There are not enough quality space-combat games, and hardly any of the few that do exist attempt to take it grand in an MMO. The Old Republic did little more than tease my appetite for shooting amongst the stars, and the cancellation of Jumpgate Evolution a year ago left the situation feeling hopeless. But, like we've seen happen to so many niche genres lately, a Kickstarter campaign has arrived to revive the space-combat MMO .
Squad Wars is being developed by END Games, a fairly new studio formed by a lot of the brains behind the original Jumpgate and Jumpgate Evolution. Their Kickstarter campaign just launched last week and has only collected a small percentage of their $250,000 total so far. You can read all about their plans for the game on the Kickstarter page, and if you like what you see, toss some money their way. The perks are fairly generous and higher donations will actually get a say in deciding what content the team builds first.
I liked what I saw on the Kickstarter page, but still had a few questions about how the game will work. So I had a quick chat with END Games' president Scott Brown to find out a bit more about their plans for the game they hope to make.
PCG: How much of Squad Wars dev team worked on the original Jumpgate?
Scott Brown: Of the original four of us [that worked on Jumpgate], two are on Squad Wars (Ryan Seabury and myself). Two of our senior designers also ran live events for the original Jumpgate and contributed occasionally to Jumpgate's lore and unfolding story. And candidly, just about all of us ex-NetDevilers have contributed to Jumpgate in one way or another over its incredible decade-long run. It was our baby; what else would you expect?
PCG: Is Squad Wars meant to be a spiritual successor to Jumpgate?
SB: Yes, but it's definitely shaped by other online games and the type of games that work in today's market as well.
PCG: Some of your team also worked on Jumpgate Evolution, which was canceled. Is Squad Wars meant to be a replace that project, or what's different about Squad Wars' design/scope?
SB: We have several artists from the Evolution team who made that game look amazing even though it was running on the original Jumpgate codebase for much of the time we showed it off. What they'll be able to do with a modern graphics engine [the Unity engine] will really blow people away I believe. This isn't really meant to be a replacement, just more of a continuance for us in that genre. We love space games and think about how to make them all the time.
I can't really speak to Evolution as it changed a lot after I left NetDevil, but with Squad Wars we're going for a different approach, in that we want to build something we can get in players' hands quickly and add to the game after it's live. It's something you can do when a game is free to play. Squad Wars will be a game you can sit down and get into combat quickly, but will still offer similar depth of game play and repercussion of game choices that I think people expect from any space experience since Elite.
PCG: In the Kickstarter description, you call out that Squad Wars is not an “on-rails” shooter. Is there complete freedom to fly within the levels? About how large are the zones you're able to free-fly in?
SB: Yes, we feel total freedom in where you fly is an important element of the game. There really isn't a limit to the zone size, per se: it just depends on the scenario that we're trying to recreate. Each zone\level will be hand-designed to be interesting everywhere you go. For example, if two capital ships need an AU of space to duke it out in epic fashion while a fur ball of 200+ fighters erupts between them… well, I suppose that means we'll be building a 1-cubic AU space for the fight, doesn't it?
PCG: How important do you think it is for a space-combat game to be off-rails?
SB: Well, it is very important to me. It's what I'm looking for when I think space game. I want to feel I am really flying and that my flying skills will give me an advantage while playing. Certainly this is not the answer to "mass market" gaming, but [mass market gaming] is not the goal of this title.
PCG: You also describe it as a “hardcore PvP space combat” and talk about a territorial control system that let factions vie for control of the galaxy. The obvious comparison of that type of game would be to EVE Online. Are you attempting to build a game of that same scale?
SB: A better comparison of [our game's] sector control would be the old multiplayer Battletech game from Genie. It's more of a meta-game that is influenced by the actions of players and will have consequences to the matches you are playing. Another example might be World of Tanks, but imagine choosing the battle from a map and seeing stats on the map about which country controls that particular battlefield. In fact, part of the reason for this approach is games like EVE: We don't want to create a universe that is too flat for the hardcore strategists.
PCG: I think the most interesting perk on the pledge list is the ability for players to sit on a Squad Council that can vote on what content you make for the game. What exactly do you plan on having the Council vote on, and will their vote be absolute, or will you still have the final say as developers?
SB: This Squad Council represents what our most dedicated players are looking for in the game. That could be voting on anything from a default control scheme, the best type of missions to add or which ship type should we build next. Their decisions would be absolute, but they will only be voting on a limited number of the decisions that have to be made while building a game. It would be far too slow of a development cycle if all decisions were fan-made.
PCG: I love, and am terrified, by the idea that when I buy something from another player, I'm given an escort mission and must complete it to successfully receive what I purchased. You mention that pirates will try and steal them. Can you walk us through how that works and what happens to me and my goods under the different scenarios?
SB: We're still working out the specific pros and cons of item loss but in general that's the idea: to complete the sale of market goods from one location to another you must successfully complete an escort scenario. High risk, high reward is the idea. Again, the target of this game is hardcore space guys. That said, we did implement an insurance system in the original Jumpgate... It's still too early to say there won't be any way to mitigate some of that risk
PCG: Will it support joystick controls, and if so, will it be the main input device the game's designed for?
SB: Yes, it will support joysticks, but it can't be the main input. Not enough people have joysticks anymore for that to be viable, unfortunately. That doesn't mean we won't lovingly slave over the joystick controls to ensure they're great, of course! After all, something has to put these incredible flight sticks we all own on the team to good use, right?
PCG: It sounds like a lot of the game will take place inside of instanced missions, possibly like Vindictus' design. What's the max number of players you'd allow in one of the mission scenarios, and are they both PvE and PvP?
SB: It's too soon to say a max number of players, but we expect it to be over 100 players in the large scenarios. Right now in the design, there are only PvP missions but if people are looking for PvE, it's certainly a possibility.
PCG: You have 8 words to convince our readers to help kickstart this game: Go!
SB: Don't let the space sim die!
Like what you hear? You can donate on the Kickstarter page right now.