Summary: JCal talks with Chris Sherland of NetDevil, makers of Auto Assault and Jumpgate, about their latest game.
FiringSquad: First, why did NetDevil want to branch out from developing just MMO titles?
Chris Sherland: Well the branch is pretty subtle here, our vision for what the next gen FPS will be definitely has an MMO component in it, Warmonger is really just the first step.
FiringSquad: How did the idea for Warmonger come about?
Chris Sherland: The idea has a few elements, but was really born during the post mortem for Auto Assault. We took physics as far as we could in Auto Assault, and using Havok there was a huge boost towards that end. But even after we finished Auto Assault we knew we wanted to take physics further. That combined with a desire to do a next gen shooter pointed us to the Unreal Engine 3 as a tech base and began a design phase that was based on bringing destruction to the forefront.
FiringSquad: What can you tell us about the storyline for the game?
Chris Sherland: Warmonger puts the player in the shoes of a Mercenary during a future full-scale corporate war within the cities of the US. These once-proud metros have been host to combat operations that have left them abandoned and practically razed.
FiringSquad: What kinds of environments and maps can we expect in Warmonger?
Chris Sherland: Our environment studies and pre-production maps have a pretty dedicated focus on torn up cities. Some of the maps will be interiors (there is a great subway map that we will ship with) and some are exterior. All of the environments convey massive destruction though, and encourage even more.
FiringSquad: What sort of weapons will we see in the game?
Chris Sherland: One of the things we wanted to do with our destruction feature was bring it to the limelight without making it silly. The rocket launcher, assault rifle, pistol, melee, and a unique chaingun are the main weapons, nothing "unbelievable" so-to-speak. It's actually easier to make destruction wildly dramatic than it is to craft it into a playable feature, which is what we are aiming for so we purposely set the weapons into classes that are fairly standard. Some of the secondary fire features are pretty cool, but we'll let those be discovered on release.
FiringSquad: What kinds of enemies will the player encounter in Warmonger?
Chris Sherland: Other mercs, with the same weapon set.
Chris Sherland: Initially we'll be using a sever matching host and Warmonger will play like a standard multi-player shooter.
FiringSquad: Obviously the big feature of Warmonger are the destructible environments. How hard was it to design a game that had the kind of environmental damage that NetDevil wanted?
Chris Sherland: It's been very hard, harder than we thought it would be, and in different ways than we anticipated. Getting the tech to perform well has been a big challenge, but working closely with Ageia has brought huge benefits in that regard. Gameplay balance of destruction as a feature has been pretty interesting; there are a lot of elements to tweak that haven't been on the list before. One of the challenges is how to introduce destruction to the player so that they can use it consciously.
FiringSquad: Can you give us some examples of how destroying parts of the environment can influence the gameplay?
Chris Sherland: The thing we are striving for is to bring destruction into play as if it were a game character. There are some examples that just plop into your head, blowing the stairs behind you on the way to a good sniper spot, blowing a hole in a building to change flow, making sure you're hiding behind something that will allow you cover, etc…but as you think through them with destruction of the environment in mind it all starts to suggest emergent behavior. One thing that play testers are saying a lot is that Warmonger feels "unsafe" to play. Not that you're spine is going to fly out while you play, but that in-game your concepts of cover and concealment are all up for grabs and challenged.
FiringSquad: What other aspects of Warmonger do you think are important?
Chris Sherland: This title represents the first step in a vision we have here at NetDevil of how combat are going to evolve through the use of physics. Warmonger is on the tip of a much larger sword here, and we've got some great ideas riding on it.
FiringSquad: Why was the Unreal Engine 3 picked as the game's graphical basis and how hard was it to alter to make it work for your game?
Chris Sherland: We picked UE3 for a couple of reasons, one is that we wanted NetDevil to have some next gen experience for our upcoming designs, especially in regards to possible console titles. Also Epic and Ageia already had a working relationship, and we were looking for huge physics support for the title, it just made sense on enough levels that there really weren't a lot of other ways to go that made as much sense. We did a lot of work inside UE3 to support destruction features both in the engine and editor, and again along side Ageia engineers who have been neck deep in UE3 for a while now.
FiringSquad: How does the AGEIA PhysX processor help in making Warmonger the kind of game you designed it to be?
Chris Sherland: It's a critical element. Warmonger requires a PhysX card to run, we built the game to the card because it was the only way we could take destruction as far as we wanted to. Without the partnership we have with Ageia Warmonger would not be able to reach the goals we set for it.
FiringSquad: What is the current status of the game's progress and when will it be released?
Chris Sherland: Warmonger will be shown at GDC as both a single and multiplayer beta. A "gold" release will happen shortly after that.
FiringSquad: Finally is there anything else you wish to say about Warmonger?
Chris Sherland: Its hard to convey what Warmonger does to your play style without sounding like a fool, but its absolutely nerve wracking to play. We are pretty convinced that what Warmonger will deliver is going to change FPS play. Some of the base elements of shooter play are completely tossed out by Warmonger's destruction features; you're just going to have to play it to really get how different it is.
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