Q&A: Stormrise devs on building a console RTS

Creative Assembly's Ken Turner chats about the high expectations surrounding Stormrise, the challenges of building a console RTS, and what we can expect when the game is released at the end of this month.

Console real-time strategy games have been enjoying somewhat of a resurgence of late, with Stormrise--a postapocalyptic game developed by Creative Assembly's Australian studio (whose past credits include Medieval II: Total War)--the next in line to come out. We spoke to Ken Turner, project director on Stormrise (and the man behind the initial concept) to see what challenges the Aussie team faced in building a console RTS, what gamers can look forward to with Stormrise's simple control scheme, hints of upcoming downloadable content, and what PC fans can expect from their version.

GameSpot AU: Firstly, why develop an RTS specifically for consoles?

Ken Turner: Mainly because we thought it would be fun. Back then, the current consoles were still yet to be launched (and they looked pretty powerful), and we thought to ourselves: "How can we bring our battlefield expertise from Total War to a larger audience?" So we picked up a PS2 controller, plugged it into a PC, and started prototyping.

The two factions in Stormrise are designed to accommodate different play styles.

GS AU: How long have you been working on developing Stormrise?

KT: Stormrise has been in full development for just over two years. Prior to that, a very small team spent 18 months prototyping the controls and gameplay in a backroom while we were under siege developing Medieval II: Total War.

GS AU: Are there any features that had to be left on the cutting-room floor due to your schedule for the game's release?

KT: Always (and this is a good thing). Something new and innovative always leads to an explosion of ideas. Limited schedules help to make the game stronger because it forces us to focus on what is really important. The test for each feature we asked ourselves: "Does it help me to feel in command?" A line was then drawn between the features that helped to answer the question and those that are extensions of the idea. This way, we kept Stormrise tight and in the best position deliver its core gameplay experience.

GS AU: There will be two factions in the game, the Echelon and the Sai. How are these two balanced?

KT: The factions are designed and balanced to favor different play styles. The Echelon use their superior range and firepower to suppress their enemy and hold them at distance. They have the best technology, with their vehicles being able to transform into different modes in order to take whatever the enemy throws at them.

The Sai, on the other hand, are fast and deadly up close. They are also the masters of stealth, and freely navigate through tight alleyways, on rooftops, and through underground tunnels. Their large beasts are almost unstoppable and freely smash through enemy defensive lines. Using their special powers, they can incapacitate and swarm an unsuspecting enemy.

GS AU: What did you find the most challenging aspect of developing a console RTS?

KT: Apart from the obvious challenges of getting the controller interface right and making it all fit into the tight memory of the consoles, the toughest thing has been to explain to console players that an RTS will work and is cool. Strategy is a very engaging and entertaining genre, but getting the message out there is difficult due to the bad vibe surrounding previous console RTS games.

That's why for Stormrise, we've focused on innovations that were designed to create a new strategy experience on console--for console gamers--and not just a cheap port from PC.

GS AU: What can gamers expect from the PC version of Stormrise? What kind of features will be available?

KT: Stormrise was built from the outset for both the consoles and the PC, and offers innovations to RTS players, regardless of the platform. You can command from the front lines using natural line of sight and explore the tactical advantages of real 3D gameplay in the levels, whether it is with a console controller or a keyboard and mouse.

In fact, whip select with the mouse is a major innovation for the PC all in its own right. In addition to all of this, PC players (with a rig that can handle it) can dial up the resolution and graphics effects to see Stormrise in all its DX10.1 glory.

GS AU: Will there be any DLC for Stormrise in the foreseeable future?

KT: First, we want to get the game in the hands of gamers and have them tell us what they'd like to see for DLC. If players want to know more about where the story goes, then we've got a plan for that. If they want more multiplayer maps and modes, then we can respond. If players want unit packs, UI skins, and the like, we can do that too. We've set up the official community site so that you can talk directly with us about what you'd like to see, to extend your play experience.

GS AU: When you first introduced Stormrise's control scheme, demoed using an Xbox 360, you said that more than 90 percent of the commands can be done using only the two analog sticks and the A button. How do you see this simplified control scheme as an improvement on the PC control scheme?

KT: If you want to play a traditional RTS, then nothing is better than a keyboard and mouse, because that's what we're all used to. PC gameplay hasn't translated well to console because the controllers are poor at providing the type and frequency of commands that the player needs to do. While they are functional, these attempts have either been diluted or really sluggish (or both).

Instead, Stormrise provides a control scheme that is fast and efficient for commanding units using a console controller. This is due to the "whip select" interface that allows you to use the right thumbstick to move quickly between all of your units on the battlefield, even if they are all the way over on the other side of the map. We then set about building a battle game behind it--one that played to the strengths of the console interface.

In some ways, Stormrise is more of a real-time tactics game than an RTS. So, technically we haven't improved on the PC control scheme at all, but instead changed the rules to create an interface and experience that can be enjoyed on all platforms.

GS AU: How big was the team in Brisbane who worked on this? Did you have to hire extra staff or utilise other help as the game's development progressed?

KT: Creative Assembly in Australia has just over 50 full-time staff, although with contractors and casual staff, we peaked at about 80 in the studio during crunch time. On top of this, we also hired external art and animation houses to help out with the movie sequences, along with most of the speech being recorded in Los Angeles.

The toughest thing for Stormrise's developers has been convincing console players that an RTS will work.

GS AU: RTS games have traditionally had little success on consoles. How have you ensured that Stormrise doesn't just fall by the wayside?

KT: Starting anything new is hard and takes a high degree of commitment and resolve. So, not only have we worked hard to rethink and rebuild a strategy game from the ground up for consoles, we've also set about building a community for Stormrise. It's the gamers who actually adopt new gameplay ideas and help them to grow and blossom. The release of Stormrise is only the beginning of the journey for both the game and the gamers.

GS AU: What do you say to those critics who say console versions of RTS games are just watered-down PC versions?

KT: As for ports of PC RTS games across to console, the critics are right. The gameplay either gets greatly simplified, or the controls end up too convoluted as they try to cram everything in. But simplification is not such a bad thing.

RTS games on the PC have had more than a decade to mature and have developed such an expansive breadth and depth of features that some of them have come to intimidate new players. Maybe this movement back to the simple pleasures of fast, engaging strategy will remind us that there's fun to be had all along the spectrum of RTS gaming.

GS AU: How well do you think Stormrise will be received by gamers who are used to playing RTS games only on the PC?

KT: Probably with a healthy mix of scepticism and intrigue. Stormrise is different to what PC gamers are used to, although if they look at it as having the pace of World in Conflict but with a third-person view, then it might click into place for them. We're also hoping that the natural line of sight and true 3D gameplay will spark the interest of PC players. I've spent a lot of time playing the PC version of Stormrise and it feels really good (and some of the guys in the studio actually prefer it over the console interface).

GS AU: With a few big console RTS games shipping in the past year--such as Halo Wars and Tom Clancy's EndWar--do you think the market for the console RTS is growing? What do you think of those two games?

KT: EndWar should be applauded for breaking the RTS mould, and Halo Wars should be commended for broadening the awareness and demonstrating that RTS on console is a commercial enterprise. While each of them may have their weaknesses, the key is to focus on the things they've done well, because that is where the fun is. I have great respect for the games, the studios, and the publishers who had the foresight to back them.

GS AU: What will be your next project?

KT: At this stage we're still too flat-out putting the final touches on Stormrise to look that far ahead. That said, the studio is certain to have a number of exciting opportunities waiting when it's done.

GS AU: Ken Turner, thanks for your time.

Stormrise will be released in Australia on March 26.

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25 comments
backatcha
backatcha

An amazing quote by Ken Turner, which could easily be applied to the PC console argument in these posts. "While each of them may have their weaknesses, the key is to focus on the things they've done well, because that is where the fun is. I have great respect for the games, the studios, and the publishers who had the foresight to back them." I feel stike22, sums it up best in his post.

pai-may
pai-may

Why are pc gamers so worried that games consoles are catching up, and games producers are trying to bring traditionally pc only games to console? I don't see the issue. It's like everybody has to defend their own position because of their choice of games machine. Really, who cares. PC will continue to be a platform for games just as much as future gens of console will - as long as there remains a market.

stike22
stike22

Thanx for message Koi-Neon-X. I agree with you that consoles are catching up to PCs, but thats because they have evolved in this gen...PCs evolve constantly the technology used in consoles is made from PC and consoles have to wait for a new gen to release a new console with this new tech built in. So PC will always be ahead basically, I think its alright to make some RTSs on console especially for fans of RTS who can't afford to keep upgrading their PCs every minute, but most RTSs belong on PC they are just better that way, the PC can handle things consoles just can't yet. Eventually both PCs and consoles will be so high tech they will both be able to handle incredible new RTSs, but that won't be for years, so for now RTSs are better for PC. Whether this game will be a big success is questionable, but I hope it works out cause then other companies might see it as a chance to make some new and interesting RTSs.

Koi-Neon-X
Koi-Neon-X

@stike22 I seriously think consoles ARE catching up to the PCs. I mean take a look at the new Command and Conquer game for the PS3. YEARS ago what they are doing now would have been thought impossible. I think that Stormrise is another entry that will prove that the impossible is in fact possible. I do hope it turns out great as well.

stike22
stike22

Seriously does anyone think consoles will ever catch PCs...I am both a console and PC gamer and it really isn't happening, RTSs are alright on console but they really do belong on PC...I think some should be made on console but most should stick with PC. I hope this game turns out alright but chances are not great with Halo Wars released a couple of weeks ago...along with DoW2 and Total War empires if your a PC gamer...not the greatest time to release this game. Think it will make some money but I doubt it will be a success.

Dixteel
Dixteel

exciting indeed. This could be something very refreshing.

dadoesch
dadoesch

I'm personally very excited for this game. I agree that a keyboard and mouse are better controllers for RTS games, but I enjoy the compact nature of a console controller personally. EndWar was clever in using voice recognition software to overcome the limitations of a console controller. If Stormrise can translate a console controller to the RTS genre without the assistance of an additional input device (i.e., a headset or keyboard), then more power to them! I'm looking forward to seeing what they come up with.

FlashCharge
FlashCharge

Medieval II is one whale of a game and if stormrise is anything like it in scope than this could be a very profittable game. Creative Assembly is a master RTS developer and my hopes are high on this game for the console.

pai-may
pai-may

I have to disagree with some of the things said here. Firstly Humourguy, companies are not desperate to put these sort of games on console before the pc market disappears. Strategy games have existed in one form or another dating back to at least the snes and megadrive/genesis consoles. It is more a case in point that current gen consoles now have the processing power for companies to put effort into this sort of game in order to produce something you are likely to see every day on pc. I also disagree that console gamers are more casual than pc gamers. Both pc and console gaming have been around since the very early days of video games. You could be just as hardcore playing smash tv on snes as playing doom on pc. The marketing strategies of current gen console makers (looking specifically at nintendo with Wii and DS and to some degree the other two companies aimed their new consoles at a wider audience in order to increase sales, probably to underwrite the costs of these machines. This has revitalised Nintendo and kept Microsoft and Sony in a strong position. There are, however, still plenty of gamers out there that do not belong to this new wave and consider themselves hardcore on console gaming - that is not just the role of pc, though I conceed games like wow attract hardcore gamers. I'm just hoping this game is awesome as it's about time console gamers were treated like the adult and mature gamers most of us are and it's about time an rts was developed from the ground up specifically for consoles, with pc being the little cousin this time round. I'll ignore Edge's review and see what others make of it closer to game release.

CaptainMuse
CaptainMuse

Consoles are catching up quickly with PCs in terms of power who would spend $500 on a graphics card that will out date in 2 years while $500 can buy you a console and some games with it. I know that PCs have better graphics and blah blah blah

Avenger2099
Avenger2099

@Humorguy Do you honestly believe that? As long as PCs exist there will be people playing games on them. This is one reason I wish Valve would release their STEAM sales numbers, PC gaming is not dying, PC gaming will not die. It's a pleasant fantasy that console owners trick themselves into believing. Console gaming will always be there for your more laid back to slightly hardcore gamers, PC gaming will always be there for those who think of gaming as a real hobby and want the most out of their games. It will also be there for middle-aged stay at home moms and to try and get your girlfriend into gaming.

BenGenio
BenGenio

@ Humorguy They got the FPS right on console when they made Halo 1 (the aiming), its just a matter of time and they will nail the RTS gameplay on a console.

Humorguy_basic
Humorguy_basic

You can see how desperate companies are to get PC type games onto console before PC gaming comes to an end and then they will lose lots of money unless all those PC gamer come over to console. Hence this desire for 'PC style shooters' and 'PC style RTS's' on console. There is the lesser fact as well that hardcore gaming on hardcore consoles (360, PS3) sales are levelling off, while the casual side (Wii, DS) is still climbing.

fillup0
fillup0

thinggta42 said:Why is is so hard for Microsoft to make a Keyboard and Mouse addon for the 360? and Sony for there PS3? the 360 has USB ports on the front so why not use them to make a mouse and keyboard addon so it allows the use of RTS No console gamer wants to use a keyboard and mouse.

bennae66
bennae66

halo wars was ok but a bit short so i diddnt buy it. will stormrise get my vote? hmmm will wait for the demo to pop up on marketplace and will try it. remember people; marketplace is there for a reason and nearly every game gets a full demo on 360 often available before launch. ps3 is slowly catching up in that regard but they seem to keep it to thier big name titles only. DOWNLOAD THE DEMO and take a look before you judge. m not expecting much but i could be pleasantly suprised...

Scarcrow27
Scarcrow27

CDX0 get over yourself theres probably 24 months of console rts development ever PC RTS has been out since before 3D gaming was even invented besides halo wars controll scheme is beautiful u can jump to where you want to be and select units you cant even see

cdx00
cdx00

@joelgargan, The Sony bluetooth keyboards and mice, albeit a tad picey, are amazing. I have a Sony keyboard and a bluetooth Logitech mouse; they work great. If only they had more support for games.

cdx00
cdx00

Snore. Console RTS are possible, now, the question is whether or not they are worth a flip. The answer is : No. Shocking, eh?

joelgargan
joelgargan

DUDE i really wish i had a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse for my PS3 right now Does anyone know do you need a particular type or will any type of keyboard work (IE, Microsoft, Sony, or logitech keyboards)??

Wuflungdung
Wuflungdung

If you want a keyboard and mouse play pc!

thingta42
thingta42

Why is is so hard for Microsoft to make a Keyboard and Mouse addon for the 360? and Sony for there PS3? the 360 has USB ports on the front so why not use them to make a mouse and keyboard addon so it allows the use of RTS

hoplayletsplay
hoplayletsplay

To the console RTS makers, prove me wrong by getting a decent critical response from the reviewers. Until then, I'll stay away from them.

Golbez_77
Golbez_77

console rts's are complete garbage, this will never change until the games are actually designed for mouse and keyboard which means everyone would obviously need one and that would require the console makers putting one in with their console.