Category Archives: Q&A Interviews

Splinter Cell Remake Begins Development at Ubisoft Toronto

Ubisoft has greenlit the development of a Splinter Cell remake that will draw from the rich canvas of the brand. Led by Ubisoft Toronto, the game will be rebuilt from the ground up using Ubisoft’s own Snowdrop engine – the same engine being used to develop Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, as well as Ubisoft’s upcoming Star Wars game – to deliver new-generation visuals and gameplay, and the dynamic lighting and shadows the series is known for.

To find out more, we spoke with three developers on the project – Creative Director Chris Auty, Producer Matt West, and Technical Producer Peter Handrinos – about their connection to the series, what’s being preserved, and what made Splinter Cell such a revelation.

How are you approaching Splinter Cell as a remake? What makes it a remake and not a remaster?

Matt West: To me, a remake takes what you’d do in a remaster and goes a little bit further with it. The original Splinter Cell has a lot that was amazing and revolutionary at the time it came out, 19 years ago. The gaming public now has an even more refined palate. So, I think it kind of has to be a remake as opposed to a remaster. Although we’re still in the very earliest stages of development, what we’re trying to do is make sure the spirit of the early games remains intact, in all of the ways that gave early Splinter Cell its identity. So, as we’re building it from the ground up, we’re going to update it visually, as well as some of the design elements to match player comfort and expectations, and we are going to keep it linear like the original games, not make it open world. How do we make sure that new fans are able to pick up the controller and dive right in, and fall in love with the game and the world right from the get-go?

Peter Handrinos: From a tech perspective, if I had to boil it down to a couple of words in terms of the difference, what we’re doing is exploration and innovation here. We’ve got a new engine and a new console lifecycle to take advantage of, so the tech is one area that we don’t want stuck in the past.

MW: The phrase “Stealth Action Redefined” from the original game has actually proven to be a really valuable North Star for us. We’re able to, for example, apply that to what Peter was just saying, as far as being able to prototype and innovate and test some stuff out. That is very much in keeping with us redefining what stealth action is going to feel like for a modern audience.

What aspects do you think are most important to update? What is the core of this experience that needs to be preserved?

Chris Auty: Splinter Cell was a breakthrough in stealth – as Matt mentioned, it was “stealth redefined” with a huge focus on getting that core gameplay right above all, and delivering on an ideal: be a ghost. It’s important for us to preserve the sense of mastery by supporting players who observe the situations, make their plan, use their gadgets, and outsmart the enemy creatively to deal with the challenges they are presented with. Ideally, they end up coming out on the other side with no one having realized you were even there. That’s the essence of Splinter Cell.

MW: One of the things that, from my point of view is really exciting about this project, is that the last couple of games all of us have worked on have been really big worlds. What that means is that the economy of decisions is very spread out, whereas what I love about a Splinter Cell map is every square inch represents intentionality. Every square inch is part of a choice, or directly offers a choice, or has a direct ramification. That density of gameplay is at the forefront in Splinter Cell, and that’s going to be really, really important for us. The gameplay experience we are targeting is directly tied to what we want players to feel, to capture the essence back when we were all playing the original games.

CA: Yeah, and preserving what made those early games so compelling. We recognize a huge part of the appeal of Splinter Cell is the flawless planning, execution and satisfaction you feel when you go in and absolutely ace every encounter. Seeing your mastery put on display at the end of things, especially when you go through with no alarms triggered – that’s a big part of the Splinter Cell experience, and we want to be sure we’re honoring that.

Splinter Cell is being remade in the Snowdrop engine; what does it enable you to do that wouldn’t have been possible 19 years ago, or that wouldn’t be possible with other engines even now?

PH: Snowdrop is a proven modern AAA engine. It empowers content creators and programmers alike to try things quickly, see what works, and ultimately find success. I think that’s one of its major advantages, allowing us to quickly find the modern equivalent of that core Splinter gameplay. Some other AAA engines out there do not afford this type of iteration speed, necessarily, and so this is really what gives Snowdrop an edge when bringing Splinter Cell up to speed on a modern engine.

Taking a step back, what was your first experience with the first Splinter Cell? What made it special to you in 2002?

CA: My background has been in level design and level creation for the past 20-odd years, and seeing that back then – that there could be cloths that flap as I move through them, and that there’s some sort of actual, genuine interaction between me as a player and the world I’m in; seeing the enemies moving around, allowing me to plan and make different judgment calls based on where they are and what’s happening – that had a huge impact on me early on. Things like the thermal vision and using that as a gameplay element – these things were not just graphical bells and whistles. They were actually relevant to the experience.

From a team perspective, we’re all behind that philosophy, that the stuff that gets added is not just eye candy. It has a relevance and a bearing on the on the game itself. So that was a huge, defining moment for me playing Splinter Cell for the first time, seeing that tech and being blown away by it, and then seeing it integrated into gameplay. That was a big moment, and a good memory.

Back to the present: What is your team makeup like at this point – are there any veterans from past Splinter Cell games? What opportunities are there for people who want to join the project?

PH: We want to invite anyone who’s intrigued by what we’ve said to apply to join Ubisoft Toronto. We’re building a new team, the same way we did when we started the studio. There are technical leadership openings and roles across all different job families available. But there are a lot of vets here, so we’re going to have a really good mix of people who have worked on previous Splinter Cell games, and new team members who are joining and bringing fresh energy and fresh ideas.

MW: It’s a big deal that Blacklist was the first game that ever came out the door at Ubisoft Toronto. It’s in our DNA.

CA: It’s a universal quality of everyone who’s joined so far, and everyone that we’re looking to bring on as well, that there’s a respect for the brand, and for the game and its history. I know everyone who’s currently working on the project has spent an enormous amount of time researching, playing, reading, and getting to know the games, the characters, the stories, and what makes Splinter Cell awesome at its core.

Beyond what we’ve discussed, what is most important for readers to take away from this announcement?

PH: A lot of time has passed since the original Splinter Cell, and even since the last sequel – enough time to miss an entire console generation. So now we’re going to take the time to explore what this means for us, for light and shadow, for animation tech, for gameplay, AI, even audio. We’re going to ask ourselves, “where does it make sense for us to innovate? What not only fits with the legacy, but brings the game up to a level that will be expected of us, and where can we surprise our players?” We want to bring them something new, yet still connect them to that feeling that they had two decades ago, playing that masterpiece for the first time.

MW: I’ll throw this out there: You’ve got to have a tagline, and one of the things that we’re using currently as the tagline, from the very beginning, is the phrase “respect the goggles.” I love the goggles as a symbol for Sam. We are making a game that is going to be modern, but built on the foundation of the brand’s rich history. The game earned its stripes the right way, by being innovative and challenging, and a really different experience than what was in the marketplace at the time. “Respect the goggles” helps to remind us of the fact that we have to do it justice.

There’s stuff that simply needs to be redone from scratch to be up to snuff for a modern gameplay experience. With that, though, what do we need to do to absolutely preserve the feeling of early Splinter Cell? We’re going to be straddling the line between the spirit of the old, and the comfort of the new, so that we can excite and surprise new players, but also make sure that when our returning players pick up the controller, they have that sigh of relief, saying “Ahhh, they got it.”

CA: It’s safe to say a lot of us on the team are stealth purists, and we’re behind that level of seriousness when it comes to those kinds of mechanics, and those sorts of things that we want to see in this game. And we’re very, very aware of what makes classic Splinter Cell what it is.

MW: We talked earlier about that dense world, where every square inch is important because they’re all a consequence of a choice or setting the table for the next choice from the player’s point of view. So that kind of density, that packed nature that I think was so palpable in the first trilogy – it’s going to be one of our guiding lights as we go forward.

CA: With this remake, we are building a solid base for the future of Splinter Cell.

For more on the Splinter Cell remake, stay tuned to our dedicated news hub.

Inside the Call of Duty: Vanguard Comic with the Writers

Writing a video game story is a challenge in and of itself. Expanding that story into a comics took that challenge to a whole new level. Today at New York Comic Con, the writers of our Call of Duty®: Vanguard comic spoke about navigating the narrative minefield of writing for both the game and comic simultaneously.

For fans unable to attend the live panel at NYCC, we’ve put together a Q&A that encapsulates all the details we covered at the event. Panelists include:

  • SM: Sam Maggs, Lead Writer (Previously, Critical Role Origins -The Mighty Nein: Jester (Dark Horse), Marvel Action: Captain Marvel (IDW)
  • SR: Stephen Rhodes, Writer (Previously, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt)
  • TO: Tochi Onyebuchi, Writer (Previously, Beasts Made of Night, Riot Baby, War Girls)
  • BF: Brent Friedman, Writer (Previously, Black Ops Cold War, Resident Evil 2, Star Wars Rebels)

What’s the biggest difference between telling a Vanguard story in comics versus games?

SM: One of the biggest differences between writing for a comic and a video game is that you don’t have the interactive elements to consider in the comic medium. Comics allow us to explore more deeply who our characters are. The game is about action, but the comics give us a quieter space to focus more on emotion, and on understanding who these people are so that the reader can develop a real connection to them before they even turn the game on. Of course, you don’t need to read the comics before playing the game—but if you are the kind of person who always wants to know more about your playable characters, then these comics are definitely for you.

BF: The other thing that is important about these comics is they focus on the biggest character-defining choices that lead up to the story we tell in Vanguard.  The choices our characters make in the game are that of life and death, important but spontaneous decisions. The stories we get to tell in the comic are more personal and intimate and they’re revealing about our characters.

What was the inspiration to create a Call of Duty: Vanguard comic?

SR: We have this really great story in the Vanguard campaign about these characters on their first mission together. But while we were writing the main story, we realized that the backstory of how they get pulled together is also important. Luckily there was this desire from all of us to explore the character’s stories. That’s when the comic was suggested. Looking at all the material we had on the characters, it made a lot of sense to explore the origin story of how they all came together to form Task Force One, and that is where Captain Carver Butcher came in.

Butcher made his appearance in 2017 in a WWII DLC. He was a quartermaster in the Headquarters, and he was fun and witty. Was it planned in 2017 that he would be such an integral character?

SR: He’s one of the best side-character-to-hero stories in a video game. I don’t think any other side character in any game has ever gone on to become the Nick Fury of an entire game. But our Butcher has. I don’t think anyone in 2017 thought he would go on to do these things. But when we were putting the story of Vanguard together and putting the team together, the question came up, “who do they work for?” At the same time, we were developing the plot around the birth of the Special Forces and we were looking for a character to be at the helm of that initiative. Butcher started out as a somewhat minor character and then suddenly he was running this whole global initiative and recruiting people from behind his bandana. It was a great chance to dive into him as a character and sort of show him off a little bit. We asked ourselves, “what can he do when he’s not supplying players with gear?” And we did some pretty wild things with him in the comics.

How many of the characters were inspired by real people?

BF: Every one of the main characters was inspired by real-life heroes from WWII. We have taken some liberties with personality and backstory and other fictional elements, but the battles, heroics, and stories of soldiers all played an important role in inspiring how we built our characters and the narrative.

What are these stories ultimately about?

TO: These stories are a fictional take on the formation of the Special Forces during WWII. But beyond that, they’re a celebration of diversity. One of the ideas that we get into with the game, but particularly with the comic, is that difference can be a real strength.  Whether those differences be skills or personality or culture, when those differences are put together, people can achieve great things.

What was the dynamic like among the writers? 

TO: We [the writers] really are a team of misfits, all coming from different backgrounds in media with different expertise from games, movies, comics, and TV, so we really got to have fun on this project. That variety in talent, and our closeness to the game’s development, really helped this comic come together as seamlessly as it did.

What were the challenges of writing and producing in a pandemic?

BF: The creative process had an evolution to it. Initially, and I think a lot of people can relate to this, as the world moved to video calls, it was awkward, and it felt really distancing. What helped us a lot was how much we loved these characters. The more we talked about them and the more we got into their worlds, the more comfortable we became with each other and those digital barriers started to break down.

Are there any Easter Eggs hidden in these comics?

SR: Yes. The people who read the comic and then play the game will find a lot of interesting connections.

When is the comic released and where can people find it?

The comic is due to come out prior to the release of Call of Duty: Vanguard on November 5th and will follow a weekly release cadence. We will release a physical bind-up of the collection early 2022. Be on the lookout for more information soon at as well as SHG social channels.

GRIP: Combat Racing Developer Q&A

GRIP: Combat Racing will see racers hurtling their way around 22 breath-taking tracks across a variety of hostile and foreign worlds, driving one of 15 armored cars – some swift and agile, while others are brutish and heavily armored. Players must be merciless; deploying a bristling arsenal of 9 outlandish weapons and power-ups to give them the advantage to take the lead against other fierce competitors. These weapons will allow players to not only target other cars, but also the destructible environments surrounding them.

Inspired by the Rollcage games of the late 90s and backed by a highly-skilled and accomplished team, which includes Rollcage programming veteran, Robert Baker, GRIP: Combat Racing celebrates the re-emergence of blindingly fast arcade combat racers, offering a true, wheel-gripping racing experience – where utter destruction serves one true purpose: be the first to cross the finish line.

We had the chance to talk with Chris Mallinson, Co-founder of Caged Element and Game Director for GRIP: Combat Racing and get some cool info about this highly anticipated racing game.

Q: Thank you for your time. Please get us started by introducing yourself and telling us about the team working on GRIP and how Rollcage inspired this new racing game.

My name is Chris Mallinson, co-founder of Caged Element and Game Director for GRIP: Combat Racing. Back in 2014, researching Rollcage out of pure nostalgia I stumbled across a blog by Rob Baker – a developer on the original games. Rob was still updating Rollcage to keep things running smoothly on the latest versions of Windows. Clearly Rollcage was still in Rob’s mind and we soon started plotting towards a successor to the franchise.

The team as a whole is made up of industry vets and fans of the original game series – we’ve got ex-codey’ level designers, visionary artists who made fan concept art for a Rollcage “Stage 3” and seasoned programmers like Rob, all working from remote locations around the world.

Q: Please tell us about any unexpected changes/additions to GRIP that evolved during the Early Access period?   Any inspirations from community feedback?

Community has been a big part of making GRIP the game it is today. We launched in early access with what was really a proof of concept or statement of intent – a few very basic tracks and some racing physics showing more what we wanted to do rather than how the end product would look and feel. GRIP has grown massively since then and heading towards the launch version we’re now looking at 22 furiously fast race tracks and 15 beautifully crafted vehicles.

The thing that’s been really key is achieving a good balance between all of the vehicles and weapons in the game… alone we could never have put the sheer number of hours into the game that the early access community have behind them, so simply put we wouldn’t know anywhere near as much. It’s definitely made the game better.

Q: In a combat-heavy game such as this, does car selection truly impact gameplay, and if so, how did you go about balancing the vehicles?

Car selection has a big impact on gameplay and you’re right to think that balancing was one of the hardest things to get right. In the game we have 3 classes of vehicle, speedster, mid-class and tank; You could liken these to the weight classes in other combat racers, but the differences are exaggerated and become even more apparent when playing the game in a mode where vehicle damage is applied. The penalties to acceleration make taking a tank for a spin high risk but the top speed is high reward – one thing that we always think is great about the game is that the shortest route is often not the quickest – it’s down to the players to work this stuff out and keep the balance of speed and control just right.

Q: What balancing considerations went into weapons and power-up design vs defensive measures?  

Weapons have been a key area, I think it’s fair to say that myself and Rob always felt like the weapons in Rollcage, great and iconic as they are, were sometimes a little overpowered – it was way too easy to find yourself out of the race before it had even begun and this was something we were desperate to avoid.

We combat this a couple of ways in GRIP, the first is that the base power of each weapon is not too great – the savvy racer does have the ability to supercharge the weapon they hold by sacrificing another, but even at this level weapons are race changing rather than race ending. The second thing that plays a major part is the catch-up assist system – this is something that can be switched off or used to filter online games if you’re looking for a pure experience – but this essentially goes beyond just rubber banding the AI by instead applying different forces on the vehicles depending on their position. The end result is a far more competitive race that stays exciting right until the last corner.

Q: The physics and feel of the cars and the way they control seem to get better with each new update. Can you discuss the importance of physics in GRIP and how it impacts gameplay?

The physics in GRIP are totally central to the game and how it plays. We’ve put hours and days into perfecting the way the game feels. Keeping vehicles on the ceiling isn’t easy and has needed a lot of refinement. Making sure the vehicles move in the way they do has essentially led us to a point where nearly everything in terms of physics is custom code written by our team.

We started from a point of trying to make things as realistic as possible, but quickly had to acknowledge that with the vehicles’ aerodynamic properties as they are, they simply wouldn’t move in the first place. From there we’ve slowly but surely leaned towards prioritizing the best possible handling within the game. That’s not to say that we’ve disregarded realism completely – the game still maintains proper scaling so the speeds you see on the speedometer are real, making GRIP the fastest game on 4 wheels; the knock-on to this is a game which rewards control and precision above perhaps all else.

Q: Can you discuss how environmental destruction will be implemented as a combat tactic?

Destructible environments in the game aren’t something we’ve really shown off in full just yet – in some of our early access races we’ve played around with different elements which impede racers themselves rather than directly affecting your opponents. There is a large destructible set piece in one of the upcoming launch tracks which has a big knock on for the pack around you, and we haven’t been shy to include an exploding barrel or two along with some smaller elements along the way, but this is an area that we definitely think deserves more exploration in post-launch updates.

Q: The music selection is fantastic. How did you go about selecting the artists and songs? Will there be an OST offering on the Steam store?

Picking the soundtrack for the game has been a lot of fun and we’ve worked with some incredible artists from around the world. It’s safe to say we always knew what we wanted in terms of style, harking back to the original RC games but with a 2018 feel. We’ve had great support from the labels we’ve licensed from and all the tracks that are making their way into the final game really jumped out at us. We do have plans to distribute the soundtrack for the game and we look forward to sharing these details as soon as we can.

Q: 4-player split-screen could turn GRIP into the Mario Kart of the PC world. Any special game modes planned specifically for party-play?

Split-screen was always something we wanted to deliver and is a big part of the GRIP experience. We’ve spent a lot of our time so far focusing on the core racing and arena modes and think we’ve got these well balanced for both online and couch play.

I think it’s important to say we have a lot of ideas on how we can enhance the game post launch with some content already in the works. How you interact with your fellow racers is definitely something we’d like to explore down the line and we already have some ideas.

Q: I have to ask this for our growing VR gamer base; any future plans for a post-launch update that might include VR support?

Never say never – Wipeout has proven that a VR experience at these sorts of speeds is not only possible but very much playable. That said they haven’t had to worry about constantly turning players on their heads! If we bring VR to GRIP in the future it has to be right – that could take a long time and so far, we’ve had our heads down focusing on the on-screen experience.

Q: Some of these tracks reminded me of my old slot-racers with snap-together track pieces. Does your developer toolkit allow for the possibility of a track editor after launch, so the community can create their own designs?

No plans for a track editor just yet; it’s something that comes up and something we’ll look at maybe, but I think it’s easy to underestimate what it takes to design a functioning track in this game – the verticality of the gameplay makes coherent track creation a challenge even for seasoned designers.

Rather than building an editor we thought it was more important to focus on giving racers a good number of tracks ourselves for day one and we’re pleased to say that we’ll be releasing additional tracks via free updates post launch.

Q: What kind of Achievements do you have planned for GRIP? Any favorites?

We’ll be releasing the achievement list a little closer to launch but I can confirm there aren’t any online trophies.

Q: Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. In closing, is there anything about GRIP that we may have overlooked that you would like to share?

I’d just like to say a big thank you to everyone who’s supported the game through its development – we’re super stoked to be heading towards our November 6th launch date on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC. We’ll be sharing even more about the game over the coming weeks on our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Discord pages, so come join our community.

Those wanting to experience GRIP: Combat Racing can play now on Early Access on Steam.

The Ice Merchant – Author Interview with Paul Boor

Paul Boor, M.D., is a scientist and professor at Galveston’s medical school, the oldest west of the Mississippi. His first novel, BLOOD NOTES, was a modern biomedical thriller. In THE ICE MERCHANT, Dr. Boor explores the history of the body trade, while plumbing the depths of the human frailties of those devoted to scientific discovery.  You can read our review for The Ice Merchant and check out our interview with the author below:

Q: When reading stories that place themselves within an historical context, I am always curious how much of the story is true and how much is fiction. I did some research on the ice trade of the 1800’s as well as the black market cadaver trade of the same period and found that there is a lot of truth to these events, but I was unable to find any specific account of the two things coinciding, though it makes perfect sense when presented in the book. Seeing as how you are a professor at the very same medical college in Galveston, TX as is featured in the book, I feel you probably had a unique historical perspective of events that transpired there. So, how much is true? Was there someone like Nicholas Van Horne who traded both in ice and, secretly, in bodies to the college during that time period? Without spoiling too much, how close to failure did the college come to during that time? How influential was the college in Galveston in discovering a vaccine for Yellow Fever?

A: All of the history is essentially as accurate as I could make it. The ice trade, the body trade, and the struggle of medical colleges opening as small endeavors populated largely by European-trained physicians and scientists — all pretty accurate. Did anyone ever ship bodies on ice? That was my invention, though ice was used to preserve bodies and I read where one US president (was it Lincoln or Grant) was iced (in between stops and showings) on the train that carried his body across the country. The names of the characters were in fact also Galvestonians, though I took great liberties in how i portrayed them, often combining well known historical Island figures under one name. Galveston was at the forefront of infectious disease (and still is — read about the Galveston National Lab; also THE BLOOD NOTES OF PETER MALLOW) and in fact mosquito research was active here, but more in the time period 1900-1920 (and in the present). I think all medical schools came near to failure, and many examples of town/gown issues, and actual attacks on schools exist. I give a talk to a medical student group interested in medical history on this very topic. Vaccines for yellow fever were not developed until much later, but the use of anti-serum from patient/animals and attempts at therapy (as by Rene Keiller) were time appropriate in the story. In fact, the basic ideas of research, self experimentation (Nicholas), and the idea of hypothesis testing as the basic approach in science, were then as they are now — that is one point of my writing that I continuously try to show.

Q: How did you go about researching the historical portions of the story? Were you initially drawn by how the school obtained cadavers or by the ice trade? What was the catalyst that brought all these fascinating things together for you into the story of The Ice Merchant?

A: The two ideas collided in my mind. I had written a short story about a medical school attack; it was always one of my favorites and after I left BLOOD NOTES behind I turned historical. I grew up in upstate New York and still have the family cottage on White Lake two roads down from a street call “Ice House Road.” This lake was the site of the Utica Ice Co until the 1920s, so the memorabilia of ice harvesting etc. (and harsh winters) —- something I grew up with.

Q: One of my favorite things about the book was how specific you were in describing the medical techniques of the time, and how surprisingly barbaric the world of just over one hundred years ago was. What resources did you use to describe the instruments and techniques of the time in such detail?

A: Gosh, various old medical texts I have from the period. At one time I thought about an academic “reference list” for the novel, but opted to not. Actually, I read a lot of period GALVESTON DAILY NEWS via microfiche at our wonderful local library archives. the advertisements themselves, as well as the happenings of the day (for example, medical school news, lynchings, etc.) inspired much in THE ICE MERCHANT.

Q: At one point you mention that the main character has a unique arterial aberration, but don’t go into much more detail about it. I feel like that was a reference that only medical students would understand. Could you explain what you were referring to for a layperson such as myself?

A: That was relative to Nicholas’ beat up veins from his IV drug addiction. Nothing specific except that Renée is so talented she was able to find a vein for injection… and such a thorough scientist that she would report it in the Scientific literature.

I thought this showed a lot about Nicolas’ wayward son, and how he’d changed.

Q: The simple fact that people had to get ice shipped to them from northern climes before such amenities as refrigerators, freezers, and climate control was fascinating to me. It made me realize just how much we take things like this for granted. I think the corollary, medically, is just how much we take for granted that our doctors and researchers have access to cadavers in order to aid in furthering the study of medicine. What other things, in your opinion, do we take for granted in our modern-day lives?

A: Antibiotics (now quite controversial regarding overuse).

Q:  What’s next for you? More historical fictions, or something else entirely?

A: I am working on a story set in Galveston’s med school in 1900; the Great Storm plays a major role.

FlatOut 4: Total Insanity Developer Q&A

Gamers will soon peel out of starting line as Strategy First proudly reveals FlatOut 4®: Total Insanity for Steam in development by Kylotonn Games. Fans of the legendary FlatOut racing series will experience demolition derby-style racing at its best with the Steam version enhanced to take advantage of the platform’s special features. FlatOut 4®: Total Insanity is set to release worldwide on Steam in April 2017.

We had the chance to talk about this exciting new racing game with Alexandre Assier, Producer at Kylotonn Games, and Emanuel Wall, Director at Strategy First Inc. and get some cool info about this next-gen sequel to one of our favorite racing franchises.

Q: Thank you for your time. Please get us started by introducing yourself and telling us about the team working on FlatOut 4. Any Bugbear veterans on the team?

A: (Alex Assier) It’s a pleasure to speak about this new FlatOut game. I’m Alexandre Assier, Producer at Kylotonn Games for FlatOut. I’ve been working in the game video game industry for 16 years. I have worked on a variety of types of games and platforms but my primary focus is and has always been on racing games for consoles. It’s my passion and the passion of Kylotonn. No one on our team is associated with any other studios.

It’s an honor though to take up the mantle on the franchise. We are looking to make our mark where people will refer to us as doing something great with the latest iteration of FlatOut.

Q: FlatOut fans (at least on the PC) have been closely following the ongoing development of Next Car Game/Wreckfest. Where, how, or does FlatOut 4 fit into what is really the only other demolition derby racing game for PC?

A: (Alex Assier) There is certainly enough room for both games. If you like Next Car Game Wreckfest. I am sure you will also like FlatOut 4: Total Insanity. Our game is different from theirs but keeps to the spirit of FlatOut 2 along with something new. While we think what Bugbear is doing with their new game is great, it’s been a big departure from where they came from with FlatOut. Wreckfest has swung quite far towards the realm of simulation. Which makes sense of course with their technology. However, FlatOut isn’t a sim. It’s a brand that is something altogether different and unique and never takes itself too seriously. This is pure entertainment – we push fun and humor, eject your drivers through the windshield, smash your rocket powered ice cream van into your opponent, surprise your buddy with a bowling ball barreling down the road to threaten his lead! Not the same approach, not the same game.

Q: Is there going to be any structured single-player career/campaign mode?

A: (Alex Assier) Yes, FlatOut has both career mode for single player, and multiplayer mode for playing with your friends. The single-player campaign is tournament style with medals required to progress. The campaign features a variety of styles of races and arenas.

Q: There is an impressive amount of content in FlatOut 4. Please explain a bit about how this will be “unlocked” and how much is available when you first start the game.

A: (Alex Assier) Yes, we tried to fill the game with as much content as possible. All will be unlocked during the Career and FlatOut Mode. Race wins will provide you with cash to unlock cars and upgrades. Progression with unlock tiers of cars – players will start out with derby vehicles and later unlock classic and All – Star vehicles as they progress. As you play through Career and FlatOut mode, the various Stunts and Arena challenges will unlock as well as new environments and race tracks.

Q: Can you breakdown the new Assault Mode for us? What kind of weapons can we expect? Any countermeasures like smoke, oil slick, mines, armor upgrades?

A: (Alex Assier) Yes, this is an area of the game we are particularly excited to unveil! You will have a variety of tools in your arsenal: A big mine that you can toss forward or backward from your car with targeting; a magnetic bomb to trap your opponents; a shockwave from your car to repel cars around you and the ability to set harrows coming from the ground to stop the car behind you. This is particularly fun of course in multiplayer mode with your buddies!

Q: Just how destructible are the new environments? Will the track and racing routes evolve from lap to lap?

A: (Alex Assier) This is of course an important feature players expect from FlatOut! Yes, because by destroying parts of the environment, you will find shortcuts. We put a lot of effort into providing a variety of paths to get around a track—this isn’t after all a track racer. These are non-traditional racing tracks – street racing and smashing through forests for example. Moreover, you will experience more danger on the road with all the destructible objects in your way.

Q: FlatOut is all about the epic collisions. Will there be any in-game tools for saving/editing replay footage or sharing clips online?

A: (Alex Assier) No, we use the console manufactures tools to allow for capture and video sharing.

Q: Rocket League has seen considerable success with post-release car DLC. Any plans for continued expansion with new cars or tracks and also, any plans for cross-platform multiplayer, at least between console and PC?

A: (Alex Assier) While we’d prefer to focus our comments right now on the core game, we do indeed have expansion plans already underway with post launch DLC for both console and PC!

Q: Will there be Steam Workshop support or a track-editor available so the community can create their own content?

A: (Alex Assier) Kylotonn and Strategy First are dedicated to FlatOut 4: Total Insanity and to taking advantage of all of the great opportunities available on Steam. We have a lot in store for Steam and will be able to share more announcements on this soon…

Q: What can we expect from the “thumping indie soundtrack” in the way of artists and genres of music? Will the OST be offered as DLC or part of a deluxe package.

A: (Emanuel Wall) Yes, we’re really proud of the soundtrack we’ve managed to assemble which is full of amazing indie bands from all over the world. I like Mad Parish who are a six-piece Heavy Metal Band. The Mad Parish songs encouraged me to be a little more aggressive while racing. We have a lot of metal and hard rock songs, and some tracks outside of that genre, such as The Gutter Demons, Twin Atlantic, Dead Glitter, and Bad Things. We even decided to throw in a SKA song by the Planet Smashers.

We also have some cool plans for the OST that I think people will like. Stay tuned!

Q: For our tech-gamers out there… Will FlatOut 4 make specific use of the PS4 Pro’s extra HP or just rely on the “boost mode”? Any support for HDR on either PS4 or XB1s? Are you targeting 60fps across all formats?

A: (Alex Assier) We use it as a boost mode for the resolution and general rendering of the game. We are not at 60 FPS, but its close enough to have a solid and smooth experience.

Q: Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. In closing, is there any special about FlatOut 4: Total Insanity that we may have overlooked that you would like to share.

A: (Alex Assier) All the team has worked hard on FlatOut 4 and we hope that you will enjoy it as much as we’ve enjoyed creating it!

FlatOut 4®: Total Insanity will be available for purchase on Steam/PC in April 2017.

Valley Original Soundtrack Q&A with Composer Aakaash Rao


“Explore the vast and beautiful world of Valley using the power of the L.E.A.F. suit: a fierce exoskeleton that grants exceptional speed and agility along with the phenomenal ability to manipulate the life and death of all living things.”

Experience the adventure of a lifetime

We recently reviewed the outstanding new adventure game, Valley, from Blue Isle Studios, and we couldn’t help but take notice of the amazing soundtrack composed by Aakaash Rao that truly enhanced this magical experience.  We had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about creating this soundtrack, which is now available on Steam.

Q: Thank you for your time.  Please get us started by introducing yourself and telling us about the team responsible for the music in Valley.

Thank you for reaching out! My name is Aakaash Rao, and I’m a game composer from the San Francisco Bay Area. I had the privilege to score Valley, developed by Toronto-based Blue Isle Studios for PC, PS4, and XBOX One. The soundtrack was a collaborative effort between Selcuk Bor, a sound designer and developer at Blue Isle; Brenden Frank, Blue Isle’s technical and audio director; and four fantastic session musicians.

Q: How is composing a score for a video game different from any other medium?  Are there any particular concerns when the story/pacing is out of your control?

Before I started writing for video games, I primarily composed music for performance. One of the most important differences between the two genres is that game music has to be unobtrusive – it should enhance, rather than distract from, the experience of the game. I think it’s easy to forget how cognitively demanding listening to music can be, and the last thing that I want is for a player to be constantly switching his or her attention between the music and the gameplay.

That said, it’s also easy to go too far the other way and write the game equivalent of elevator music – bland, characterless tracks that contribute nothing to the experience. One of the most frustrating, yet ultimately most rewarding, aspects of game composition is striking a balance between these two extremes. And of course, that balance will differ depending on the game. Valley called for a largely ambient soundtrack; another game I’m working on, a 2.5D strategy game called Liege, has a lot more “space” for a more intimate, chamber-based OST.

To answer your question about story and pacing: especially given that the plot changes so often over the course of development, it can be difficult to establish melodic motifs for particular characters or places. One of my regrets about the Valley soundtrack is that I didn’t really have the chance to develop the three primary motifs (Virginia’s melody, the Valley melody, and the “recollections” melody) throughout the course of the game. A perceptive listener may catch them a few times, but they don’t contribute to the experience to the extent that I had envisioned.


Q: I spent much longer in some areas of the game than the designers probably ever intended yet the music never had any obvious loops or cuts.  How do you design “minutes” of music that can work for “hours” of gameplay?

That’s a great question – we definitely spent a lot of time making sure the music wouldn’t become repetitive. There are two considerations: the composition itself and the implementation of the music in-game. Compositionally, I focused on making sure that there’s always a sense of movement, whether that comes from the percussion base or the string swells or the live instruments. I also tried to add enough variety within each loop that they don’t become too boring on the third or tenth or fiftieth repetition.

As for the technical implementation, I actually delivered to Blue Isle the project “stems” – the individual instrument tracks from the composition – which allowed them to mix and match the instruments that play on subsequent repetitions of the track. For example, the engine might play the full mix on the first loop, play only the strings, flute, and drums on the second loop, and then drop the strings but add in the xylophone and marimba on the second. This system helps keep the audio interesting on long playthroughs.

Q: So much of the music in Valley seems like a cinematic score with perfectly timed cues that sets the perfect mood.  When you are creating these tracks are you getting your inspiration from concept art, gameplay videos, or something else?

Both concept art and gameplay videos were important inspirations, but I was fortunate enough to play a working build of the game almost from day one. As you pointed out in your review, Valley features some incredibly unique mechanics, and a lot of the melodies just popped into my head as I was jumping around in the LEAF suit or exploring the facilities. Another great source of inspiration was the work of the session musicians with whom I collaborated: woodwind players Sandro Friedrich and Lucian Nagy, cellist Deryn Cullen, and singer Zefora Alderman. Especially with Sandro and Lucian, who play dozens of instruments from all around the world, I’d hit on new ideas just by exploring the demos on their website.


Q: Before Valley one of my favorite adventure game soundtracks was Lost Eden composed by Stéphane Picq back in 1995 mostly due to the creative use of rare almost primitive instruments, choral chants and even some throat-singing.  You’ve assembled a creative team of musicians and singers for this project.  What challenges were there in collaborating on such an eclectic soundtrack while keeping all the individual parts sounding like part of the whole? 

I think one of the most important steps to take when approaching a soundtrack of this scale is to intentionally limit your palette. You have to choose a couple of key instruments, a few important motifs and textures, otherwise the soundtrack is not going to be a cohesive whole. So I really did a lot of thinking before approaching each piece in terms of how it would fit with the rest of the soundtrack, what new elements it would bring to the table and what old ideas it would play off of.

The flute performances by Sandro and Lucian all tie in with the idea of speed and flight – the player’s actions – while the cello and vocal performances by Deryn and Zefora represent groundedness, nature, and stability – the valley in which the player moves. My hope is that by linking instruments, motifs, and styles to a particular concept – using them as much as possible when that concept comes to the forefront and, just as importantly, not using them when that concept isn’t as emphasized – I can tie all these diverse sources together.

Q: My favorite soundtracks are the ones that can create instant recall of the source material just by listening to the music.  Is there a movie or video game soundtrack or moment within a soundtrack that creates perfect recall for you?

As clichéd as this answer is, I’d have to say the opera scene from FFVI. The scene itself is incredibly well done, but it’s even more extraordinary what Nobuo Uematsu was able to do with such limited hardware.


Q: What was your best or most unexpected surprise composing the soundtrack for Valley?

Valley is the most complex project I’ve ever undertaken. Some of the tracks, like Life Yet in these Metal Bones or Amrita, required a ridiculous amount of programming and tweaking before they started to sound half-decent, and it was always a surprise when after a week of banging my head against the wall, I’d come back to one of these pieces and actually like how it sounded. This would be doubly true when I’d send the piece off to one of the session musicians for recording and then implement their work for the first time – they did an absolutely fantastic job bringing the soundtrack to life.

Q:  Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions.  In closing, are there any upcoming projects of yours we should be looking forward to?

Thank you! I’m working on two other projects at the moment. Planet Explorers is an open-world voxel-based game in development by Pathea Games, set to release within the next month or so. Liege, which I’ve already mentioned, is a dark, story-driven strategy RPG. Now that Valley is out the door, though, I’m looking around for new projects — I’m particularly hoping to work on a fantasy or puzzle game next.

Watch_Dogs 2 Announcement Q&A



Ubisoft® has announced that Watch_Dogs® 2, the newest installment in the blockbuster Watch_Dogs franchise, will be available worldwide on November 15 for the PlayStation®4 computer entertainment system, Xbox One and Windows PC.

Watch_Dogs 2 is the product of over two years of intensive development by the original creative team behind the Watch_Dogs brand. Players enter a massive and dynamic open world environment set in the San Francisco Bay Area. It is the latest city to adopt ctOS 2.0, an advanced operating system networking the city infrastructure, and in the wrong hands, ctOS 2.0 can be used to invasively control and manipulate everyday citizens.

Learn more about this exciting new game in this in-depth Q&A with various studio members.

Q: What is Watch_Dogs 2?

A: Watch_Dogs 2 is an open world action adventure game set in the San Francisco Bay Area where you play as a brilliant, young hacker, Marcus Holloway, who opposes powerful organizations that are using technology to control the masses. Marcus becomes a Hacktivist and joins a group of likeminded hackers called Dedsec. The player utilizes Marcus’ hacking skills, physical abilities, and his friends in Dedsec and fights to expose the corrupted establishment.

The Watch Dogs 2 fantasy is being part of a hacker group that will expose all truths and take back control from an establishment that uses technology to take away our freedom.


Q: What are the ambitions for this new game? What makes it different from the previous instalment?  Answered by Jonathan Morin, Creative director

A: We want to offer a vibrant and authentic world and the San Francisco Bay Area was an exciting location for us. We knew it would bring us somewhere interesting in terms of culture and tone ultimately keeping things fresh. And within this world, we want players to feel like hackers who are hacking the game to win: manipulating people for their own benefits, turning factions against each other, disrupting traffic with great control or do entire missions without even moving by just hacking remotely.

For Watch_Dogs 2, the hacking culture is now the center point of our narrative treatment. This not only opens up new ways for us to push seamless online but it also helps us to better integrate it into the game experience. Hacking is a lot more flexible since each hack offers several options making everything more analogue from a gameplay standpoint. We wanted players to explore content in a more organic manner throughout the world. And of course we are pushing for deeper hacking gameplay where players can really feel like they can think outside the box to solve their problems. We also listened to what the fans had to say following Watch_Dogs 1. The driving model has been redone almost entirely which makes it a lot more responsive and accessible. By deciding to focus on Dedsec this time around, we went for a cast of characters that were even more anchored in the hacking culture and that offer more layers regarding their motivations.


Q: How is WD2 related to some of the themes relevant to today’s world?  Answered by Thomas Geffroyd, Brand Content Director

A: The Watch Dogs brand has been exploring data security and privacy as well as and hacking ever since the release of the first opus in 2014. We are now in a time where hackers are one of the foremost authorities to help society understand what is going on in this super complicated and technology‐driven world we live in. Be it for whistleblowers like Edward Snowden, the Panama Papers, hacktivism, or pointing security flaws in our connected kids toys, hackers are oftentimes our last line of defense in a world that is becoming more and more of an opaque technocracy.

As we are seeing the advent of predictive algorithm shaping our very own views of the world, algorithms that carry bias and possible real life consequences, weapon manufacturers getting into the “cyberwar and surveillance” business, and organized crime groups embracing the digital world as a new territory to conquer and benefit from, we can say without any doubts that hacking is core for understanding today’s world.

Watch Dogs 2 offers a fictional environment linked to problematics players can relate to, while offering a high quality piece of entertainment as they explore the San Francisco Bay Area with Marcus Holloway.

wdog2marcusart1Q: Who is Marcus Holloway? What’s his story?  Answered by Lucien Soulban, Senior Writer

A: Marcus is a young, brilliant hacker who grew up in Oakland and experienced the injustices of the ctOS 2.0 system first hand. Now he wants to break the system wide open and give a second chance to the people who the system has wronged. He joins Dedsec, a powerful group of like‐minded hackers, and comes to care deeply about his friends. His charisma and wit make him a natural leader and his fearless attitude means he’s willing to take risks to get what he wants and isn’t afraid to get into trouble.

Marcus witnessed the injustices of the system first hand and he knows people’s rights and privacy are being trampled. At first it’s personal… he wants to stop the surveillance and collection of data, but after a while, it’s not just about what happened to him but what’s happening to everyone. It’s about what comes next and stopping that from happening.

Q: What are the tools Marcus has at his disposal?  Answered by Danny Bélanger, Game Director

A: Much like in the first Watch Dogs, the player can hack into the city infrastructure, but now he has the ability to hack the AI characters, play with the city systems, send cops to arrest people, or hack any environment remote control device like forklifts and cranes to access vantage points. The player can also bring remote control devices like the RC car and flying drone and use them with creativity. We also have mass hacks to create major havoc on electric, communication or traffic systems. My personal favorite, you have the power to hack any vehicle in the game to send it spiraling out of control or block enemy pursuers. Marcus can also 3D print and wield a wide variety of weapons to suit their playstyle. From the non‐lethal Taser, to the powerful grenade launcher, every single player will find a weapon to suit their taste and mood.

Q: What is Dedsec?  Answered by Lucien Soulban, Senior Writer

A: Dedsec played a big role in taking down ctOS in Watch_Dogs 1. They are an international group of hackers with San Francisco being one of many cells, but they are independent of an organized structure and message. Their politically and socially oriented hacks are what attracted Marcus to their banner, but with Marcus, they launch into more ambitious operations that push them to the forefront of hacktivism.

Q: Who are the villains and what are their motivations in the game?  Answered by Lucien Soulban, Senior Writer

A: Technology has become a giant spider’s web of data controlled by the highly complex Central Operating System (ctOS), controlled by Blume and its CTO. Marcus uses hacking as his ultimate weapon to rebel against the establishment which watches us, tracks us, and records us through our purchases, friends, online activity, even the words we type in our search engines. If Marcus is fighting the tools that the establishment uses, the main villains in the game are the people that are providing those tools.


Q: You could choose any city in the world, why San Francisco? What does it bring to the game?  Answered by Jonathan Morin, Creative Director and Mathieu Leduc, Art Director

A: The San Francisco Bay Area represents the birthplace of the tech revolution. It is a hacker paradise with a specific state of mind. The San Francisco Bay Area brings something entirely fresh since it’s less about surveillance and a lot more about the new economy of information, data mining and advanced analytics.

Artistically, the San Francisco Bay Area is filled with beautiful locations, amazing vistas and its culture is extremely rich. Not only does it represent the birthplace of the tech revolution, but San Francisco is influential for trends in art, music and architecture. The Bay Area’s neighborhoods and its people are as diverse as they are fascinating.

Q: What are the different areas you’ll see in the game? What’s special about each one?  Answered by Mathieu Leduc, Art Director

A: We’ve captured the soul of the San Francisco Bay Area by dividing it into six regions: Downtown, Civic, Coast, Oakland, Marin and Silicon Valley. This means 46 neighborhoods with unique artistic signatures and distinctive aesthetic flavors. For example, Downtown is business oriented with a booming vibrant accent also defined by some construction landscapes. Silicon Valley is home of giant tech companies, large campuses and wealthy neighborhoods. The area is mostly populated by techies, students and lots of logos.


Q: What are the key hacking features in the game?  Answered by Danny Belanger, Game Director and Jonathan Morin, Creative Director

A: The key features in Watch_Dogs 2 include several types of hacking: Hack Infrastructure (The City), Hack AI, Hack Vehicles (Hack Every vehicle), RC Hacking (Environment and Gadgets), Mass Hacks (AI Distractions, Communications, Traffic), Network Hacking allowing you to see the world through the eyes of the hacker.

You can hack every person walking around or even change their profile to manipulate them indirectly. You can get anyone arrested, distracted or even attacked. You can remote hack every car in the city to make them accelerate, steer or reverse at will. You can remote control lifts and cranes and start to be creative with physics. You can use your jumper drone to incite people and see if things will escalate.

Q: Will Watch_Dogs 2 have the same online experience as Watch_Dogs 1?  Answered by Dominic Guay, Senior Producer

A: Watch_Dogs 2 is building on the seamless online developed in Watch_Dogs 1. Now all the online experiences of the game are seamlessly integrated with the single player: no loading, no menus, nor cuts in experience. We are improving on the best competitive experiences of Watch_Dogs 1 but also adding friendly encounters with other Dedsec hackers in the city. You can join up with those other players as a coop team to challenge the corrupted establishment together.


Q: How is Watch Dogs 2’s open world different from others?  Answered by Jonathan Morin, Creative Director

A: In Watch Dogs 2, players can decide how they approach each situation. They can invest on the skills and tools they want to become either the aggressor, the ghost or the trickster hacker. If they want to play without killing people they have Taser weapons and drone tools to do so. If they want to turn people against each other to avoid doing the dirty work themselves they can do that too. They can also use cops to get people arrested instead of neutralizing them. Regardless of how they play, the game will not judge them, letting them decide how far Dedsec is willing to go to take back control. When they seamlessly encounter other players they can continue their fun experiments alongside them. This freedom of action is what characterizes a systemic open world.

We’re building a world that has many different stories to tell. Players can interact with the world at many different levels. They can discover stories in the world and decide which kind of operations they do in order to progress. These choices will define what kind of debates are active in the world narrative. Each Dedsec operation players chose to take on will expose various issues surrounding our hyper‐connected way of living. As players discover these operations and expose its secrets to the world, Dedsec will get more followers increasing the amount of people talking about them on the streets. So our world responds narratively to what is being done. They can also encounter other hackers seamlessly adding an all new layer of emergence and possibilities. In the end they get more control, more surprises and more freedom.

Q: When is the game releasing?

A: The game will be available on November 15 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.


WildStar Q&A with Chad Moore

Wildstar’s been out for almost a month, giving gamers a chance to explore Nexus and learn the secrets of the Eldan. Game Chronicles got the chance to talk to Chad Moore, Creative Director at Carbine, about what goes into creating narrative content and making creative decisions on a new MMORPG, as well as some lore trivia, and a question that couldn’t be answered.

Game Chronicles: What kind of compromises had to be made to make everything consistent in Wildstar? It’s a huge game with a lot of content, but its narrative tone and style are a lot more on the mark than some other MMOs out there. It seems like there must have been something left on the floor, or special effort put towards everything was in line with what you wanted to present.

Chad Moore: I think the compromises that we made, in general, we didn’t have to make a lot of content compromises, because of tone or design, but I believe that the biggest compromises we ended up having to make from a narrative standpoint are just because of the nature of an MMO. Ultimately, it’s challenging to tell a traditionally-structured story in what ends up being an inherently non-linear game. Beyond the first fifteen minutes of gameplay, we don’t control, at any point, what direction you go, what content you experience. And so, because of that, it can be difficult to tell a story that’s cohesive, in the same way a novel or a single-player RPG is cohesive.

So, I think, those have been the biggest challenges for us. How can we get players bought into not just our game, but our overall universe, and ultimately into the bigger story of things that’re happening on Nexus, and not compromise what’s cool about an MMO, the total freedom to experience whatever content you want. Any compromises we’ve had the story side have been just because of the inherent nature of an MMO.


GC: Are there any specific challenges about presenting the lore with any degree of depth to the player that never opens the lore window? There’s a huge amount of information in the game, and there are things that you can pick up on from play, even without paying special attention to it.

CM: I think for a player who’s just not interested in reading quest text, or opening the lore window, there’s just a level of detail they’re going to miss. That said, I think we do a lot of work in our game, in our zones, our dungeons and adventures, using what we call visual storytelling.

Let’s say you come into an area and there’s this giant robot in an excavation site. So, if you don’t read anything at all, what you’re probably getting is, you’re on the legendary planet of Nexus, these guys were digging stuff up, and now there’s a robot on a rampage. I think, just on a base level, I think we work very hard to make sure the environments players are questing through, are telling story, not just of what’s happening in this region, but of what’s happening on the entire planet.

I think one of the bigger things we do is, we have avenues for storytelling that don’t require you to stop, or watch a cinematic. We have Datacubes, fully voiced research notes left behind by the Eldan. When you click on them, you start to hear a snippet of what was going on in this area when the Eldan were here. What I like is, it lets you keep moving, keep enjoying the gameplay without having to stop.

We try whenever possible to tell stories that way. Stories that aren’t getting in the way of players who just want to grab things and get back into the gameplay. As a general rule, almost all of our deep storytelling is what we call opt-in. If you’re a player who really likes lore, there’s tons and tons of it out there, but you’ve got to decide to dig in. Quests might have an extra dialogue node to tell you about character motivation, or the Galactic Archives, part of your lore tab, let you go in at any time to read about a particular creature, a particular NPC, or a world group. So, players who enjoy that can dig deep, but for players who just want to play, we try to have vehicles for storytelling that don’t get in the way of playing.


GC: I love that stuff. I was really excited to see how everything worked. Now, when you’re building a new IP, and you have to make everything from scratch, how do you make the initial decisions? Are the design of the world, and the design of the races based on specific player interests, or is there something else you use as a launching point for your initial creative work?

CM: In terms of the visual designs for the player races, what we tried to do is to present a broad range of character types, in terms of visuals and archetypes, so that any kind of player can probably find something that resonates with them. So, on the Dominion side, we have the humans, the Cassians. But then we have our robots, the Mechari. They’re sort of like our James Bond-meets-The Terminator archetype. Then we have the Chua, who are these little psychopathic rodents. Much smaller, sort of creepily-cute, and that resonates with a certain type of player. As we were developing the lore, what was really important is that we had a really strong variation between the races that would resonate with whatever sort of player logged into the game.

And so, from there, once we had those visual landmarks, how we developed the stories were determined by the factions. So, for the Dominion, we had this powerful empire, and you’ve got the Mechari, who’re spies, hunting down enemies of the empire, and the Chua, who’re technologists who build all the cool weapons and spaceships, and the Cassians, who’re the leaders, and the Draken, who’re this warlike race. And that covers most of the important things within that faction, so we did that for both sides. So what you have in the end is this balance of visual archetypes, but also social and cultural archetypes within each faction. It gives the broadest range of choice, not just from a faction standpoint, but from a player race standpoint. It’s a two-pronged approach but I think, ultimately, it was successful.

GC: Absolutely. Just a month out from release, there’s so many people identifying really strongly with a given race, so many arguments in chat about what race is the best race. It’s hit a strong vibe for a lot of people.

CM: Yeah. And I think the other thing that was really important for me, from a lore standpoint, is having this strong conflict between the two factions that’s kind of irreconcilable. I like the idea that these two groups are never going to hold hands and group up. Or even have a temporary truce. I know some people like that sort of thing, but I like the idea that, no matter what’s going on, if a Dominion guy sees an Exile guy, they’re going to drop everything and go at it. There’s something kind of compelling about that.

So, that was one thing that was really important. But, also the individual stories of the races tie directly into the conflict. Each one of the races has a specific reason why the bigger conflict matters, why they care so much about it. It’s not just because they’re part of the group, each one of them has deep-seated motivations that make the conflict between the two factions even more important. So, that was another thing we really focused on as we developed the races, the reasons they cared about the conflict that drives the game.


GC: Yeah. Like, in World of Warcraft, every expansion ends with some reason for the Alliance and Horde to team up. I like the idea of that not being the narrative saw the game keeps coming back to.

CM: Yeah, when you pledge your allegiance to a faction, people relate. They see their character in that light. It’s a really awesome choice, and it’s more awesome when you make it mean something in the game. When it’s there’s not Terrible Event #762 that causes everyone to set aside their differences and work together. I just don’t really like that kind of storytelling. (laughter) Talk to me in five years and see if I’ve been able to hold my ground on that, but for now, that’s where I’ve planted my flag in the sand.

GC: We’ll see if every expansion starts with a hero getting corrupted.

CM: (laughter) Right.

GC: Oh, a friend wanted me to ask. Given how much Wildstar draws on pulp tropes, is there going to be a Hollow Earth? Or a Hollow Nexus, I guess.

CM: I’d love to answer that question. But I don’t think I’m going to be doing that today.

GC: Fair enough! Branching off that a little, what sort of things led you to design the world like you did?  When I heard it was a sci-fi game, I expected something more built up and Star Wars-y, but it’s got this fantasy-western aesthetic with some sci-fi around the periphery. What informed that when you were making the game?

CM: The simplest point, to start that discussion is, when we first started talking about what became Wildstar, even back then there were quite a few fantasy MMOs. Obviously, there was World of Warcraft, but Ultima Online, Everquest, they’re fantasy games. We knew we wanted to do something a little bit different, but we also saw the value of having certain touchstones from fantasy, right?

Our warrior having a sword felt cool. The name itself: Warrior. It just felt right. Whenever it made sense, we decided to hang on to certain things, because they felt right. What that resulted in is, we have this unique and complex mix of fantasy and science fiction elements, and it’s one of the things that makes Wildstar unique. We didn’t fall into the science fiction trap of making things so different, so alien that they’re not relatable. We tried to hit the right balance so, even though it’s a sci-fi universe with other planets and alien technology, there’s those comfortable touchstones that keep you grounded in our game.

So, just to answer the science fiction versus fantasy question, that was where we started. In terms of the theme and the tone, it took us quite a while to get to where we are today in terms of Wildstar’s story and themes. What really defines what it is about our story is the idea of Nexus, this legendary world out beyond the fringe, beyond the known regions of space. There’s the question of what happens when someone finds a legendary place like this, or like Atlantis. One of the coolest things that sort of fell out of that story is that, if this place has never been seen, then that makes it a wild, unexplored frontier.

Those themes, whether they’re in literature of film, are obviously very popular. The idea of the old west, with expanses of unexplored lands and vicious creatures, and beautiful landscapes and hostile natives, all of those things that characterize stories of the old west. I think those things just fit into the story of Wildstar, and we started to really embrace what’s cool about that. The name itself has overtones of the wild west genre. Some of our marketing, our music, a lot of the storylines resonate with those themes. It was one of the more unique things that came out of development of the show. A lot of us liked Firefly, its take on the science fiction genre, and having some similarities to that was exciting for us. When it’s been appropriate, we really reflect that in our design and storytelling.


GC: I think a place where the game represents the feeling of frontiers in a really interesting way is that every zone has multiple biomes. It’s something I don’t really see in that many MMORPGs.

CM: That was something from the very early days of our development, that was a big focus. Like, this entire zone might have the same name, but if players are going to spend, sometimes, dozens of hours just in one particular zone, you get tired of seeing the same visual themes over and over. In all of our zones, it’s a conscious, deliberate choice to make these vastly different biomes, and then those biomes have vastly different world groups and stories. It’s an attempt to keep things fresh within the zones, and try to avoid zone fatigue. I think it’s been very successful.

GC: Absolutely. It’s one of my favorite parts of the game. Do you mind if I ask some picky nerd questions? Like, the traditional terrible Comic Con questions about inconsistencies or whatever.

CM: Go right ahead.

GC: Awesome. First, is there some kind of narrative around death in the game? Like, I know Holocrypts get mentioned in some of the ambient dialogue, but I wasn’t sure if there was some kind of secret of Nexus related to resurrection technology or something.

CM: (laughter) You know, it’s funny that you ask that question. I literally just sent off an email to some of our designers about this question, so I’ll give you the same answer I gave them:

There’s some things in games that’re just game mechanics, and death is one of those things. Like, it happens, you know you’re going to be resurrecting the player, so trying to explain that in a way that’s somehow consistent, for not just you, but for every character in the game, it’s sort of a slippery slope. So we decided a long time ago that there’s just no specific lore concerning the Holocrypt. We attached a voice and some personality to it, since it’s something that you experience all the time.

As much as we can, for those things that happen all the time in our game, we try to vary up the experience a little bit. Dying is never fun, but we try to add a little bit of levity, so you can wonder, oh, what’s the Holocrypt going to tell me this time? But, yeah, there’s no actual detailed lore or justification as to why you keep appearing at this holocrypt.


GC: Huh. I didn’t realize that was the voice of the Holocrypt, like how the Transmat has a voice. I always associated it to the level up voice, assumed it was just the voice of the narrator.

CM: It’s funny. I don’t know if people have made this connection, but the voice of the Transmat is actually the voice of the Caretaker.

GC: Oh! I didn’t put that together, but I did think they sounded similar.

CM: So, we don’t show him, but the idea is the Caretaker is always out there, and still trying to fulfill his original programming, to maintain and preserve all the things on Nexus. And we have the taxi, who has a voice, and the level up is our in-game narrator, who also shows up in the zone synopses. Wherever we can, we try to infuse a little bit of that Wildstar personality to keep players smiling and having fun.

GC: Is there an actual reason, aside from it needing to be true, that the Gambler’s Ruin and the Dominion fleet are both in orbit around Nexus, but not constantly fighting, or bombarding the surface?

CM: That’s a good question, and one we actually have a specific reason for. The reason there’s not orbital bombardments – for the Dominion for sure, but also for the Exiles, to a degree – is that it’s almost the holy land. At least for the Dominion. It holds a lot of value for the Exiles as well, as they study what happened to the Eldan and try to take advantage of this technology.

So it’s not that they don’t fight, and there’s not wars happening, but as for large-scale destruction, weapons of mass destruction, or orbital bombardments, those are things neither faction engages in because they don’t want to destroy what could end up being extremely valuable knowledge or technology.

In terms of the two sides, how we describe it is each arkship is on opposite sides of the planet. We do show that the Dominion sometimes tries to board the ship and attack. We don’t show this in the content, but there are probably space battles happen, where each side is trying to establish their territory in orbit. We don’t think people should assume things are completely hands-off, but at least in our mind, there’s still some reasons for why one of the Arkships hasn’t been destroyed, or why there’s not rampant destruction on Nexus.


GC: Awesome. And, one last thing: Is there a large delay between when Nexus is discovered and the game actually starts? Because there’s lore about the past events in Gallows, and things like the Dominion cities that’re immediately very built up.

CM: So, the way I describe it is, the Arkships arriving is when the vast majority of the population from both sides is showing up. But from a timeline standpoint, Nexus is discovered about five to seven years before the beginning of the game. There are definitely people who came here much faster, though, and started to build settlements.

It’s kind of a funny thing, because people – at least people who do housing – see the speed at which things are built. It doesn’t take super long to build walls and houses using the technology that Protostar and the factions have. Some of how some settlements are more built up is a factor of how they have this technology, and some is a factor of how long people have been there while the player was on the Arkships.

GC: Okay, cool. I think that taps me out. Thanks for talking to me today.

CM: Awesome, man. Nice to talk to you.

Community Q&A Video Released for Stronghold Crusader 2

A new Community Q&A video has been released for Stronghold Crusader 2, the long awaited ‘castle sim’ sequel from Firefly Studios. Marketing Manager Nick Tannahill answers questions from players on everything from playable factions and in-game diplomacy to Firefly’s choice of office equipment and the game’s revolutionary lack of an always-online requirement:

Updates on development will now shift to dev diaries and previews of the game at beta stage. Testing has begun and the Crusader 2 team is now entering the final stretch, leaving ample time for play testing and balancing of individual units before the title appears in digital and physical store shelves later this year.

Stronghold Crusader 2 is the long awaited sequel to Stronghold Crusader, a game many consider to be the definitive castle sim. After 12 years Firefly are returning to the desert to make the game they have always wanted to make, recapturing the original Crusader’s addictive, fast-paced gameplay in a new 3D engine. “Ready when it’s ready”, Crusader 2 will define old school real time strategy with fiendish AI characters, fast-paced skirmish gameplay and new troops, traps and castles.