Recently I had the chance to ask some questions to Ryan Seabury, Design Director for Auto Assault about the upcoming MMOG Auto Assault. I wanted to thank Ryan for taking time away from completing the game for this detailed behind the scenes look at what is shaping up to be one of the biggest releases of 2005
GVK: .How did the idea to take the format of a post apocalypse driving and action game, and make a massive online game come about, and what were the main goals that you wanted to achieve in doing so and what is the background and setting for the game?
Auto Assault is one of several ideas we had for an MMOG when we initially started NetDevil back in 1997. It seemed like an obvious choice for this kind of game, a persistent world where you could collect vehicles and weapons and blow lots of stuff up. Our very high level goal with Auto Assault was to create a fun, intense, high action game that you couldn't watch TV while playing, something that pulls you in and demands your full attention like a good traditional FPS or RTS.
We have hundreds of pages of backstory and setting that we wrote up before a single mission was ever created, in order to have a solid foundation to build gameplay content off of. For now, I'll just give you the quick thirty second version of that backstory: Alien spacecraft crash on the planet and begin to spread contamination and mutation, creating civil disorder and pandemonium. The world governments try numerous ways to restore order, but eventually conclude that the planetary and environmental situation is out of control and that humankind is in danger of extinction.
So the power elite and influential members of society go underground and let loose the entire world's cache of weapons of mass destruction on the surface, hoping to return in several hundred years and start civilization again. As the story unfolds at the game's launch, these original Humans are just re-emerging from their hiding places to find the world is not as dead as they expected it to be.
In fact, two major civilizations (the other two player races of Mutants and Biomeks) have sprung up in their absence, as well as countless independent factions of survivors (AI factions). The stage is set for a massive three-way war between the player factions intertwined with the various plots and intrigues of the lesser AI factions, in the gritty, cyber-punk landscape of the post-apocalypse.
GVK: How will player Deaths be handled in the game? Will players be able to clone themselves or get biological enhancements? Also, how will leveling be handled in game?
Player characters never actually die, but their vehicles can be reduced to non-functional wreckage. This is what we usually mean when we refer to "death" in Auto Assault. Your options at this point include calling an airlift to take you back to your last repair station, or waiting for another player with the appropriate skills to restore your vehicle. The important thing to point out is that in Auto Assault, you do not lose experience or character progress for "dying".
Character advancement follows a traditional experience and leveling model from other RPGs. However, we're taking great pains to ensure that you level up while playing rather than playing to level up. What we mean by that is you are usually so involved with the gameplay and missions you are doing, that getting a level often comes as a pleasant surprise rather than something you are specifically working towards.
GVK: In games with a similar genre such as Autoduel and Interstate 76, scavenging, courier missions, and trading were the main ways players could earn income. How will players earn revenue and trade in the final game?
Killing enemies, completing a wide variety of mission types, trading, crafting, and scavenging the destroyed ruins of old buildings and structures are some of the major ways to earn money in Auto Assault. You could also potentially earn some clink by wagering in the Arenas and dueling your way to fame and fortune.
GVK: What weapons/vehicles will players be able to select from and what are some of their abilities? How will players go about upgrading their weapons? Will they only have the option to buy or can they use items obtained via combat and can they make their own weapons?
Vehicle types range from light combat cycles to sedans to pickups to heavy tanks. Player vehicles are also extremely tough in relation to the environment and AI factions. We wanted you to be able to ram into buildings and structures and knock them down without worrying about damaging your chassis, and generally feel more powerful than the other survivor rabble that exists on the wasteland roads.
There are a couple of ways to upgrade your weapons systems. New weapons and equipment can drop from combat or destroying old ruins, be rewarded from missions, or be bought from shops. Additionally, you can craft weapons and add components and enhancements to existing weapons. When you also throw in the dynamic loot generation with random stats on dropped loot, there's almost no end to the potential for upgrading and customizing your weapon capabilities in Auto Assault.
GVK: How will missions and tasks be assigned and will the game contain zones that are level specific?
Missions are given by NPCs in towns, on highways, and also in private exits off the highways. Generally, we follow a very directed "pocketed" design approach to the content. What that means is you'll usually get a series of related missions intended for a target level of player(s) that takes place in areas that are hand crafted for those missions.
There may be multiple pockets of content for any given level range, so it's possible if you play through the game twice with the exact same race and character class, you might do some different things than you did the first time. There are several pockets of core content and optional content on a single highway zone, which spans a fairly large area and can cover many levels of gameplay.
We also have a concept of layered private instances, where the world can reflect the state you left it in last when you return to the instance at a higher level. This makes you feel like you actually had an impact in the world, more like the experience you'd get in traditional offline RPGs.
GVK: What character classes will be in the game and what are some of their abilities?
Each race has four unique classes that represent what we identified as the four basic archetype roles of combat: frontline, support, command, and special ops. Each class has its own set of skills and abilities that help define those roles, and grow in power as you advance through the game. We will be revealing more specific details on all the character classes in Auto Assault in the coming months, so stay tuned.
GVK: What sort of graphic engine is the game using and what features does it allow you to include in the release?
We use a graphics engine that NCsoft developed internally as part of their core technology group. They work closely with the DirectX team, as well as hardware vendors to ensure that every possible feature is exposed to us for use in our game. It's a fully DX9 compliant engine, so that lets us do all kinds of really cool custom shader tricks, volumetric self-shadowing, per-pixel lighting, etc.
For example, we have a water shader that refracts and distorts objects under the surface, and reflects with a full Fresnel term on the surface (when the camera is high looking down, you can see into the water, but when it is close looking at the horizon, you see more reflection on the waves, like in real life). The graphics already look kick ass, but the more we get into optimization and polish they just keep getting better.
GVK: Will players start out with a vehicle or will they have to earn their first set of wheels?
You definitely start out with a vehicle. It may not be the greatest vehicle in the world, but we felt that right from the get go you should be driving and shooting and having fun.
GVK: Will the game mix player and vehicle combat or will the majority of combat take place between vehicles? I am sure there are plenty of players who would be smacking their lips at being able to flatten players with their rides.
Player characters are generally constrained inside their vehicles, except for in towns and on a few special mission scenarios. Rest assured, however, there is no shortage of "wheel-fodder" AI infantry out there for... errr... experimenting the limits of the physics engine with.
On a personal note, sometimes I wonder if it's wrong that I find so much pleasure for racking up points for running over infantry in Auto Assault. But then I pick up the clink and items they so lovingly leave behind, and I think, "If this is wrong, I don't wanna be right."
GVK: The scope of the game sounds amazing, what are some of the biggest obstacles you see in creating the game, and what are your biggest goals for the game?
The biggest obstacle we've overcome so far is just the blending of all these elements that have never been done in any MMOG before. Full physics simulation has never been done in an MMOG. Fully destructible environments have never been done in an MMOG. Vehicular combat as the primary focus has never been done in an MMOG. In a lot of respects, we had to use trial and error to see what was fun and what was not, because there really was no prior work to point at as a reference. At the end of the day, the pain of the iterations and rewriting major systems three or four times is worth it, though, because you get something totally unique and fun.
Our biggest goal for Auto Assault is that it is easy to learn and hard to master, and a truly different and interesting world to explore. We want to provide something for gamers like us out there, the guys and girls who like games you can pick up in 5 minutes but play for years figuring out new strategies and intricacies.
We want to provide shelter to the poor, huddled masses of gamers who just want to blow shit up and have no online home to do it in. A place where nukes and biological weapons are free to express themselves; a place where road rage is openly embraced with loving and often dismembered arms; a place where freedom rings from the ricochet of every bullet fired...
Auto Assault for President!
(sorry I get carried away sometimes...)
GVK: Thank you so much,
Thank you for posing all the thoughtful questions! We can't wait to talk again and show some more of the unrevealed coolness of Auto Assault. Until then, keep an eye on the regular Recon Reports at www.autoassault.com for new information as it becomes available!