You tend to see most of these in massively multiplayer games: a persistent world where thousands of players can play at once, monsters to fight and gain experience levels, and a cast of fantasy creatures that could've come out of a fairy tale. This won't exactly be the case for Auto Assault, the upcoming game from NetDevil and NCSoft. Unless, of course, you consider the classic motion pictures Mad Max and The Road Warrior to be fairy tales. Auto Assault will take place in a futuristic world devastated by an alien invasion, where humans have emerged from underground sanctuaries to find planet Earth crawling with close encounters of the hostile kind. The only thing to do, of course, is to get into a souped-up armored car, strap some flamethrowers on the side, and blow up everything that moves (and everything that doesn't, since the game will let you tear up your environments just as easily as you do your enemies). For more information on the gameplay that we can expect from this promising game, we sat down with design director Ryan Seabury.
GameSpot: Tell us about what kind of solo player content will be available in Auto Assault. Are there plans for randomly-generated missions with variable difficulty settings, different types of quests given to players by specific characters, instanced hunting grounds…?
Ryan Seabury: There will be plenty of solo player content in Auto Assault. We recognize that although there are lots of cool things about massively multiplayer worlds, forced grouping doesn't always equal fun. We are taking great care to make sure each character class can stand on its own quite nicely.
The mission campaigns are all hand-crafted and scripted to make players feel like the hero, and many story arcs will culminate in an instanced scenario for the big boss fights. Generally, you are given missions by specific characters who are all involved in the world's intricate plots and intrigues. We are designing this in a way that makes you feel like you are creating your own story against the larger backdrop of the world's fiction.
GS: Tell us about what players will be able to do in a group more effectively? Will the game have group-only missions and group-only hunting areas?
RS: Our design goals for groups (called "convoys" in Auto Assault) are that they enhance and complement the play experience. For example, the front-liner classes won't have to waste precious inventory space on as many repair kits if an engineer type is along and can perform repairs in the field. If you bring one of the special-ops roles along, you'll have more recon and hit-and-run tactics at your disposal, and the commander archetype classes can bring confusion to the enemy and leadership bonuses to convoy members.
Currently, we have not yet built any 'group-exclusive' content. However, groups can play in instanced missions. They will become more challenging when additional convoy members join.
GS: What plans are in place to let long-term player groups get together? Any plans for a "guild" system, specific chat types, or any other in-game community-building tools?
RS: Yes, Auto Assault has "clans," which are the equivalent of guilds from traditional fantasy massively multiplayer online games. While we are still working out the specific options and features, we do plan on offering a similar level of support that you'd see in current massively multiplayer offerings, so that it's easy to manage and be a part of both small and large clans.
We also have built-in voice chat for convoys, because the action is often so fast that it's difficult to type coherently in combat.
GS: Tell us about the character development system. Will players advance through experience levels? Will there be an adjoining skill system that governs vehicle speed, handling, and weapon aim? What will be the primary differences between an accomplish Auto Assault veteran and a beginner?
RS: Character advancement and identity are both things we feel very strongly about. Since you will be able to own and swap out many different vehicles, your identity and abilities reside in your persistent character, who grows and advances over time. There is a set of attributes that affects things like general combat ability, how many hit points you can squeeze out of a given armor, how efficient you are with power management, or how perceptive you are with critical hits and defensive driving. There are also class and racial skill lines that you spend points in to define your character's identity as you progress.
There is a familiar experience-based leveling system, but we have a design guideline we use internally: "level while playing, don't play to level." What this means is: You're usually having so much fun playing the missions and driving and destroying things, that when you gain a level, you didn't even know it was coming. We never want getting that next level to be your sole objective.
Veteran characters will generally have much wider access to a variety of vehicle options and gear to choose from, as well as having high-powered character abilities and likely a crafting specialization or two at their disposal.
The Rocker, The Roller, The Out-of-Controller!
GS: Tell us about what you think beginner players in Auto Assault will do when they first start playing. Will they be chasing after low-level enemies, trying to scrape together enough funds for their first car upgrade, cowering within the city limits so as not to risk entering more dangerous areas? What kinds of activities will players be engaged in at the beginning?
RS: Right from the start, you are a deadly weapon. You can mow down infantry, chase vehicles, and destroy buildings to your heart's content, even at level one. You'll also get quickly hooked into the game's epic mission campaigns, which offer great rewards and reveal the world's fiction as you complete them. The emphasis is on fun in Auto Assault, so we consciously chose to skip the "rats and rabbits" phase, and just go more over-the-top the whole way through the game.
Another thing to point out is our "one-too-many" combat model. This game is about action and destruction, and lots of it. To that end, we are balancing combat such that you are generally tearing up hordes of enemy units of equivalent level. We found this to be much more fun and a bigger rush than the one-on-one combat most massively multiplayer gamers are used to.
GS: And tell us about what you think advanced players will be doing once they've started figuring out how the game, vehicles, missions, grouping, and solo content all work. What kind of activities will be popular among the experienced crowd?
RS: One very addictive aspect is the endless loot hunt. Auto Assault uses dynamic loot generation, which means the same base item might drop with a slightly different set of stats and enhancements each time. So you can constantly look for that slightly better gun or hood ornament. Once you get a sweet combat ride built up, you can trade it for money or match it up in different arenas. You can keep building vehicles for as long as you can find the loot to equip them with. You can make different configurations that are specifically advantageous in one combat zone or another, for both player-versus-player and player-versus-environment situations.
The crafting system is also complementary to this. We are not revealing specifics on crafting just yet, but at a high level, it will let you produce either reliable or experimental results at your choice.
And of course, there's player-versus-player combat...
GS: Tell us about what's planned with the player-versus-player combat in Auto Assault. How will it work, and will it accommodate both single and group combat? Will it be implemented into the game as a feature within context, such as faction-based battles, or will they be one-off "duels" where one player challenges another, and both players walk away unharmed?
RS: Arenas! The arenas in Auto Assault are operated by the independent faction, the Organization for Combat Driving (OCD). It's an entire game in itself. There are ladders, tournaments, and numerous other ways to compete for money and experience, not to mention bragging rights. Dueling, for example, can be accomplished in the arenas in a more meaningful and lasting way. Arenas are in fact the only way to compete against your own player race, so you can find out who really is the best biomek on the block.
There is also contested terrain for faction-based battles in the game world. This is still under development and playtesting, but we have some pretty good ideas that will make this fun and worthwhile.
GS: Tell us about the game's non-combat content. What else is there to do in Auto Assault besides blow things up? Run races? Drive through stunt courses? Craft armor and weapons for your vehicles?
RS: Many of the game's missions are not directly focused on combat. There might be some unique arena scenarios that are not necessarily related to combat, and of course, crafting is something you'd only do in the relative peace and quiet of towns.
Make no mistake, however, the heart and soul of Auto Assault is vehicular combat. Destruction and carnage on a massive scale are the first-class citizens of this world. At some point, you're just gonna have to get out there and blow some stuff up.
GS: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add about Auto Assault?
RS: This may be cliché to say, but you've never seen anything like this game, especially in an massively multiplayer game. It was apparent at last E3 when people would actually giggle and laugh while trying it out, something you just don't see very often anymore. You also know you have a fun game when you have trouble testing things because you're always getting distracted by catching air and blowing up everything you see. This still happens to me after playing and testing for hundreds and hundreds of hours, so I think we're on to something really great.
GS: Thanks, Ryan.