It's been a long road of development for Auto Assault, NCsoft and NetDevil's action-packed online role-playing game, but the end is now in sight. The game will let you create a character based on one of three unique races and then race around a postapocalyptic landscape for some good old-fashioned vehicular combat. Forget swords and axes--Auto Assault is all about flamethrowers and machine guns. Now, with the game's lengthy beta test in its late stages, we caught up with NetDevil's president, Scott Brown, to get the latest developments, as well as an update on the changes that have been made based on feedback from testers. Auto Assault is scheduled to launch this year.
GameSpot: Could you give us an update on Auto Assault's development at this point? What has the team been working on?
Scott Brown: The team has been working on polishing what we have. Throughout the beta test, we found that we have a good amount of content to start with. We're just polishing up the game's look and feel, fixing bugs, and balancing the game systems.
In early December, we began our first major polishing task. That was for the character creation, tutorials, and intro maps. Doing this really streamlined the new player's experience and also made the game feel much slicker. We also introduced weather effects into those areas, and that has been a very popular addition.
Recently, we have added in-game cinematics to the early game to give players a better sense of the back story. This feature is in the live beta right now and has been well received.
We have been spending a lot of time on balance and gameplay as well to make sure that each aspect of combat presents different strategies for the player to overcome. And, of course, we have also been working on performance optimizations for both the client and the servers to get the game to run on as many systems as possible, with as many users as possible!
GS: Could you give us an update on the beta? What aspects of the game really seem to resonate with the lucky beta testers?
SB: Players are really having fun with the destructive nature of the game. It seems to be a great deal of fun to drive around and destroy just about every object in the world. Auto Assault is still a role-playing game, however, and as such, people also seem to enjoy the dynamic loot system, which generates a large variety of unique loot.
GS: We understand that Auto Assault will try to deliver a compelling player-versus-environment experience with tons of different missions, and it will also feature some very comprehensive competitive options for player-versus-player battles. What kind of spread between the two is NetDevil hoping for in the final game--maybe players are spending half their time in PVP and half in PVE? 60 percent, 40 percent? 70 percent, 30 percent? Do the beta testers seem to be skewing in this way?
SB: Players can complete the entire game as PVE if they desire, without any PVP. However, we think the PVP system is a lot of fun and that players who thought they would only play in PVE will also try out PVP. In the current state of the beta, we have not released much of the PVP system for balance and testing, so it's hard to give a good ratio, but we think the breakdown between time spent in PVE versus PVP will vary widely, depending on the player.
GS: From the sound of things, the game has changed a lot over the past few months, and new features have been added, while existing features have been tweaked. For instance, we understand that there are now cinematic sequences in the game. How extensive are the cutscenes, and will they be present throughout the entire game? Why did the team decide to add them?
SB: We have always wanted to introduce the players to their faction's fiction early in the game. We recorded the audio tracks for the cutscene cinematics before we even knew how we were going to implement them. We think that by watching these, the player is more immersed in the game right from the start, which makes the game more fun. Currently, these are the only cinematics planned for launch, but more may be on the way.
GS: We understand that outposts, which offer a new kind of instanced PVP experience, were recently added to the game. Tell us about why they were added and how they work.
SB: When we extended the beta last fall, we decided to add outposts to the game. We felt that Auto Assault had a lot of really cool features, like dynamically generated loot, an intricate and original crafting system, and so on. PVP combat is key for many gamers, and everyone here enjoys the competitive aspects of games in general. Outposts are a way to offer players the chance to play against others, but with benefits beyond bragging rights. With arena combat, matches are scheduled and set up to be balanced. The winner gains rank and can win wagers and bragging rights. Outposts are open PVP areas where you never know what you will encounter. On our central map, called Ground Zero, players can capture outposts for experience gain and tokens, which can be used for special items and rewards only available from PVP play. As the races gain control of the outposts on the map, various bonuses also go into effect. The idea is that it will evoke the feeling of all-out war between the races, with control of the map constantly changing based on the actions of the players. It's a great way to make PVP matter for both individual players, as well as your race as a whole.
GS: We understand that another change in focus in the game's development was to really put more emphasis on the three races in the game, their stories, their backgrounds, and their abilities. Why the change? What does this mean for the final game?
SB: While the focus on the game has always been to have three distinct lead designers giving each race a unique feel in the game, we have recently gone back through the entire game to improve the gameplay variance of each location. We put together strike teams consisting of art, design, and programming to come up with ideas about how to improve the original locations and really develop the immersion aspect of the world. We did this through weather effects (such as lightning, tornadoes, and so on); new object models and improving existing models; new artificial intelligence behaviors and balance; both new and revamped missions; and more. This has given the game a drastically improved feel, which players have really responded to positively.
GS: Now that the game's development is further along, what can you tell us about the various technical optimizations that the team is building into the game? Auto Assault is a very flashy-looking game with a physics engine that allows for a whole bunch of flying debris to go with the explosions and particle effects, but how well will all this scale up and down on real-world computers?
SB: We have really prioritized client performance to get all the cool features in the game running well on our target minimum spec. Much of the game can scale to the user's system, including advanced shaders and shadows. We have pushed the Havok physics engine farther than anyone has, both in the vast size of the physical world and the huge numbers of active objects in the world. We now have a system capable of handling thousands of enemies per map and still run well, even on a minimum spec computer. We also use the fact that the world is physical to help with our prediction. This results in needing less bandwidth to keep the world synchronized across all the players in the game.
GS: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add?
SB: As more people enter and play the beta, it has been a very positive experience working with our beta community to help make the game the best it can be. As gamers ourselves, we are very proud of the fact that we work with our community very actively and try and read as many comments as we can--good and bad. We actually spend quite a bit of time reading them, and more interesting and detailed posts lead to long discussions, as well as aiding us in finding bugs and imbalances in the game. I would stress to your readers that if you are interested in helping shape the future of Auto Assault that you get into the beta and start posting on our forums.
GS: Thanks, Scott.