Summary: After years of hard work, Dutch indie developer InterWave Studios is preparing to release their first commercial project, Nuclear Dawn. It’s a Source engine-based FPS/RTS that will aim to deliver the best of both genres, without compromising the experience of either one, when it’s released next month. In today’s interview with General Manager Igor Raffaele, you’ll read about the game and how it manages to blur the line between shooter and strategy, the tough decisions a small studio has to make in managing their resources, and the role Valve plays in making indie games flourish on the PC, among other things. Enjoy!
After years of hard work, Dutch indie developer InterWave Studios is preparing to release their first commercial project, Nuclear Dawn. It’s a Source engine-based FPS/RTS that will aim to deliver the best of both genres, without compromising the experience of either one, when it’s released next month. In today’s interview with General Manager Igor Raffaele, you’ll read about the game and how it manages to blur the line between shooter and strategy, the tough decisions a small studio has to make in managing their resources, and the role Valve plays in making indie games flourish on the PC, among other things. Enjoy!
Part 1 - Overview, history, challenges, porting
FS: What sorts of challenges have you encountered in turning the leftovers of a Source mod into a full-blown commercial release?
Igor: Nuclear Dawn the game uses no assets or code from the original mod. Other than the team names, and logos, and a few weapons that were re-detailed and re-textured (digitally re-mastered in high definition if you will), nothing else survives of those ‘leftovers’.
It was, we felt, the only path to take. The quality and concepts of the original mod materials were inspired and inspiring, but would not have fit, alone, into a game world redesigned from the ground up by other artists and developers. While we pay homage (and give credit) to the original team where possible, the greatest challenge in development was the same that comes with trying to produce commercial-grade art for your game.
FS: Are you handling the Xbox 360 port of Nuclear Dawn yourselves? Did the intention to also release the game on a console have an effect on how you designed the PC version?
Igor: The reason we migrated to the Left 4 Dead 2 engine last year was to facilitate an eventual Xbox 360 conversion. Other than that, no part of the game was altered to any one specific platform.
After the PC/Mac release, once all obligatory last-minute mass-produced bugs are squashed, then we will proceed with the two major upgrades we are planning to complete the game with. Once Nuclear Dawn has reached the level of features we always intended it to have, then we’ll look at either converting it ourselves, or packaging it out to a specialized studio; we haven’t settled on that issue yet.
FS: It sounds like this title has a lot in common with other popular FPS/RTS games borne out of the Half-Life modding scene, Natural Selection and Empires. Can you explain what differences there are between those and Nuclear Dawn? What makes your game “the first to offer a full FPS and RTS experience?”
Igor: There is far more than the modding scene in that picture. There have been several AAA titles that offered similar game experiences, such as Battlezone and Savage. We played, and enjoyed, many of these titles in the past. In spite of loving some of them dearly (Semper Fi, Battlezone 2), we felt that they always somewhat sacrificed part of either the strategy, or the shooting, to mesh the two together.
In Nuclear Dawn, we have simply attempted to achieve our own personal sweet spot between the two. Taken out of context, either of the two sides of the game behave as a fully functional example of their genre: the FPS gameplay is fast, tactical and unforgiving, and the game experience is on a level with every online shooter out there.
The RTS part is fast-paced and complex, allowing the Commander to truly feel like he’s an RTS commander with a full-time job on his hands, and not ‘just’ a player who’s stepped in to build a couple of turrets for a minute.
FS: From what I’ve read, it seems you aren’t big fans of Capture the Flag, so that won’t be in the game. Can you tell us about the different modes of play you will be offering?
Igor: That came across all wrong when we wrote it. Generally, we are great fans (well, some of us are) of CTF game modes, and have enjoyed them repeatedly from UT CTF to WoW CTF. That’s a whole lot of CTF, and we feel that with a game like Nuclear Dawn on our hands, we can do better than the generic formulas.
We’ll have more information on additional game modes soon, but for now we can only confirm the Warfare and Team Deathmatch game modes. Team Deathmatch is… well, pretty much what the label says. Warfare is the full, undiluted Nuclear Dawn experience, with Commanders, RTS, unlockables and everything else thrown in the mix.
FS: An older trailer showed a tank in the game, but the newest one does not. Were you planning to include vehicles at one point? If so, why were they scrapped?
Igor: We were not planning to include vehicles: we had included vehicles. An entire, custom vehicle engine was included, with all the bells and whistles that other AAA titles feature: accurate engine/transmission/suspension simulation, working tanks and buggies.
Unfortunately, that kind of complex implementation turned out to require some rather extensive surgery to the physics and net code backbone of Source in order to perform well outside of a LAN. The overhead required to make vehicles work to the standards we set ourselves was a potential bottomless time sink, and so decided to remove them from the game.
Though, as we already stated, if commercial support makes that kind of operation possible, then we’ll definitely be re-implementing vehicles.
FS: What will the upcoming closed beta be like? Is it an actual test phase, where you’re looking for some feedback from a larger audience, or is it more of a playable demo to entice people to pre-order?
Igor: The closed beta will be a little of both. It’s an early look at the game for those who supported us, though not a demo. In our mind, a demo should be a cut-down version of the final product.
This will also be a great opportunity to take a look at any design and balance flaws that could only be revealed by the kind of stress testing that a few thousand dedicated players can provide. We’re looking forward to addressing any feedback that comes our way in this period, as well as implementing any required modifications.
That said, the game’s largely in content lock at the moment, and some of the more extensive suggestions will have to be weighed against impending deadlines, so we may not be able to implement quite every single request.
We’re planning to keep a close watch on community feedback: games have to be fun to play above all, and if our fans aren’t having any fun, or if they could be enjoying Nuclear Dawn better, it’s our duty to make it so.
FS: So the game will be launching on Steam near the end of next month. What are your plans from here on out? Will you be adding on to Nuclear Dawn, maybe looking forward to doing a sequel?
Igor: We have two major updates to the game planned out: the introduction of AI, more game modes, more unlockables (including weapons), and at least two more maps. These were all part of our original design, and the game just won’t be ‘our baby’ if they’re not implemented. Vehicles may make a return if the game is received well enough.
As we said above, we will also be monitoring community feedback and suggestions to keep evolving Nuclear Dawn from the game that we really wanted to make, into one that our community will have as much love for.
FS: How is your relationship with Valve? What is that publishing arrangement like; do they do some stuff behind the scenes to help indie studios like you get your game out there?
Igor: Valve are amazing partners. They hold their community dear, and have provided us with all kinds of support, at all stages of development.
Even when contacting the upper echelons of management, everyone is aware of exactly what’s going on in the community, and it’s not make-believe politeness either: they will brutally savage bad ideas, and greatly support good ones.
They have been a great sounding board, always ready with feedback and suggestions, as well as actually, factually helping us with Steam and marketing. Their policy is that if a game is good, no matter where it comes from or how much it costs, it will be pushed and featured on Steam. If it’s not, no amount of advertising will buy you the limelight on their platform.
FS: Finally, is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers?
Igor: Yes, thank you for your patience, making it this far down the interview!
We are gamers, and made a game that, above all, we wanted to really be proud of, and enjoy playing. Nuclear Dawn is, outside of any definition, outside of any three-letter cage, a game that has us excited and electrified.
InterWave testing sessions always run over and we’ve almost literally had to kick people off the servers so we could go back to work. Biased as we may be, proud of ND as we shamelessly are, we hope you give it a shot, and enjoy it as much as we do!
FS: Thanks for your time!
Igor: It was our pleasure.
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