Chris Taylor's secret project is Wildman, a barbaric RPG/RTS hybrid

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Gas Powered Games, developers of Supreme Commander and Dungeon Siege, are now mashing those two things together into an RPG/RTS hybrid called Wildman. You play as one warrior in a large battle, gradually upgrading yourself, the allied army, and your control over them. And they're asking you to fund it, through Kickstarter.

Between the big battles, it's more like a role-playing game: you explore the world along a main path, find dungeons, fight monsters alone, and find weapons, armour and materials for crafting. As you make and find better stuff, your tech progresses—apparently from primitive clubs all the way up to beam weapons. I'm kind of hoping you're still wearing a loin cloth when you craft your first terawatt laser.

When Gas Powered put up their teaser for this announcement last year, we guessed it might have something to do with werewolves—the countdown had phases of the moon in the background. We were close: your wild man can shapeshift into different animal forms during battle—wolf included. They each have different abilities, though no specifics yet, and Gas Powered want to get backers in on the process of deciding which animals should be included. "I personally would like to explore exotic animals, like Wild Boars," Chris Taylor tells me. "Why not ride one into battle?" Why not indeed, reader? Why not ride a wild boar into battle? Please inform Chris of your reasons.

Once you start to learn leadership skills, you'll have more control over how the army battles play out. You can build defensive structures yourself, or construct different types of barracks to determine your army composition. Once you've scouted what the enemy's got, you might decide to invest in ranged units instead of melee ones.

Gas Powered's last project was taking over the launch and ongoing development of the free-to-play game Age of Empires Online, and when I interviewed Chris back in 2011, he felt they'd stick with free-to-play for future projects. At the start of this year, they announced they'd no longer be creating any new content for that game. So is Wildman going to be free-to-play?

"At present, no," Chris says, "This is a game you must purchase, and there is no microtransaction component."

It's becoming increasingly common for successful game developers to ask the public for funding for their next project: first Tim Schafer, then David Braben, Peter Molyneux, and now Chris Taylor. Some gamers find the trend unpleasant, on the basis that these guys should fund their next project from the takings of their last. I asked Chris if he had anything to say to those people.

"I think the concern comes from the idea that independent game developers are wealthy. Under the existing, traditional developer/publisher model, it’s very difficult for a developer to generate enough money to take a game from conception to market. The numbers can at first seem confounding, but if you look at Hollywood as an example, filmmakers of all levels need to raise money to make a film, and independent game developers walk a very similar path with the funding."

Here's the rest of the interview:

Can you directly control your army? If not, how much control do you have over it?

Chris Taylor: There’s an early phase of the game, where your Wildman has not yet developed deep leadership skills, so your armies will operate on their own, as they spawn from the barracks and charge into battle. As your character evolves and develops the skills to lead, more of the characters will follow your Wildman into battle, and you’ll see the first glimpse of organized military efforts. The game explores the idea of what it was like to see military structure emerging.

Can you give an example of how you'd configure your army to counter a particular enemy army?

Chris Taylor: As the game starts out, you find technology scattered about the world, or plucked straight from the dying hands of your defeated enemies. Either way, this technology is made available to you as you build structures and spawn units for battle. As the game evolves, the player then has choices; build a barrack for melee units or a training facility for ranged fighters. These structures are the gateway for releasing a specific type of unit onto the battlefield. It’s wise to scout your enemy first to discover their weakness before constructing a particular type of unit. This is the idea behind the gameplay’s decision making.

Can you give any examples of forms you can shape-shift into, and what they do?

Chris Taylor: Shape shifting is not only a gameplay mechanic, but it’s a form of game customization that maintains a close relationship between man and nature. In general terms, I think it’s fair to say that each of us feels a natural affinity towards a particular animal, like cats, wolves or bears (and you can imagine we believe that cats will top the list). The starting set of animals is easy, but we’d love to get more of the project backers to participate in what animals they’d like to see us offer. I personally would like to explore exotic animals, like Wild Boars, Why not ride one into battle?

How do you find adventures and dungeons - is it an open world?

Chris Taylor: Our approach to world design will be familiar to those who played Dungeon Siege. We like a main pathway with lots to explore, but a project of this size with the structure of the RTS elements makes us want to control progression. It also allows for storytelling.

Are you actually switching between two different games, or does the RPG and the RTS happen in the same seamless world, with the same camera perspective, UI, etc?

Chris Taylor: The goal is to have one seamless play experience, but there is structure that will require being in a certain “mode” of play e.g., when you are deeply involved in a Warzone style conflict it won’t be possible to just wander away and leave the battle…unless of course you want to concede defeat in that instance (the player will get prompted to do just that should they leave the area).

Why did you decide on this RPG/RTS hybrid rather than a straight RTS?

Chris Taylor: I’ve wanted to do something like this since the early days of Dungeon Siege (the original design document for DS was called, “RTSFRPG,” which was a reflection of my desire back then (17 years ago) to mix the genres, but we only partly succeeded. This time I want to go all the way and really deliver on this, which I think can be a multiplier of the fun.

How does co-op work?

Chris Taylor: The PvE game allows players to select their current SP Hero and play with friends on a Warzone map against an enemy of their choosing. We would like to allow players to bring these characters back and forth freely, but it does require a layer of security that some will appreciate and some will not, so this is again a great question to ask the backers.

Why not Kickstart Kings and Castles?

Chris Taylor: Simply put, the scope of K&C was well outside what we thought we could achieve as our first Kickstarter. I made the silly declaration to the world in my first video blog, “…build the biggest fantasy RTS game.” We really like the scope of Wildman, as we believe we can reach our goals on Kickstarter, and then build on top of that foundation moving forward.