Auto Assault - Q and A Part 3

Auto Assault - Q and A Part 3 Auto Assault - Q and A Part 3 Auto Assault - Q and A Part 3 Auto Assault - Q and A Part 3

In this, the third part of the interview, Scott Brown, President of NetDevil, talks about the game's influences and how they affected its development.

Games like Guild Wars and World of Warcraft have shown that it's possible and very desirable to make a game accessible and rewarding for both hardcore gamers and the average Joe Bloggs on the street with a couple of hours a week to spend on his PC. Does Auto Assault have similar aspirations? And what is it that determines your approach in this regard - resources, time, commercial obligations, etc?

From the start Auto Assault was built to be friendly to players who had never played an MMO before. Arrows to find your next mission objective, simple group finding, no death penalty and so on. We are committed to bringing action gamers to the MMO space.

Do you think that massively-multiplayer game developers will learn the lessons of games like GW and WOW, or are those two exceptional cases?

I think those two games specifically have spelled out that if you want big numbers you must be an accessible, fun game. I don't believe that a user that is new to MMOs, thanks to these two games, is going to accept a more hardcore or grinding-style form of game play. Thankfully, this has been our focus right from the start.

Apart from the obvious, what would you say influenced you in the development of Auto Assault? Not just in a broad sense either - were there any games, movies, or what-have-you that had a direct bearing on some aspect of the game?

I don't know that there is a direct influence on the game - so many different people's ideas and backgrounds have shaped the game into what it is today. We have wanted to do a car combat MMO for a long time and setting it in a post-apocalyptic universe just makes sense thanks to movies like Mad Max and games like Wasteland and Fallout.

Furthermore, was there anything that you saw or played during development that had a sudden bearing on Auto Assault's direction?

Certainly, we all play lots of games here and have been influenced by ideas from those games that we thought would make sense in Auto Assault. We have also seen games do some things we were trying that did not work and allowed us to rethink and remove during development and early testing. An example would be that we had the goal of making Auto Assault very mission-centric � looking at WoW gave us some additional ideas as to how to make this happen. Another example is from City of Heroes where when you do something the text element moves to the place in the UI for you to interact with - such a great idea!

In terms of technology, games obviously tend toward standing on the shoulders of giants rather than reinventing everything - would you say that your game draws more inspiration from past games technologically or creatively?

This is a tough question, but I would have to say creatively. Even though our story is very unique, the "feel" of what it means to be a post-apocalyptic game has been defined pretty well and we are certainly influenced somewhat by this. Technologically, since we are the first physics-based MMO there is little of our engine that we could glean from existing technologies.

NCsoft has made available an interview with Scott Brown, President of NetDevil, the developers behind Auto Assault. This second part in a series deals with communication between players in-game.

How important is social interaction within Auto Assault?

We have built Auto Assault from the ground up to allow for solo and group play. That being said there are many aspects of Auto Assault that can be more fun with a group of players, or a convoy as we refer to it. While in a convoy, for example, the killing spree bonus is convoy-wide so any convoy member can keep this bonus high. People are already trading items for crafting and vehicle customisation in towns as well. We also have a complete clan system allowing players to compete as a clan and win fame through the arena system.

What sort of things does Auto Assault do to help facilitate interaction between players?

Different players have different abilities so playing together gives players a wider possibility of how to deal with different threats. Also, since the game's loot system is so dynamic, it will be common for another player to find something with the statistical enhancements that you are looking for; item trade will be a big part of Auto Assault. Additionally, since the pacing of combat is so fast, typing text can be difficult so we have included full voice chat support any time you convoy up to play.

Was it more difficult to create an environment that supports the kind of interaction familiar to massively-multiplayer game fans given your more action-oriented approach with Auto Assault?

Certainly with faster paced gameplay comes less down time, and that is the time in other MMOs where players tend to talk more. Functions of gameplay like long travelling distances are instant in Auto Assault. It is an interesting problem to solve but we have already done some work to improve this and with the beta going now are learning more ways to help facilitate this in the future.

How important is this aspect of the game to you as developers, and how much work goes into getting it right?

The most important factor of any game should be to make it as fun as possible, one of the most important parts to having fun of any online game is playing with your friends. We take this very seriously and it is a large part of what we are working on now.

There seems to be a trend among massively-multiplayer game developers moving away from pre-planned strategies and toward real-time gameplay. Do you think that this kind of behaviour coupled with the increased prevalence of in-game voice communications may eventually lead to the death of the in-game chat window?

I don't think so because text is better than voice in some ways. You can read or re-read text whenever you want, for example. You can also chat more effectively on different channels at the same time with text. Think about a trade channel; people just using voice to say WTB such and such would not work very well, but does its job fine with text chat.

I do think however that voice chat is going to become more and more popular with games. As RPG games go through the same transition to real-time that strategy games went through, voice will become a requirement not an option.

[[Part 1]

NCsoft has made available an interview with Scott Brown, President of NetDevil, the developers behind Auto Assault which will be available from NCsoft simultaneously in Europe and the USA later this year.

What actually happens when you start work on a massively multiplayer project like Auto Assault? Do you just wake up one day thinking "massively multiplayer vehicular combat" and then sit down with graph paper?

When we started NetDevil we had several game ideas we wanted to develop that seemed to be ignored in the MMO space. A car combat game was one of our favorites and NCsoft believed in the idea and so production began. The very beginning stage of development was putting together a small product design document and some example screens of what playing the game would look like. From there the ideas begin to flow in, concepts of creatures and the world, are started all while the technology begins being developed to make it all happen. Amazingly, Auto Assault today is very similar to those very first documents. We have always had a clear vision of what we wanted Auto Assault to be and seeing it now is so exciting for all of us.

Which would you say is the bigger influence - genre trends at the time of conception, perceptions of what people will be looking for at the end of the development cycle, or your own personal creative aspirations?

Really it's finding something that both meets our personal creative aspirations that we also believe will have a significant market presence. With any large project like this that you are going to be pouring your life into for many years you have to be passionate about what you are developing. At NetDevil we only make games that we would want to play.

Obviously it takes years to develop games and the nature of technology and particularly Internet technology is unpredictable. How do you go about planning in the face of that kind of obstacle? Presumably working out the median home net connection speed however-many years down the line is absolutely critical?

You are right that looking into the future of where technology will be is always a bit of a gamble. However, connectivity was not part of what we were concerned about. Even though users today have much better connections than years ago, you really can not make a game that requires tons of bandwidth as any number multiplied by thousands of users is very big. The goal is to try and keep bandwidth as low as possible. We looked ahead in 2001 and decided that we could expect users to have pixel shader video cards, lots of RAM and the CPU power to do full physics simulation.

What sort of factors do you take into consideration when making those forecasts?

We look at the rate technology is advancing and what new technologies are people talking about now. You can usually assume that the new technologies are 1 year from high end systems and 2 years from more of a mid-tier system. I have always assumed that what people are talking about as "wouldn't this be cool" will be a standard in games in a few years.

Yours is one of the first massively multiplayer games to really push dextrous skill as well as character building. Usually the balance is a lot more in favour of pre-planned strategies. Is this really a case of "now we have the technology to do it, so we're doing it"? Because that implies an incredible technology forecast several years ago...

This was really one of the core designs of the game from the start. We wanted to combine the adrenaline fun of action games with the long term enjoyment of RPG style statistical character development. This has been extremely difficult as there is really nothing like this that exists today to lean on. Once we started looking at solutions for car simulation we realized how amazingly cool it would be if we integrated full physics to create a completely destructible world. Getting physics simulated server side with thousands of players has been no small task either.

How much did you have to adapt the game during development to fit the progress of Internet technology?

Not that much really as I said before. Since you have to support so many players all playing at once there is a limit to the amount of data you can send. Also, being the Internet you can also not count on perfectly low latency connections all the time. Auto Assault has been designed to be latency tolerant from the start.

What has really changed is distribution possibilities. When we started almost no software was available online but now more and more people are starting to purchase and download games. NCsoft now has downloadable and in store options for gamers which is pretty cool.