Forget Titanfall. Forget Destiny. Forget the next Call of Duty or Battlefield. For me, the only multiplayer shooter I'm interested in is the co-op focused Evolve from Left 4 Dead and Counter-Strike: Condition Zero developer Turtle Rock. After splitting from Valve the team have been hard at work making the next big thing for the co-op shooter genre, and they don't get much bigger than Godzilla-sized monsters. You can read my hands-on impressions of Evolve elsewhere on the site but we also tracked down Chris Ashton of Turtle Rock, trapped him in an energy shield, and asked him a few questions. Quick, read before he escapes.
Strategy Informer: Hi there, could you introduce yourself to everyone please!
Chris Ashton: Hi, my name is Chris Ashton, and I'm co-founder and Design Director at Turtle Rock Studios.
Strategy Informer: First of all, was the split from Valve pretty amicable? Are you happy with their handling of Left 4 Dead?
Chris Ashton: Yeah, we continued working with them for two more years after the split. We love working with that team. Left 4 Dead is their baby now though. Valve makes great games and Left 4 Dead 2 was no exception. I’m sure they’re gonna do some cool stuff with that universe in the future, and when they do, we’ll be here ready to play it!
Strategy Informer: Now, when did the idea for Evolve come about, and what forms did it take as it, er, evolved?
Chris Ashton: The idea for Evolve actually predates Left 4 Dead. It was always going to be sci-fi, always featured hunters vs. monster, the monster was always player-controlled and would eat and grow over time. Lots of details have changed over the past few years but the core game idea always remained the same.
Strategy Informer: There are several games coming out this year for next-gen systems that incorporate easy free-running/climbing elements (including Evolve, Respawn's Titanfall and Techland's Dying Light), do you think this is going to be the new big thing for first-person games?
Chris Ashton: I think it’s a natural reaction to more detailed environments. In the old days (like Doom or even Counter-Strike 1.6) environments were simple, so there weren’t a lot of objects to collide with. Movement through these environments was very smooth. Fast forward to today and Evolve’s environments are so densely packed and detailed that they would be difficult to move through without help on the code side. As a direct result, we invented a ’smooth move‘ system for the monsters that allows you to climb over everything while moving in any direction while the hunters can jetpack and ledge grab!
Strategy Informer: Are players forced to have one of each Hunter class or can they go in with four Assault guys if they wanted?
Chris Ashton: Yeah, one character from each class is required. To create a heavily cooperative experience, we gave each class a very specific and vital role on the team. Each role is so important that if you lose one, the team’s likelihood of surviving is greatly reduced. Without an Assault, for example, it’s extremely hard to deal enough damage to bring down the monster. Without a Trapper, nobody can get close and the monster will get to Stage 3 unharmed. Without the Medic, nobody can recover from their wounds and without the Support character the team is unable to hold their ground in a fight.
If you double up on any class, you lose a role and the team falls apart. At the end of the day, we try very hard to make sure players can’t lose the battle before it starts, so forcing role diversity is a must.
Strategy Informer: What was the thinking behind the exaggerated and mostly-hairy character designs? Were they meant to be quickly identifiable on the battlefield?
Chris Ashton: We have two primary goals with the characters. You touched on the first one. The monster needs to be able to identify characters so it can properly counter them. Remember that each Assault character, for example, has a completely new set of weapons and items; the only thing they share is the personal shield. This means that each individual Assault character attacks in a different way, and has different strengths and weaknesses. The monster’s job is to try to exploit those weaknesses. Additionally, monsters will tend to target specific characters at different times during a round. The Trapper has you trapped in a mobile arena? Take him out and the dome drops. That medic keeps healing the Trapper? Take out the Medic and then go after the Trapper. Recognizing who you are fighting is extremely valuable.
The second goal is to have a large cast of characters. If we’re going to do that, then we had better make each character interesting and unique. Have some variety! The more variety we have, the more extreme the characters get. We know the Evolve cast is going to be somewhat polarizing, but this means that players can find specific characters that they really love. If Markov [the Assault character we were shown] is not your thing, that’s fine, there are more assault characters to choose from. We are super excited to reveal the full cast of characters in the future and are looking forward to the reactions!
Beards - For Men (and some women)
Strategy Informer: Can you say how many monsters, hunters, maps or modes can we expect from the final game then? Can you give any away?
Chris Ashton: Really wish I could, but I can’t at this time!
Strategy Informer: How will ranking work within the game? Are the perks you activate before rounds permanently available to your profile or do they reset each time?
Chris Ashton: Now, we're still working out the details of player rank at this time. Right now as far as perks go, there are different kinds. You earn character perks by playing the game. Once earned, you keep these forever. At round start when you pick your character, you also choose a perk from your collection to apply to that character, for that specific round. It allows for more player strategy and customization of play styles.
The buffs that you get from Elite creatures are temporary and do not carry from round to round. This creates scenarios where both teams are fighting over Elite creatures during the game.
Strategy Informer: Will there be a campaign mode or will the game be mostly based around these one-off encounters?
Chris Ashton: There will be more than just these one-off encounters, but that’s all I can say right now!
Strategy Informer: Will there be the opportunity to play against AI opponents? If so, will you be working hard to make them as human-like as possible?
Chris Ashton: We are certainly focusing on AI. It’s vital for single player and co-op experiences. [Note: Chris kindly asked Bill Merrill, a lead engineer at Turtle Rock, to give a more detailed reply to this one. His response:] Bill Merrill: Like a human player, it's important that the AI leverages the characters' unique capabilities cleverly, both in and out of combat. Our goal isn't necessarily to emulate esoteric human behaviour, but to provide a dynamic, challenging, and reliably fun experience for human teammates as well as opponents. We want you to depend on your AI teammates, and fear your AI opponents.
Strategy Informer: So could you just play the monster over and over again against AI humans?
Chris Ashton: Absolutely! But I think we’ll have a better format than that!
Strategy Informer: Will there actually be some form of separate single-player then?
Chris Ashton: We have a number of different modes and game formats. There are cool options for single player gamers.
Strategy Informer: Can players opt-out of playing the monster? I saw that it cycled between players between rounds.
Chris Ashton: Player preference is very important to us. In a ’round robin‘ type scenario, yes, the monster can opt out.
Strategy Informer: Will there be mod support on PC, perhaps even with Steam Workshop support?
Chris Ashton: That would be awesome, but it’s too early to tell. Right now we’re very focused on finishing the game.
This Monster's about to suck lightning!
Strategy Informer: There are some pretty big multiplayer shooters coming out this year, are you worried about going up against them?
Chris Ashton: There are some great titles coming this year and we are excited to play them! However Evolve is sort of in its own space. There is nothing else like it, so our focus now is to make Evolve the absolute best that it can be. That’s the only thing we really have control over.
Strategy Informer: Any funny facts about the game's development you can share before we go?
Chris Ashton: Before we had AI wildlife, we procedurally spawned ham, steak and ribs in the world for the monster to eat. Before we had the tech to feed on ragdolls, hunters would spawn large cupcakes when they died. These were especially tasty for the monster! Players would yell “cupcake!” when anyone died. Oh, and in our first playtest with monster footprints, one of the guys got the brilliant idea to walk through the level backwards to thwart the Hunters. It worked!
Strategy Informer: Excellent, thanks for your time!
Thanks to Chris Ashton and Bill Merrill for putting up with me, Turtle Rock for the game and 2K for arranging the interview. As much more of a co-op shooter fan than a competitive one, who would go for a play on Left 4 Dead any time but who's barely paid any attention to Titanfall, I am hugely excited about Evolve. If those extra monsters and modes that Chris utterly failed to give away prove amazing I could well see myself getting addicted. So... anyone want to play with me?