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Tacticular Cancer Interview: Jagged Alliance: Flashback

Tacticular Cancer Interview: Jagged Alliance: Flashback

Interview - posted by Whisky on Sat 4 May 2013, 19:08:55

Tags: Full Control; Jagged Alliance: Flashback; Kickstarter; Tacticular Cancer Interview

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Thomas Hentschel Lund, the CEO and founder of Full Control has been kind enough to answer a few questions about their Kickstarter for Jagged Alliance: Flashback.

Will Jagged Alliance: Flashback's difficulty progress steadily as the game continues? What difficulty options will there be in the game? Will Ironman mode make a return?

Ironman is a must.

The classic game theory is to use the magic number 3 in terms of number of difficulty. Easy, default, Ironman.

Difficulty HAS to ramp up as you move forward. The exact method to use will be part of detailed game design to look at. We have tried to use different options earlier in our previous games - from hardcoded spawn (a bitch to balance, but it gave an ultra tight experience) to a point based system similar to Warhammer 40k, where each unit and weapon has a value that the AI balances the enemy team upon.

Which to use for JA:F is to be playtested and decided later. Since we want to add multiple factions to the game, here is a place we cannot (only) use the JA2 system and need to tweak it to be enjoyable to play and still pose a challenge.

Read the full article: Tacticular Cancer Interview: Jagged Alliance: Flashback



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Thomas Hentschel Lund, the CEO and founder of Full Control has been kind enough to answer a few questions about their Kickstarter for Jagged Alliance: Flashback.

Thank you for taking the time to do this interview with us. Could you tell us a little about yourself and your role at Full Control?

My name is Thomas Hentschel Lund and I am the founder, CEO, producer, designer, pizza fetcher and the guy filling Coca Cola on the coders. I've been playing and enjoying computer games since I got my Amstrad 464 at age 12 - thats 29 years ago now. Scary :)

My favorite genre are tactical and strategic turn-based games - digital as well as board games. As I've grown older and time grown less available, I am playing more computer games than physical games. I like to play games where I have to think before doing, but I also like games to be enjoyable to interact with and nice to look at.

The Kickstarter page has referred to missions a few times. What does this mean for the game? Will these be mostly self-contained missions or will the game still have a degree of free-roaming?

We want to do a classic JA free-roaming chessboard map similar to JA2 where you can have multiple squads moving around as you decide.
There is a main story that you can play - or do the side missions that we will add. These are optional of course, but could potentially lead up to unlocking one of the known mercs. So a mixture out of Jagged Alliance 2 (e.g. remember the children in the factory?) and something new.

A made up example for this: you liberate a sector and as you talk to the locals in the bar you will learn about the local smithy being abducted by the drug cartel. You are told that they took him to a neighbouring sector just hours before and that you have to hurry.

If you choose to go there right away and rescue him in time, he could turn out to be an ally that turns into a merc after some training. Perhaps he might even adopt a name that sounds pretty familiar.

If you decide to do other stuff beforehand and then later liberate the sector he was held prisoner in, you might find him dead on the floor thus never unlocking him as a merc.

For other missions it might be equipment or money or falling into a trap. But your choices matter suddenly, but not in a way that stops you from playing the game.

This is one of the ways we want to scale this project based on the amount of funding we can get. More budget = more side missions. More budget = more mercenaries.

Jagged Alliance 2 is considered by most to be the definitive Jagged Alliance game, thanks mostly due to its combat system. How similar can we expect Flashback to be? In what ways will it differ?

We are moving the game to 3d isometric view to be able to use a modern game engine like Unity and our own TBS framework on top. But besides that, we want to blatantly copy the mechanics of the combat system from JA2 as a basis and then take a look where the community already fixed things.

Basically the differences that we will work on are primarily in the UI and letting the computer give the player much more information of what is going on.

Also, some new tactical mechanics could be added. Why not see where you can find cover? Being able to destroy cover with explosives? Why not have cross fire and suppression pin down enemies? Having stealth options to sneak up on enemies could be made accessible. Show detection ranges. Have a smarter AI.

A lot of these things will be iteratively taken up for evaluation and playtested together with the alpha testers.

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What elements do you consider to be core parts of the Jagged Alliance experience, things that should not change no matter what?

A very dangerous question to answer - because it will be misunderstood no matter what the answer. :)

Ask 20 people and you will most likely get 20 (at least slightly) different answers.

The Jagged Alliance experience exists on different levels.

For me it's important to have a coherent and complete package of high level design elements. If you remove even 1-2 of these, then for me you remove the JA experience.

The core elements for me personally are

- hybrid system of real time movement and turn based combat

- deep and complex, yet still enjoyable combat mechanics

- a b-movie storyline with sarcastic humour

- personality of the individual merc and interaction between your mercs

- multiple squads moving on a free roaming chess board map with individual sectors being their own levels

- the feeling that there is a larger conflict on multiple fronts and stuff going story wise on the map while I play

Modability for me is less a core experience, but I recognise and acknowledge that it's a huge factor for others. I mean, it’s THE reason for this game still being played and having active communities.

So those things will be there.

So I am certain some ultra hardcore fans will say: "he didn’t say that feature X of mod Y in version Z is there. So this project sucks."

But for me - and that was the question - it all comes down to the complete package. All elements have to fit together - this is essentially what makes or breaks the JA experience, and not (for me) a question if C4 weighs 0.9 kg or 0.95 kg.

Imagine this was about food - if you only eat one particular dish made out of the exact same ingredients in the exact same measurements every single day for every single meal - not really enjoyable to be honest. There has to be variation and there has to be spice in life. When I go somewhere and order a lasagna, I know what I will get in broad terms. And it is still lasagna - maybe even a better lasagna - if there are variations to the one I had last time.

But if you do what BiA did and replaced the meat sauce with gummibears. Then it's not lasagna anymore.

So our plan is to start off with JA2 as the basic recipe to make "our" lasagna with. And then we will try to add a little more salt, little less cheese - and make it into a new lasagna and hope that a lot of players like to eat it.

Know what I mean?

Will Jagged Alliance: Flashback's difficulty progress steadily as the game continues? What difficulty options will there be in the game? Will Ironman mode make a return?

Ironman is a must.

The classic game theory is to use the magic number 3 in terms of number of difficulty. Easy, default, Ironman.

Difficulty HAS to ramp up as you move forward. The exact method to use will be part of detailed game design to look at. We have tried to use different options earlier in our previous games - from hardcoded spawn (a bitch to balance, but it gave an ultra tight experience) to a point based system similar to Warhammer 40k, where each unit and weapon has a value that the AI balances the enemy team upon.

Which to use for JA:F is to be playtested and decided later. Since we want to add multiple factions to the game, here is a place we cannot (only) use the JA2 system and need to tweak it to be enjoyable to play and still pose a challenge.

One of the more unusual options in Jagged Alliance 2 was the option between Realistic and Sci Fi. Will Flashback include such an option?

Not if we only hit a low budget. We would rather rely on modders to add a different set. Our primary goal is to make a better core game with only the realistic setting than trying to please everyone and failing to please anyone.

It's simply based on $$$ and prioritizing what's important to do and what’s nice to have. And SciFi is simply nice to have.

Part of the charm of the Jagged Alliance titles was the individual personalities of the mercenaries including friendships and rivals. Will Flashback include this?

YES. We stated this from day 1: Turn based and bringing back role playing. The mercenary personalities are a huge part of this, and I think that’s one of the places where the recent XCOM:EU failed. Every soldier was just a shell - it didn't matter what nationality they had, who they were and how you build your team. Units were simply generic dudes - and that has always been one of the major differences (positively) in JA - that you would find yourself in those hilarious situations where team members start to have a life. Mix the wrong people and things can go horribly wrong simply because of that.

And honestly - from a development point of view it's rather simple to do. Especially since you already have an established template to work from with the mercs from JA+JA2.

On the Kickstarter page, it refers to RPG elements being introduced to the game. Can you give us any details on what this might entail?

RPG in terms of “mercenaries have a personality”. RPG in terms of your choices in dialogs matter as per example previously mentioned by deciding not to rescue the smithy. RPG in terms of having to play a role in a political faction balance. Who do you side with? Who then automatically turns into your enemy? RPG in terms of your mercs getting better over time.

So it's emphasis on storytelling and giving you as the player some decisions to make that actually have an influence on the world around you.

It's not just what modern MMOs have - a thread wheel of grinding xp to level to gain stats without much story in it. I dont ’call that roleplaying, but I know that gaining experience is important, yet it can’t be the only thing anyone should care about.

What effect will our choices have on the game's story? Will there be multiple paths and situations depending on decisions made earlier and will there be consequences for our actions?

Yes - see examples already given.

What will be the limit of mercenaries and will multiple teams be possible? If yes, what will be the maximum amount of teams?

I'm sure there will be a limit - simply because there has to be one. When is a squad not a squad anymore? When will it become clumsy to play the game? Development will show what those numbers are. My guess would be to limit squads to having 5-6-7 members. And I don’t think one should have more than 5-6-7 squads.

Interfaces start to get clumsy beyond that and it's a tactical game with strategy elements. Not a strategy game with tactical elements. So we are on squad based numbers and not an army.

Can you tell us a little about the inventory? Will item weight and inventory management play a role? What kind of weapons can we expect?

In general the inventory in JA2 was/is clumsy and annoying to use. So generally we want to rework that part and improve usability.

That doesn’t mean dumbing things down. Weight is definitely something we want to have as well as limited space in the inventory.

Weapon wise, we are going with time typical weaponry that can be equipped with upgrades (scopes, silencers, different ammo types). How deep this part will be is something we are discussing right now and going to give our ideas out in an update.

However, were not going to go ultra realistic add wind direction, weights of bullets and all those things. That's something for the modders to implement if they think it's a MUST for their game.

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Tell us a little about the experience with crowd-funding with Kickstarter. Would Full Control consider running another campaign in the future?

It has been as hard as we thought it would be in terms of manpower. We have 3 people only doing the Kickstarter and we've worked a month at least on the preparations before starting. Running a Kickstarter is not for those thinking it’s easy money. We estimate that we will have spend around $30k on the Kickstarter alone - with no guarantee for it to succeed. That’s a serious investment from our end as a small independent studio paying out of our own pockets.

Reception wise we have been rather baffled at the hostility from parts of the community. We didn’t expect to be welcomed as saviours of the world. But we definitely thought that people had faith in us doing the right thing by being independent, having a TBS track record, having the faith of Games Workshop to work on their iconic IP and lastly trying to approach the community for input before things are set in stone.

We are one of the very few independent studios that have been trying to keep the TBS genre alive as a strategy for the last years. And while the games we made are not JA2, from the team sizes and $ in our own pockets invested into it they are actually pretty good and I'm proud of what we have been able to do. Going from 3 guys to now 12 makes a huge difference in what we can do, adding more depth to our the games.

And for us it seemed like a natural step from smaller iOS TBS games over Frontline as our first steam game (although still on the complexity side of tablet more than PC), then Space Hulk for PC onto JA:F. There is a red line there and we want to continue moving up that route in the future if given the opportunity.

The alternative for us would be to do publisher paid work - and try to find a publisher that still believes in TBS as a profitable business compared to making iOS Clash of Clans "strategy" games earning millions of $ a day.

So yes - the short answer is, that we believe in Kickstarter being the future for independent studios to make games for fans with fan support. And for fans to fund games that would otherwise never see the light of day. Would we use Kickstarter to fund another JA game? Now that depends a lot on how this current project turns out in the end.

Kickstarter campaigns are also a double edged sword - because without either a nostalgic brand like Torment or some famous rock star developer on the team - it's very very hard to break through. I would hesitate a lot if I needed funding through Kickstarter without a famous IP or a rock star developer.

Did we expect to sit here 1 week into the Kickstarter and struggle making the minimum average? Definitely not. Did we expect to skyrocket in 7 hours - not either. Sure, sometimes we dreamed of having the minimum target right at day one, but we knew that there was just a little chance to see this happen. Would have been nice however, because we wouldn’t have had to talk about things like “This is not in the minimum budget”. But we are constantly working on improving the Kickstarter campaign and hopefully our plans work out well - we might have something big coming up but details have yet to be finalized.

Another side of the double edged sword are the fans. It’s hard to prove to them that we are able to create a game worth the name Jagged Alliance. My personal fear is that, if we don’t reach our target, people could think that there is no future for a turn based Jagged game anymore. And that would even suck harder than just failing the Kickstarter itself. I’m not saying this to scare anyone into pledging, but because of personal fears. I’d like to see a new Jagged Alliance with a turn based combat system again. Of course I could live with another 12 years of modded campaigns. But on the other hand I’d also love to see a new playground for fans. And this might be the last opportunity to get this done.

Because end of the day - also for us - it’s about being able to make money to pay salaries and rent. And if it's not possible to make money on a game, the game won’t be made. It’s that simple.

We are still believing it’s possible to make a hardcore JA2 on the premises that it should be like the good old days. But we definitely need more support from the Jagged Alliance crowd than being accused of being opportunists and being cleaning ladies for Crytek due to the fact we put Crysis 2 on the list of games our people have worked on in the past. Jesper worked as concept artist there for 4.5 years and all the artwork on the Kickstarter page is done by him.

Thanks again for answering those.

And thanks for asking!

I've given you the up front honest answers, although I know some of them will provoke some people, but I want to be totally honest as well.

And we WILL fight to make this all happen.

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