Exclusive Law Breakers Interview: Dan Nanni, Lead Designer

Boss Key Productions have had a lot on their plates lately, hosting a closed Beta and taking the information they gathered to complete their game, Law Breakers. We managed to steal away their lead designer, Dan Nanni, from his busy work schedule to ask him a few questions about the game and his career. Here is what he had to say:

(Sick Critic) How did you guys come up with the idea for Law Breakers? Did you guys have any influences?

(Dan Nanni) When I first talked to Cliff about the project, two big thematic influences for him were The Warriors, a film from the late 70’s, and Leviathan Wakes, the first novel in the Expanse series that would ultimate be made into a TV series. Along with that, as the game itself grew, we found inspiration in lots of other areas of pop culture. Obviously games like Unreal Tournament and Tribes inspired us mechanically, but certain characters and stories inspired us as well. Our Vanguards, for example, had a good few role models: Samus from Metroid; Starbuck from the newer Battlestar Galactica in terms of gender twisting for Maverick; and Sgt. Rita Vrataski from Edge of Tomorrow. That’s just a small example, but a lot of our characters and gameplay decisions have been inspired from all forms of media and sports.

(SC) How hard was it to take traditional game variants like Domination (controlling 3 points on the map) and others and tweaking them enough to still make them fun and challenging, while still remaining true to the way it operates?

(DN) It’s about time and iteration. The difficulty came more from of achieving results within a set period of time, while also knowing that we were building a new IP that wasn’t quite fully defined while working on all of the modes. Without knowing what our full set of roles and maps would be, and reacting to fan feedback like supercharging the game’s speed, it forced us to revisit our modes often.

The difficulty also came with introducing new modes that might have worked really well, but only for some roles. It would be no fun to be put into a match with a mode than had no reason for your favorite role to exist. Again, those issues can be solved, as long as we have the time to iterate and make changes. We’ve had to abandon some modes simply because we didn’t have time to work out the issues they presented – some more difficult than others – and our attempts at iterating on them didn’t produce the fun experiences we were looking for.

(SC) What were some of the hardest parts about creating Law Breakers as far as design goes? Like how fast paced to make it and what all to give the characters as far as abilities go, while keeping it well balanced.

(DN) Adding new roles to the game always has the potential to destabilize the game’s balance. New ways to play with verticality, boosts in speed, additions of weapon that play with new engagement ranges/styles – these can trickle down into not just role balance, but map and mode balance as well. As designers, this is part of the challenge. Coming up with new awesome ideas is one thing. Creating them is completely different. And yet another challenge comes from integrating them into an existing game. You can’t always predict the outcome of that role’s integration and sometimes it results in balance changes in other parts of the game.

(SC) What do you think sets Law Breakers apart from other games such as Quake Champions and even Overwatch?

(DN) Honestly, I think the whole package is what sets it apart. You can point to specific systems, like the gravity and movement mechanics that play around with verticality and speed. Our roles may appear familiar, but they all play in really unique ways that support high skill growth. The same can also be said about our game modes, which all keep things intuitive, but twist it up in new, dramatic ways. But it’s when they all combine together that you can see the game for all it’s worth. Everything was built as a singular experience, and ultimately it’s an experience that’s all its own.

(SC) Do you guys have a hope that Law Breakers will turn into an eSports title?

(DN) Right now we’re creating the best-possible competitive game we can and eSports can’t be rushed. Let’s see what fans say since that’s something that ultimately rests in their hands to decide.

(SC) Since Cliff Bleszinski worked with Microsoft on the Gears titles for so long, is there any chance of possibly bringing Law Breakers to Xbox, especially since its coming to PC already? Maybe Switch version too?

(DN) There’s a chance for it to go anywhere and everywhere. Right now, as a small studio, we can only do so much on our own, so we’re focusing on launching on the PC and PS4 first. After that we’ll see what makes the most sense.

(SC) What was your main goal when creating Law Breakers?

(DN) Fun, multiplayer gameplay with a highly competitive edge. We wanted the game to be fun for players at all skill levels, but we also wanted to support a game that be aspirational and fun to watch, similar to sports. A kid can pick up a baseball and a glove and player with their friends or even more formally within a little league. Nothing stops them from playing and having fun, but when they watch their idols play, they can see that the road ahead of them is a long one. Maybe that’s not a road they want to go down, but they’ll still play to have fun, and when they’re home, they’ll watch their favorite teams and players play it in a highly competitive way. Likewise, we wanted LawBreakers to be a fun game for all, but for those that really want to sink the time and energy into it, we wanted it to support it through gameplay depth and high skill ceilings.

(SC) Where did the idea to add Zero Gravity areas come from? Was that something you guys had intended from the start or did it come later on in development?

(DN) It came from the start with Cliff’s inspiration from Leviathan Wakes. We didn’t quite know what “gravity” meant at the very beginning, but over time and iteration we landed on what it is now.

(SC) What got you into wanting to make video games?

(DN) My dad and I bonded over video games when I was very young. From the Atari at home to arcades, we had fun challenging each other and trying out the latest and greatest games. Wherever we traveled, we’d hit up the arcades and see what they had to offer. These were great memories that ultimately helped define me and I wanted to share those same bonding experiences with others. Now that I can make video games, I have the opportunity to let other people use my games to tell their own stories, bond over them and come up with their own “core memories” (thanks Inside Out for that term).

(SC) What other projects have you worked on before joining Boss Key?

(DN) I’ve had the opportunity to work on a lot of great games over the years. Some of the bigger, multiplayer-focused titles I’ve worked on were for franchises like the original Star Wars: Battlefront, Killzone, and Battlefield.

(SC) What advice do you have for people wanting to get into game development and would you suggest to people that they get into this industry?

(DN) It’s really easy, and free in many cases, to get your hands on software to make games and mods. I’d encourage people to get in there and get their hands dirty. Find what you love doing – whether it’s sound design, art, programming, building maps, making weapons… anything – and just do it. Passion and examples of what you’re capable of doing will go a long way, but also be persistent. Don’t give up if you get a rejection letter. Take it as motivation to keep improving, then try again, and again, and again, until you succeed.

(SC) What are some of your favorite games that you enjoy playing and why?

(DN) Where to start? My tastes have changed throughout the years, and perhaps that’s partly a symptom of my reflexes dulling as I age. I’ve always had a love for multiplayer games though. Meridian 59 was my first real MMO-ish love and the original Unreal is what got me heavily invested into FPS games. The original Deus Ex inspired me to explore the notion of meaningful choices through map design, and the Desert Combat mod for Battlefield 1942 challenged me with vehicle mastery when they introduced the helicopter.

These days I really find a lot of enjoyment with games that tell great stories, like The Last of Us, or reveal them through clever narrative mechanics, like Bastion. I’m a soccer fanatic, so FIFA games always manage to grab a hold of me, even though I get annihilated in online matches. Rocket League is also great and scratches that soccer itch for me. I love playing games with my family, so Mario Kart 8 Deluxe lets us all play together, and my son loves open world games, so we have fun exploring through Zelda: Breath of the Wild together. I also really love the explosion of the indie scene, and while there are just too many games to list there, some of my recent favorites include Darkest Dungeon, This War of Mine and SUPERHOT.

Boss Key is releasing Law Breakers on PS4 and PC August 8th.

From all of us at Sick Critic, we want to thank Dan Nanni for taking the time to do this interview with us. We wish not only him, but all of Boss Key Productions, luck on finishing up Law Breakers and congratulate them on all the hard work they’ve done so far. From what we’ve seen in the Beta, this is a must get for everyone this summer. For the First Impressions Preview, you can check that out here: LawBreakers Preview


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