Horizon is our first game so we decided we would go multiplayer-only very early on. A multiplayer game is orders of magnitude simpler and less costly to produce, which still doesn’t make it easy but it helps make the project manageable.

Our main design aim was to make zero gravity fun. We had the feeling that extra freedom of movement would allow players to create new and interesting tactics that they wouldn’t have experienced in other games. And making the game an FPS would give it a different feel from the space sims with six degrees of freedom where you control a ship, rather than a player.

RPS: The technical specifications for Shattered Horizon are quite high – was it your intention to make something that would stretch a PC’s capabilities? The graphically demanding PC game seems like a rare breed these days, so was that intentional?

Summala: I don’t think anyone was surprised to hear that Futuremark is one of the first to release a DirectX10 only game as we’ve always been forward looking when to comes to graphics. When we started making Shattered Horizon we placed some bets on where PC gaming technology was going. We’ve been watching the Steam hardware survey pretty closely and of course we have tons of hardware data from our benchmark users.

With Windows 7 launching just last week and some very affordable DirectX 10 and 11 cards entering the market we’re very happy with being DirectX 10 only. As we are self-publishing Shattered Horizon on Steam we don’t have the same restrictions and pressures facing the big publishers. We don’t have to make compromises to chase the largest possible market and because Shattered Horizon is a PC exclusive we’re not limited by a common technology platform that has to accommodate the consoles.

The specs are quite high but they are also fair and accurate. Even with the minimum hardware you should get a solid 30 frames a second and graphics that are still very presentable.


RPS: Can you tell us a bit about the design challenges that you faced when making Shattered Horizon? Was there one thing that really made the process difficult?

Summala: Shattered Horizon is our first full game so the development process had its fair share of ups and downs. We are using an in-house engine and developing tools alongside the game gave us quite a few headaches.

In terms of the game design two things stand out. The first was a goal that giving the player complete freedom of movement shouldn’t come at the expense of overwhelming complexity. We knew that a key part of making zero gravity fun would be making it accessible for the player. We spent more time working on the control scheme than anything else, iterating through dozens of different control concepts and movement models.

It was a big challenge because people will naturally assume that a zero gravity FPS will be difficult to control and complicated to play. But actually the team has done a great job of making the controls intuitive. As you said in your Eurogamer preview, you were able to get going very quickly and that is feedback we had from our beta testers too. Most people can start enjoying the zero gravity gameplay very quickly without having to overcome a steep learning curve.

The second challenge was in level design. There is a wealth of great information online and in literature about the art of level design. There are accepted rules and best practice and lessons learned from hundreds of games and modded levels.

Once you give the player freedom from gravity however, a lot of those rules become harder to apply. When you think that players can go absolutely anywhere in the level, designing for balance and competitive play becomes very difficult. How d you ensure that the level has a good flow, that the player knows where they are and where they need to go next?

We iterated though many different level prototypes. We started the beta with three very different examples and let beta testers tell us which they found the most fun and why. At one end you have a level like “Moondust” – it’s the one featured in our most recent trailer. Moondust is a hollowed out asteroid that is being mined for resources. There are a lot of corridors and caverns and the man-made structures suggest a natural sense of “up” even though there’s no gravity. We designed this level to feel familiar to FPS players.

At the other end of the scale, you have a level like ISS which is based on how we think the International Space Station could look in 40 years time. This is a very open level with no natural planes or surfaces. It’s a true 3D battleground where the player can take full advantage of zero gravity and the freedom of movement.


RPS: Shattered Horizon has an amazingly “spacey” feel to it. How much was the game design inspired by real space footage? Was the intention to make a realistic game?

Summala: I’m glad you like that part of it. We think the idea of a sci-fi game set in the near-future and presented realistically is full of potential and is a big difference between Shattered Horizon and other sci-fi FPS games. Shattered Horizon’s game world is set just 40 years from now, so even though it’s sci-fi it feels familiar. And setting the battle in near-Earth space helps a lot too. Even though none of us have ever been in space we are very familiar with the sight of the Earth as seen from orbit. When you see that view in game it is very powerful.

Part of creating the space feel is the visual look of the game. NASA has a really incredible online image archive which was extremely useful for our artists. We watched just about every film and documentary ever made on the Moon landings and other NASA programs. And of course we watched all the sci-fi films you’d expect too.

The other part of the space feeling is the way players move. The rocket pack gives complete freedom of movement to go anywhere and when moving in space players have inertia. That’s definitely something which gives Shattered Horizon a different feel from other FPS games. Unless you are attached to a surface you are almost always in motion.

We’ve been reading the comments on the forums and people seem to be responding well to the idea of a realistic space game. If anything, they are pushing for even more realism. “No sound!” for example. We heard that a lot in the beta as well but with certain aspects you have to make a choice between making the game realistic and making it fun.

No sound seems like something that would be very cool, but it’s actually very hard to play an FPS without those audio cues. With a nod at maintaining realism our solution was to give the player’s suit “audio simulation”. The idea is that your suit detects the environment around you and intelligently simulates the audio as an essential tool for awareness and self-preservation.

Even so, during the beta the voices asking for a silent mode were pretty loud so we added a “silent running” feature that lets you power down your suit and disable the audio simulation to gain some stealth advantage while sacrificing radar, HUD and maneuverability. Players looking for that ultimate space feeling should definitely give that a try.

RPS: Can you tell us a little about what we can expect from Shattered Horizon in the future? Will there be a map editor and such? Do you expect to release more content?

Summala: On Monday we announced that Shattered Horizon will be supported after launch with downloadable content expansion packs. These packs will be free to all players. People who pre-order Shattered Horizon will also get to help us test these new level packs before they become available to everyone else.

Involving the community like this worked really well for us during our closed beta. There are several features, like Silent Running, and even one whole level, that were added to the game as a direct result of beta tester feedback. We are really looking forward to working with our community to help shape the future of the game.

, , , .

57 Comments »

Sponsored links by Taboola
  1. Babs says:

    I’m suprisingly interested in this, I normally don’t play online shooters but I’ve fancied a proper freefall FPS since discovering how to set the gravity level in Quake.

    And at £15 not a bad price either.

  2. duel says:

    has there ever been a zero grav shooter before? all i can think of when i see shattered horizon is playing a UT space map with low-grav on :D

    • user@example.com says:

      Heavy Gear 2 had space levels. Your big stompy robot switched its optional rollerblades for magnetic feet and maneuvering thrusters.

    • Kenny says:

      Battlecruiser/Universal Combat had it, but it was crap

  3. CMaster says:

    A little dissapointing that they don’t promise a level editor – although going back to what was said earlier about tools suggests that perhaps the authoring tools they have aren’t actually very good and not really ready for public use.

    Still, I’ve been intrigued by this one since RPS brought it to my attention and the price point is good (well, ignoring the stupid €=$ thing that means us brits get it much cheaper than our european friends). I just hope they do release a demo as it is something different enough that it’s impossible to know if you like it until you play it.

  4. Some Guy says:

    would get this but my PC would need an upgrade so it owuld be £15+£300-400 min

  5. Mashakosha says:

    This game has piqued my interest, I think. Not sure if I can spare the cash at the moment to buy it, though. Nor the HDD space. Must buy bigger HDD. Keep telling myself that. But I digress.
    I suppose my purchase will depend a lot on how many of the people I know online are buying it. Ever since the release of TF2 I’ve felt the need for a solid community in games, specifically FPSs, made up of people I already know. Without that, it’s become difficult for me to enjoy the multiplayer aspect of any game without being able to shout abuse at that bastard who just killed me when I was clearly behind the cover.

  6. Starky says:

    That sounds really good, I like the idea of a proper zero gravity shooter, low gravity is fun, but zero gravity done right could be amazing.
    I also like the idea of sound simulation and the stealth mode to go with it.

    Game idea aside, Good on FM for doing this DX10 only, at last a game that isn’t a DX9 game with a DX10 mode hbolted on in the form of a few god-rays and such maybe now we’ll see some proper use of the advances DX10 has over DX9.

  7. Heliocentric says:

    Dx 10/11 hard ware is awesome. Dx 10/11 software can kiss my ass.

    This game is likely to be the solitary worth while game thats dx10+ only for a while, most companies have more sense.

    • Subject 706 says:

      The “We don’t have to make compromises to chase the largest possible market” statetment probably has something to do with the DX10 exclusivity.

      If anything, I wish more devs had the means/integrity/wish to follow that philosophy. Not necessarily regarding DX versions of course, but gameplay, complexity, etc.

  8. Javier-de-Ass says:

    played it a bit during beta and really enjoyed. easy purchase at the low price. hope they do something interesting with the “expansions”.

  9. Richierich says:

    Seems rather like that telekinesis FPS thing that came out to showcase PysX cards. Cool if your machine will run it on full, just to show off. Otherwise it won’t be worth it.

    As an aside, damn I wish I had £400 lying around.

    • Subject 706 says:

      You don’t really need £400 to get a good DX10/11 card, if that’s what you mean.

    • TotalBiscuit says:

      £125 gets you one of the brand spanking new Radeon 5770s. I just got mine and I couldn’t be happier, it is astonishing.

    • Richierich says:

      Sorry, perhaps I should elaborate further. I do in fact have a shiny new DX10 card. It just happens to be sitting in an AGP slot on a socket 754 motherboard, accompanied by 2GB of DDR1 RAM and a burned out VIA SATA chipset.

      I realise this must make me sound like a crazy person, but I recently had the choice of spend around £150 on a slightly better single core Athlon64, a gig of RAM and a new HD4670 or nothing, because I couldn’t actually afford a new motherboard, processor, RAM and graphics card (lets face it, a new PC) at the same time.

      Pity me, for I am a fallen gamer.

  10. Babs says:

    To save people to trouble, if you pre-order it in the UK go through Steam.

    On their website Futuremark have the option to buy it from them but still get a Steam key, so they get more money. Problem is that the price is in Euros and after Paypal conversion and vat it works out £4 more expensive.

  11. pilouuuu says:

    It’s a cool thing that Steam can be the place for innovative games like Zeno Clash and very advanced tech games like Shattered Horizon. This is PC only, right? If that’s the case then it has my interest. We need more PC only games and Steam and developers like Futuremark are helping on that.

  12. The Sombrero Kid says:

    they should convert their rendering pipeline to dx 11, it wouldn’t be too hard and dx 11 supports the dx 9 dlls as long as you don’t do stuff it can’t handle obviously, that’s what i’m doing for my game and it means i can target older machines with much of the benefits of dx10, writing a sm 2.0-3.0 shader for every shader in their game could potentially be a pain though

  13. Zon says:

    That would still require Vista/Win7 as DX11 is not going to be available on XP ever. Something like 70%+ of gamers already have DX10 hardware while only 40-45% have Vista or Windows 7.

    In other words – it is not a huge deal to require DX10 hardware, most already have it – so writing low end shaders under DX11 to allow play using ancient hardware, while a good idea in some cases, still won’t save XP users.

    XP is dead. Get over it.

    • user@example.com says:

      Yeah, but an upgrade to 7 is only £30 if you have an academic email address, which is cheaper than a new card.

  14. The Sombrero Kid says:

    @ Zon
    DX11 isn’t avaiable on XP, but the rendering path is DX9 compatible, hence you can target DX9 with a DX11 rendering path.

  15. Alexander Norris says:

    I’m still disappointed that they chose to sidestep the design challenge of making an FPS with no sound cues, but I’m glad they’re at least giving realism a cursory nod.

    DX10-only is an incredibly ballsy move and one I can’t help but feel will come back and bite them in the ass, though. There are still far too many PC gamers with XP, and not everyone is going to want/be able to afford to switch to Win7 immediately.

  16. zornbringer says:

    this game looks pretty nice and i like the innovative idea of a 0 gravity shooter. i also think its a good idea making this game directx10 only. this could move people like me (still sticking with windows xp with a dx10 card in my case) finally to windows7. if this game will be fun, i will cleanse xp from my hd and finally get the advancement of dx10. well, i think i need a hardware upgrade for my cpu though, i was thinking about this for some time now, anyway.

    (btw. doing the game in dx11 as someone suggested here, is nonsense imho. there are just a few ati cards that support dx11 now and they just begin to ship them now i think)

    its also good to read that futuremark listens to the community and gives something about it. not like some other big companies (especially infinity ward… you know the story).

  17. Tei says:

    The race to “realism” in games is over. Wellcome to a world where games like Borderlands, Team Fortress 2 are already running on the new race: The race of Style and Attitude.

    I am looking forward for a day, where every 3D engine looks different. Today you can get the Assasin Creed guy, and put it on a Call of Duty engine, and no one will notice, because these engines lack Style and Attitude.

    Futuremark can play the card of high polycount, latest shaders and DX11, but I think that no one will follow that route. And I am proud of the gamming world for it.
    The last 10 years of gamming has been really shallow and pointless. Every game a 3D game, with realistic graphics, a shotgun, a pistol and a autogun.

    There wil be always games tryiing to score photorealism perfection, but I am happy is not the target of all games anymore.

    • Starky says:

      I agree with you right up until you mention Assassins Creed…

      Sorry but are you blind man? Assassins Creed for all it’s game-play faults was stunningly beautiful, with fantastic art design – especially in characters and architecture.

      There was nothing at all samey or “shades of brown” about Assassins Creed. It was full to the brim of style, which was the problem most people had with it – Stylistically it was brilliant, but there was a lack of substance.
      You’re the first person I’ve ever seen describe that game as lacking style and attitude, and you’re wrong.

      That said, I agree with you that the era of graphical generations is gone, we’ve reached the point where massive increases in processing power is required to make very little noticeable difference. It’s a exponential curve, with processing power on the Y and realism on the X.

      That said it’s no where near the end for the quest for realism. Graphics will improve slightly, photorealism for none-human/humanoids has basically been achieved. Graphics will just improve at a much slower pace with much less priority for Devs.
      Ironic that the point in the processing power needed/photorealism curve we’re at, which makes aiming for more photorealism simply not cost-effective is firmly sitting deep in the uncanny valley.

      The new “graphics” though is physics.

      Destructible environments, more enemies/people/things on screen, better AI – all will be using that processing power that quad cores (and beyond) are providing.

      this is great though, because all that stuff adds to gameplay in a much more tangible way than the same processing power spent on realistic water refraction, or some other graphical doodad (technical term) would.

    • Deuteronomy says:

      Borderlands looks Bad and I really don’t like TF2’s Style and Attitude, especially since it lacks in Gameplay and Depth. Give me Red Orchestra over that cartoon tripe any day.

  18. Popular Energy Drink says:

    Seems Futuremark is taking its developer obligations seriously. Hooray for the Finnish.

    Hopefully they’ll be able to get on their feet further and make some kickin’ rad games for us.

  19. Not fond of DX10 says:

    My system is more than capable of playing this, and I’m quite interested. But I use XP. And one game isn’t going to make me upgrade to Windows 7.

    • Subject 706 says:

      Win 7 being a great jolly better OS should be enough reason though :)

    • Tei says:

      I hope Microsoft make a better OS, but It seems to package the old version with more stuff…

      I am still waiting for this stuff:
      could you open a 2GB text file with the notepad of Windows 7?
      is the console flexible, so you can make it bigger in real-time?
      has it native multidesktop support?
      do it support ex3?

      It seems the console of Windows is the same code from Windows 95 days, with zero improvement. The desktop is still mono-desktop, with no native virtual desktop support. That is deal-break for me.

      it support a filesystem that has pipes, and shortcuts, but probably most of the OS will break, if you use these features. If you make a lots of hard-shortcuts, the search fuction will probably last forever.

      XP is shit, a 1/5 OS, but at least you can play videogames, and Is why I have it. I can still play videogames, so I see not reason to upgrade. If I want a better OS, I would install Ubuntu, not a incrementally more bloated but still broken version of Windows.

      I would pay 20€ for a version of windows with native multiple desktop support ( support as in: It play well with the desktop and apps, the problem with third party support for this is that is broken ).
      I suppose most Windows users don’t know how *pooor* feel a OS withouth native virtual desktop support. Is like the IE6 team not understanding Firefox Tabs. How you can have a web browser withouth tabs, and how you can have a OS withouth virtual desktop? the same issue, still windows insist to be soo “mono” task. That and his poorly memory management thing make it a really poor OS to do more than one thing at a time. Good thing you don’t need that for gamming, so XP is a good gamming OS.

  20. Mad Doc MacRae says:

    Now I have to upgrade to 7. Mixed feelings on that but whatever.

    I really like their solution to the no-sound-in-space issue. Hopefully they’ll also let people run no-sound servers.

  21. terry says:

    Seems interesting, let’s hope the usual demoscene “style over substance” rule doesn’t apply

  22. Babs says:

    You clearly already have to OS you want, so why the hell are you bitching about it here?

  23. Hoernchen says:

    Next time more game and less engine please.

  24. Jad says:

    Am I really that old? Has no one heard of Descent before? Those games were absolute classics, and I can’t fail to think of them whenever I hear about this game.

    If you haven’t played any of the Descent games, you can pick them up for $6 on GOG. They hold up surprisingly well after all these years.

    • Subject 706 says:

      Oh no, I’ve played the Descent games, even though I was pretty young at the time, but strictly and nitpickingly (is that even a verb?) speaking, they were not FPS games. They were vehicular FPS games. Or something.

    • Caiman says:

      No, “first person” means that the viewpoint is from the first person (ie. yourself), it doesn’t literally mean you have to be a person otherwise AvP wouldn’t be first person if you played an alien or predator. So yes, Descent was definitely an FPS in zero gravity with fully three dimensional design. It was and still is astounding, although the control system demanded a decent joystick.

    • Jad says:

      @Caiman

      I did pretty well with mouse and keyboard. The setup I finally settled on was making left mouse = strafe up and right mouse = strafe down. Then fire was on the space bar. Takes a little while getting used to, but I worked for me.

      So, for those who haven’t played Descent, and don’t have a joystick, don’t let that hold you back from playing an awesome game!

    • Javier-de-Ass says:

      The difference between this and Descent is the immediacy of movement though, in Descent it feels like you are pretty mechanically slow because you’re controlling a ship, but in this you are the guy and can zip around with the mouse. but yeah, Descent is an fps game of course.

  25. Jad says:

    Grrr. That was a response to duel asking if there were any zero-gravity shooters before.

  26. MacBeth says:

    Sounds interesting – they seemed to have a) Ideas and b) Determination, which are and always have been key to making good games since the earliest days of the bedroom coder. Of course, they might still be Bad Ideas, or there might be Not Enough Good Ideas but it’s an encouraging start…

  27. twb says:

    Marathon had altered gravity levels, but you can’t exactly get real freefall in a 2.5d shooter.

  28. Gorgeras says:

    Based purely on the principle that this is a platform exclusive and it’s cheap-ish, who’s whiff meh?

  29. JonFitt says:

    My concern personally, is not the DX10 requirement (I have had an 8800GT DX10 card for ages, and plan to upgrade XP->Win7 as soon as I can be bothered to install it).

    My concern is the general comments about high system specs. I think I’m scraping the Minimum on everything but RAM.
    Anyone know how a AMD Athlon 64 X2 5600+ compares to an Athlon FX-60?

    I can’t upgrade my PC without changing motherboard, RAM, and processor all at once, which basically means I’d be better off keeping this one and building a new one.

  30. Vinraith says:

    DirectX 10 only? Their loss, I suppose.

  31. Minus says:

    I really disagree. Remember that this is an engine no game has ever been on before. I think the art direction more akin to “near-earth, near future” is relatively unexplored. I’m a NASA nerd, so am probably biased, but I honestly can’t think of a sci-fi game in recent memory that actually looked this interesting. I like the look of the tech and player models and weapons, it all reminds me of the recent film Moon.

    I am totally with you in wanting variation in games and graphics engines, but that doesn’t mean we should discount some perfectly good art styles just because they look ‘realistic.’

    I also think it’s interesting that you use Borderlands as an example – my favorite game of this week for all the reasons you mentioned, but when I saw the first screenshots I immediately thought “Hey, it’s the Unreal Engine 3″ – and was right.

    • Minus says:

      Reply broken… This was RE:Tei’s comment.

    • Tei says:

      What you say, is a reason to buy this game, and I agree.

      From “Odisey 2001″ very few movies (or games) get space right. It seems this game is tryiing (not total real, but It look real).

  32. Melf_Himself says:

    Their lead designer sounds like he knows a lot about game design. I went from being “meh” about this to cautiously optimistic after reading this… will definitely give the demo a try when it comes out.

  33. Pekka Timonen says:

    You can check if your system can run Shattered Horizon from here:
    http://www.yougamers.com/gameometer/10360/

  34. DiGi says:

    Descent! Best mazes ever!

  35. maicon says:

    the picture reminds me of the cool station spacewalk game/simulation from nasa: http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/3d_resources/station_spacewalk_game.html

  36. scott says:

    eh… crysis you big dummy:P lol
    crysis had an amazing zero-g level.
    this probably inspired these guys to make this game, it definately had me thinking it would be cool to have a game set completely in zero-g.

  37. Culprit says:

    This really makes me think of Ender’s Game. 3D zero-g game tactics can be really awesome. I hope they really run with this and make interesting team game modes. CtF would be nice, but something a little more interesting would be great!

    • Lagmint says:

      It reminds me of the outer-space Q3 maps. Looks really interesting. I really like the weapon design too. But yeah, I can see the Enders Game in this :)

  38. JimmyDean says:

    Not specifically zero gravity, but Starsiege Tribes was probably one of the first FPS to have really good freedom of movment type of gameplay with jetpacks and skiing which is unique to the game. Shattered Horizons has some similarities in terms of the gameplay team combat ala freedom of movment. Its fun and definitely will be a classic on its own. If they add more content it can be even better.