The MMO FPS isn't a new idea, it's just one that's never really had the major success that the MMO RPG has.The folks at Dark Vale are trying to change that though and provide an old school pure FPS experience. We were fortunate to be one of the first to talk with the team behind the game and you can see the results of our interview below.
Could you introduce yourself and talk about your role on the project?
Tim Alvis (TA), I’m one of the co-founders (along with Ian Natzmer and Dave Domm) of Dark Vale Games. My role shifts minute to minute, hour to hour. While I’m not the only one working in design, I make sure everything that we come up with sticks to the overall goals. I work directly with SuperGenius, coordinating between design and the art side of production as well. I’m also, because of where I sit with design right now, the guy you see all over the official forums talking with users, taking in feedback, thanking them for taking the time to register and let us know they’re excited. I do a little of everything really.
Ian Natzmer (IN), I’m another of the co-founders of Dark Vale Games. I’m responsible for making sure that all things programming, implementation to QA and release, go as planned meaning, on time and on budget. My specialty is in artificial intelligence, but I’ve been involved in game development on every level. Unlike slackers like Tim, I don’t have as much time to wear other hats. It also helps that his head is strangely shaped, making him seek out hats whether someone wants to give them up or not.
So what’s the elevator speech for Forge? How did you come up with the idea for the game?
(TA)Elevator speech eh? Well, should we find ourselves in an elevator (a very large one we would hope) with people we believe would be interested in the game, it would be something like:
“Rather than spending months in an MMO to get to a level playing field where you can finally feel like the class you thought you were building on the character creation screen, you can just jump into Forge and have that from the very beginning, changing your class at will, with combat that doesn’t revolve around your tab key and a bunch of stats attached to your pixels.”
The gameplay of the game felt less like an idea and more like something that should exist but didn’t. It’s not an achievement on the level of say, inventing a working rocket or the microwave oven, it’s probably closer to being the first guy to wrap peanut butter in chocolate, or add a side of bacon to a plate of eggs.
As we got older, a good friend of mine found that we seemed to get time to play games that overlapped, but never started at the same time. I would be at max level rocking the latest tier of gear, and he would be off in a field somewhere slaughtering boars for their ears. Or, he would be riding around on a fire spitting dragon and I would be working for the medieval version of FedEx.
The entire time we were doing this ‘enjoyable’ boar farming and FedEx work, all we really wanted was to be at the end game so we could head into battlegrounds or arenas and lay waste with whatever class we thought we’d enjoy. Even when we got there, together, we knew it was only a matter of time before patch 17 came out that kicked up the treadmill again and caused the gap to start all over.
This game started there, from the idea that shouldn’t happen. It doesn’t happen in a game like Team Fortress 2. It didn’t and still doesn’t happen in games like Street Fighter or Starcraft. You don’t reach level 90 in Starcraft and suddenly your marines fire nuclear bombs instead of high velocity bullets. Chun Li doesn’t gain a new set of arms and third leg after enough time spent online. It doesn’t have to be that way for MMO style combat either.
There have been other games that are similar on the surface. We’re very aware of Fury for instance, and of course games like Bloodline Champions and League of Legends. The similarities though are only surface deep or maybe a matching bullet point or two.
We have removed all RNG from combat mechanics. You don’t block based on a stat, you actively block. You don’t dodge based on a stat. You choose to dodge. There are no critical hits based on a % point (in fact, there are no critical hits).
Define the term “Pure PvP” and what that means for gamers. How is this core concept being baked into Forge?
(TA)It just means that we’re not going to ever bog you down with anything in the game that isn’t entirely focused around combat with other people. You never have to hunt for exotic tiger pelts. You don’t have to pluck herbs from a river bank (unless Herbs is the name of a Pathfinder that’s been kiting you for the last two minutes and you finally catch him on a river bank). We believe you can create a rich, inspired world full of amazing art and architecture that has nothing but structured PvP combat at its core. No grind. No quests. Just pure PvP.
That doesn’t mean that we’re building the game only for the most hardcore PvP players. Our combat mechanics share a lot with very approachable FPS titles like Halo or Team Fortress 2. If you have fun in a game like that, you’re going to have fun here.
For those interested in extreme levels of competition, we have reached out to the very best players in different genres, guys and ladies that have won multiple high profile national and world wide tournaments. We’ve asked them to help us take a look at the design of the game from the start. We want to make sure that while it’s accessible and fun for new players, that we haven’t dumbed it down or taken away the depth for the game to be worthy of hardcore PvP attention.
One of the big challenges to any fast paced online game is lag, what are you doing to get around some of the technical limitations of the game?
(IN) We are very fortunate to be taking advantage of Unreal Engine 3’s network architecture, which does a fantastic job of approximating game state. We have an expert team (James Tan, lead of one of our development partners, Digital Confectioners, actually wrote a lot of the documentation for Epic) who have years of experience in getting the most out of Unreal Engine 3. We also have plans to help with latency by deploying dedicated servers to regions worldwide improving the number of hops in network traffic. We will also be giving away our dedicated server to anyone who wants use it to host always on games. All of this together should give the user a good experience when playing Forge.
Is Forge a straight deathmatch type game or are there team based experiences as well?
(TA)It is all team based. Our first two gameplay modes we’re releasing are familiar territory, Team Deathmatch and Capture the Relic (flag). We may introduce modes in the future that allowed for a more free for all experience, but we would never balance the game for those modes. They would just be for kicks. Forge is from the inside out a team centric game.
Could you talk about the five different classes and how they differ? Are you thinking about adding additional classes down the road?
(TA) We can’t get into each class just yet, but we can say that there will not be two classes that serve the same purpose. Each one has a well-defined feel that is distinct. We have several additional classes planned past launch, to reach (for now at least) a total of 12.
The first two we’ve announced are the Assassin and Pathfinder. The Assassin is a low defense, tick up their sleeves melee character. The Pathfinder is a class dedicated to kiting, keeping enemies at range while doing damage.
Will players have to level up each specific class in the game or do they all level up as a group? What kind of attributes will people earn as they level up their characters? It is strictly stat based or will players have abilities to earn and upgrade?
(TA) It’s still up for discussion (register at http://www.playforgewar.com/, tell us what you think!) whether or not experience will be global or per class. We abhor grinds, and refuse to have any, but we’re not sure separating experience qualifies when our progression system offers no power advantages.
As you level, you’re able to use your experience points to purchase new gear or abilities. New gear doesn’t mean new stats however. The stat budget is the same for every item we’ll ever release. A new ability also doesn’t mean higher numbers. The starting set of abilities we give each class is a fully realized toolset for that class. New abilities just give you new options you can use to replace old abilities. Maybe you’d rather have an additional defensive cooldown rather than an interrupt for instance.
The higher tiers of gear will however let you shift a few stats around so you can customize it to your playstyle. One thing we’re not doing however is putting any useless stat on gear for your class. If for instance, your class doesn’t use Agility, you won’t be able to just take away all of the Agility and put it all into Intellect. You won’t have any Agility on your gear if it’s not useful to you. Shifting stats on later game gear will be a playstyle adjustment, not a balance change.
How are you balancing the game so that new players are given a fair chance against people who have played the game more?
(TA) We have no power gap between anyone based on time spent that doesn’t start and end with the skill of the player behind the mouse. Experienced players will be more skillful, but they won’t have better gear, better abilities, or any advantage at all based on the pixels and data associated with their account.
We’ve been careful as well to make sure that the classes have depth without having lost accessibility. Some abilities are going to be more intuitive, helping people that have played Call of Duty for the last several years but have never thought of touching an MMO. Other abilities will require a little more experience (and by experience, we mean real experience, not a number saved with your character) to master its uses.
Why the decision go with the Unreal Engine 3 over other engines like Unity? Are you at all concerned that having the Unreal Engine 3 on the “box” of the game sets some high graphical expectations?
(IN)This was actually a decision we heavily researched. We looked into Unity3D, but after looking at the server model, performance, and our development timeline we went with Unreal Engine 3.
The first area we looked at was multiplayer support. With Unity3D their out of the box support for servers was limited to player hosted servers – meaning if a player hosting the game leaves the entire game is lost. It also means latency/ping is tied to whoever is hosting the game. There were third party solutions that we heavily investigated, but nothing seemed to be battle tested with a AAA game or required extensive server programming. We needed a server proven to be scalable, reliable, and redundant. Unreal Engine 3 is incredibly stable and perfect for our type of game.
We knew that to compete in the fantasy space against other AAA titles, we had to look as good or better than the best games in the genre. While Unity3D can look amazing, it just doesn't compete with the graphics ability of Unreal Engine 3. We wanted to bring in a AAA art studio as a partner capable of pushing the limits on character and environment realism. To do this we needed a game engine able to keep up and not limit what our partner could produce.
Finally, we looked at our timeline and realized to create an FPS with MMO like abilities that used team death match and capture the flag PvP game types, with Unity3D we would need to essentially start from scratch. Given our resources it just wasn't possible under our timeline. But Unreal Engine 3 is a game engine that's FPS ready with built in functionality for our PvP game types. So, the challenges were minimized.
Unreal Engine 3 is going to save us time on development, will achieving our goal of making Forge look absolutely stunning, and provide the strong server support we need to make a stable PvP game. Using Unreal Engine 3 also opens a pool of amazing developers that we'd never had access to. Developers that have made games that have some goals in common with Forge.
As for having Unreal Engine 3 setting high graphical expectations – that’s our goal, to achieve the AAA quality graphics, and SuperGenius is producing for that us. We are doing everything we can to make the game not only achieve our gameplay goals, but also push the graphics envelope to look stunning and unique in the fantasy game space.
What kinds of game play are you planning for the game? Is it strictly deathmatch or are you looking at different kinds of team and co-op opportunities?
(TA) Our two starting gameplay modes are Team Deathmatch and Capture the Relic (Flag). We do have another gameplay type we’re working on that we can’t get into too much detail about right now. The short version is, with the new mode called Labyrinth, we’re really blurring the lines between what it means to raid or dungeon crawl in an MMO and play a FPS. It’s purely a PvP experience, there are no scripted encounters of any kind, but we believe when we’re ready to show it it’s going to make people wonder why they ever spent so many hours running through the same automated experiences for so many years.
How will matches be constructed? Do you have a rough idea of how long a match will last?
(TA) For Phase 1, because we’re going to allow anyone to set up a dedicated server similar to what you could do with most modern PC FPS games, we’re not going to impose limits on team size or match length. For design purposes, we’re looking at games with teams starting at 8v8 to 16v16, with match times from 15 to 30 minutes. That’s what we suggest people stick with for the best experience, but if you have fun with 5v5 or 24v24 and five hour matches, have at it. We don’t believe in telling you how to enjoy the game.
Given the abundance of games in the market do you feel like you compete with other games for gamers time or their money?
(TA) By giving them gameplay that they can’t find elsewhere that looks like a game they would shell out $60 for, but is priced like the Indie title it is. We couldn’t pull the sheet off the product to let everyone see everything just yet, and our teaser video of alpha footage is showing only a tiny section of a few maps (one shot for instance is of a cave that is under a decent sized forest), but the game is stunning.
We believe offering something really enjoyable, with frequent content updates, at a tremendous value, will make it an easy decision to try Forge out.
Have you figured out what your pricing model is going to be yet?
(TA) At launch, it’s a simple flat purchase at an indie price. You pay once, and can play forever. We will offer free and paid DLC post launch, but always at a reasonable price if paid, and we will only charge for DLC we believe is worthwhile. No subscription fees.
Safe to assume that lone wolves should look elsewhere or are you going to have some kind of single player content?
(TA) Lone wolves that enjoy multiplayer games will be at home. We have no team requirement for joining a game. You can play ‘by yourself’, while fighting other people, as much as you like and not lose any progression opportunity.
Lone wolves that only enjoy single player games, or those that only enjoy the questing and grind experience of a traditional MMO would have to look elsewhere. There are a lot of games that offer that experience, but Forge isn’t one of them.
Is there anything important that we missed?
(TA) If I could add anything, it would be just to let everyone know how important it is for players to embrace Indie studios. Of course, you shouldn’t embrace them if they produce poor quality games or games you don’t like, but gaming would be fairly stagnant without smaller groups of developers getting together and taking risks by building games that otherwise wouldn’t make it past the publisher review process.
We love what we’re doing. We’re passionate about building a great multiplayer game, and if anyone reading likes what they’ve read or seen so far it would be great if they let us know.
We'd like to thank Timothy and Ian for taking the time to answer our questions as well as Matt and Brandon for coordinating the interview.
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