INTERVIEW by BRIAN EDELMAN | BR!NK PHOTOGRAPHY by CHELSEA JEHEBER
Khang Le is the CEO and Creative Director of Adhesive Games, a company whose first project is turning a lot of heads in the gaming community. The game is called “Hawken,” and apart from being a sci-fi first-person shooter with great visuals and creative gameplay, it’s also operating under a free-to-play model that is relatively unusual in the U.S. Khang told us how this system works, which company is looking to make Hawken into a film, and gave us a bit of insight into the game itself.
What is “Hawken”?
Hawken is basically an FPS (first-person shooter) mech combat game. It’s an online free-to-play game.
What is the storyline of Hawken?
Well, it was originally a multiplayer. We recently developed the story around the world. So the game takes place on a planet called Illal. It was a colonized planet brought to the brink of destruction by the technology of man. Now there is also a threat of a virus. It’s sort of like a crystallized virus growing across the planet and taking over all the natural resources, organic and inorganic, which makes resources even less available. So now the remaining population is fighting over whatever is left to survive. The war is waging between two main corporations — Sentium and Prosk.
Hawken story teaser
Basically beyond that it’s just shooting each other, right?
Yeah, it’s a multiplayer game only. Most of the fiction the players will get is from the cinematics, the graphic novel, and the prose novel.
What is your involvement in the project?
So, I was one of the founders and creative vision behind Hawken. That’s my role. My main role now is to make sure it looks and plays well and to manage the Adhesive team. We have two studios now. One in Seattle, which deals more with customer service and the publishing side of it. And our Adhesive team is just game developer-only. So I’m the CEO and creative director of Adhesive.
How long have you and your team been working on the game?
It’s been quite a while! June of 2010. We started as a small team and still are a small size. Big teams can have as many as 30 to 100.
You started out without funding, right?
Yeah. Started out with a crew of five who came from Project Offset, which was a fantasy FPS. Offset made pretty big waves in the industry, too. And we were eventually acquired by Intel, but then they had a change of business plan. So then we were done with that contract. After that, whatever money we made on that deal we poured into this project. We probably would only survive maybe a year without pay. So luckily, after nine months of working on it, we released our first video and got a lot of opportunities from that. Just a couple days after posting we got tons of offers. Six months after that we narrowed it down to what it was we wanted to do.
Where did the idea come from? What are your inspirations?
So, I have always a big fan of mech games. I have wanted to do a purely mech game for a while now. When we finished at Intel, we had a choice to go separate ways and get jobs, or we could stick it out and work on another indie thing. And looking at the team at that time, we had one programmer, one animator, and two 3D artists. So we weren’t going to attempt doing single-player. Single-player requires a lot more work. At the same time, with only one animator, we didn’t want to do anything with characters. It would just be too much work for one animator. So we were left with something robotic and sci-fi for environment. The big thing when you work on these games is the environment — how long it takes. Sci-fi is a lot faster to build than fantasy. So we had all of those restrictions, and working around that, combined with our passion for mech games, was how we got the idea. It wasn’t some idea out of the blue sky. We just sat down and said, “Hmm, this seems like the only option we can do.” We also wanted to find a niche that we could stand out in. We looked at the market and the mech genre was one we hadn’t seen in a while.
The cinematic trailer for Hawken showcases its stunning visuals and high-tech mech combat
Can you describe the business model of Hawken and why it is different from other games?
The free-to-play model came about in Asia. During the time we started the project, free-to-play was already big in Asia, but it was barely starting in the US. People were skeptical of it. It had a bad stigma of being called “pay to win.” So we were initially planning to make only a downloadable title for consoles. But after talking to investors and looking at the market, it actually fit our indie team very well. With free-to-play, you can launch small and grow it slowly. It’s not like a one-time shipment deal where you make a product and hand it to the consumer. It keeps growing. Audiences tend to download a multiplayer game and move on after a couple of months when a new title comes out, but with free-to-play games people can stick around more often and we can see a lot more volume.
So the way you make money then is people buying things in the game with real money?
Yeah, people buy upgrades, armor, new levels, new content, things like that. As a mech game you can customize it kind of like a car. So there’s a lot of opportunity to change or swap or upgrade. We want to make sure the game is not “pay to win,” so things that can be bought can also be earned through playing.
When will it be released?
Open Beta starts 12/12/12.
Hawken gameplay footage
Can you talk more about the other forms of Hawken you mentioned earlier?
DJ2 Entertainment got the rights to Hawken and is shopping around Hollywood to find the right producer. Lots of people are interested in it. There is also a graphic novel coming out from Archaia comics. That should really help bring the player into the world of Hawken. There’s also a prose novel in progress right now. There’s also talk of doing some anime. It’s pretty awesome and kind of overwhelming. We’re just trying to get the game done at this point.
What is your dream for Hawken? Or have you achieved it already?
It is already a bigger dream than it started as. Originally, we planned to make a fun mech game that was profitable for six people. With the new funding, our development team is now fourteen people. I guess the plan is to keep polishing it and expanding on the world of Hawken. I’m really enjoying working with our passionate team to make Hawken a truly AAA quality F2P game that we can all be proud of.
Hawken is growing a lot from its humble beginnings; will there ever be a point where you can say, “We’re done”?
Free-to-play is like a service and not really like a packaged good title. Once we launch, we will continually support it as long as people are around to play it. Internally, we may move on to other things to keep us feeling creative. So we’ll see how it goes. Four or five years from now it might not be something I even recognize. We’re constantly changing the game in development as we see how the audience is reacting to it.
What can the Daily BR!NK do for you?
Sign up for the beta and start playing on 12.12.12. Check out playhawken.com.