PAX East 2013: Guns of Icarus Online demands your renewed attention with Adventure Mode
Guns of Icarus Online has an amazing concept. Players group up into steampunk airships and take to the skies for deathmatch battles where captains, gunners, and engineers collaborate to defeat other ships. The concept alone is attention-grabbing, but mixed reviews and complaints of lag and bugs silenced a lot of the excitement for the game. That didn’t stop developer Muse Games from setting up at PAX East last weekend, several months after release, to capture a new audience.
What’s changed since those original reviews? I spoke with Eric Chung, a game designer on Guns of Icarus Online, to find out.
GZ: So this has been out for a while now, right?
Eric Chung: Yeah, we released on October 29th, on the eve of Hurricane Sandy. That was fun times. One of our programmers actually rode his bike from Brooklyn into our office, sweet-talked the security guard to let us in to retrieve our build machine. You know, we were fixing launch patches and stuff like that so, total insanity. But it went well, all things considered. For the next two weeks we were just working from home.
GZ: You’re showing the game off here, how has it advanced since release?
Eric Chung: Being an indie studio it’s like, the release was pretty rocky aside from the hurricane. We had our bugs, we had our server issues. Thinking about the game then, it’s sort of like a bad dream. What it looks like now, man, it looks so different. It feels a lot better. Everything is just working right now.
Our playerbase is pretty good. I didn’t check recently, but this morning we had 150 people just waiting for matches to start, and that’s not counting the matches already going on. So probably like 3-400 people playing.
GZ: So how is the game updating now that those issues are cleared up?
Eric Chung: We release patches pretty much every two weeks. From server side optimization to balance patches, actually, just last night we had dinner with some of our top tier players. It was a round table discussion about balance. That’s my job, I’m basically the combat designer.
But yeah, we’re always adding new content. Like this month we added a new spectator mode. We’re really pushing the e-sports component. We’re releasing a new map later this month, so yeah, content all the time.
GZ: One of the complaints about the game early on is that it can be difficult to maintain a consistent team, is that why you’ve been going towards e-sports?
Eric Chung: No, not particularly. It’s just that, we found out that this is kind of a cool game just to watch so we put a lot of time into that. But I really have to give it to the community. We’re really impressed. You look at a lot of other online communities in general, they tend to be very, very toxic. You know, screaming epithets and stuff like that, but with our community, I don’t know if it’s because we really focus on teamwork, but everyone is really willing to teach.
There are matches that are started specifically, like, “noob match, come join I’ll teach you.” We’re super impressed by our community, I think if we’ve done anything with this game it’s generating that kind of community. It’s super friendly, everyone is on the forums chatting about strategy and answering questions from our new players.
GZ: You have a Kickstarter running currently as well, what’s that for?
Eric Chung: The game that’s on Steam right now is the competitive PvP portion. What we call skirmish mode. A lot of our players have been asking, what is the world that this takes place in? Why is this place so desolate?
At the beginning of PAX we launched a Kickstarter for the next phase of this project, what we call adventure mode. This is where we want to build our persistent online world. The core interaction model is still going to be on your airship, with your friends, but you’ll be taking on different kinds of missions that you get in towns. PvE, trading missions, maybe escorting a VIP to another town, attacking a town, defending your own. Every time you do so you’re going to be affecting the economy in some way, the politics. Gaining points with one faction, losing points with another.
GZ: So is this a co-op campaign or is it almost like an MMO?
Eric Chung: It’s going to be reaching the MMO level. Being an indie studio, we don’t like to use the word MMO. It scares the bejesus out of us, but that’s kind of the idea we’re going for. We want the economy to be really robust. Like, if you think of EVE, it’s really confusing, it’s so big it’s basically a real economy. You do something in that game and it’s just another ripple in the ocean, you don’t know what you’ve just done.
We want to make it accessible. Every time you get on that airship you know what you’re doing, you’re transporting those sheep from one town to another town over there that likes their mutton chops or something like that. It’s like, okay, now they’re not starving.
GZ: So you have this cool setting but no explanation for it. Was it difficult to fill in those gaps?
Eric Chung: No, actually it’s coming together really beautifully. The maps that we offer now in skirmish mode, we’ve got glacial areas, we’ve got deserts, we’ve got canyons, waterside vistas...these are all real parts of the world that we’re building right now. Each of these maps is controlled by some sort of faction.
So there you have it. A better, more refined game and big ambitions for its future. You can check out Guns of Icarus Online’s Adventure Mode campaign on Kickstarter.
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