I got a chance to sit down with Robot Entertainment CEO Patrick Hudson, and Designer Jerome Jones, following my preview of the content from the closed beta of Orcs Must Die! Unchained, which became available to registered fans last Friday. They were kind enough to take the time to answer some questions about the newest entry in the cult favorite franchise. This is what they had to say about the game.
David Poole (DP): So I prepared a few questions last night, and I played the first game [In the series], I actually really did like the first game a lot. A neat kind of tower defense game, so obviously in the second game, you added the co-op multiplayer, and now in this one you’re going with a five versus five kind of set up, what kind of lead you to go that route?
Jerome Jones (JJ): To me it felt like a logical sort of path that happened with the game, I mean when we did Orcs Must Die! One, there were a lot of things we would’ve loved to do with Orcs Must Die! One, if we would’ve had more time, more resources, things like that, we’re not, we weren’t a huge company, we’re not a huge company now, but uh I mean all the things that sort of happened from Orcs Must Die! One to Orcs Must Die! 2, now Orcs Must Die! Unchained kind of felt natural as we did it, and I mean we would’ve loved to have put co-op in Orcs Must Die! One, but we just didn’t have the time and resources. We would’ve loved to have more multiplayer in Orcs Must Die! 2, you know, things just sort of happened naturally and now we’re sort of just at this place on the OMD franchise where it needs to go into a bigger direction as far as the franchise goes.
DP: Okay, and obviously being a team based multiplayer experience, there’s no single player content, just multiplayer online?
JJ: There’s bots in the game!
DP: There’s Bots?
JJ: Yea, there are bots in the game, we don’t have every hero a bot right now, I think we have five different bots right now that we’re playing at the company right now, I think they’re on the alpha too. People are playing with bots. Uh, the AI of the bots is always gonna be ongoing because you know you sort of get this base AI for the bots and then you have to sort of specialize the AI for each individual hero so they use their abilities differently. So I would say the bots are like a beginner player right now but the goal is to make those bots, you know, competitive on different levels and stuff like that. So you can, that’s another thing I wanted to clear up, you can play right now 3v3 if you want. You can play three humans and two bots, you can form custom games and not get experience, but you can form up a game however you want to play the game, so there is, I don’t know if it’s officially a single player experience, but you can definitely stay away from the sort of hard…
DP: So it’s like practice?
JJ: Yea! You can practice, you can stay away from the sort of hardcore five versus five thing if you wanted. If you want to just experience the game and learn all the little things first.
DP: Okay so when you’re doing the bots, you don’t level up?
JJ: Right! Well you don’t get any experience when you’re in the custom games.
DP: Okay, alright so what kind of lead you to go the free to play route?
JJ: Uhh…That’s probably a good question.
Patrick Hudson (PH): Yea, there’s a couple different reasons, you know you want to do a bigger game, uh, multiplayer game, specifically in something like that, you know the server infrastructure and it almost necessitates having a free to play, so you kind of pay for all the infrastructure, assuming you get enough people in the game. And two is you know it’s only been on Steam really today, I mean the first game was on XBLA and Steam. If you’re limited to just that platform, you know it’s hard to kind of take it to global scale, you’re not gonna get players in Asia, half the playing population on the planet is not going to pay for a paid download, same in Russia. So we just felt like we’ve kind of grown the franchise to a point where we could take it to a global scale, and taking away that barrier of paid is just getting more people into the game.
DP: Okay, do you feel like it’s gonna be a stand out title among other free to play titles like others on Steam like Team Fortress 2, or like other ones like League of Legends?
PH: I mean that’s the hope, we hope we’re as big as those titles, we’d like to be one of the top free to play PC games in the world. That’s a hard one to crack into, there’s a ton of great competition, a lot of great games out there, but you know we start with a franchise that’s already well known, and has game play that you really don’t find in other games, so we think it’s a unique experience to come in.
DP: Right, definitely was, it was a lot of fun to play. So you’re strictly sticking with PC? I know the first one was on Xbox Live but did you ever decide to go branch out towards consoles?
PH: We have ambitions to be on consoles but we don’t have anything to announce yet as it’s gonna come out right now in beta on just PC, you know the first game, as we talked about was on a console and played great with a controller, so we’ll see if we can get there in a reasonable period of time.
DP: Okay, and then I noticed, just kind of playing a little bit of the game right there, since it is a free to play model and everything, and obviously microtransactions are a thing, and you have stuff you can order through the store with the skulls and the coins, I noticed…
JJ: Now skulls you earn while you play so you can almost buy everything in the game with skulls, there are things you can’t buy with skulls, but you can compete and play for free and buy heroes with skulls, it’s a lot of skulls, but you can buy heroes, you can buy packs, you can buy all that stuff with skulls, so it is truly free to play if you want it to be.
DP: Right, so microtransactions don’t really make a big difference? It’s not going to change the balance of the war.
JJ: Oh no no. Not at all.
DP: [Because] that’s always like a concern among a lot of gamers out there, when they see a free to play model, and they see a potential store, they always feel like that that might kind of detract from the balance of the core gameplay.
JJ: To me it’s more about convenience, to me microtransactions, or getting things faster, it’s more about convenience, that’s really more about you know, what it is, not pay to win.
DP: Right, exactly. Nobody likes to do the “pay to win” so I mean just from playing it, it seems pretty well balanced
JJ: Well, yea. When you can only have one hero of type per side, it allows for a little more flexibility in balance amongst the heroes, maybe you do have a powerful hero in there that, maybe he’s a little bit more powerful than this hero on offense, or a little bit more powerful than this hero on defense, but I don’t know sort of the synergy between the five is what makes the difference right? So it allows for a little more flexibility, and I think some games make that mistake by allowing the same type of hero, or is allowing more of the same type of hero on the side, that’s where you start to get really big balance problems, because those imbalances compound, and you don’t get that when you can only have one hero per type, per side.
DP: Right, okay, another question I actually had was about the story. So I understand this takes place a few years after the second Orcs Must Die!?
JJ: Yea, and it was one of the challenges of making the game multiplayer, it was just sort of tying the story in and keeping the story the same, did you play, you didn’t play the second game?
DP: I unfortunately did not.
JJ: Right, yea we tried to build off that, we really got a lot of things in the story that build off some of the hero’s powers, and things that people will recognize from the first and second story that makes sense amongst different heroes, and uh yea it takes place a little further in the future.
DP: Yea, cause, I mean there’s familiar characters like the War Mage, and like the Sorceress and stuff from the series, I mean you guys kept the humor pretty well, like I love the names of some of the cards…
JJ: Yea, the humor’s kind of always going to be the same I would hope, I think we tend to even push the edge a little more on the humor every time with each game, we try to.
PH: Even some of the heroes that are playable like Ball and Chain, she was a NPC character in Orcs Must Die! 2, so we brought some of those characters who were announced playable.
JJ: Oh that’s right, cause you didn’t play 2, so he wouldn’t know Ball and Chain. Ball and Chain was just a minion in Orcs Must Die! 2, and now she’s a hero. Made a logical… she made sort of a logical hero choice.
DP: Right, and so we got to play with thirteen heroes today, and I understand there’s going to be a lot more in the actual full build of the game.
JJ: Yea we’re not really narrowing down a specific amount of heroes right now, in the beta there’ll be those thirteen, and there will definitely be more heroes, more heroes to come.
DP: Okay, and you guys mentioned Ball and Chain, do you guys have a favorite hero of any of the current playable characters?
PH: Um, you know I’m starting to enjoy The Master, who I just started playing really today. He’s even been out of our build even internally for a while.
JJ: Yea, he has, he wasn’t in the initial ten. I love The Master, I designed The Master, so I love The Master, but, and I like to play him. I’m a big War Mage fan, one of the things I think is important for people to understand is the five heroes we give you for free are all extremely competitive, so, like I win a lot with the War Mage, I think the War Mage is a great hero, the heroes definitely suit different types of play. Another thing I like to talk about with the heroes is like some heroes have strength and weaknesses that are different depending on whose hands they’re playing in, I mean when you look at the Sorceress, and she seems extremely defensive, and she’s a great defensive hero, but used by a specific type of player, she’s also very offensive too, so I think there’s definitely suggestions with each hero of how they might play, or how the person whose playing them might play them, but it can be very different from one player to another, but I’m a big War Mage fan, I’m a big Bloodspike fan, I’m a big Master fan.
PH: You see, inside the studio at the company, a lot of people are more kind of comfortable playing melee characters, they very much gravitate towards Bloodspike and Temper, and things like Hogarth, and there’s people with more range like me who like the Sorceress and the Master.
JJ: Yea, I am a bigger ranged player, but there’s definitely a big split, and it seems equal… it never seems like there’s more range than… I think you get trouble actually not making sure the hero makeup of your team is pretty equally balanced out, you need ranged guys and you need melee guys.
DP: Okay, and then I read that you have a lot of the heroes that are kind of set for different skill levels, like is there kind of a starting [level], and then I heard that the Master was really kind of one of the more advanced characters?
JJ: Yea, we didn’t put in any actual like, “okay, he’s a hard hero” okay, it just sort of happened, it happened over time so… I think when we picked the five heroes that we gave everybody, we made sure there was a good mix of ranged and melee there. We made sure there was a little bit of difference between how basic the hero is and how complicated the hero is, and then when you start to get some of those new heroes, I think when you go out and buy Midnight and you try to play her the same way you’ve been playing the War Mage, you’re going to be shocked and die a lot, and you’re going to learn that she’s gotta be played a different way, and the same with The Master.
The Master’s got this crazy power, but he can appear weak if you’re not playing him properly so I think they naturally became heroes that people thought were a little more difficult to play, and require a little bit more… discipline and patience, is probably the better words to use when it comes to those heroes. I don’t know that they’re hard, because our hero template is the same for every hero. Every hero has a “Q” ability, every hero has an “E” ability. Every hero has a primary, a secondary weapon ability, and then every hero has a passive, so if you think in terms of that, it’s like, you know, every hero has five things that you need to learn, but they have different speeds, and they have different strengths and weaknesses, different hit points that you want to just sort of learn over time. So when you think about it as a hero template, it’s really kind of easy to figure out.
DP: Alright, yea, I mean I was kind of getting that feeling when I was playing as Ivy, she had a lot of… kind of strengths in both defense and offense, and I mean I like the.. I’m kind of more of a ranged player myself, so I mean, I’m more of a bow player. I mean magic and stuff is always nice but I mean the bow just kind of feels right to me, but yea, as I was playing the first round, I played a little bit more defensively, then the second round I played a little more offensive, I was healing all my teammates and… I started using the Glyphs I believe, which powered up my waves.
JJ: Yea, Glyphs, and they’re also like another sort of step up to the depth of the game, you know, as you use the Glyphs. You guys didn’t get to see the minor glyphs, but we have minor and major glyphs, and the minor glyphs are used a little bit differently than the major, the big glyphs, and they’re all sort of like steps of depth, I mean there’s a huge RPS that we really can’t spend time getting in to into this game, and you know when we’re in there for twenty minutes trying to teach you guys the basics, but I mean every hero has… we have five different damage types, and every hero has different strengths and weaknesses to those damages, and you really do, if you want to really get a good team and really have a great experience, over time you need to learn all that stuff and you can get better at playing the game. There’s a lot of depth there.
DP: Alright, so um, the beta… the closed beta starts on Friday?
DP: And so after Orcs Must Die! Unchained, what’s kind of next at this point?
PH: I mean we don’t have any plans yet for what’s next, we’re planning to support this game. We’re going to stay in closed beta for as long as we need to get it right, take the feedback from the fans, if that’s a few months, that’s fine. We’ll try to go live, we have a very long road map ahead from there to keep expanding the game, adding heroes, adding maps, adding new content on an ongoing basis, um so that’s really the only thing we have in our vision right now, going out on a global basis, as you asked earlier, eventually other platforms, the company is really focused on Orcs Must Die! Unchained.
JJ: And the maps are big, and hard to make as it is, well you know we want to add maps, but they take quite a while to tune. It’s different than the single player game right, they take quite a while to balance and tune so they’re fair.
DP: Mhm, I mean actually I have a background in 3D modeling myself, so I definitely understand how long it might take to make the environment and give it varied ones.
JJ: Well we have to actually make sure that the time is the same in lanes, right? So it’s like, to get all the minions released at the same time, but if this lane doesn’t mirror this lane exactly in the pathing and everything, if it takes your guys three seconds longer to get to the rift than mine, it’s not really fair, so I have to go in and make sure all that stuff’s balanced and set up perfectly, it’s not all just geometry, it’s the pathing and the pathing meshes, and the turns and everything have to match up so those maps are fair.
DP: Okay, well I think that’s really all I have questions for honestly, you guys gave me a lot of great details and information, I definitely look forward to play…I hope to get [a better gaming rig] later this year and Orcs Must Die! Unchained seems like one of the games I’d love to play, all the time actually.
PH: You know, we chose a bit of an older engine, it’s using Unreal 3 because we wanted people with older machines to be able to enjoy it rather than doing something cutting edge so, that’s part of the choice there as well.
DP: Alright, then I guess that’s it.