Ten days ago, we reported on the brand new FPS arena-based shooter Nexuiz that is soon to hit XBLA and PSN. Promising a “AAA digital downloadable title”, Nexuiz is powered entirely by Crytek’s advanced middleware technology, CryEngine 3. Sufficient to say, here at Midlife Gamer, we’re eager to see what Illfonic’s title is all about, and when we were given the chance to interview creative director- Kedhrin Gonzalez, we had a whole load of questions to press at him regarding the engine, Nexuiz, independent development and the downloadable space.
Richard Birkett: First off, could you introduce yourself to the readership here at Midlife Gamer, who are you and what do you do?
Kedhrin Gonzalez: I’m Kedhrin Gonzalez, the Creative Director for Nexuiz. I work on various things with the project from art to design. We’re a tiny team of people, everyone is multi-talented and works on tons of different things – this process has really allowed for some really creative results.
RB: Next, the question we ask everyone here at Midlife Gamer; what is your favourite beverage and biscuit?
KG: Coffee and southern biscuits and gravy with sausage. That’s what you’re talking about, right?
RB: You have recently announced more details on your current first person shooter project – Nexuiz. Could you tell us more about the game and why gamers should be getting excited for it?
KG: Nexuiz was originally a PC game released in 2005 made by Alientrap. It was a free game that had an interesting take on Arena game play. Unlike other Arena shooters, Nexuiz changed some core mechanics that made the competition different. For instance, whenever you spawned in, you started with a shotgun. With this, action was instant and you didn’t have to float around the level desperately looking for a reasonable weapon. With the XBLA/PSN release of Nexuiz, things have changed to better support console play. We’ve added a pretty intense aim assist to the game that compliments the extremely fast game play. However, players are rewarded with a point bonus if they decide to play with the aim assist turned off. The Dynamic Mutator system is a new way players can really take advantage of their competitive game play. There is a whole lot of them to choose from. They change specific things that can change the entire match in your favour. These can range from a short burst in game rule changes, such as rapid fire, low gravity, etc. to team specific mutators, mutators for yourself or permanent mutators for the entire match. When you get a kill streak, 3 random dynamic mutators are presented to you to choose one from. At the end of every match, your score points are added permanently to your profile. You can spend your score points on adjusting the percentage chance of the dynamic mutators you want to show up more often. Some mutators are really powerful and will cost a lot of score points to adjust their percentage chance. The ranking in Nexuiz is used for a lot of things, such as matchmaking, tournaments, leader boards and upgrading your character. You can add small adjustments to your character like +5 health. It is more so a perk of ranking, rather than a severe gameplay changing feature. However, the right competitive player will be able to fully take advantage of this. These are only a few of the features we’ll be adding to Nexuiz. Fans of the original will find things that are very similar in the new one. It is not a direct port over with the gameplay, as we feel an arena FPS has to really be tweaked for consoles.
RB: Details mentioned thus far have referenced the game’s community features quite heavily. Could you inform us further as to what type of features we can expect in terms of social networking and community driven content?
KG: We’ll doing some heavy focus on the social aspect of Nexuiz. For us, we want to create a one stop solution for anything and everything you need for Nexuiz. We don’t want the player to ever have to go to an external resource to do anything related to the game (leader boards, accounts, news, tournament info, etc.). The community driven content mentioned is actually in reference to how the original was natured by a community of developers. The original Nexuiz is the proud work of these guys. Social network integration will be linked to Facebook and Twitter updates, tournament information, clan messages, leader boards and more. There will be plenty of filters for players to customize how they want to be informed or let their friends know what’s going on. The Clan Management system is really in depth and gives clans a lot of inter-connectivity. Nexuiz is being built to be able to sustain an active competitive community. Clans can do a lot of crazy things, such as challenge another clan to a specific date – the in-game calendar will then alert all members of the clan of when it’s going down. Clan Managers can sign up their best players for tournaments with a really customizable strategy. Clans also store their own stats, have a Clan Ranking, and are able to brag about tournaments and Clan Challenges they win. There are a lot of new features being added to Nexuiz, a lot of the details are still being filled out – but it’s looking pretty slick.
RB: You decided to use Crytek’s CryEngine3 for the game, what were your reasonings behind the decision? What were the main reasons, if you like, why you felt this specific middleware was suitable for your ambitions compared to others engines?
KG: When I first heard of CryEngine 3 at GDC 2009, I went over to their career booth to check it out. I’ve always been interested in CryEngine technology, having worked on a game even using CryEngine 1 tech. I was really impressed with the quality of visuals they were able to obtain on the consoles. But, I wasn’t sold just then. What really made me say “I gotta have this” is the Live Create system they use. To be able to play on a PS3 and a 360 while working on the level in real time is just amazing. For game design and artwork, this type of system allows for insanely fast iterations while understanding your final result at all times. CryEngine 3 is also extremely fast with load times and updating assets as you create them. You’re in the editor, you press Ctrl+G and bam – you’re playing the game within a second or two. We’re doing a lot of play testing and tweaks to make sure Nexuiz is balanced and fun. This kind of work speed allows our small team of 10 people to develop at an amazingly fast work speed. The engine also has a lot of other neat features, like the time of day. In the game, we have the matches timed for an entire day cycle. You start the match at dawn and end at dusk. It’s a subtle thing some players will notice to track the match time. You’ll be able to see those bad ass god beams blast through the level all day from different angles, as well as a lot of other cool effects with fog, shadows, lighting and post effects throughout a day’s cycle. CryEngine 3 just makes things look really great. When we were working on Nexuiz with LordHavoc’s modified Quake 1 Engine, Dark Places, we were running into severe issues with the tools. The tools were dated and not meant for AAA, next gen visuals. It still used a compiling light system that was extremely slow. More modern engines that use bake lighting have made it so this speed is relatively low, but not with this old clunker. It was a nightmare. When I was making the original Strength level (the black and red and insanely gold Kavussari level), I was using 100% mesh work – not BSP. The light calculations were not made to use meshes like that. When I was first using it, it would take 14 hours to compute the lighting information. So any time I moved a light, change its colour or intensity – I had to wait that long to even see what it looked like. You can imagine why I was so excited to see how fast CryEngine 3 development is.
RB: Nexuiz is the first downloadable title to be using Crytek’s engine, why do you think it has taken so long for developers to embrace such sophisticated software with ‘smaller’ titles?
KG: I don’t think the industry was expecting us. Downloadable games have this unfortunate image in peoples mind of being smaller, arcade like games that are usually 2D/2.5D. Something being downloadable is just how its distributed. It should not mirror anything with the quality. A lot of small teams out there think they have to stick to the iPhone/2D games or simplified engines out of a bad stereotype that they cannot do full games without a 30 person+ team and tons of money. This is not the case. We are proof of it. Small teams can still aim high and challenge the foundations of the juggernauts. The screenshots you’re looking at was made by 8 people (we just hired on 2 more peeps) in 2 months. I will happily stand up and fight for small independent developers being recognized as still existing. I believe in the days of iD software, when small teams were still rocking. That age is not over. Illfonic is here to help support it. You can already see this with Zeno Clash, even. ACE Team is carrying the torch as well. Independent developers are still even rocking it and a lot of people don’t recognize it. Crytek, Valve and Epic Games are all independent developers and there are tons out there still. We should all be categorized together and not forced to think we have to make 2D games or work on dated technology.
RB: Were there any hindrances in using the engine within development and what support does Crytek give?
KG: Well, naturally when we switched engines we had a big hurdle. We had to completely port the game over as fast as possible while learning everything there is to know about the engine. The only big hiccup was waiting to announce it. We’ve been grinding our teeth wanting to let people to know we were using it. Crytek will send a team of people to your spot to train you how to use their engine. That shit is dope. They’re really nice and cool to deal with.
RB: How well do you feel Sony and Microsoft are doing in terms of continuing to promote their downloadable services? The past few years have seen the platforms continue to develop from somewhere to buy ported arcade hits towards uncapped download limits and now, triple-A downloadable titles such as this. Do you feel they could be doing anything more for developers such as yourselves?
KG: Sony and Microsoft are both doing a lot for independent developers. However, I still think it could always be better. I don’t like the stereotype there is of what a downloadable game is. Microsoft has their “Games on Demand” section which has full AAA games as downloadable. Why aren’t they categorized with everything else downloadable? I’m sure there are reasons for it, and I’m not going to doubt that kind of thing is going to merge soon. What needs to happen is there needs to be more quality games and how they support small teams with skill. Steam on PC does it right. It’s awesome, I have a few computers and to be able to access my 400+ games on my Steam list from anywhere is the most convenient thing ever created in downloadable distribution across all forms of media. I don’t like how the iPhone store works. They don’t allow for real competitive advertising. The market is completely saturated. There has to be control on to the floods of crap that comes barrelling through the door. You release a game and hope someone buys it and talks about it – or sees your external ad somewhere. Microsoft and Sony should both look at how Steam is helping support independents. Sure it’s not perfect, but it’s the best thing available right now. I’m sure Sony and Microsoft will get it right – the downloadable revolution is just starting.
RB: What do you see occurring within the retail space in the next few years? Will there always be room for retail and boxed games within the videogame industry, or do you see us progressing solely towards downloadable products?
KG: Downloadable will take over. It’s going to happen. It will drastically change the way the game industry works too. You’re already seeing this transition in PC gaming. As Internet speeds get faster across the globe and people integrate the Internet more and more into their daily lives, it will explode as the necessary thing. We got this TV in our studio that has Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, Pandora and a few casual games built into it. When I saw it, it blew my mind. That is the future of TV, happening right now. Now if you can get a service like OnLive pumping through that with no latency or whatever the industry will go through a barrel roll of changes. There will be a lot of publishers going under, and some developers who are not able to adapt. Not seeing downloadable as a threat is just completely silly. Thinking it’s going to happen way down the road is silly too. It will happen over night when you least expect it. All it takes is one big hit game on downloadable to open the flood gates. Gamers aren’t going to flock towards downloadable until there’s a reason to. One big reason is, we can sell the games cheaper. We don’t believe in charging $60 for a game. All of our games will be cheap but have amazing quality. If someone doesn’t believe this will happen, it already has. iTunes revolutionized the music industry. Now, the music industry is a crippled dog about to die and be reborn into something else because they didn’t adapt and think it would happen. You see kids these days breathing their life on the Internet. It’s not like when we were younger and we were loading up naked pictures at 1.5kbs, 4 minutes per picture. These kids are streaming HD porn videos within seconds. It’s a completely different world now. When they get the cash as they grow up – they’re going to want to have the Internet plugged into their ass any chance they can get.
RB: What lies ahead for Illfonic? How far will you be supporting Nexuiz, and are there any more titles in the pipeline for the foreseeable future?
KG: We’re still working on Nexuiz and Ghetto Golf, our other project which uses Unreal Engine 3. So we have 10 people working on 2 different games using the top tier engines in the industry. Our plate is full and we’re hungry as hell. All of our games will be radically different. We’re always going to change our style and make what we want. Our games are the result of a crew of friends and this is our art for the player. We are not a game factory, so everything has a personal touch. If you add Illfonic onto your Facebook fan list, you’ll see that. We release silly screenshots, pictures and things all the time. We are anything but the average developer. We don’t believe in games being treated like software development. We are entertainers and you bet your ass we act like it. We’re the kind of people you’d happily go out and get blacked out drunk with.