Skyforge and Armored Warfare Office Tour
Last Thursday was certainly an interesting time. Obsidian Entertainment invited a variety of European and American gaming press to their office in downtime Irvine, California as a sort of unofficial launch event for Armored Warfare. Strangely enough, we gleaned very little information about what’s next for the two games that wasn’t already public before attending. Now that’s not to say there aren’t HUGE HUGE content updates in the works for both games. Just that apparently my way with working details out of game developers are rather frowned upon by the producers and my.com publishers, and I’m left under embargo to not report on said giant reveals… yet. I do have some interesting news to share though, along with a look inside the infamous gaming studio responsible for such legendary titles as Star Wars: The Old Republic II, South Park: The Stick of Truth, Neverwinter Nights II, and Fallout: New Vegas just to name a few.
Eric Demilt kicked things off with a look at what has been and what will be in one of the most successful MMORPG launches of 2015, Skyforge. To our surprise, we discovered the game has been in development since 2010, so it’s no wonder they had a solid pipeline of content ready to continue streaming out post-open beta launch. One thing that became clear throughout the day though was Obsidian is hardcore about their stat collection, and reactive in design to reflect the stats shown.
For instance, they offered us a shot of the full breakdown of % of players that have played every class in the game. Seeing that some classes are extremely under played due to the nature of their unlock being so deep inside the Ascension Atlas, they are looking into ways to give players a shot at experiencing them without requiring hours upon hours of work. Their Halloween event letting you unlock the Witch is a good example of this.
The end of their presentation showcased a pipeline of things to come. Rated PvP with tournaments seems to be the big push in development currently. Pantheon Academies making the community more accessible to new players, while assisting established guilds to find new recruits, is also heading our way very soon. These elements seem to tie together as Pantheon VS Pantheon combat will soon test the might of the hardcore players, and you’ll need some numbers to prepare for such epic battles.
PvE players on the other hand can look forward to a steady stream of new zones/missions to keep the game exciting. This is going to include new foes known as Avatars, aka big ass monsters unlike anything you’ve seen in game prior. Hints of a new class were also given, with concept art hinting at something to do with robotics, but even the developers willing to slip a few secrets were 100% tight lipped about what this class could be. Though I imagine with a new class we can expect some changes or additions to the Ascension Atlas. It only makes sense they would have to do so.
Overall the Skyforge presentation was brief as the true focus of the day was Armored Warfare’s open beta, and what’s next for the modern armor focused game. Chief Developer Richard Taylor was on sight to start things off with a bang, announcing they would soon have a whopping 20 maps live for play.
Again going back to statistics playing a key part in development, Armored Warfare developers saw the writing on the wall. Roughly 30% of their playerbase are PvE fanatics, something unheard of in the primarily PvP driven world of online tank fighting. As such you better believe a much heavier focus on narrative and story progression in missions is high on the pipeline priority list. Base Building 2.0 will soon be live to offer a more rewarding and meaningful reason to balance this side venture. Rewards have recently been upped to make PvE more rewarding, but they’ve heard the outcry of “not enough” and are continuing to look for how else they can make PvE players not feel gimped compared to their PvP brethren.
Another complaint they’re looking to address is the high cost and time for ammo refills and tank repairs on high tier vehicles. People don’t want to fight through the long grind to these tanks just to only use them once a day, and Obsidian hears ya.
One of the most impressive addressed requests from the community however is the upcoming Operation Reactor map. Players wanted larger maps, and boy are they ever getting one. At roughly 200% larger than the original Armored Warfare maps, Operation Reactor is a behemoth of gaming tech brought to life. Get ready to play cat and mouse with your rivals in a 14×14 KM map! That’s not the only map in the works however. A coast-side PvP map is coming soon along with PvE maps code named Operation Cerberus and Operation Albatross.
Custom match making is incoming as well, set to go live with an observer mode ideal for shoutcasting battles, or just learning from superior players in a live setting. I’m sure players will be able to get creative in these battles with rulesets as well for fun possibilities. Rumors of a replay system following not far behind should have competitive players pretty damn excited.
Finally for those wishing a core tank could get the rewards of being a premium tank, the upcoming Battle Hardened Mode will offer just that. In exchange for accumulation of a certain currency, you’ll be able to upgrade the status of one of your favorite tanks to Battle Hardened, netting you premium rewards as well as sending a sign to your allies that you’re going all out with your favorite tank in that battle.
The primary focus of the event though was the Tier 9 tanks, set to go live in an upcoming patch within the next week or two. We had a chance to go hands-on with the tanks to share some thoughts.
Challenger 2 – Straight out of the tale of the Turtle and the Hair, the Challenger 2 believes slow and steady will win the race. Getting this bad boy up a hill is a test of patience but at least you have the comfort in knowing that if someone catches you off guard, you’ll have plenty of time to turn and face your attacker because this tank just doesn’t take damage. I saw shells bounce off our hull for days.
T90 MC – One of the few tanks the Challenger 2 might need to watch out for. If you have a steady hand and can line up your shots to find your foes’ weak point, the T90 MS will obliterate anything in its path.
Panhard CRAB – The CRAB is the definitive example of what a scout should be. Its vision can spot foes so far away, just having one on the battlefield is enough to instill constant paranoia. What’s really wild about this vehicle is its ability to pivot in place, letting it escape in just about any direction at the drop of the hat should you get the drop on one. And man… can that CRAB scuttle.
B1 Draco – What a nightmare. This tank will make you never want to leave your flank exposed again. A Tank Destroyer with an 8 shell autocannon firing 78mm shells? That’s the kind of firepower I only want to see on my side. This was my personal favorite of the batch, as it was rather novice friendly and still brought the big damage numbers to even the hardiest of the tier 9 line-up.
M1A2 Abrams – My favorite of the Main Battle Tanks, especially during my PvE testing. It just does everything so well. Moves decently, Hits like a… tank should hit. So long as you keep your enemy in front of you, it can absorb quite a bit of punishment. When you don’t know what kind of fight you’re picking, I’d feel most confident going in blind with the ultimate Abrams.
Tier 9 tanks wouldn’t be all that without the announcement of end game content to go with it. I can say that Armored Warfare is looking at getting territory wars, ranked ladders, and guild battles online in the near future to satisfy organized players’ lust for conquest.
We gleaned some bonus information about the future of Armored Warfare form Q&A as well. For one, it’s confirmed that Obsidian is experimenting with penetration physics to allow tanks to shooter through and destroy objects. This requires rewriting code for tons of individual objects throughout multiple maps though so it may take some time. This is particularly true since they intend to have different object reactions depending on the type of shell and velocity at impact.
Tier 10 tanks are in the works. Considering the Tier 9 tanks are relevant within the last 5 years of modern first world technology, we had to question what exactly Armored Warfare intends to use for Tier 10. The answer is prototypes and experimentals with a little bit of imagination. When I asked if they company had connections with various governments for obtaining said prototypes, they declined to answer. Ah well, we’ll just assume!
Later on during the office visit we had a chance to further question the developers on plans while sitting in their offices. Here we discovered plans for implementing unique powers that separate the tank classes to a further extent, almost akin to class elite skills in an MMORPG. A demo of the Tank Destroyer’s stealth sniping ability was shown. This combines with an upcoming improvement to camouflage for a rather differentiating experience.
Essentially Obsidian doesn’t want camouflage to be a light switch mechanic but rather a nob of varying degrees. Firing a shot while in camouflage will push you reveal meter up, making you easier to spot, especially for vehicles with high vision stats. The Tank Destroyer ability allows them to wind up for a few seconds to fire off silent shots within a four or so second window (numbers are still a work in progress). If you move at all the skill goes into a very long cooldown. But any shots fired during that window will increase your camouflage reveal factor by a much smaller margin than normal, allowing you to pelt an enemy before they literally know what is hitting them. If the target survives, they’ll know your general location of course. But the delay will give you plenty of time to reposition before continuing the assault.
The other class specific ultimate mentioned was the scout. The scout will gain the ability to mark an enemy target, making them more susceptible to damage from allied tanks for the duration of the marker. This skill was chosen to push the Scout more towards a leadership role on the battlefield, calling the shots and directing forces based on their superior vision of the battlefield.
One final and fantastic reveal we stumbled upon in the office tour was an incoming update to the user interface. Originating as a debug method, Obsidian has decided to push the technology into a public feature helping users to quickly identify where they are under fire from, and what kind of ammunition they’re being hit by, all from visual queues.
In the demo this breakdown was done through yellow and red jagged border indicators. Yellow represented deflected shells while red demonstrated suffered damage. The depth of the outline demonstrates how powerful of an impact you suffered, and the direction it hits you will reflect with where it appears on the screen.
Overall Armored Warfare is bringing Obsidian’s A game on all fronts. This open beta looks to be just the beginning of a long series of improvements to the game. Plus if this image is any indication, we can rest assured that Tankasaurus Rex is in the works! Or perhaps is just a prototype for the feared upcoming boss fight feature, Simbumasaufus Recks!
Office Visit Thoughts
Being in an established development studio like Obsidian Entertainment is quite different from the typical small time publishing studios I’ve visited in the free to play sector. Other than the sheer size of their facility, I have to say the key difference was culture. Sure every office has hoarder programmers stuffed into dark cubicles (though Obsidian has rather impressive offices instead of cubicles), here each group of designers was grouped into rounded set-ups where ideas could easily be exchanged between members of the same group.
Another change was seeing iconic developers from past games still present on current projects. Obsidian builds from their successes and failures, and transfers that knowledge onward to future projects to get the most bang for their development buck. As such there’s clearly some serious talent at play on Armored Warfare. Not to mention the company has a clear culture of overtime and quality hours put into place. Their hardware is top notch, with devices so ergonomic they almost felt sci-fi in nature.
Despite this culture, they still took the time to decorate out Halloween decorations. They had a board room filled with board games; a collection so vast and obscure it would make any D&D specialty store weep for joy. And the programmers clearly enjoyed what they do. Most programmers are rather stand offish or anti-social, or are quick to change the subject and talk about what they enjoy playing in their off-hours. These programmers were flat out proud of their work, and were sad to see us leave because they still had so much to show and talk about in their current projects.
Following the visit, I have a new level of faith in the Armored Warfare team. These are clearly career designers bringing console buy to play quality skill into a free to play genre with the tools and teams needed to break into any competitive genre.