Evolve Beta Preview and Interview with Jon Bloch
Evolve is the next game from Turtle Rock Studios, due out in February this year. As a co-operative and competitive class-based shooter, it pits a team of four hunters against a lone monster, but instead of hunting down a predictable AI opponent, it’s another player that’s at the reins as the threat/target. The game has been shown at game conventions, but it’s the imminent open beta that’ll put in the most hands before release. I had the privilege of being invited by 2K Australia to see the latest beta, play against some of the developers, and ask a few questions about the game.
The idea of the game is simple – four hunters in a dropship hit a location with the goal of tracking down a monster, killing it, then presumably either cooking it or mounting its head above their fireplace. Through the course of a game, the monster tries to avoid the hunters, eating what it can as it runs around, until it can evolve into stronger forms and become a more serious threat to- Okay… so you know Pac-Man? When Pac-Man eats the power pellet and the ghosts become vulnerable and have to run away? There’s your monster.
Once either the monster is killed or the hunters are wiped out, the game ends.
It’s possible to play one-off rounds and custom games, but the most interesting offering is the evacuation campaign (which will be in the open beta). Instead of a single round, It puts players through five rounds across varying locations and gametypes, each voted upon by the players while conceptually steering through a map of the planet. The game type varies over the five rounds, with the gametype being one of Hunt, Defend, Rescue or Nest, with the fifth being the eponymous Evac round. With the balancing options active, the game will also boost one side or another to keep the players evenly matched.
Each of the hunters falls into one of four classes, and a hunting party will have one of each class every time. The classes are Assault, Support, Trapper and Medic, leaving no questions about what their role within the team will be. Within each class there are two hunters, and each has a core class ability, while having unique features beyond.
The monster is a delight to play, chewing the scenery wherever it goes (yes, literally) as it tries to avoid the most dangerous animal of all. It’s a similar situation there, with the game starting out with the Goliath, Kraken and Wraith.
The rapid upheavals of power quickly change the balance between the teams, and the world itself keeps the hunters on their toes in the early stages of the game. The setting is a toxic, dangerous world where the abundant fauna and flora can easily kill you (so Australians should feel right at home), and while the environments are aesthetically brilliant, perhaps gorgeous isn’t the best way to describe the stunning yet inhospitable landscapes.
Evolve moves at pace, holding a speed of play comparable to the original Unreal Tournament, and a lot of unorthodox tools and abilities. The balance of power shifts often through a round, team work is essential to success as the hunters, and there’s heavy doses of strategy apparent at the core of the game. Over the seven rounds played, it was possible to get a feel for some characters, but the surface was scarcely breached.
It’s also possible to play the game in solo mode through the use of bots, allowing you to try all modes and characters in the game, and the developers assured me that the solo portions of the game do not require internet access. Rounding out the experience for Evolve are leaderboards, unlockable perks, character progression and tutorial videos. There is also a third set of characters available as paid content, and a confirmed addition of two monsters.
Interview with Jon Bloch
How long has Evolve been in development for?
We’ve been working on Evolve for exactly four years now. Some early, early conceptual stuff happened in late 2010, leading to building the pitch, but the game was originally signed with THQ in January 2011. When THQ went bankrupt, 2K took over the IP
The game has an obvious flavour of its own now, but were there any fundamental changes made through the process worth noting?
Fundamentally the core has not changed. The game has always been 4v1, the game has always revolved around the core idea of hunt, which is the four hunters trying to track down and kill a monster, and the monster trying to find food to stage up, get more powerful, turn the tables on the hunter and kill them.
From a pure play perspective, what were the inspirations for that type of four versus one?
Chris (Ashton) and Phil (Robb), who are the co-founders of Turtle Rock Studios, had the idea for this kind of 4v1 even before Left 4 Dead, but they didn’t have the technology to bring it fruition until recently. The idea sat with them while they worked with Valve on a couple of projects, and through the development of Left 4 Dead they were re-inspired to make this their next game; like playing the tank battles, they’re very similar to the dynamic of the hunters against the first monster, the Goliath.
The idea’s been around, inspiration has come from other projects Turtle Rock Studios worked on, and visually we’ve pulled inspiration from all over the place. People compare the game to Predator, the Alien franchise, and more. There’s definitely a sci-fi frontier feel to the visuals, and the monster inspiration comes from all over the place; the character artists spent a lot of time looking at the really creepy, weird creatures that exist on this planet and some that don’t exist at all.
A lot of stuff under the ocean, like deep, deep in the dark depths of the ocean.
It’s a creepy place.
Lots of weird glowy things that have like, twenty eyes, it’s really creepy.
With the approach to gameplay of four people versus another person rather than AI, Evolve seems to harken to some of the D&D mechanics where you have a DM running things.
There have been a couple of games in the past that have done 4v1 modes, but it’s never been the central focus of the game. The great thing about working on this is it pulls from our pedigree at Turtle Rock, which is the cooperative experience that we did so well with Left 4 Dead, and then brings that competitive angle into the mix. It’s unique in that there’s not a lot of games that are able to successfully mix cooperative and competitive styles with the push and the pull, where the game starts out in the hunters’ favour and ends in the monster’s favour if you can get all the way to stage three.
It definitely also lends to endless different playstyles and tactics, and all these different combinations of the equipment, trying to spend time to level up the equipment or your abilities to get stronger, it’s got a lot of variety in how it can be played by different types of gamers.
I’d imagine that within the team, even outside the QA department, you guys play the game quite a lot. Have there been any playstyles or tactics that have emerged as unorthodox, compared to what was initially conceived?
Sure – we try to playtest every day, sometimes it even happens twice a day. Sometimes we test a certain piece of content in the morning, and then in the afternoon another, depending on what we’re working on. People are finding new ways to play all the time and find exploits that we then try to fix. One of the things about Turtle Rock is that if you look at the design documentation four years ago, so much has changed around the core while the core has stayed the same. A lot of the ancilliary design stuff has changed over the years because we believe in iteration playtesting, trying it out and making sure it’s fun, and if it’s not, then we’ll try something else. If we find something that’s unorthodox that we like then we’ll pursue that. If it ends up breaking the game or making it not fun for other people, then we try to fix that to bring everything around to fun. Certainly there’s been all sorts of things that have come out of the playtest that have helped steer the game over the years.
Obviously Evolve is on Steam – what other platforms is the game available on?
The game will be available on Feburary 10th on PS4, Xbox One and PC.
Completely with next-gen- well, the current gen.
Yeah, current gen. I still say next-gen in reference to this generation, even though it’s very much so the current gen.
What’s your favourite monster and favourite character?
I like the Wraith a lot – the stealth, hit and run gameplay. I’m a fan of stealth action games. From the Hunter side, I really like Bucket – he’s an awesome robot, and can do some really cool stuff.
Oh yeah, he’s Support class. He’s got the UAV, the laser guided rockets and the turrets, then of course as Support he also has the group cloak. I also really like Abe who’s a Trapper from the third group that we announced. He’s got a stasis grenade that’s really powerful against the Kraken because the Kraken always wants to stay in the air and the stasis grenade is a really easy way to bring it back down to the ground. He’s got a shotgun and he’s also got a dart gun to shoot into the monster to tag the monster; the cool thing with that is you can also shoot the wildlife and if the monster eats that wildlife that’s tagged, the monster will become tagged. You can play a bit of a strategy game there, trying to anticipate where the monster’s going to be.
With the game about to come out, you probably can’t announce any plans for DLC or additional content, or at least specifics.
We can actually. Today we released information on the first DLC monster that was named by the community. It was named Behemoth; it’s a very large monster, actually the largest monster that we were physically able to make in the game without breaking gameplay. He’s got four abilities like the other monsters. A lava bomb that he spits out of his mouth and shoots kind of like a mortar, a tongue grab where he lashes his tongue out and grabs hunters or wildlife and flings them back to him. He’s got rock walls that he can conjure up from the ground to either separate hunters from each other, to separate himself from the team of hunters to get away, or whatever other reason you might want a wall. Also a fissure which is a sulphur geyser that emanates out from him to do damage to hunters and wildlife alike. His traversal like the Goliath has leap, the Kraken can dash and the Wraith can teleport around, the behemoth will bundle himself up into a ball and roll around the environment, as well as over hunters.
As far as the lifecycle of the game goes, how long do you see it being a prime game?
I hope it has a never-ending lifecycle. We want to support the game with DLC, we want to support it with features and content and general support for the indefinite future. If people are buying content and are happy with what we’re producing, we will keep making, and keep listening to the community to make more of what they want, rather than making a list of things that we think might be cool. We want to work to the community’s desires essentially.
How big is the community at the moment?
Our forums are pretty large, talk.turtlerockstudios.com, I think there’s a member count there. It’s definitely thousands large – dozens of thousands. We have a really great core on our forums that talk everyday, the development team talks with them and on a very personal level. Not company face to consumer, more like “Hey, we’re a bunch of people making a game over here and you’re a bunch of people who want to play this game we’re making over here, so let’s just talk about things.”
We talk about random stuff that has nothing to do with the game sometimes- it’s a forum so random threads come up. It’s a really cool, really tightknit community. It’s one of the closest and most mature communities I’ve seen for a game in a long time and it’s fun to see all the speculative threads people come up with, ideas for new monsters and hunters. One of the things we announced today through one of the digital content offers is a fifth monster that will be coming later – another DLC monster – no details, just that there will be one. Almost immediately a massive thread started up of people trying to guess what that monster’s going to be, what it’s going to look like, what it’s abilities are going to be. There’s really smart theories, people are really intelligent and taking some time to figure it out, and it’s cool to read what they’re saying.
Of course we also have the community presence on Facebook and Twitter and Twitch, and we have some of our developers streaming the game from their own Twitch feeds, 2K has a Twitch stream, Turtle Rock has a Twitch steam, and we use those regularly to play the game and show it to everybody, so there’s all sorts of ways that people can engage with the community and the development studio if they want to.
Recently there’s been a lot of publicity around Xbox and PS4 having their online networks down – does that create some worry with you guys, with such a predominantly online game.
Sure. It’s not something necessarily in our control to deal with, but something that could happen at any time to anybody and it affects everybody. It affects Microsoft, it affects Sony, it affects gamers, it affects publishers and it affects the developers. Sure to some extent it’s a concern but the teams at Microsoft and Sony have always jumped all over the problems and tried to fix them as soon as possible. That’s really all we can do, just work with them to make sure the problems aren’t something we can help fix as well. You never know – if something explodes online, everyone has to do their diligence to try and fix it. It’s one of those things like a tornado could come through tomorrow – we can only try to plan so much to try to prevent it.
Is that the next monster – a Tornado? I’ve got it, haven’t I.
Yes, it’s weather effects.
While the game won’t be released until February, the developers also mentioned that if you have an Xbox One, you can start downloading the game right now to preload in advance of this weekend’s beta. The first three monsters and all three character sets will be available, as well as the Evacuation campaign. Additional good news for anyone in Australia is that the game will have local servers. If you can’t wait until February for the final game, jump on the beta. To learn more, visit evolvegame.com.
Much thanks to Alan Moore of 2K Australia and Jon Bloch of Turtle Rock Studios for providing Save Game with this opportunity.