Chris Taylor Interview: Wildman, MOBA & The Future Of Gaming
We chat to reputed RTS developer Chris Taylor about Project W – or Wildman, as it is now officially known – and what it's all about.
Published on Jan 14, 2013
Late in December Gas Powered Games teased something new, Project W, that had RTS fans the world over giddy with excitement.
Stepping away from development on Age Of Empires Online, the famous RTS and RPG developer is looking to blend the two genres together with something intriguingly unique.
With our interest piqued, we decided to speak to Chris Taylor about Project W – which has since turned out to be a Kickstarter project by the name of Wildman – and what exactly the game will involve.
So, did Kings And Castles become Wildman?
You know, it didn’t but there’s a lot of design sense that I carry through all the games. To answer a question you haven’t asked you, with Kings and Castles we thought about doing a Kickstarter with it.
And it’s just too big a game, it was in the +6 [million] range, maybe we could get it as low as 5 [million], and that’s a tall order to go out on Kickstarter and ask for that.
But there are some things about it: I love the era, I love the medieval era. We had so much fun with Age Of Empires Online, and when you look at what we’re doing with Wildman going back to primitive man, who starts off with a big bone – you know, like last night’s dinner – and plucks it from the fire and holds it up like a metaphor and a story of man as we start off and head out into the world with nothing but a bone to pound some heads and to carve our spot in the world, and build our culture and our empire.
It sounds to me like a real-time Civilization, would you agree?
Yeah, yeah, there’s some real truth to that. The idea that when you start off, it is like Civ, you’re moving one unit, you’ve got very small territory, you don’t have any technology.
For example, you play the overland adventure part for 10-20 minutes with your hero, you might have clubbed some opponents, take down some loot and you get to a place where you can erect a fort and this is your home base of operations and you’re like ‘okay, I can work from here’.
And you step out into this region, which is controlled by someone else. And when they see you, you draw blood – basically – you declare war and their armies start pouring towards you out of their various structures.
And by the way they’re building also like you, so there’s a bit of a video game component, they’re not ready to unleash an outstanding army they have to pull together their side.
Now on your side you also start building those structures, you might build a barrack, you might build a rage fighter’s structure and so on. And then your units start pouring out of your structures and start meeting on the battlefield.
Now you have to make a decision: do you get out there on the frontline and do I push the lines forward or do I go back to base and manage there and so there’s the RTS element. But what’s important about those decisions is what you build is very RTS-like.
And once you win – cause you will invariably win – you get to decide what technology you’re going to take, like Civilization to come back to the first point. It could be something really cool, like a longbow because you don’t have that yet or it could be something like soap.
You think “soap?” and to teach you something about early man which was when soap was discovered, health went up, longevity went up, people lived longer, they were cleaner.
So all your units now get a health bonus in the next war, so it’s kind of fun to take a page from prehistory and teaching people a little bit about the fact that for about 200,000 years homosapiens ran around in the woods and somebody over yonder invented say cheese, and 35,000 years later someone else invented something.
It was a long time. Intel wouldn’t have done well, they would have had to wait too long for improvements in CPU.
This is a really interesting time period, so what we’re doing is telling that story but in a fun way and we’re going to dress it up a little bit, with some new fiction that we’re coming up with. So you can battle other sentient creatures, where real human history did not but in our game we did. And we want to have some fun with that.
So demons and the like?
Yeah, like golems and insects that are sentient. This is a bias of mine I’ve always tried to emphasis in games, I don’t want to always be about human beings killing other humans.
I tend to like robots, I tend to like killing creatures. Now there’s going to be a handful of humans, like there were in Dungeon Siege, but my job is to entertain and to create a videogame that’s about having fun and create a visual spectacle and not just to make a killing machine.
I’m very sensitive to that. I tell folks if you don’t fall backwards falling out of your chair laughing out loud at what you saw on your screen then I’ve failed.
So we’re going to have physics, there’s going to be pieces of guts flying around from these creatures that you’re destroying, the battlefields are transformed – we’re calling them destructible environments – so you go out there and there’s green grass and the trees are pretty and maybe there’s a butterfly or something fluttering by to set it all off.
But when you go out and start battling, the grass is trampled into mud and the trees are burnt to a crisp and there’s bodies strewn about, there are patches of blood. It transforms it into that hellscape that is war but it’s also fun.
You’re making it sound horrific.
Well there’s also a message in there, that war isn’t pretty. It’s a consequence and a result of man and their desire to build. So if I’m building in a direction and someone’s building towards me, it’s one or the other.
We’ve only reached the point now where we have borders and whatever but you look at 200,000 years ago, it was like ‘hey, I want to swing from that tree’ and someone else is ‘no you can’t’ – or whatever monkey sound is the same – ‘okay, yes I can’ ‘no you can’t’ BONK. Okay, now there’s a dead guy and I have the tree all to myself. Which is so simple, right?
One thing you touched on earlier was the MOBA genre, and from the information you had sent to me earlier that was really the impression I got for the game. This is particularly interesting for me, because Demigod was pretty much a MOBA before it was ‘cool’, but is this kind of your answer to the popularity of the genre or is it something else entirely?
No, I think it is. I mean when you look at making a game on the PC you going to want to do something from a creative perspective and from a business perspective that has an audience, so when I looked at doing something – and, actually, there’s a bit of a story.
Now I showed a friend early last year and he said ‘you know, this is really cool. You’re doing some things that I don’t think anybody thought you could even do in a web browser, but you need a killer app. You need something that really exemplifies what this platform can do’.
So I sat down and said I would design something for it. So I started designing an RPG, it was literally a symbolic, it was very low-end graphics, totally top down but the gameplay mechanics were there.
And it really, really got interesting when we brought in some RTS elements and we said ‘these elements are kind of like a MOBA’, but we’re not satisfied just duplicating.
You know, I’m a creative guy – I just can’t copy what everyone else has done or just ape it, just take what they’ve done and say ‘oh okay, I’m good’. I just think there’s no excuse for that.
I’ve realised the business side of our industry will do this over and over again and they curl up to their pillow every night and they sleep really well having completely ripped off someone else’s work.
I find that I would not sleep, so I say ‘okay, look – MOBA’s popular, we’ve established it’s a wonderful gameplay mechanic, but what can we do to take a big step back towards what we love about RTS and let’s do something that elevates that MOBA gameplay.
So we thought that we have the ability to gather technology as we play and change the structures that we can build that changes the way the units that are output and we put that into a world in many ways like Dungeon Siege where it’s continuing in a single-player campaign.
Because so many people ask for the single-player and the industry has kind of got a hearing problem. It sort of hears ‘I’m sorry, did you say multiplayer?’ and they’re like, ‘No! We want single-player!’.
People really, really want that single-player experience. And so we thought it would be wonderful to bring some of that MMO vibe into the single-player so you’ve got a persistent character, one that you’re developing like you would in an action RPG.
The single-player model has so many advantages to it, artistically we can’t just rip off MOBA, we have to do more and we have to think about how we’re going to integrate it into single-player. Which I think is long overdue, and I think we’re positioned really well to do just that.
Does that mean there isn’t going to be any multiplayer, or is this just a single-player game?
No, actually there is. What you have is the next biggest piece of the pie is the War Zones.
You take the War Zones component and you pluck it out and you say ‘hey, me and my buddies can play 2v2, 3v3, 4v4, and now we can pick our War Zone off from the menu and we can pick our enemy components or hit random, and now we can join together so you, me and two other friends can all get in there and we can play against the AI and do what we call PvE or Comp Stomp.
While this is a lot of fun, what’s cool is we can evolve our character and then bring our character back into the single-player game. That’s our goal.
We want to be able to take our character and play together with friends and say ‘my character isn’t that great, hey guys let’s meet tomorrow night but in the meantime I’m going to see if I can amp my character so he’s more powerful'.
The third phase, which won’t be part of the campaign and the game’s development initially, is PvP so that smaller variant, very hardcore group will have a game to play and will evolve into it.
It will be an evolution of the Comp Stomp PvE it just means that now the other side will get populated with human players. What’s cool is that we can start playing around with that, we can include that in the beta even though it won’t be part of the final game initially.
So we’re making a commitment to the single-player and the PvE game and then know that the third phase will come last.
Why did you decide to do Kickstarter then?
Well right now our industry is in this incredible transition and the traditional publishers that I have come to know and work with over the last 15 years, they’re head is completely not in this method of thinking.
They’re thinking console, they’re thinking the next-gen console, they’re thinking mobile, they’re thinking how do they survive and how do they get through the transition.
And knocking on their door and saying ‘hey, I’ve got this idea for a PC game’ they just go – you know, they have that look on their face that you know what it means just by the first glance.
They’re so busy just trying to figure out what’s what that they’re not really looking for places to make those investments. So of course, you know, when you even mention that you want to do something new and sort of scary and risky then you really count yourself out of trying to do the traditional model.
Now, I’ll be honest with you, I don’t want to do the traditional model because I think of it as being the old, dead model. Honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever go back to it, at least not the way it’s structured.
It just can’t work, it’s like having a lovers triangle with your customer where you’ve got another party involved and everything gets filtered.
You want to talk straight to your customer and you want your customer to talk straight to you and ask you questions so you can answer them back.
I think we have to stop thinking of Kickstarter as something for people who are in their parents basement and want a few bucks to try an idea, I mean that will always be there but this is about crowdfunding, this is about the consumer and the customer being able to fund the things that they want to see.
I think it’s evolved over the last 12 months from something smaller scale to much bigger scale things, like Star Citizen and Ouya. I think it’s the way of the future. I’ll go so far as to say I think it’s a revolution, I think the walls have come down.
So I thought that 2012 was the year of Kickstarter, what do you think will be as important for the games industry for 2013?
In 2013 someone is going to stand up on a chair and declare – maybe a rooftop – and say PC gaming is not dead, anyone who says PC gaming is dead should be shot. It’s a lie.
It’s bigger than ever, it’s the future of gaming, it’s not like it will compete with the other platforms. It is going to be the prominent form of gaming, maybe not in 2013 but these people are going to say this in 2013.
With Valve’s Big Picture, the Piston box and whatever, this is PC gaming. It’s not console gaming, it’s PC gaming it just happens to be structured so it plays on your TV.
Look at Microsoft and Surface, that’s a tablet that runs PC. I don’t know if that’s the solution or if it’ll be something else, but it’s PCs and their openness of PCs ultimately will find its way forward.
Walled gardens and proprietary technology and systems and licensing and all of that red tape and junk has to go away and die. 2013 is the year when people will really find the words to articulate it, because even I struggle with it.
There’s no easy way to say here’s what the future of gaming looks like, but it’s going to be in the PC space. Almost like a metaphor for the Wildman game, people continue to innovate and expand and grow and push. 2013 is going to be the year that we firmly establish this.