Auto Assault Interview

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posted 7/1/2004 by John Yan
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If you're looking for something new in thw MMORPG realm, then look further than NCSoft and their array of games. Auto Assault lets you live out your Mad Max fanatasies as you take on other players in a Havoks physics engine enhanced world. Today, John gets to talk to Ryan Seabury, senior developer at NetDevil.

GamingNexus: To start off, I always like to ask a little bit about the interviewee so tell our audience a little bit about yourself, how you got started, and your role in the game.

Ryan Seabury: My name is Ryan Seabury, and my official title is Senior Developer at NetDevil. I’m pretty sure I was born as a tiny mushroom, which my parents created by jumping headfirst together into a giant brick painted with a question mark… at least you’d think so by my hopeless lifelong addiction to video games. I worked with Scott Brown (President) and Peter Grundy (VP & Art Director) at a former web software company in Boulder. Our shared passion for gaming became apparent during the daily Quake 2 CTF matches after work, and later StarCraft. The opportunity to join NetDevil presented itself in the late 90’s, which I took in a heartbeat. I helped get our first title, Jumpgate, out the door (our entire staff was only five including myself!), and then we moved on to our next project, Auto Assault.

I’ve been involved in many areas over the course of development for Auto Assault; I’ve done some programming, some business-related stuff, some design. Right now, I’m transitioning to more of a lead design role, making sure that all the cool missions and content our design team is coming up with is consistent with the original vision of the Auto Assault universe.


GamingNexus: Your first game was Jumpgate, which I actually did some beta testing on. What are some of the lessons you learned from developing Jumpgate when moving to Auto Assault?

Ryan Seabury: We learned an enormous amount from developing Jumpgate – firstly, how incredibly difficult it actually is to get a massively multiplayer game “finished” and on the shelf. And then there’s the whole making-people-aware-of-it thing! So, from a business perspective with Auto Assault, we made sure we found a publisher who takes the MMO business seriously. I don’t think you’re going to find many publishers as serious about online gaming as NCsoft is, and so far it’s been a wonderful working relationship.

As for gameplay, I think our two biggest lessons from Jumpgate were 1- how important character identity is (Jumpgate had no avatars beyond your current space ship), and 2- there is such a thing as “too open ended”.

To learn from our mistakes, first we are developing a much stronger sense of character identity and progression into Auto Assault. You have an avatar with some customization options, you can see heads and shoulders of your convoy mates and other players, and the character skills and attributes are being advanced in the RPG aspect of the game (aside from equipment load-outs on vehicles).

Second, we have a very content-heavy world design this time around. There will be a heavily scripted campaign for each of the three factions to play through for starters, in addition to blueprint crafting, arena battles, and faction-based PvP outpost battles. We also have a really in-depth map layering system we’ve been jokingly calling “rand-crafted” missions… short for random-handcrafted missions. This means that instead of randomly generating a few variables for non-story missions, we are actually going to be designing a huge pool of handcrafted missions which can be randomly selected from. In this way, we can still put some cool fiction around our random missions, and they can be a lot more interesting in mechanics.


GamingNexus: Auto Assault’s certainly a unique MMO. Like another NCSoft product, City of Heroes, there’s really nothing out there right now that compares to what you are doing. What made you decide to go with an auto combat themed MMO game?

Ryan Seabury: Well like you said, there’s really nothing like it out there. That’s sort of NetDevil’s evil plan to take over the world… we focus on areas of massively multiplayer that everyone else is ignoring, but areas that we feel have lots of fun potential. The truth of the matter is that it’s very hard for a company like NetDevil to compete in the fantasy genre right now, since fantasy has been explored for several years by many different developers. Superhero was an obvious genre that hadn’t been explored and I think the guys at Cryptic have done an excellent job with City of Heroes (most of our office is addicted). NetDevil believes that post-apocalyptic vehicular combat is a different and very cool MMO genre – one that can be fast-paced and fun with lots of BOOM BOOM, which I personally crave in an online world.


GamingNexus: Besides the different genre, what makes Auto Assault different from the other MMO’s out there?

Ryan Seabury: Easy: Fully destructible environments with Havok 2 physics. Fast (and I mean *FAST*) action gameplay. Heavily scripted mission campaigns unique to each of the three races. Scenario-based outpost PvP battles. Arena combat and rankings. No forced experience point death penalties. Minimized travel time through unlocked world map waypoints, with any travel time actually being fun because driving and knocking stuff over is fun! DirectX 9 graphics (shaders and eye candy). I could go on and on…

We’re really proud of what we’re going to be offering at release in Auto Assault, let alone our continuing upgrades for subscribers afterwards.


GamingNexus: Can you talk about some of the influences you had on this game? I’m guessing Mad Max would be one and maybe Autoduel?

Ryan Seabury: Generally speaking, if it’s post-apocalyptic or involves some kind of death-on-wheels concept, it’s had an influence on us. That goes for movies, books, video games, paper games… everything. The delights of “Two men enter… one man leaves!” the ever lovable Gold Cross, and perhaps the scoring of points for pedestrians in a nationally televised race are not lost on us. I’ve said it before, Carradine & Stallone are like peanut butter and chocolate. ;)

Some other things you might not expect would be Aliens, the latest Dune prequel books, Marvel comics, and various anime selections. So it’s probably more accurate to describe the influences on Auto Assault as “dirty-cyber-punk” than just “dirt-punk”.
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