Fallen Empires: Legion Interview

If the crew at GarageGames had a nickel for every time the phrase "Tribes-like" was used to describe their new online, team-based FPS venture, they probably wouldn't need to release the game.

After all, the company was founded by former members of Dynamix, the developer which spawned Starsiege: Tribes--a game so ahead of its time in the multiplayer arena that it has yet to be equaled in many respects.

Jet-packs and chainguns aside, Fallen Empires: Legion will be its own experience, in part due to the method of delivery: the game will be bought, streamed, and played on its promising web portal InstantAction.com, which aims to bridge the gap between casual and hardcore audiences with its browser-based offerings.

Though the realm of web-based gaming conjures images of simple stick-figure shoot-em-ups and rudimentary 3D time-wasters, Fallen Empires project director Tim Aste and GarageGames CEO Josh Williams insist that their new multiplayer game will be anything but your average time-waster.

Shack: As far as core gameplay goes, how far are you edging into original-Tribes territory? Is this really a spiritual sequel? Tim Aste: We don't own or have a license to anything having to do with the Tribes games, though of course we love them and GG was founded by some key members of the Tribes teams. Still, we'd never set out to create a simple rip-off. We're taking inspiration from all sorts of games, as all game developers do. Really, we're trying to build a game we've always wanted to play here, taking the best of games we love and hopefully adding some unique and cool things of our own. As far as inspiration, we loved the freedom of movement Tribes gave players--it was unlike anything else at the time--and offering players freedom of movement at a level that hasn't been seen before is a core goal of our design for this new game. We also love games like Tribes that emphasize team play and strategic combat, and our design rewards good team play and strategic thinking too. I love the trend that Tribes helped start where games are integrating more community features like leader boards, chat and more, and of course being on the web within the browser we're pushing the envelope on community features too. We're not doing a real successor to Tribes... We can't. But we do love the spirit of Tribes and other games that play great and take chances doing innovative new things with their gameplay. If we succeed in having the same sort of spirit of innovation and focus on fun gameplay, then that's an accomplishment we'll all feel proud of.

Get the Flash Player to see this player. Shack: Is Legions a straight-up FPS, or will there be a third person camera option as well? Tim Aste: Yes, it's an FPS. Right now we have third person cams, observer cams, and the like, but the game is being designed to be played from the first-person. Shack: So, we know it's a team-based multiplayer FPS. Will there be multiple modes of gameplay? Capture-the-flag, I'm guessing? What else? Tim Aste: We actually have several modes in right now, but we are still in early development. We mock-up and test out lots of gameplay modes so we can play the heck out of all of them and through iteration find which ones are most promising to develop fully. Josh Williams: This again is why we want players to sign up now to get in the early beta that we'll launch soon. Things will still be rough with the game in early beta, just like they were in QTest and such back in the day, but we want player feedback on their favorite game modes. Tim Aste: Yeah, we'd rather polish the heck out of one or two and add more content through our live development plan once we see how these modes are received. We want to listen to player feedback from day one and make the decisions along with them, which we think is pretty cool and fairly different from most developers. Shack: Will we see some skiing action? Tim Aste: We aren't doing "skiing" exactly as in Tribes. But we do want players to be able to move quickly and easily across terrain and through the air, so fast movement across terrain--and other surfaces--is a big deal for us. Again, if you jump in and start playing in the beta, you'll see exactly what we mean--we're sort of doing skiing like it might have been done if it were designed in from day one, as opposed to being a bug. Shack: How about vehicles? Arming stations? Deployables? Varied armor classes? I see a chaingun--how about a disc-gun? Tim Aste: Vehicles...no, not right now. Honestly, we think most of the time vehicles are tacked onto FPS games as a marketing bullet point more than a vital piece of the gameplay. Most of the time they are unbalanced, unfair, and they don't even work that well. It's like developers go, "Hey, after Halo and the Warthog, people expect vehicles in FPSs, we just gotta do it." Forget that. Same thing with deployables. Sometimes, they're great and for larger maps and big team battles in strategic game modes, they can make sense, as they did in Tribes. But we really don't want to spend a bunch of time doing deployables and the like when job one is to make sure the core of the gameplay is fun. Is moving around cool? Is combat fun? Will players sit down to play this for 10 minutes and look up 3 hours later and realize they're going to be late for work in the morning if they don't stop...and then keep playing anyway? That's the piece we want to make sure we get down first.

Turn the page for details on multi-directional jet-packing, base-based gameplay, map size, community features, modding, and more. _PAGE_BREAK_ Shack: On the speed meter from the leaked video, there is a section colored orange and red. Can a player build up too much speed, and maybe damage himself in a collision? Or is that red section only a superficial marking? Tim Aste: I don't want to say much about that bit quite yet, but the players who enjoyed playing [light-armored characters in Tribes] will really enjoy what we have stored for that bit.

Shack: In the video, it seems that the characters have unlimited jet-pack fuel, deviating from the Tribes jet-recharge-jet mechanic. I'm guessing this is due to the nature of the clips? Is the "energy" bar displaying the available jet-pack fuel, or is that related to something else? Tim Aste: [laughs] Yeah, I saw that same comment around a couple places. People in those leaked videos could jet so much because we were doing some tests. The HUD was test art and it's already been replaced. In those leaked vids, yeah the bar on the right was fuel, but the thrusting was pretty much turned to infinite for testing. In particular we were testing trail node rendering. Shack: It seems that players can now use jets to power themselves toward the ground, rather than only into the sky. How is that achieved control-wise? Tim Aste: This might change, but right now we have the ability to jet in six directions, not just up. Not all directions have the same jet strength, so it's not just a free-for-all glide fest, but it actually feels really good already. We need the control to feel even more fluid though, and we want a sweet-spot where new players never feel gimped, but experienced players can use the movement to their advantage. We definitely do not want the player movement to feel light and floaty, but it should feel fast and the players should feel their momentum. Shack: How will bases factor into things? Will they be the large, elaborate flag-holding fortresses of Tribes, or something else? Tim Aste: This is still kind of in development, but right now we are finding the most fun with the movement model is somewhere between medium and small buildings. We are finding indoor combat to be tense, but any huge sprawling interior space gets boring and confusing fast. The current design dictates that interior spaces should allow the player to move freely, and never feel constrained or claustrophobic. But the buildings need to let you get in and out fast if there is no solid defense in place, or quickly engage in an intense fire fight when there are good defenses. Shack: How large will the largest maps be? Will it take only a few moments to cross a battlefield, or are we talking about a significant trek? Tim Aste: Technically we can do either. The engine itself would allow us to create battlefields miles and miles long, if we wanted. So, this all depends on the game mode and what feel is best for a level. Right now we have large and small maps, but we select the size so it's fun to play, not so we can impress ourselves with how huge they are. There should never be a dull moment while playing this game where you're just wandering around, yet you shouldn't be confined and unable to get away from the fire or set up strategic runs. Both freedom of movement and strategic combat are important to the gameplay, so for the maps to feel good we need well designed levels with clear objectives and choke points that also give players enough space to move around a lot and fight it out. It's a pretty hard thing to balance between all the movement, weapon, and level aspects, but it's already starting to feel good.
Shack: What is the maximum amount of players you're aiming to support in a match? Tim Aste: Again, the tech gives us free rein here, so we could have huge 32-player teams or whatever if we wanted to. Torque technology started out with Tribes, but many years have passed and the engine has been massively updated since. Torque has some of the best netcode in the industry, but that's all useless if we are simply adding players to a match to have a marketing bullet point. We want the game to be fun. We, the game team, have a very unique opportunity to create something we want to play totally free from that kind of pressure, and we plan to totally capitalize on it. More players per server doesn't always mean more fun--sometimes it actually sucks--so we're doing it based on what feels the best to players. Shack: You've mentioned that you're hoping Fallen Empires will run under a wide range of system specs, with the game even sporting a software renderer. I assume the leaked video represents the highest graphical settings? Can you give me a guess on a minimum spec? Tim Aste: No, we don't know the min specs yet. You're right that Legions looks like a high-end, high-spec game with the settings maxed out. Suffice it to say, we do want a broad range of people to be able to play the game, and do so competitively, so we'll get the performance cranked in as tightly as possible. We are shooting for high-end in this generation, not three years down the road. Shack: What do you have planned as far as community features are concerned? Josh Williams: We are starting out with social networking, real time chat, and personal profiles...and there's a practically unlimited set of cool features we can add after that. If anybody out there takes a minute and thinks about all the cool stuff you could do with this platform where games are accessible right on the web, I'm sure you'll come up with a ton of features yourself, and feel free to tell us about them in our forums so we can try to get them in.
Shack: Any plans to support user-based content, such as mods and custom maps? Josh Williams: Even though it's so hyped now with Web 2.0, games really helped pioneer user-generated content--mods, custom maps, and the like are the lifeblood of many multiplayer games, especially shooters, and it's been that way for a long time. Supporting user-generated content or mods is important to us in the long haul. We're not going to have support for mods right out of the gate, but it's something really high on our priority list. Step one is to get games launched with a bunch players. Once there's a big community, we'll definitely want to provide tools to create customizations, mods, and hopefully new stuff no one has done before.

Turn the page for more on the game's interface, community input, pricing, and 2 Girls 1 Cup. _PAGE_BREAK_ Shack: The phrase "web browser game" carries a negative connotation in the minds of some traditional gamers. Are you concerned about making this feel like a "proper" game, rather than a browser-based shooter? Tim Aste: The reason some people have a knee-jerk negative reaction to "web games" right now is because there are a lot of crappy web games out there. Most web games today are low-end, low production value, simplistic games or toys. There are some real jewels, but there's a lot of junk. Josh Williams: However, if you took all the good things about web games--their ease of access, how easy it is to share them, the social connectivity, the always-on development--and you could mash that up with much higher end technology and graphics and more core and polished gameplay, you'd have something pretty compelling. That's what we're doing, and that's why most people get really excited when they hear about this stuff. With InstantAction, we are mixing the best of the web with the best of gaming and I think that will dramatically shift how people think of web games.

Shack: How will the game interface with the browser exactly? Is it "launched" from the browser, or built into it? I am technologically ignorant when it comes to browsers. Tim Aste: The games will run inside the browser, not just launch from them. As a hardcore FPS player, when we first started talking about this idea a couple years ago, I was really skeptical. FPS in a browser window? Even if we figured out the technology, I had expected it to be awkward. Once we had it up and running though, I realized how nice it would be to play from anywhere. I don't have to carry a disc around with me, I don't have to go through a laborious install process. I just click a link and start playing. I can get invites to my friends' matches or invite them to mine by simply passing a URL in IM, email, or whatever. I can see what other games my friends are playing, and that's just the beginning. It's actually awesome. Josh Williams: Another great thing about being on the web is that we can update games any time. With a direct connection to players, developers can listen to feedback and deploy updates live. It's not like making a fire and forget product for retail. We don't ship something in a box, wait to see how sales are, and then maybe do an expansion pack or sequel. We're live on the web, and can grow the game along with what the players want. Shack: Will users be downloading permanent files, or is the content streamed each time you play? Tim Aste: Good question and this is one we are seeing from players a lot. You don't have to wait for a bunch of files to re-download every time you play, no. That would suck, and one of our primary goals is to not suck. Shack: How are you dealing with the limited window of screen space inherent to web browsers? Will there be a full-screen option? Tim Aste: Yeah, we were all as concerned about this as players too. Running the game in the browser is exactly like running it in a window. With some stuff, I like being able to check my email, check out the latest chatty, jump back and forth between pages, etcetera. Being inside a browser is great for those situations. However, the tech allows us to go full screen with games. We'll definitely enable full-screen play for games with lots of players who want it. Josh Williams: We're testing each game for all this sort of player feedback and demands already. In fact, that's what our beta is all about and you can sign up for it right now. We're prioritizing access by sign-up date; those who sign up first are first to play. Once you're in the beta, you'll get a preview of all the games, and can give feedback on them, having an effect on how they turn out. You can also invite friends and if they sign up, you get ActionTokens, which is our virtual currency that can be applied to buy games and such down the line.
Shack: Has there been a pricing model established for InstantAction? Can we expect to pay a single fee for the game, or will it be part of a larger subscription? Josh Williams: We're not announcing pricing just yet, but there are a couple underlying principles we can talk about. First, we think that giving players options is a good thing. As a gamer, I often get frustrated at how little choice and control I have over that with most games and platforms. So, we want to give players some options about how they'll pay. Second, we think gaming is an awfully expensive habit right now. Maybe I'm just cheap-- Tim Aste: There's no "maybe" about that. Josh Williams: Tim, you're fired. Anyway, I don't like paying $60 for a new game, especially when it seems, if anything, I get less gameplay out of new games than I used to back when new stuff cost $30, $40, or $50. Overpricing is rampant on the other end too, it seems absurd to pay $20 or more for a simplistic, tiny casual game. We are trying to innovate on the pricing front as well--creating more accessible and flexible ways for gamers to pay. Shack: The Tribes community is very.. "passionate." Will you be taking community desires into consideration going forward? Tim Aste: We are constantly interacting, lurking, and reading what people think in many communities, and the Tribes community is no different. However, we are game designers first, and want to create a compelling fun experience. While we always listen to what the community wants, if you try to please every ranting forum troll, you're quickly going to destroy your design with a mish-mash of half-baked ideas. At the same time, you can't be a prima donna and think you're a perfect designer. It's really a balancing act, and working with an extremely close-knit and a talented group of guys really helps us move forward with something we hope is quality.
Shack: Anything particularly cool that I haven't asked about? Tim Aste: Well, we don't want this interview to get too long. We know Shackers have to get back to their important business like watching "2 Girls 1 Cup" and such. [What -ed.] But there are a couple quick things. First, all of our games will have a free to play component so you can try before you buy. The first hit is free because we're street like that. The other thing is our party system, which allows you to invite friends to your party by passing them a link via email, IM, the InstantAction lobby or website, or whatever. They come join your game instantly when they click the invite, no matter where it comes from, because it's all handled via the web browser. Once you're in a party, switching from game to game is seamless. There is no time-consuming shut down, setup, and matchmaking process. Josh Williams: Oh, and if there are any Marble Blast Ultra players out there from XBLA, there will be lots of extra maps that have never been available before up on IA. MBU works the same as the Live Arcade version too, except it's just in your browser and all you do is type in a URL and click some buttons to play, which is cool. And your friends don't have to have Live to play. Now you can even challenge them from work. Shack: That's about all I can muster for now. Thanks for talking with us. GarageGames will be launching a beta soon at InstantAction.com. Signups are currently open.