How Evolve went from hatchling to killer monster app

By Steve Watts, Jun 23, 2014 3:00pm PDT

Evolve is the culmination of a long journey for Turtle Rock Studios. After striking gold with Left 4 Dead, it's taking on another co-op multiplayer fest, this time with another human being in charge of the monstrous threats. I talked to creative director Phil Robb about how Evolve has transformed from its original vision, and some bumps along the way.

"Most of our ideas come from simple little seeds," Robb told Shacknews. "In this case it was: you know what I've never been able to do? I've never been able to get together with my buddies and hunt something big and mean. The idea for Evolve actually predates Left 4 Dead. It's something Chris [Ashton] came up with and we've been noodling on for many, many, many years. It's just now where the hardware has gotten to a point where we can actually do justice to the vision that we had."

He said that thanks to rapid prototyping, the studio has been playing Evolve internally for about three years. The prototype was ready to play after only four months. That has given them a keen eye for weaknesses and imbalances, but he recognizes that going out into the wild of the market will expose some more.

"We are always messing with the numbers. I guarantee we're going to put the game out, and we're going to get (hopefully) millions of hands on it, and that's going to be incredibly useful data for us. We'll find out what's messed up and we'll fix it." As one practical example, he said, if the game releases and Medic is dead-last on everyone's preferences list, that would be a sign that they "need to make the Medic more fun."

One of the biggest changes that came to the game during its long development cycle came to how it handles the asymmetric play. Evolve puts the monster in third-person, while all the Hunters are in first-person. This was ultimately a case of practical considerations stacked atop design decisions.

"Initially the monsters were all first-person, but we were running into a lot of weird problems with that," Robb said. "One, when you're in a first-person perspective of a 30-foot monster, the world moves very slowly because you're high up. It's like you're in a plane, you're moving 600 miles per hour but everything looks like it's moving in molasses. It sucked.

"Not only that, but we've got Hunters who can put a harpoon in your back and stuff like that. In first person, it became very difficult for the monster to orient himself and so players would feel like: why can't I move? It's because he's got a harpoon in his back and he doesn't know it. So we were struggling with that problem, and a couple of guys on the team took it on themselves to do an experiment and try it in third-person. Almost immediately we were like wow, this works a lot better."

As a human, though, the team kept it in first-person, because the fact that you don't have full awareness of your surroundings raises the tension. "That's what we want for the Hunters, we want them to rely on each other."

The monsters, on the other hand, are singularly iconic. The studio has worked hard at coming up with creatures that bank on what you'd expect from a monster, as well as borrowing from nature.

"With Goliath, we went for classic. The first monster is everything you expect from a giant monster, it should do everything you would want to do: throw giant rocks, breathe fire, jump huge distances, climb up walls. All that stuff. So we looked at Godzilla and King Kong, those two particular monsters were a huge inspiration for Goliath.

"With Kraken it gets a little more obscure. A lot of people have compared him to Cthulu, but we also looked at a lot of nature. We're big fans of Sir David Attenborough. I've got to tell you, man, nature comes up with more terrifying, f***ed up **** than we could ever come up with. So deep down in the sea, where there's giant squids--if you look at the way Kraken moves, it's very much like a giant squid. It's very much based on those creepy deep sea creatures."

He expects those ominous creatures to be a favorite among players, which is why Turtle Rock set up class preferences. "Basically what we said was, okay, at what point would you quit? And everybody who we ran the test on never got that far," he said. "But there is an element of, well, you have to take turns. Everyone wants their chance at the monster."

Everyone except Robb, that is. Asked about his own settings for class preferences, the creatures ranked dead last. "Assault, Support, Trapper, Medic, Monster," he said. "I'm a co-op guy."

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