The Indie scene is making waves. Between small PC developers finding voice with the niche publishers, and wave of arcade titles made possible by the Xbox Live Aracde and Playstation Network, the indie scene is being noticed. IllFonic is one such Indie developer, and they've taken one of their classic PC games and re-purposed it for the console market in an attempt to fill a long forgotten FPS nice - Arena gameplay (think Quake). We talk Lead Designer Kedhrin Gonzalez a bit about the game, the market, and the Indie scene.
Strategy Informer: Can you tell us how Nexuiz will be able to fit into the download content market on PS3 and Xbox 360?
Kedhrin Gonzalez: The first thing people will notice from us is that we will stand out from a lot of the games available on PSN/XBLA. We aim for extremely high quality that challenges much of the content from larger studios. Our projects mirror something you would expect to buy on a store shelf. XBLA/PSN is merely the distribution model for us. We can make our games cheaper and easier this way - resulting ultimately in cheaper games for players.
Strategy Informer: Nexuiz began life as a Quake modification. Can you explain the challenge of piggybacking off another game to develop the title?
Kedhrin Gonzalez: The most difficult thing we encountered was trying to make sure that the game was true to the original but had the professional refinement it needed. This is especially true for porting the game over to consoles. Nexuiz is fast as hell. If we just brought it over, no one would be able to play it. We've been doing some intense testing to make sure console players will enjoy the game.
Strategy Informer: Nexuiz is a free PC title, why do you feel people will want to purchase the game, particularly those who have already played the game?
Kedhrin Gonzalez: The console version of Nexuiz has many new features. For one, the art style has drastically changed into a more coherent direction that isn't chaotic and all over the place. We've also changed the way some core systems work in the game, including melee with any weapon at any time. Melee with guns is a drastic change for Arena FPS game play. Almost all arena games before have required players to switch to a standalone weapon to be able to use melee. When you saw a player with a melee weapon out, you knew to stay away from them.
With console play, getting near players is going to happen more regularly than on PC. We've also added an entire persistent layer to player’s profiles - fully taking advantage of the game being on XBLA/PSN. There's intense clan management, automated tournaments and social website integration. We want to make sure Nexuiz is a one stop solution for the player. When you start up the game, you never have question about what is going on with your tournament, clan, community, etc.
Strategy Informer: Nexuiz is the first XBLA/PSN game to use the CryEngine3; can you tell us a bit about the challenges of using this engine?
Kedhrin Gonzalez: This engine makes me happy. It's like pressing a "make video game easily" button over and over again. Every day I come into work on this I look forward to exploring my creativity and the CryEngine 3 in perfect for this. Working with new engine technology can always present a challenge. This is pretty general for all commercial engines. CryTek has been really helpful towards us and it's been a blast communicating with them. They're definitely friends of IllFonic now. But really, I'm very happy with CryEngine 3. It's really damned sexy.
Strategy Informer: Is it useful now that games can make use of complex graphics engines such as Cry Engine3 and yet be released digitally?
Kedhrin Gonzalez: We're a bad ass team here. The biggest challenge game developers are facing these days is the challenge of people vs. quality. Most studios think you have to throw tons of people into seats to make a AAA game. That's not the case. It's the tools. If you have bad ass people, give them the right tools - they will rock your junk. The kings of tools right now are Unreal Engine 3 and CryEngine 3. We use both engines here at IllFonic and we're only 10 people. The digital marketplace is nothing more than a distribution method. I'm tired of the stereotype that states 'just because a game is being released this way it is inferior in quality.
Microsoft and Sony have opened the gates to this new wave of indie development. It's coming and it's going to be massive. Those who don't react quickly will be left behind. I hope more independent developers, big or small, take advantage of digital. Until there’s a reason for players to really buy digital games, the market won't exist. There have been great games released digitally but it is stillgrowing and digital releases need to keep coming until the it becomes the dominant distribution model.
Strategy Informer: How does Nexuiz look compared to other similar titles in the market particularly the big-budget releases?
Kedhrin Gonzalez: Thanks to the right tools, we've been able to achieve some fantastic results. We match the quality of a lot of AAA retail packaged games. A lot of it comes from making sure we have the right scope for our timeline. Honestly, we hire the right people. I would gladly compare one of my guys to 20 people at some game factory and say he can do all of their jobs. I hear of bad ass artists all the time being stuck on some assembly line task under a producer who takes all of the credit for their hard work. It makes me sick to my stomach and Is completely unnecessary.
Some games, such as MMO's, to achieve quality for the shear amount of content you need a bigger team. But, at the same time if you develop your tools properly it won't be as much of an issue. I believe in less people, more time and less money. We're here to prove that this model does work. The screenshots we released recently are only from two months of work with our team in CryEngine 3.
Strategy Informer: Do you think you can compete in the cramped FPS market which has emerged on consoles in recent years?
Kedhrin Gonzalez: It's challenging. But that's a good reason why we're not spending a shit ton of money on our projects. Our risk factor is a lot lower than some of these mega huge games being pumped out at some software development factory. Our goal with Nexuiz is to bring Arena FPS game play to console players properly. We feel the kings of this genre; Unreal Tournament and Quake 3 have not done it properly in their port. The console gamer mentality is a lot different than PC gamer mentality. In particular, the new market that has exploded thanks to games like Call of Duty and Halo has never experienced the twitch of Arena FPS game play.
If we just ported the game over, this new market would delete our game and say "I hate IllFonic". We want these people to experience the same gameplay we've loved over the years. There isn't a single Arena FPS game on XBLA/PSN. There’s some that come close to Arena FPS, but usually fall more into Tactical or Third Person. Arena is all about game flow, learning a level as much as the mechanics of game play. Arena FPS game play is the most competitive around. It's time console players experience what PC gamers have loved for years.
Strategy Informer: The PC version benefited from user-community content for some of the maps and particularly modifications. Will the constraints of PSN and XBLA mean that this user-community content will be less important?
Kedhrin Gonzalez: We currently do not have any plans to support user-community content.
Strategy Informer: What are the main changes from the open-source PC version? Why did you choose a Victorian-art style for the graphics?
Kedhrin Gonzalez: If you know the PC Nexuiz, here are some core changes. The laser gun is gone. This thing was used for rapid transit across levels in the PC version. In the console version, you just can't move your thumb-stick fast enough so it was pretty useless. We've added melee to every weapon. There are no longer any health pickups, only armor pickups. Health regenerates automatically. The Victorian art-style was because of my obsession with wanting to do an art style that was similar to Final Fantasy or Castlevania.
I've always wanted to touch that elegant meets brutality direction. I've always enjoyed the slick, clean look. I love art that I can get lost into and wanted to make something beautiful knowing it would be used for violence. The contrast is really something else. Our destroyed environments by Chris Holden in the Ata Virta home world are pretty gritty though. It really helps us stand out from Q3 and UT in art direction as well.
Strategy Informer: Can you tell us more about the mutator system; how is letting the community change the rules as you play beneficial to players?
Kedhrin Gonzalez: Think of dynamic mutators as power ups you get for playing well. It’s similar to the reward of a kill streak in Call of Duty MW (for reference). What happens is whenever you get a kill streak, three choices appear on the screen. These 3 choices are random selections from a massive list of possible dynamic mutators. They range from ones that apply to you, your team, permanent match adjustments or temporary game play changing mutators. It's like playing Kings Cup. A really competitive player will be able to take full advantage of this quickly.
Every time you play a round, win or lose, your points are put into your point bank attached to your profile. In your player management area, you can spend your points on lowering/raising the chances of specific dynamic mutators you like/don't like. The really big game play changing ones cost a lot of points to adjust. We're doing our best to make sure we don't put in ones everyone hates. Dynamic mutators can change the tide of a match rather quickly. I'm a huge fan of last minute wins. I'm really pumped to see the strategy players create with this system.
Strategy Informer: How much will Nexuiz be? Are you aiming for a 1200 Price Point? Do you think this price-point offers value to consumers?
Kedhrin Gonzalez: We're currently aiming around $15USD. We believe this is an incredibly low price for the quality and experience we're offering players. Because we keep our development costs low and use digital distribution, we are able to do this.
Strategy Informer: Honestly, who has the better service for companies developing games, Xbox Live Arcade or PlayStation Network?
Kedhrin Gonzalez: Hahaha, so you're asking me who do I want an angry letter from tomorrow? They have their ups and downs. Really, Sony has the best right now. But, Microsoft has been getting better. We'll see what happens as time goes by.
Many thanks to Kedhrin for taking the time to answer our questions. Nexuiz is due to come to the Xbox Live Arcade store and the Playstation Network sometime during Q4 2010. We'll update you as soon as we know more.