By Ben Griffin
Who's the real monster? The huge vicious creature that can consume nearby wildlife to become huger and more vicious, or the four well-equipped hunters that want to bring it down. The creature, obviously, but how did developers, Turtle Rock, come up with the idea for this unusual co-op vs. lone wolf game mode? How do the classes work? How has working with Valve on Left 4 Dead informed the development process? We caught up with Turtle Rock founder and art director, Phil Robb to get some answers.
PC Gamer: What's the goal with Evolve? Why did you want to make it?
Phil Robb: We learnt that people like playing co-operatively. We're always looking for experiences that we want that nobody has given us. That's where a lot of our game ideas come from. As far as what we brought over, a lot of its small things. The success of, for example, incaps [incapacitations]. People don't just want to die - we want to give them a chance to come back. I can't say there's any big high-minded philosophical thing.
PC Gamer: What's the fiction behind Evolve?
Phil Robb: All set on Shear, but Shear is a big planet. It's very earth-like, so you think about the kinds of places you can go to in this planet, I think you can use your imagination and imagine the kinds of places you'll see on Shear. Early on we tried some experiments with making the planet super weird, but at some point you take that too far and people become uncomfortable, and not in a good way. You want to create a world where people understand the rules. Like 'I'm in a forest, I can see that, I understand that, but not in any forest that I've seen on earth.' Some things don't make sense. So you draw heavy inspiration from earth environments. I think you see that in pretty much every science fiction movie ever. Star Wars certainly did that with Hoth and the desert planets, ice planets. Avatar did it too. There were times when you could have been in a jungle on Earth. But then stuff would pop out and you'd be like 'Oh, OK, this isn't earth.'
PC Gamer: Where is Shear?
Phil Robb: It's on the far arm of the Milky Way. We don't spend a whole lot of time on complicated narrative. We just say humanity has broke its bounds and spread out. There're colonies. And the farther away from Earth you get the more frontier the colonies get. Shear is way out on the frontier. Sort of at the edge of our explored space. People go to these planets for the same reason settlers moved west in America: looking for a new life, there's opportunity there. And they come out to these planets but a lot of times these planets are inhabitable and they'll find all kinds of things that make it hard to live. So that's where our hunters come in. They're planet tamers. They come out to these places and help the colonists set up and keep them from being eaten by whatever resides on these planets. The thing is these guys are used to dealing with a certain level of wildlife but they get here and the monsters are a bit above what they're used to. So they find themselves in a tricky situation. These things are intelligent and they've got some mysterious unknown agenda that we don't understand. Therein lies the conflict. These badass hunters swoop in and make things liveable for colonists. They're confident but then they get their asses kicked a little bit.
PC Gamer: So basically they're like space Liam Neesons in The Grey?
Phil Robb: A little bit.
PC Gamer: Can you explain why you chose to make Evolve class-based?
Phil Robb: That's something that works. We've made it a little less formal, so Markov is really big. He's definitely taller. All the assault guys are big guys, Markov's got these double Tesla coils but the other guys have other things. We've also got colour coding. It's a little more subtle, not everyone notices it. But assault guys have red colour schemes, medics blue, yellow for support, and green for trappers. We don't want to make it too blanket, we want the monster to take a look a base his strategy in who he's facing. Once you play it long enough you'll learn what characters can do. 'Oh, there's Markov, I'm going to play this way to counteract what he can do.' Each one of the assault guys does damage their own way. Obviously you don't want three Markovs. If you don't like the way Markov does it there might be another assault guy you like. Again just trying to get as much variety and replayability as possible.
PC Gamer: How has the absence of Valve, whom you worked with on Left 4 Dead, affected development here?
Phil Robb: Certainly Valve had a big part in the initial days of Turtle Rock. We worked very closely with them, we learned a lot from working with them. Some of the things are a little different than the way we want to do things. We have often been asked this question. 'You did Left 4 Dead but how much did you really do?' We can't write off anyone's contribution to it at all. We had guys who worked at Turtle Rock that don't work here anymore. But most of the original development team is still here. This is our chance to shine. I could say no I'm not worried about it at all, but I'm going to let the game talk for us. If everyone loves the game then that answers the question for us. We're not gonna sit here and say a bunch of words and expect you to take our word for it. We're going to make a kickass game. We'll do our best and prove Turtle Rock is the real deal, and we don't necessarily need Valve to be great. As much as we respect and love them.
PC Gamer: Is there any specific crossover with Left 4 Dead? For example, is there horde tech or an AI Director?
Phil Robb: Evolve is more about the four guys vs. the one big guy. The wildlife in some ways plays the role of the common infected but they're not as immediately aggressive. For example, the sloths will leave you alone. They might give you a swat if you walk too close butt they're not immediately as aggressive. If you shoot them, which people are wont to do, they'll get pissed off and they'll come after you. Reavers - the little monkey guys - are more like common infected. They're very aggressive, they're pack animals and they will come after the Hunters. They're a little scared of the monster,which the monster can use to his advantage. In terms of that sense of being overwhelmed we're not really aiming for that, but a different kind of tension.
PC Gamer: What are some other examples of wildlife in Evolve?
Phil Robb: Crowbill sloths, Reavers, the Tyrant in the pool - those guys are fucking dangerous, you have to watch out for them. One of the cool techniques as the monster, say you're a little bit banged up but you end to bring the fight to them. Go hang out by the Tyrant pool. He's more standoffish against a stage three monster but he loves to eat Hunters. So you flit around there and sooner or later you're going to knock one of those poor buggers into the pool and he's going to eat them and all Hell breaks loose. That's s a really great strategy for the monster to use. As well as hey there's a Reaver den there I'm going to led them through there because Reavers are going to attack them and I'm going to gain ground. I might even circle around and eat all the Reaver corpses the Hunters just killed. There're all kinds of fun stuff you can do with the wildlife.
PC Gamer: Thanks for your time! Is there anything else you'd like to add that we didn't cover?
Phil Robb: It's hard not to say anything cheesy: 'We really hope you love the game.' But we do. Our thing is community, we're all about building community, we want to put this game out and continue to support it afterwards. We hope everyone likes what were doing.