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Forge Interview with Tim Alvis of Dark Vale Games

6 Nov 2012  by   Peter Parrish
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Dark Vale Games were among the very first developers to have their title, Forge, Greenlit through Steam. I put some questions about development of the game, Valve’s Greenlight process and the team’s unsuccessful Kickstarter campaign to Dark Vale’s Tim Alvis.

IncGamers: First of all,? ?who are you guys at Dark Vale Games??

Tim Alvis: We?’?re a mixture of game industry developers from a variety of studios like Midway,? ?SOE and others.? ?We?’?ve partnered with SuperGenius and Digital Confectioners who have illustrious portfolios as well? (?everything from Epic Games titles to The Walking Dead series?)?.

IG: And for those who might not know the game,? ?could you summarise Forge’s most compelling features??

TA: The most compelling feature of Forge is its combat.? ?Because of the hybrid nature of the game,? ?a first person shooter and third person MMO,? ?it manages to appeal to people that enjoy action oriented games and first person shooters while at the same time providing the flavor and feel of the classes you expect from an MMO.? ?What people tend to hate about MMO combat,? ?the too large number of abilities that seemingly have little different from another in many cases,? ?stunlocks,? ?gear grinding?;? these are all gone with Forge.?

We didn?’?t first build a massive MMO infrastructure and then figure out how to make the gameplay fun.? ?We put the gameplay out front and center from the start,? ?even before introducing progression or other surrounding features,? ?believing that it would stand on its own.

We?’?ve also not kept everything? ?… “serious?”?.? ?I don?’?t know how else to describe it in a single word than that.? ?Abilities like Flame Burst giving you the opportunity to throw yourself high into the air as the Pyromancer,? ?like a rocket jump,? ?the Warden being able to go into a Shield Storm? ?spin and fly for a few seconds,? ?we felt it was more important to be fun than to have every ability fit into some hardcore competitive mold.? ?The game still has quite a bit of appeal to hardcore players as our beta period has shown,? ?but it?’?s been designed to be fun for everyone.

IG: Forge is one of the games recently? ‘?Greenlit?’ ?by Steam? (?congrats on that?). ?How did you guys find the Steam Greenlight process,? ?and what are your views on the fee introduced by Valve for submitting games??

TA: Thanks for the congrats,? ?we?’?re quite excited to have been selected so early as well.? ?Given our lack of exposure,? ?we?’?re quite proud that we were still able to be among the very first to be selected by the public to make its way onto Steam.

The process? ?was quite chaotic at first for us,? ?as we along with most everyone weren?’?t really sure how it should operate.? ?Once the dust settled after the first? ?10? ?selections,? ?it was much less uncertain of how and what we should be doing.

I think the fee is the right way to go and was a necessity to stop the flood of fake posts or posts from people that just didn?’?t understand the submission process.? ?The size of? ?the fee can be debated,? ?and it?’?s not something I?’?ve spent a lot of time thinking about personally,? ?but I think that a fee was the right move.

IG: How does Valve confirm that you’ve been? ‘?Greenlit?’?,? ?is it just an email or do you get something fancier?? ?And does that confirmation feel a bit like receiving a telegram from The Queen?

TA: Some of the process is covered under NDA [Non-Disclosure Agreement] I?’?m certain,? ?but really,? ?we didn?’?t know officially before anyone else.? ?That?’?s quite wise given their desire to announce the titles Greenlit themselves,? ?as giving any advanced notice would ruin that opportunity.?

Getting that official confirmation was one of the highlights of the year for us.? ?We have tremendous respect for? ?Valve,? ?as a game developer and as a leader in many facets of the industry.? ?Despite the years some of us have clocked? ?in the? ?industry,? ?we still get a little shool-boy/school-girl giddy when around them.

IG: Prior to Steam Greenlight,? ?you had a Kickstarter campaign that reached? ?$76,000? ?but fell short of the? ?$300,000? ?you were asking for.? ?Have you had to scale any parts of development back as a result??

TA: It?’?s had an? ?effect? ?on development certainly.? ?We?’?ve had to slow down on some of the future content we want to deliver so we can focus on the retail launch with the budget we have on hand.? ?It?’?s been more a matter of delay than reduction in scope however.

IG: What did you learn from running that Kickstarter campaign??

TA: Primarily,? ?we learned that we just aren?’?t very good at marketing.? ?We?’?re getting better,? ?but we still have a long way to go.?

IG: What are the main areas of feedback you’ve been getting from players in the? ?Beta,? ?and have you implemented any of those recommendations in the full game??

TA: As the game has been focused around combat,? ?so has the feedback really.? ?Players have many ideas on ability changes,? ?how to? ?improve one class or another.? ?The blocking system was vastly improved largely through community feedback.? ?We worked with the community to come up with a list of ideas for blocking during combat,? ?had them vote and discuss the options,? ?and then presented back what we felt was good? ?for the? ?game based on that discussion.

It worked out very well.? ?It wasn?’?t a matter of directly implementing an idea,? ?as we have to make sure things fit into the game as a whole,? ?but they certainly played a large role in shaping it into what it is currently.?

IG: From playing the early Beta,? ?it looks like characters will have the opportunity to? ‘?level up?’ ?to some degree.? ?How will you aim to keep this as a worthwhile goal,? ?while maintaining the skill balance between players??

TA: We?’?ve done it by building a progression system around customization rather than power increases,? ?and making that? ?customization truly stand out during combat.? ?Players will unlock points they can spend to sacrifice speed for more armor,? ?or armor for more energy or mana.? ?They also unlock options for their abilities.? ?As an example,? ?the Assassin has Smoke Cloud,? ?but at a? ?certain level,? ?they unlock the option for the Smoke Cloud to be thrown like a grenade rather than drop directly at their feet as the base ability works.? ?This doesn?’?t make them more powerful,? ?as they?’?re giving up the ability to use it as a shield,? ?but does make it worthwhile to unlock as it makes you more threatening to enemy healers by being able to isolate them at a distance from their teammates.

We?’?ve done this for seven of the nine abilities for each class.? ?Given that players tend to like a theme for the ability,? ?but have an idea on how they?’?d like it work for them? ?in a way that?’?s better for their playstyle,? ?we see a lot of motivation to unlock these options.? ?All focus options come with a benefit and cost,? ?just as our customization points do.

IG: Do you have other character-types in the works?? (?and if so,? ?can you talk about them?!)

TA: We do?! ?Our next class is the Ravager.? ?The Ravager is a? ?“stand in the fight?”? melee character.? ?It uses a sword and grappling hook as its main two weapons.? ?Unlike the? ?Assassin,? ?they can take a little more punishment,? ?but are also less able to disrupt the enemy as a result.? ?Ravagers,? ?by using the grappling hook to move between players and around the environment,? ?have incredible mobility.? ?The class following is the Tinker,? ?an engineer type class that focuses on the use of gadgets to control areas.? ?More details on both will come soon.?

Beyond those two,? ?there are an additional five classes already designed.?

IG: You’ve described Forge as being? “?easy to pick up?” [?in the Kickstarter description?]?,? ?but do you think players new to hotkey ability bars might find the range of powers their characters possess a bit overwhelming to keep track of?? ?Have you felt any need to mitigate this??

TA: I think it largely depends on their background.? ?If they?’?ve spent any time playing an MMO,? ?it will be quite? ?familiar.? ?If they come from only a shooter background,? ?it can be more intimidating.? ?To that end,? ?we?’?ve designed each class so that their left mouse button ability works like any gun in a shooter.? ?You point at a target? ?and? ?click.? ?In the case of the Shaman,? ?we intentionally made it so that it worked on both allies and enemies,? ?so that they can be? ?effective? ?as a support class or offensive class while they?’?re learning to make use of the other abilities on their action bar.

We?’?ve also introduced a detailed tips? ?mode that allows them to mouse over every element of the UI to get a detailed description of what each section is for.? ?They can learn about their abilities there,? ?the cooldown slider,? ?how to block or sprint.?

Our next step to easing players in is a detailed tutorial zone.? ?It?’?s built to teach players how to wall jump,? ?use the abilities of their class,? ?and even block against incoming attacks.

IG: What are your payment plans for the game?? ?Will a purchase of the final release give you access to everything,? ?or are you planning paid expansions or microtransactions for further updates??

TA: The game is set at an Indie price point.? ?The base price for the game right now is? ?$20.? ?This gives you access to every map,? ?every class and every game mode that we?’?ll? ?release.? ?We will be releasing expansion packs and other small purchase items,? ?but these are largely cosmetic in nature with a few exceptions.? ?There are no monthly fees.

IG: What game modes will the final release contain??

TA: We?’?ve debated this a bit internally,? ?but the likely candidates right now are:? ?Capture the Relic? (?CTF?)?,? ?Arena? (?1? ?life,? ?fixed class selection at the start?)?,? ?Relic Assault? (?think Counter-Strike bomb planting?)?,? ?Team Deathmatch and King of the Kill.

You can register to play Forge at the game’s official site. At the time of writing, the beta is free to play for 14 days.

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