Last week I peeped a new 3D action RPG game… for Facebook. Yeah, not a Steam release or an Xbox Live Arcade title, but a title where you’ll be able to plug in all your best friends and play right out of a browser window. It’s weird, I know. I had an opportunity to chat with Robot Rising’s executive producer Michael Fitch about the game and where Tencent is taking it. If you’ve been waiting for a ‘core’ gaming experience on Facebook, I’d suggest you check it out.
FleshEatingZipper: There are hundreds of Facebook games out there and my friends are constantly getting pinged to play them. Why should people give Robot Rising a look?
Michael Fitch: I think our philosophy is pretty simple: blowing up robots is a lot of fun. The game we’re putting out there is something very different than the other stuff you’re seeing on Facebook. It’s fully 3D, in the browser. It’s fast-paced action combat. It’s an action RPG, so there’s long-term character progression. We have about eight hundred models, we have hundreds of pieces of equipment that you can find and a tremendous amount of customization that you can do with your robot. It’s a gaming experience that’s more akin to what you’d find a console or in the premium retail space, but it’s available completely for free with about a twenty second download in your browser.
FEZ: What kind of social features will Robot Rising have through Facebook?
MF: The thing with games like this is that they evolve over time and we’re trying to get something out there that’s cutting edge as quickly as possible, so we’re going to start out on the smaller end of that featureset. To start, you can invite friends to be neighbors, and once you have them as neighbors, you can send them gifts like grenades, medkits, or components they can use for manufacturing in their base. From there, we’re looking into being able to request specific components for manufacturing, an achievements system, and being able to brag about achievements. Down the road, we want you to be able to post pictures of your robot on your Facebook wall, which I think that’d be cool, especially as you begin to build higher-level robots that have multiple attack points and you can begin to build some crazy creations. Further down the road, co-op and player-versus-player (PVP) are things we’d like to implement and we think action RPG fans are going to want those kind of experiences.
FEZ: Are co-op and PVP something you’ve tested? Are they viable or is it just on the white board at this point?
MF: That’s more through the deep planning stages. We know it’s possible, we’ve built MMO game engines before. We’ve done online gameplay, we know what the structure and the architecture of that kind of system looks like, but it takes a lot of development effort to get there and to make it finely tuned and polished with the quality we want to include we want to include in our game, and that’s definitely down the road a bit.
MF: I think the technology has finally gotten to the point where we can do 3D well in the browser. 3D allows us to do so many more interesting things that you just can’t do in 2D, like combat situations that involve things at multiple levels, to rendering characters the way we do, have the level of detail that’s in the game, or in the way we manage animations, orientation… 3D is where the gaming space evolved into and for good reason. Now that it’s possible to do it with a browser, we can take advantage of that generational shift that happened in gaming fifteen years ago and apply it to the browser today.
FEZ: Is it fair to say that Robot Rising is Diablo-esque?
MF: Well, yeah, it’s an action roleplaying game. A lot of people who work for Stomp Games used to work for Iron Lore [Entertainment], and also worked on Titan Quest. We know the genre, we love the genre. Diablo is certainly the granddaddy of them all. We believe you can do a lot more with science-fiction than fantasy and I think we’re taking that in some interesting new directions.
FEZ: You’re declaring war on fantasy with science-fiction, which I agree with. Why?
MF: There’s a few things that lead to that: we dealt with a lot of fantasy work for years prior to that and it’s a good change of pace for the studio. There are only so many swords you can draw, so many pieces of armor you can draw before you get a little tired of drawing swords and pieces of armor. The other thing was that this was a very innovative space that you can jump into. You can have different kinds of stories, you can have different kinds of characters. You can have a whole different world when you go into science-fiction. There’s a whole lot of unexplored space out there, there’s been a whole lot of stuff that hasn’t been done before. There forty-odd people in this studio who are really passionate about being creative and so the opportunity to do something fresh, innovative, and new was a good feeling for us.
FEZ: What’s the narrative behind Robot Rising?
MF: The basic set up is a bit of a mystery up front. You start off as a self-aware, advanced AI that’s in control of this robot production facility and you have three clear directives: you have to gather resources and information, you need to build up the capabilities of your base, and you need to build more powerful robots. And the way you do that is by venturing out into these complexes, destroying hostile robots, taking their resources, taking their pieces, and bringing them back to your base and turning your robot into an ever more powerful killing machine. In the longterm you have a full-fledged story arc about how robots came to be self-aware and the wars that developed and the different factions that emerged from that process and we wanted it to be a journey of discovery for our players.
FEZ: And how do you see that playing out over the course of hundreds of hours of gameplay like, say, The Old Republic does?
MF: Right, so there’s a lot of different of storytelling mechanisms that are available within games. Our first take on that is really going to be incorporating the delivery of the story into the action-RPG gameplay. So, we’ve got things that we call ‘articles’ that are acquired by destroying robots, accessing terminals, finding them in lockers and they give you little insight into events that have already transpired or are going on currently. And through a series of articles, you can put together a picture of what the landscape is, who the players are, what your position is in relation to them, and over the course of going through fifty levels of progression, you discover more and more about the history, more and more about those players, and the story evolves as you get more perspective on what’s going on.
FEZ: Now how many of these complexes (Robot Rising’s name for dungeons) are there? Could you go through them all?
MF: One of the things that we know that’s important is to have unpredictable content. If you go into a complex and you know exactly what you’re going to get, there’s no instances of discovery or challenge, so it becomes routine. We’ve built a pretty robust content system You’ve got about eight hundred complex levels currently, but we distribute them randomly to players depending on the level of the robot that they’re going in with. If you’ve got a level four robot, there are probably five different levels you might get and you probably won’t see all of them by the time you move on to the next level. So the chance of you seeing all of these levels is exceedingly slim. You might be able to do it if you started a whole series of robots from level three, but it would take a long time.
FEZ: And you’re constantly adding more to them…
MF: We’re constantly adding more We’ve got about two hundred more levels in the production pipeline that will be online probably at the beginning of August, end of September. We’re producing content at a pretty fantastic rate.
FEZ: How many different biomes, or tilesets, are you guys going to have?
MF: We’ve got four different scenes in the game right now, with another one in the same beginning of August, end of September timeframe. We can roll those out every two to three months and we’re going to continue to grow that stat over time. With each new scene, or environment, you need a new batch of robots as well, so we’re adding twelve to fifteen more of them every couple of months.