So, there exists this interesting genre-blending game out there on Steam that you may have heard about – Nuclear Dawn, which is an RTS-FPS hybrid set after the third World War, devoted to showing the survivors of humanity scrabbling in the ruins of civilization to wrest control of what little resources remain... and spending most of them on killing each other stone dead. We’ve had a chance for a little Q&A with the game’s creators, represented by Noelemahc, your truly, on the HTL side and Igor Raffaele, the General Manager of Interwave Studios, the game’s creators.
HTL Nuclear Dawn began its life as a Half-Life 2 mod. At what point, for what reason, did you decide that it needed to be a separate commercial endeavour?
IR Nuclear Dawn was an abandoned mod project at the time that we started working on Distant Hope, a somewhat similar multiplayer shooter. We saw what the original team had done, and it was quite frankly inspiring as well as jaw-dropping. We contacted the original team leads, asked them whether we could take over the Nuclear Dawn name and concepts, and merged our initial Distant Hope concepts with Nuclear Dawn's existing material, taking the best of both design into what eventually evolved into Nuclear Dawn.
HTL It's interesting how the design aesthetic of Nuclear Dawn, despite taking place in a post-nuclear future-tech setting, is so very much Cold War. Can't help but think that the Empire - coloured red, with a hammer insignia and speaking with a specific accent - are Soviet forces, and the Consortium, with their blue colours and winged insignia, are the Capistalists. (Of course, the game's backstory does explicitly say the core of the Empire is China and the Consortium is centered on the USA and Western Europe, but... little indicates that in-game!) How did that come to be?
IR There's a lot less creative thought than you'd think in a lot of what you point out. The great dichotomies have been the same for ever: east versus west, red versus blue, and so on are too powerful not to play on. The rest is perhaps rooted in our own influences: the Cold War coloured just about every aspect of everyone's news in the eighties, and it was impossible not to feel aligned with one or the other faction.
As with all team efforts, the roots of every single decision are lost in the primal soup of inspiration and brainstorming, so I can't credit one or other team member with each invention. The ideas that made it into the game were the ones that stuck the most, and that the fewest found fault with.
HTL Do you compare your game to other projects with similar genre-blending qualities, like Natural Selection 2, which has a very similar approach to the role of the Commander and base-building mechanics; do you study your "competitor" games?
IR As we developed, we compared the game against our inspirations constantly. At the time, not much was known of Natural Selection 2, and the early alpha came out in our final months. Generally, you tend to study all games as every title finds itself wrangling the same technical issues, so you study the 'greats' to find out how they solved certain issues. Likewise, we carefully analyzed past games that attempted FPS/RTS fusions, to figure out how they avoided certain pitfalls.
Usually, however, there isn't enough information about recent titles to make it worth taking the research time - after all, you're interested in learning from the games that you know already succeeded.
HTL What main sources of inspiration went into creating the Nuclear Dawn gameworld? It's not readily apparent in the game, but you've built up quite a backstory in there, judging from the Wiki and the occasional loading screen blurbs.
IR We inherited Nuclear Dawn with a wonderful tome of speculative fiction that detailed the blow-by-blow escalation into a final conflict that wiped out all of humanity. It was dozens of pages long, and after six months of working on Nuclear Dawn we still couldn't remember some of the twists and turns. One of my jobs at that time was to slim down the back story, and make it more modular, more easily digestible.
In the process, along with the rest of the team, we ended up setting down the groundwork for a more expansive game world that contained several unknowns (to you guys), and that had lots of elbow room for expansion. That framework of history and mythology and science fiction eventually became the base for the in-game narrative that you spot in the game.
HTL The maps are all based on real-world cities, right? What was the choice process? Was it more of a "we gotta do a desert map!" - "Why not Dubai?" or was it "Hmm, what cities can we use? What location types would that give us?".
IR All of that! We started with a few iconic locations that just had to be there.. because we wanted them. New York, London, Tokyo, Dubai. This was as much the artists' preference as anything else. You know, that feeling of "That place looks awesome, I bet I could make it even prettier by dropping a few megatons of flaming death on its head". Only psychopaths and level designers think like that.
Then, we picked the remaining locations based on geographical locations that matched map types we hadn't done. After the first four maps were sketched out, we went scouting on Google Earth for locations that would fit the bill for forested or seaside locations. That's how Silo and Hydro were born.
HTL As a follow-up to the above: Do you often get cries of "why isn't <City X> included" from the fans?
IR Surprisingly, no! But then again, we did give people the chance to nuke their own home towns with the mod tools!
HTL Speaking of which, with the Steam Workshop support, there's a lot of additional content available that came from the fans. Are there any particularly memorable pieces that you could mention?
IR There were many really cool add-ons from the community. Some were hair-raisingly dangerous code hacks, and others inspired balancing mods, and they were all fun. The one that stuck the most with me was The Gate, the winner of our 2012 mapping contest. It was a great map that somehow managed to look like it wasn't even running in Source, and didn't look like a copy of any of the previous locations, while at the same time maintaining a Nuclear Dawn-y feeling.
HTL Mandatory creative question: do you playtest your games among the team? Supposedly, an FPS development tradition is to blow your own deadlines because the multiplayer is just THAT good that you get distracted. Have you ever been down that road?
IR Playtesting sessions were mandatory, and often ran into the night. A one hour testing session often would turn out into a five hour game, and that happened quite often, even early on. I would say that instead of making the game late, those fun playing sessions were the fuel that powered all the mandatory late nights that a game launch requires.
HTL When (if?) you play, who are you most often? Commander? Marksman? Siege?
IR Hah. Funny, that one. Commander and Assault for myself. As a Commander I am an old school turtler, and as an assault I'm very much a front line man, always pushing and trying to capture, and making those silly Stealths regret the day they picked sniper. I love both laser forests and the Avenger so, yeah... long live the Empire!
HTL 2012 and now 2013 have seen a major upsurge in interest from big-name companies in indie games and indie developers. Have you been approached? Should we be looking forward to seeing Nuclear Dawn or a new project from your company on the PS4, perhaps?
IR We have been approached, both when Nuclear Dawn was in development and after. We are still making promising deals that would see a resurgence in the player base, if they go according to plan. Things are not quite as easy for a bigger, more expensive project like ND, but still it felt good to be recognized at that level.
Nuclear Dawn runs on a version of Source that would make porting to the PS4 rather costly, and that is providing Valve ever make a branch of their engine with that export feature. Future titles? Yes, we're already enquiring about next-next gen consoles.
HTL Speaking of the indie craze: how does that make you feel as developers of games? That we're back to the late eighties, early nineties, when you didn't have to be a cog in a giant corporate machine in order to publish your stuff in a way that more than just your native city would know about it?
IR The rise of independent game makers has demonstrated consistently that publishers need to get their act in gear and modernize their business model, if they are to remain in the development game. Titles like the recent Project Eternity, Torment, Double Fine Adventure, Star Commander and many other successful Kickstarters have demonstrated that if you reach your people right, you will be able to make the games that the publishing machine didn't want you to.
HTL Are there any particular projects in development out there that you, as gamers, are looking forward to, or feeling excited about?
IR Heh. That kind of question unleashes the inner fanboy. The Last of Us, Watch Dogs, Battlefield 4, Grand Theft Auto V, The Stick of Truth, Remember Me, Company of heroes 2, A Machine for Pigs, Starbound, Routine, Project Fedora, Thief... that's just off the top of my mind.
HTL Alright, final and most important question: what does the future hold in store for Interwave? What should we be expecting from you and your comrades-in-arms next?
IR We're currently wrapping up Dark Matter, a 2.5D platformer that offers a mixture of platforming action and adventure exploration, with lots of environmental interaction. You can head over to www.darkmatterthegame.com for more info - we're about to start putting out more media for it, so we'll keep you posted!
After Dark Matter, we'll take stock of the situation, and see what best suits our budget and manpower. We're only a couple of games away from taking another, bigger, better stab at Nuclear Dawn 2
And that’s all for this time, folks.
Just as a reminder, Nuclear Dawn is available on Steam and runs about just on anything capable of handling the Source Engine, so if you bought your PC while either of the last two US presidents were in office, you’re probably good to go.
The official site for Interwave Studios can be found here.
The official site for the game can be found here.
The Kickstarter for Dark Matter can be found over here.
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