Interview with Chip Sineni, Director at Phosphor Games Studio, on Project Awakened
Earlier in the week, I wrote about a new Kickstarter feat kicking off by Phosphor Games Studio. Project Awakened will be the fully customizable superhero game you’ve always dreamt about. Phosphor has taken the simple question of “whom do you want to be” and have created an entire game out of answering that very question. From cyber ninja, to a weather controlling mage, to a nonlethal speed infiltrator -- you make and play what you want to; even the environment responds to your character and actions. There aren’t skill points and tech trees, just an a-la-carte ability system to mix and match whatever you want. On top of all that, the developers are making Project Awakened fully MOD-able, so the community can run wild once the game goes live.
I received the opportunity to ask Chip Sineni, Director at Phosphor Games Studio, a slew of questions I had about Project Awakened via a Q&A email. Now that I have an even better understanding of the direction Phosphor is taking their new game, I’m even more excited for this project. Personally, I can’t get enough customization out of a game, and this is possibly the mother lode. With multiple story lines for single-player experiences and both limitless MODs and competitive multiplayer -- Project Awakened fits the needs of a massive audience.
My recommendation to you would be to read the interview below, check out the Kickstarter, and if you like what you see, spread the word and back the project. There is even an early bird special to check out where you can receive the game once it is finished, access to the beta, and a whole bunch of other goodies for $5 cheaper than retail.
GameZone: How much flexibility has the Unreal Engine 4 given you with creation and design?
Chip Sineni: Unreal 4 is both awesome, from a graphics and development point of view. The workflow is really amazing -- designers can make more intricate gameplay without bothering programmers, and artists can see their work faster so they can iterate more to make it look better. And the graphical side we can do all sorts of things we only dreamed of before -- realistic skin, interactable particles that light up things around them, and a world that can dynamically change time of day and look better than static worlds before.
GZ: What was your inspiration for Project Awakened besides Hero? Was it something more tabletop like Shadowrun or a previous MMO like City of Heroes?
CS: A lot of the original inspiration was looking at stuff like MMOs and wishing an true action game could have those same features. City of Heroes was great as an MMO, but if you wanted your guns to feel more like Gears of War, or your sword slashing to feel like Ninja Gaiden, you were out of luck. The scale of MMOs like that also tends to have very small players on screen, and the situations you encounter aren’t very 'detailed.' Like, you look at a game like Batman: Arkham Asylum or Splinter Cell and think of how much more detailed and how much thought the player has to use on the encounters.
GZ: On your Kickstarter page, you mention “A non-violent hero with super speed and agility racing past enemies to the goal.” Can you play though the game with a non-combat character -- never taking down foes?
CS: It is a goal for us that players can complete the game with non-lethal force. So you could avoid most confrontations; you might have to incapacitate somebody to get something you need, but you wouldn’t have to kill them.
GZ: Will you always be fighting for good, or can you take a more evil approach?
CS: For the overall story, we tend to optimize towards the middle, that the main experience isn’t a good or evil path, and it is how you play that really determines what kind of person you are.
GZ: Could you give an example of the world responding to a character or creation?
CS: Your abilities will evoke a response from the world -- causing a tornado in the middle of a street will escalate your enemies around you, as they are aware of your presence and threat. If you were invisible and snuck around something, you may never see an enemy somebody else had to fight. Some abilities will break parts of the world around you, while some will help you create bridges and move around to new places
GZ: Will the game experience be more open-world sand box or more mission-based?
CS: It is a bit of both. The world has a larger Hub structure that is a sandbox to play around and test your abilities, and has more detailed missions as "spokes" off that sandbox.
GZ: Besides Capture the Flag, what other multiplayer modes are you thinking about having?
CS: The more 'supported' multiplayer is a stretch goal, and it is really going to be driven by the community to see what kinds of features they want for it. The game is almost a "create your own multiplayer game kit" -- like if you have a switch on the game that is "inherit faction and abilities and gear on death," you could make an Aliens game, where one player suits up like an Alien, other players gear up like Marines, and when an Alien takes down the other side, the new person looks like an Alien. And you could do that with Zombies or Vampires or whatever. Like that would just work -- people through switches like that could make up whole games.
GZ: In a game with so much customization, how hard is it to find balance, especially with a multiplayer?
CS: There are two sides to multiplayer: one is the whole Golden Eye or Perfect Dark-style "set your own limits and have some fun" that we really don’t want to limit; let players figure out how much they want the balance to be broken.
The other end is the true competitive multiplayer. We will balance it as much as we can in beta, but something that can balance this further is a 'wager' system for battling. So once something is isolated as unbalanced, the community basically calls it out and people won’t wager as much to battle someone with skills people see as balanced, or maybe they would like to take on that challenge for a high price because they think they know a weakness to exploit it. So it sort of crowd-sources balance issues.
GZ: What precautions are you taking to make sure there isn’t that ONE over-powered power combination?
CS: The only thing we really can do is play the game over and over. We are more afraid that people just homogenize into the same characters. Early on when we prototyped very powerful movement skills, everyone just always picked those, so it wasn't about creating a character you wanted, and more about picking a certain set of skills, and everyone was more or less the same.
GZ: How excited are you to see what the community does with MODs once Project Awakened goes live?
CS: We all really want to see where people could take this. It really could be like a game-making kit, up to people's imaginations of what kinds of games they could create. I will be excited to see if people go in and change time periods, like make a fantasy or sci-fi game with it. I'm really curious if people do something really unexpected with the core game -- something we just can’t foresee.
GZ: What was it about Project Awakened that publishers were so afraid of to back? This project sounds like a gamers dream.
CS: Before Minecraft came out, we have been pitching this for a long time. Publishers said there wasn't any data that players want to build something and think about it, that they just want to charge in and play a directed experience. Since then, though, I think they are just hedging all their big bets internally, and really only look to developers for smaller projects. There really isn’t much in-between, in terms of what Publishers invest in, sorta like what Cliffy B has said HERE.
GZ: Could you possibly leak some of the powers beyond stealth, super strength, speed healing, psychic abilities, and telekinesis?
CS: There are so many. We are releasing a video in a couple of days that shows all the stuff we have prototyped. People should send us suggestions of stuff they want on our Kickstarter page.
GZ: I’ve always been a huge fan of telekinesis. What would be some fun combinations I could mix with that in Project Awakened?
CS: A lot of our core team worked on Psi-Ops. One of the coolest things in Psi-Ops was when we figured out you could "TK Surf" -- meaning pick up an object, and then fly around on that object. It was completely emergent gameplay. We discovered it as we developed it but never really planned it as a feature. We then had to make sure all the worlds didn’t break when you did this and went to edges where we never expected you to be!
GZ: If YOU could have ONE super power, what would it be?
CS: There are so many... flight or teleportation because you could just go anywhere in the world -- your life would be so different if you weren't restricted to location. The ability to Time Travel would be my favorite though -- just to see history and the future unfold.
GZ: 1000 backers in the first day alone and practically 1/5 of the total goal in 3 days -- how confident are you that you'll reach your goal?
CS: We are quite excited by how we have done so far, but it has slowed down a lot since the first couple of days. We really need the fans to get the word out and discuss it everywhere they can, if they want this to be game to be a reality!