As a fan of the RTS genre I've been tracking End of Nations since it was announced a few years ago. The idea of a large scale MMO RTS is appealing and while the game has morphed a bit since it was launched the product has shaped up quite nicely (Travis loved what he saw at E3 this year
). I was lucky enough to get an interview with Chris Lena, the senior producer of the title who was able to shed some light on what we can see when the game is released.
Could you give us the back story on End of Nations? Why the decision to go the MMO route with your RTS rather than just a straight RTS game with multiplayer?
As lovers of RTS games we have been, frankly, a little disappointed on how little the genre has evolved. At the same time we have found ourselves enthralled with all of the new games that have brought living, connected worlds to other genres. There is nothing that makes a game more alive than other humans. So this is the core of where these thoughts came from. Now, of course, we encountered a lot of issues to get this all to work together they way we wanted it to but it has been worth it. Our tenet is that we can never let any “MMO” elements get in the way of the strategy game. If it doesn’t fit we tossed it. What we have now is a living, breathing, connected persistent world that cannot be duplicated with a peer-to-peer multiplayer game.
What are the different factions in the game and how do their military strategies differ?
There are two different factions: The Liberation Front and the Shadow Revolution, each with their own subclasses. The Liberation Front has the Spartan and Patriot classes – the Spartan Class units focus on heavy units, your tanks and other high defense/high damage units, while the Patriot Class features multi-use support types. Shadow Revolution has the Wraith and Phantom classes - The Wraith Class is comprised of light, but powerful APCs, helicopters, and tanks favoring speed over raw power. The Phantom Class puts emphasis on the "shadow" aspect of this faction with cloaking infantry as well as some heavier units.
When you start a big project there’s always the issue of not knowing what you don’t know. Looking at the start of the project, what was the one thing you know now that you didn’t know then?
We did quite a bit of experimenting throughout the early development and I suspect that we will be learning forever. If we knew all those things in the beginning we would have launched already! I wouldn’t say it was unexpected but balancing massive RTS has been a challenge. In an RTS balance is extremely important. From the beginning we didn’t want our two factions to mirror each other so we made them play quite differently. There are really no mirror images across the factions. This can be a challenge to balance but not uncommon in a strategy game. Ok, now put 56 players of 2 factions and 4 different classes on the same map each fielding a dozen units, structures and abilities.
What are some of your particular past favorite real-time strategy games? What do you think has been the biggest innovation in the RTS arena in the last few years?
StarCraft, Command & Conquer, Age of Empires, Company of Heroes – all great RTS games that have bettered the genre, but I can’t say I have a favorite. However, I do have to give a special nod to all the Shattered Galaxy players out there. The release of StarCraft 2 and also the interest in strategic games like League of Legends have been breathing life into the world of strategy games, and we’re hoping to do the same with End of Nations this year,
We’ve seen a bit of a movement away from building bases in RTS games with more of a focus on combat, is End of Nations going that route or are there still bases and harvesting units that will have to be defended?
Well, we still have that aspect of being able to micro-manage units but we don’t have base building. So, yes, a lot more focus on combat. The idea here is to try to keep as much as the interesting gameplay that comes from those features while keeping the player focused on the action. This is why we have the ability to place tactical structures during the battle as well as control points for resources but we don’t focus on the micromanagement that comes with that in other games.
What are some of the sources of inspiration for the visual style behind End of Nations? How did the art style evolve over the life of the project?
The art style has been fairly consistent throughout. We want to make a modern military game pushed just enough in the future that we can do some interesting units without being completely tied down by current tech.
Can you provide some details on how maps with 56 simultaneous players will work in-game? That’s a lot of units, how are you managing things like lag and managing the unit chaos?
When you enter the matter you are placed on a team of 4 (you can pre-make this team with friends beforehand if you want). Already this breaks our 28v28 map into 2 sides each with 7 teams of 4. We have a ping system as well as chat and, of course, many players are already comfortable with different voice chat options. However, the real key is in the map design. When we make these massive maps we make reasons for different people to be on different parts of the map.
What will be some of the various game modes available within the Conquer the World metagame? Will there be additional objectives within matches beyond simply destroying all the enemy forces?
The metagame has always been in place and it’s always been a key element. The idea of persistence and having an effect on the world, a living world, that’s the idea. One thing that we’re doing is that we’re approaching it almost as a sport, so there will be a season. About every month, or whatever time makes sense, there’ll be a winner declared and we’ll restart. On the individual map level we will have a variety of games types and sizes. Since we are an online persistent game we will be adding all the time and we definitely want those additions and changes to play into the ongoing story that will you see in the territory control metagame.
How will the gameplay experience differ if a player decides to opt for solo-play over being with a team? Is the goal to get everyone to play in groups or is there truly a place for the hard core introverts?
We want to encourage everyone to approach this as a multiplayer game but we are also cognizant of the lone wolf. This is one of the unexpected, and wonderful, consequences of having large maps. That we can be friendly to an individual while being a multiplayer game. In a map such as a 12v12 you can play as a solo player in the larger group. You can play in a competitive match without the high stress PvP situation of a traditional RTS.
What are some of your favorite unique units within the game?
I’m particularly fond of the Shadow Revolution Phantom class – specifically the Ravager and the Stalkers. Both are long range, hard hitting and the Stalkers are very stealthy, which matches my play style.
Were there some units that were harder to design/balance than others?
I wouldn’t say there any particular units that were harder to create, but where the real challenge comes from is creating a wide variety of different units. How can we design units to allow for different types of strategies and still keep a fair balance with the factions/classes? In the end, I believe we did a great job at balancing all the factions and classes fairly, not giving any particular set of units a strong hold on the game.
Was End of Nations always going to be Free to Play or did things change during the development of the game? How do you allay the common fear that Free to Pay is a Pay to Win scheme?
For a premium strategy game like End of Nations, we really want to bring as many players as possible into its massive-scale strategic warfare. And as we looked at the enormous battles and huge persistent world, we realized that the success of End of Nations would be driven by having thousands of players from around the globe battling daily in the world’s biggest strategy game. Essentially our goal is to minimize the barrier to entry and maximize the fun!
End of Nations is truly free to play—so no money or credit card is needed to play or succeed. Most items in the store will be purchasable with either End of Nations Wealth (currency earned in-game by playing) or with Trion Credits (purchased currency).
How does End of Nations fit into the ecosystem of other Free to Play MMO games?
We’re focused on providing AAA titles with business models that make the most sense for the Trion community and players. We feel this model will best fit what we’re offering with End of Nations, regardless of what other free to play MMOs are doing.
Is there anything we missed that you think is important? Any idea of when beta invites are going out? :D
Haha, look out for beta invites later this summer! :)
We'd like to thank Chris for taking the time to answer my questions as well as Range for helping to setup the interview. Travis Huinker also deserves props for contributing questions to the interview.