FiringSquad: The game's time powers and effects are at the center of its gameplay. How hard was it to work those kinds of effects without it being overwhelming?
: Developing TimeShift was a challenge on nearly every front. It was a challenge coming up with the timeshifting mechanic and creating a consistent set of gameplay rules, it was a challenge implementing them and it was a challenge balancing them so that they smoothly enrich gameplay instead of breaking it. Happily, we’ve answered all of these difficult questions with solutions that make logical sense while being a blast to play.
The most difficult part was clarifying what role time powers should have in gameplay, eventually deciding on three fronts: Combat, Time Puzzles, and Time-based Combat. You can use the powers during combat with regular enemies, going into slow motion to dodge bullets and the like, which occurs frequently since it’s a shooter. You can even stop time and shoot rockets out of the air. Time Puzzles are situations that require the player to think carefully about their situation in the environment, and how they must use their powers to overcome the obstacle or obstruction. These range from incidental barriers to major level set-pieces, to everything in between. Lastly, Time-based Combat asks the player to combine twitch skills with a bit of problem solving, since later in the game we’ll put you up against a new breed of enemies.
The key with implementation was to make sure the powers were properly balanced so players didn’t just stop time and breeze through the levels, so we put concrete limits on how long each power lasts. So while you do have these incredible abilities to alter the world around you, you’ve got to be careful to conserve the powers and think strategically. It might seem like a lot to handle, but we’ve found that the more credibility you give to the player, the better the experience ultimately is.
FiringSquad: What are the dev team's favorite weapons to use in the game?
: I’ve always been partial to the KP-HellRazer, the incendiary bullet-spitting Uzi that actually ignites enemies on impact. Its secondary fire is a flamethrower that causes just as much chaos, plus if you wave it over a metal surface, will leave little bubbled craters all over the place!
Another favorite is the MagCannon – the futuristic Imperial weapon that fires concentrated bolts of magnesium in arcs that respond to real gravity. The MagCannon is great because of the way it can be exploited – if an enemy is entrenched behind some cover, you can shoot a bolt over the object and drop the projectile down onto his head. The alternate fire is a charged-up blast that instantly eviscerates whoever it comes into contact with, definitely not a weapon to be trifled with.
FiringSquad: What else do you think will catch the player's eye while playing Timeshift?
: We’ve definitely carved out our own corner of the FPS market. TimeShift’s decidedly unique feel can be attributed to a few elements: an original aesthetic that’s a unique mixture of futuristic steam-punk with a shot of alternate-reality gritty realism, and our own proprietary engine that brings it to life. The risks and rewards of building your own engine from scratch are definitely something to think about, especially if you’re a newer studio like Saber. After thinking long and hard about it we decided to go with our own, the Saber 3D engine, and after putting in the work, I can say it’s definitely been the right choice. The engine is easily as capable as the best 3rd party tech that is available for license.
Aside from graphics and atmosphere, gamers are going to be surprised by the versatility and sheer playfulness of the time powers. We’ve built some special routines into the game dealing with the powers that hopefully everyone will discover, but we’re still finding new things – I’m still experimenting with what you can do, pushing the limits to come up with new situations! Once it’s released to the hardcore audience, there’s no telling what insane scenarios will be uncovered.
Finally, our AI system is one of the best I have seen in a shooter. In addition to supporting intelligent enemy behavior, it takes into account all of the “what ifs” that TimeShifting generates. It deals with questions such as: What happens if you stop time and pass enemies – how should they react? What if they spot me and I reverse time to before they noticed me? What if I stop time in front of them and hide? Anyone that plays TimeShift will be amazed at the depth of our AI system – it is much more complicated than anything I have seen to date – primarily because of all of the variables that TimeShifting creates.