BattleForge Interview (PC)
Taking its cue from the online community of WoW and the card collecting of Magic: The Gathering, BattleForge is an intriguing concept for an online RTS, so we caught up with BattleForge’s producer, Sebastien Nell who was on hand to chat with us on the phone about the game and fill us in on the details. Read on…
Strategy Informer: The last time we saw BattleForge was at EA’s European Showcase back in April of this year. How much has the game come along in the few months since?
Sebastien Nell: Very good. Hopefully you’ll have had the chance to play the beta for which we’ve given out roughly 4000 keys for now, and we have about 400 simultaneous users online, which is a great response to the game. All the feedback that we’ve had so far from the community has been very good. We’ve had loads of compliments about how good the graphics look, how the gameplay mechanics come together, which is something new in an RTS. And that was mainly our goal with BattleForge, to create something new, by taking the old RTS genre and creating something that hasn’t been done before. Our thinking was, let’s get the RTS online because the RPG already made that transition a long time a go, which is why the most successful game online is an RPG. We thought, ok, let’s do it with an RTS and that’s when we created BattleForge.
|The game certainly looks very nice.||You can clearly tell which units possess which powers. Here we see Frost versus Nature. Can you see which one’s which?|
Strategy Informer: And I’m right in thinking that the game revolves around using a deck of cards, right?
Sebastien Nell: Purely virtual. The cards represent units, buildings and spells within BattleForge and we decided to go with cards because everybody’s used to associating value with cards, like Magic: The Gathering players or even poker players (who) know that each card has a certain value. In BattleForge we use these cards as a transporter for these units, buildings and spells, but instead we could have used runes, which wouldn’t have made much sense because - like I said – people are used to playing with cards and since we have a lot of Magic: The Gathering veterans in our team, it was kind of clear that we’d go that route. Also, (there is) all of the community aspects that you have with trading cards.
In our game we fully support everything that you know from offline, real world trading, so we have an auction house, which is like a substitute for eBay when it comes to Magic: The Gathering players. You have in-game mail where you can attach cards as well as direct player trades, and we have trade messages where you can post, ‘I’m trading this card,’ or ‘I’m searching for that card.’ That’s what we’ve created to give the community all the tools that they need to communicate with each other, and it’s all built into the game.
Strategy Informer: You mentioned Magic: The Gathering. Was this one of the main influences for BattleForge?
Sebastien Nell: Definitely, but like I explained, we were searching for something to act as a transporter and as we have many Magic: The Gathering fans within the team, and the creative director who originally came up with the idea of merging an RTS with a trading card game, he’s a huge Magic player. Then we also have Yu-Gi-Oh players, so that’s where we got our influence from, as well as from the popular RTS games like Warcraft, Starcraft and so on. Also, obviously all the online RPGs that are out now, especially in terms of the social aspects, like chatting and having guilds in the game was something that we took from the online RPGs.
Strategy Informer: The RTS is a huge genre, especially on the PC. Do you see BattleForge having enough in the way of unique ideas to really stand out from the crowd?
Sebastien Nell: Definitely. First of all BattleForge is an online only product, so there’s no offline component to the game. Even the single-player scenarios would usually have offline or online and there’s several reasons for that. Our main focus with BattleForge was to create an RTS that is focused on co-operative gameplay, so PvE (Player versus Enemy), instead of putting the focus on a PvP (Player versus Player) mode, which previous RTS games have delivered very well (already). But it’s not very motivating for players that are not very good at PvP to get their ass kicked every time they go online, so we created a great PvE mode, where you can play together with your friends with one player, two player, four player and twelve player scenarios. The twelve player scenarios are what we call raids, like in World Of Warcraft and the content is as hard as the basic forty man dungeons when World Of Warcraft started out, which is pretty cool. During the beta it’s nice to see how players already try to tackle the twelve player maps and heartily fail in doing so (laughs). So then they’re going back to talk on the forums about strategies and what they’re going to do and which cards they’re going to take in their deck in order to successfully beat those twelve player maps or other scenarios.
I think that’s one of the things we also focused the game around. In a normal RTS you’re pretty much bound to a build order in that you have to have a certain building, you have to upgrade it in order to create new units. In BattleForge you have a card collection, where you can see which cards you own and out of your collection you pick twenty cards you want to take into battle with you. This gives you almost infinite options in creating a deck that perfectly fits to the purpose you need it for. We have four powers in BattleForge, Fire, Frost, Shadow and Nature and all these powers stand for a different strategy. So, Fire is very destructive, Frost is more defensive with healing units and Shadow I call the evil paladin, as there’s always a downside to playing with a Shadow deck. It’s really the depth of strategic thinking that we put into the game – it’s just really, really cool. Players are going to choose their power that they like to play with, which is comparable with taking a role in an RPG, but you’re not bound to one specific role at a time. You can build as many decks as you want and follow different strategies.
|The big bosses look very cool and will take a lot of punishment before they fall||Massive battles with loads of units on screen is just one of the things making BattleForge an exciting prospect|
Strategy Informer: Do you have any plans for expansion packs available at a cost?
Sebastien Nell: There have been some misconceptions about it, but BattleForge was planned as an online service and obviously you want to deliver new content. Maps will be free and you get over half of the cards in the box when you purchase the game and then like Magic, we’ll release new card additions. But just to go back to the box content again, we’ll have four predefined decks from each power which contain sixteen cards then we’ll add additional booster packs made up of eight random cards of which you’re guaranteed at least one rare or ultra rare card. Ten booster packs come with the box, which means you’ll have around 120 cards to choose from right at the beginning. Then there’s the option to purchase booster packs from our in-game store.
Strategy Informer: And roughly how much will these retail for?
Sebastien Nell: The final price is not yet determined, but it’s going to be a lot less than the booster packs you’d buy for Magic or any other trading card game.
Strategy Informer: Is it possible to collect a complete pack or is the collection always going to be expanding and changing?
Sebastien Nell: Well, to keep the online service running I certainly hope that people are going to purchase the booster packs and of course, it’s possible that players will have a complete collection, but not just through buying booster packs but through smart trading with players or going and buying in the auction house and having friends send you cards.
Strategy Informer: Do you have a confirmed release date for the game yet?
Sebastien Nell: We’re talking early 2009, but there’s no final date decided yet.
Strategy Informer: And have you got everything into the game that you wanted to?
Sebastien Nell: We have a whole backlog of items that during the time BattleForge is live will add certain features during the game’s life cycle, that’s for sure. We’ve many ideas that we think we’ll add, but what we wanted to have in the initial product that we ship next year is all there, but live servers expand.
|The locations are lush and detailed||A fantasy game staple: the glowing beam of light shooting into the sky. Why? Just because|
Strategy Informer: So lots of plans for post-release DLC then?
Sebastien Nell: Well, for downloadable content you have the free maps and we’re going to look at the community on a monthly basis, so they can tell us, or we can look at the game statistics to see what people like and we’ll create those maps for the community. There are lots of things that we want to add later on that we might not have yet thought about, but when the game ships we can always incorporate (content based upon) the feedback we get from the community. BattleForge is over 50% community dependent and I think we’re doing a good job in giving the community the tools they need to feel comfortable within the game. I always like to compare it with World Of Warcraft because when they started their product they had a great website and my goal especially was to create a website which already has the functionality that the World Of Warcraft website has now.
Strategy Informer: If BattleForge proves to be a success on the PC, can you see it eventually making its way onto home consoles?
Sebastien Nell: We looked at that option and I think it’s something that we’ll take a closer look at but right now this isn’t planned.