Summary: Today we discuss the class design, reason for including vehicles, the number of maps and planned support for Enemy Territory: Quake Wars with Splash Damage founder and lead designer, Paul Wedgwood.
Paul Wedgwood: We definitely believe our vehicles make ETQW better. Adding vehicles certainly has risks - you can end up with wildly unbalanced combat, or two or three completely separate battles all happening in the same area because the aircraft just fight the aircraft, the tanks just fight the tanks, and the infantry just shoot the infantry. Another problem with vehicle combat in some contemporary games is that when you jump into a vehicle, all that really seems to happen is that your avatar is replaced - instead of being a player on foot with a machine gun, you become a tank with greater mobility, fire-power and armour. The result is that you just feel like a gimp for fighting on foot – you feel like you’ve got decreased mobility, fire-power and armour.
We’ve solved this in ETQW by designing the vehicles with specific combat roles. The physics system goes further than simply emulating ‘rigid bodies’ moving snugly over smoothed ground. Instead, it heightens ETQW’s team play potential by allowing off-road driving, rock hopping, air stunts and vehicle jumps – all of which reinforce ETQW’s goal of providing specialist vehicles to provide great team play. ETQW’s vehicles can be thought of as an extension of the character class system – each vehicle offers basic transport, but more importantly can be used to augment the player’s battlefield role, giving them access to unique routes and combat tactics. This way, we tie the vehicles into an overall rock-paper-scissors dynamic – nothing’s effective against everything, everything’s vulnerable to something. Also, the vehicles are there to support the infantry so they can achieve their tactical objectives, not to own them outright.
We wanted to maintain asymmetry between the Strogg and GDF team by realistically modelling the Strogg and GDF’s differing approaches to vehicle propulsion. The GDF use fairly traditional combustion engines, augmented by ground-effect rotors and fast jets. GDF’s vehicles feature a wide-array of anti-personnel and anti-armour weapons, some featuring stealth technology, or providing re-supply and re-equipment capability in the battlefield. Conversely, the Strogg rely on their use of alien technology, including gravitonic repulsion, heavy walker pneumatics, bosonic orb and plasma weapon technology. Because of their propulsion types, they each feature advantages and disadvantages compared to the GDF vehicles. For example, The Strogg Hornet is powered by four gravitonic repulsor engines, allowing it to pull-off some insane moves, but the heat generated makes it an easier target at high altitude for the GDF’s lock-on LAW missiles (carried by the GDF Soldier, and used in the GDF SWARM Anti-Armour Missile Turret).
FiringSquad: How major are the differences between Strogg and Humans going to be? Is it going to be something totally wild, with no direct 1:1 comparison - like StarCraft? Or more something along the lines of WarCraft III? Pardon the use of RTS games for comparison.
Paul Wedgwood: ETQW’s character class structure is similar to Wolf ET. Both the Strogg and GDF feature infiltration, assault, defence and support roles. However, a significant goal for the game is that the GDF and Strogg don’t just look different, but more importantly, play different. All of their tools, abilities, weapons and vehicles reflect their different technology and culture, so their asymmetric capabilities dictate different approaches to combat.
An example of the gameplay asymmetry between the teams is the Medic class. The GDF has a traditional Medic, much as in Wolf ET. The GDF Medic’s role is to revive and heal team-mates and call for supply station drops the battlefield. He has advanced communications equipment that gives him vital data on the status and location of his team-mates, but he’s also a strong combat class, equipped with a configurable assault rifle that can be used in both scoped and grenade launcher mode. Over on the Strogg team, they’re kept alive by the Technician class. The Technician is also a “life support class”, but the Strogg’s reliance on Stroyent for food and fuel (derived from human organic matter) means that the Technician can replenish both health and ammo. The Strogg Technician can also stun GDF players with his Bioelectric Pinch bomb, and then extract Stroyent directly from them by using his Stroyent Extractor Spike. The Technician can even stroggify GDF troops that have fallen in the field, creating a ‘Strogg Spawn Host’ that allows his team-mates to get back into combat right at the front-line by taking over the stroggified GDF corpse. Playing Strogg Technician is a completely different challenge to playing GDF Medic.
This asymmetric gameplay mechanic extends right across the game. The Strogg and GDF teams are balanced against each other with that rock-paper-scissors cycle of dependencies and vulnerabilities between the various classes, weapons, vehicles, deployables, base structures, items, abilities and character advancement rewards to offer gameplay depth and variety. It shows up in lots of ways: aside from their models and texturing, this asymmetry is also immediately noticeable by their appearance and animations – the GDF’s body language is standard tactical military, like a SWAT team, while the Strogg are more animalistic. The game’s animations aren’t just immersive eye-candy either, they were designed specifically with team play in mind; each character’s complete weapon and tool load-out is represented visually, with supporting animations that ensure you always know exactly what your team-mates are doing.
Paul Wedgwood: ETQW will ship with about 12 maps: they’ll all be good, and they’ll all be different. We’re confident that players would rather have fewer maps that they’re going to really want to play on than more maps that aren’t up to the same standard or support the same depth of gameplay. Maps don’t catch on by chance, they catch on because they’re better. We could have had more maps in the box, but we cut them to concentrate on making the dozen we have the best we can make them.
Having fewer maps means that we can make them more distinctive. Rather than all maps in ETQW being based on a single style of terrain (such as jungle), there are three themes in development: Temperate, Arid and Arctic. These are then augmented by unique geographical locations, individual plots to the missions, and unique objectives. Each map (mission) in ETQW takes place in a completely unique environment, with a different time-of-day, year and atmospheric conditions. Each battle charts a critical moment of the Strogg invasion, much as Wolf ET retold the important missions of World War II.
Because the type of surface being walked over, driven over or shot at, can be determined from the MegaTexture, each experience of fighting within dense foliage, across arctic planes or arid deserts is unique – this is true of the vehicle traction, explosions and vehicle particles, and audio effects. Sand storms, snow and rain all affect visibility. Because ETQW can render right to the horizon, designers can choose visibility conditions that are right for the battle, rather than the technology constraining the design.
This combination of plot, geographical location, light, shadow, differing atmospheric conditions and audio effects makes each map feel completely unique. We think this is really important for game-play and player immersion, especially in the context of the campaign system, where each game takes place across three maps.
FiringSquad: How extensive is your post-release support going to be? Can we expect some new maps further down the line? Or is that something you see the community doing?
Paul Wedgwood: Firstly, yes, both id and Splash Damage would love to provide additional maps, but there are no firm details yet. This obviously depends on everything else that needs doing post-release.
As for the community, we’ll be giving them a full tool suite. Because the MegaTexture features unique detail, we’ve developed a tool called MegaGen which allows Level Designers to generate a unique-looking MegaTexture for their maps, using ‘Geometric Texture Distribution’. This system makes use of settings for the required geographical theme (such as the height of the water table, altitudes of silt lines, maximum incline for grass and moss to grow, precipices gathering stones and pebbles), and then distributes these textures across the whole terrain using custom normal and height-map based blends (ensuring that grass grows smoothly in to the crevices of rock, rather than being blended equally and looking unrealistic). Level Designers can lay down routes quickly with the Road Tool, simply dragging them across the terrain, and then compile the MegaTexture as easily as they did a Wolf ET map. The community mappers are going to go nuts; we can’t wait to see what they come up with.
FiringSquad: Are you planning for the game to launch with the SDK?
Absolutely. id Software has a reputation for excellent mod-community support, and with Splash Damage’s roots firmly in that territory too, you can be sure to see the release of a Software Developer Kit that allows great flexibility and power for mod-makers.
Both new and experienced Programmers will have some really powerful tools, although with the majority of the game controllable in script, you can get a huge amount done without modifying a single line of source code. Nevertheless, the source code for many of the game’s components will also be released, allowing for more advanced modifications and total conversions. Mod-makers will be able to script their own vehicles, and create new hardware shaders and particle effects.
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