Online RTS/FPS Hybrid: Nuclear Dawn Interview

Conducted By Adam Ames

The boys from InterWave, creators of the upcoming FPS/RTS multiplayer title, Nuclear Dawn, took some time away from coding to answer a few questions in this pre-release interview.  You will read about the origins of Nuclear Dawn, DRM, piracy, and life as an independent PC games developer.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Nuclear Dawn.

Hello! My name is Jeroen van Werkhoven, and I am the lead level designer for Nuclear Dawn. As well as level design, I have actively participated in the design stage of the game, as an original founding member of InterWave.

How did you get started in developing PC games?

My first steps in level design were with the Duke Nukem 3D editor, which was a frustrating trial and error process, as I had a bad internet connection, and could not get any tutorials or guides for it.

Next up was Half Life 1, where I worked on several mods, including The Specialists, MoveIn! And Infiltration. When Half Life 2 came out, I released some bad Counter Strike: Source maps, and eventually moved on to Insurgency, a popular mod. I developed ins_sinjar for Insurgency, which is still in rotation on many servers.

Finally, came what would one day become InterWave, with Stargate: The Last Stand. Nuclear Dawn was the next step in the evolution of InterWave.

Where did the idea for Nuclear Dawn come from?

The idea of combining RTS and FPS gameplay is nothing new. Several mods, and many commercial titles, have attempted going down that route, with varying degrees of success.

Nuclear Dawn started as a mod developed by another team. We had the chance of taking over their name and assets, and redesigned our own Nuclear Dawn based from the ground up, with their quality level and basic concepts in mind, with a whole lot of InterWave thrown in the mix.

What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Nuclear Dawn?

We succeeded in holding a remote team together for two years, to produce a product we are extremely proud of. The failures were all part of the learning experience that goes with developing a commercial game, and mostly have to do with abandoning wonderful ideas that just won’t work in-game.

We started with a lot of hopes and ideas with Nuclear Dawn, and we definitely learned that games have a life of their own, and that the development process is a constant give and take between practicality and design.

The biggest failure? Implementing and dreaming up ideas without asking ourselves the most important question first: is this going to be fun for the player?

In its current form, how close is Nuclear Dawn to your initial vision?

It’s surprisingly close. We had to leave some involved features (such as AI bots and drones) out of the initial release, but we’re planning to develop these as free updates to the game in the weeks and months after September 25th.

Other than missing a shiny bit or two, most of the game is very much what we were hoping, and more than we could have hoped for: it’s an action-packed new take on the FPS/RTS genre that we feel really brings something new to the equation.

Some indie devs admitted their games were too hard upon release because they became experts as they developed the game.  Talk about setting the difficulty levels for Nuclear Dawn and if you faced a similar challenge.

There is no single-player campaign in Nuclear Dawn, so we luckily did not have to go through that particular balancing process – though because we offer some new takes on familiar classes and action, we did get a lot of confused first-time players, back in the early days, and still a few now.

Refining the UI and player interaction is what we are working on between now and release, and while the game may not have been too hard for newcomers, it definitely may have been hard to get for those who expected to jump straight into a TF2 or COD game. We learned how to give players feedback on their actions, as well as how to explain things more succinctly and effectively.

Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Nuclear Dawn would run on the various PC system configurations?

Many – though none that are new to game developers. Particle performance, LOD optimization, texture memory usage. Nuclear Dawn has a very ambitious footprint (4 classes, different for each faction, plus two dozen structures for each team, again different between factions), and that took a lot of optimization to squeeze into manageable numbers.

The greatest challenge was making the PC-Mac crossplay transition, which was made very easy by the Source Steamplay implementation, but still threw up all kinds of weird, and wonderful system-specific bugs, such as what mouse gestures did to the game in OSX. You don’t want to know!

Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?

I’ll have to say it’s an even call between financial security and product recognition.

Especially on your first game, everything you do carries no guarantee of survival if the game fails, or doesn’t turn out to be as good as you’d hoped. While a lot of studios have to contend with this as well, for an indie developer without backing, it often means surviving on a minimal budget, with no security for the future.

Generally, as a game developer, it’s flat out impossible to compete with the marketing and PR behemoths that large, established studios can put into play. There are AAA marketing campaigns that had more budget for TV ads in a single country than we had for the entire development and marketing of Nuclear Dawn.

There are channels dedicated to Indie developers, but they are mostly small and a closed community. In order to get exposure in the larger press, you have to catch the eye of a journalist who likes your product, or you’ll never get scheduled in an editorial calendar. Things are getting better though.

How did you create funding for the development of Nuclear Dawn and did you receive emotional support from your family and friends during this time?

One of InterWave’s founding members also owns a major technology and advertising company in the Netherlands. He was one of the driving forces behind getting Nuclear Dawn done, offering financial support as well as active participation in its development.

Our families… have to put up with a lot, especially now that the game is in the final stretch of development. The fact that they’re still talking to us is a colossal sign of support.

Tell us about the process of submitting Nuclear Dawn to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so.

We were extremely lucky on that count. InterWave was formed from a Steam fan community called SteamFriends. We always had a great dialogue with Valve, and so getting on Steam was never a problem for us.

The other digital distribution platforms are handled by our distribution partner, Iceberg Interactive, and from what we hear there are no problems getting on any of the ones we have contacted so far.

We know that being published can sometimes be baffling random, but to be perfectly honest, we have not had anything bug encouragement and support from all the publishers we contacted so far.

How much pull do you have when setting sale and regular pricing through digital distribution channels?  Did you research similar titles when trying to come up with the launch price?

We handle Steam ourselves, and so we had full control over the price that was set there.

When it came to discuss retail and other digital distribution prices, those are set by the publisher themselves, though they did confirm with us, and the prices are in line with the one we set ourselves.

We had extensive feedback from Valve and our publisher on the price, and the final value was set with a good, objective view of what the game has to offer, and what its competition is.

Tell us about the overall experience in creating the multiplayer component for Nuclear Dawn.

The game is multiplayer only, and so this was of course paramount. Because of the range of tactical options that both players and commanders have, Nuclear Dawn’s levels are intricate and large (which we love), and that comes with its own set of baggage when it comes to optimization and implementation. There’s a merciless see-saw of how much content you can cram into a screen before the whole thing becomes and unmanageable mess in terms of performance and props.

Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Nuclear Dawn.

The art work and visual style were heavily influenced by Hollywood productions such as ‘I am legend’ and ‘Terminator Salvation’, for the destroyed environments and locales.

The structure and character model art style went through several iterations balanced against the basic realism we want in the game. We had some fantastic, fantastical concepts in our hands that would just not work in a semi-realistic combat scenarios. Having to deprive the levels of giant combat robots to defend the primary was a sad day.

Are there plans to release a demo for Nuclear Dawn at or near launch?

There likely won’t be a demo for the game, in the foreseeable future. We’ll consider free weekend promotions further down the line, a few months down the line, but nothing is planned or confirmed at all at this stage.

How important is it to get instant feedback about Nuclear Dawn from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?

It’s vital. This is a multiplayer game, and as such people will be investing a lot of time into it. Even with the use of commercial testing studios, there is only so much that we can stress test and prevent.

Little (and big) flaws in gameplay, level design, structures, models, animations and code only become apparent after the kind of stress testing that a large user base can provide, and for that the developers need to have a direct line to the community, and its pulse.

How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Nuclear Dawn professionally?

Players and the community are important, but professional reviewers make it their job to probe nooks and crannies of the game that the common user would never think of addressing.

We are waiting for authoritative reviews to receive the kind of articulate, complete feedback that casual players do not have the time, and sometimes the experience, to formulate.

How do you feel about the various indie bundle promotions and the “Pay What You Want” pricing methodology? Would you be interested in contributing to a project like that in the future?

I think they are fantastic opportunities for smaller indie games to be noticed and played, but they come with some issues for truly large productions, which unfortunately need to recuperate larger investments.

It’s something we’ll definitely consider for some of the smaller casual projects we have in the pipeline – we love the spirit of sharing and community, and standing shoulder to shoulder with other indie developers!

What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?

The issue is complex, and it’s turned into a colossal ongoing debate.

There is extensive research to prove that a good game will sell regardless of DRM and obscure protection methods. The percentage of users who pirate games are a hard-core percentage that will never change, and who inflate the number of “lost sales” because of unrealistic install rates.

As users, we have been constantly thwarted by rootkits and colossally stupid copy protection systems that force people to stay online, or suffer bad experiences to stop that 5% of games who will be cracked the game anyways. In that light, we’re not going to implement anything like that.

Bill S.978 was introduced to the United States Senate earlier this year which could make it illegal to post unauthorized copyrighted content on YouTube and other video sharing sites.  How do you feel about individuals outside of InterWave Studios posting gameplay videos of Nuclear Dawn?

The game is free from embargo or limitations. We have explicitly given permission and even encouraged players to post their experiences on YouTube, good and bad.

We believe in Nuclear Dawn, and we hope people do too – there is no effective way to stem negative publicity, and by trying to enforce some silly embargo, we’d only be losing out on the positive feedback.

19.  How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?

Tough one. As a publisher, the concept of DLC is attractive. Used responsibly, a DLC package allows a developer to focus on a focused core game experience, release it sooner, and for less money than a full-fledged AAA production, and then allow players who really support the game to pay for as many additional features and levels as they like.

That, of course, never happens, and DLC has become synonymous with vanity content, unfair in-game advantages, and just milking your community for two remixed maps and a different helmet.

Nuclear Dawn will not feature DLC – it will have two major post-release updates, which are going to be free to download to everyone who owns the game. That said, we think that DLC that borders on episodic content might be an interesting experiment for single player or coop solutions, and we’re going to investigate something along those lines for future projects.

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about modding of PC games and the relationship developers have with modders.  Talk to us about your decision to release the SDK for Nuclear Dawn and your overall attitude towards those who mod your game.

We started as modders, and we’re not going to stand in the way of people creating their own stories and content for Nuclear Dawn. We’re in fact going to encourage them to do so with the release of an SDK soon after release.

Nuclear Dawn even went into beta with full SourceMod support, so that server administrators could support their community plugins from the get-go.

Sometimes it’s a little hard to watch players complain about game imbalances when there’s so many servers with rampant, crazy tweaks, but better to have that now, while we can still patch it out, than on release.

What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?

Just make your game. Give it your love and attention, and make sure that you craft something that you would want to play yourself, over and over again.

Once you have that, don’t worry about a thing, because good games always seem to float up to the top of the pile, regardless of market conditions and PR. -End

TPG would like to thank everyone at InterWave for their tireless work on a very ambitious game and also for interview with us.  You can pre-order Nuclear Dawn via Steam or the official site.

Follow TPG on Twitter.

2 thoughts on “Online RTS/FPS Hybrid: Nuclear Dawn Interview

  1. Pingback: Nuclear Dawn Free Steam Weekend (Dec 15-18) | truepcgaming

  2. Pingback: - The Weblog Indie Game Links: Nuclear Warzone

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