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Epic Talks Moving From Gears of War to MOBAs with Paragon

Epic Games on being a great MOBA and embracing what that means.


Earlier this year, Gears of War developer Epic Games announced Paragon with few details and no gameplay. But at the PlayStation Experience this weekend, we learned that the game is a third-person MOBA coming to PlayStation 4 and PC.

In interview with executive producer John Wasilczyk, we discussed why the typically action game-focused studio wants to get into the MOBA business and what makes Paragon unique in a genre where most games (that aren't League of Legends, Dota 2, or Heroes of the Storm) struggle to find success.

GameSpot: What makes the MOBA genre something that Epic wants to get into?

John Wasilczyk: When we started this project, we had the opportunity to make anything. It's incredibly rare in that regard. Being a more senior team, we appreciate how rare the opportunity is. Turns out we have a lot of guys on the team who either love MOBAs and have for quite some time, or over the course of making this game, have grown to know and love them.

We have a good mix of action gamers and a lot of people who are really passionate about MOBAs on the team. So for us, it was taking the unique MOBA elements that we found to be really unique and really enjoyable and putting our spin on it. A lot of it is leveraging what Epic has done for so long, which is make action games.

It's been exciting to make something that we have intended from the beginning to be a live game that could be updated constantly, especially for most of us coming from a disc-based background. Seeing how people interact with the game and being able to change and grow it is really exciting.

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What makes Paragon unique from the games that already dominate the genre?

One of the things we talked about internally was taking the things you see in MOBA trailers and cinematics, including our own, and making it part of the gameplay experience. It's what we were trying to convey with our gameplay trailer, showing the verticality of it where people can leap over you and you're going to have to actually target them in 3D to shoot them out of the sky.

And there are a lot of projectiles in the game. That was a very conscious choice that allows us to have a different take on the moments and stories that come from MOBAs. You can have a character who picks a giant boulder out of the ground and has to aim and toss it as people are moving around. You need to aim your shots and take into account the fact that someone could be above or below you. And as someone playing against a character like that, there's the opportunity to dodge to the side of it. For example, dash underneath it as it's flying towards you. Creating those stories and having those types of interactions is really important to us.

...taking the things you see in MOBA trailers and cinematics, but actually making it part of the gameplay experience.

Is there a spectator or cinematic mode that players can take advantage of?

Part of what you see in the gameplay trailer is footage from the player perspective, but also from our replay system, which is built into the game, and it's something that we want players to use. The only thing better than telling someone your best moment is to show them. So players will be able to utilize that replay system to use slow motion and capture full moments from the match.

It's also something that people will hopefully be able to use to educate each other. Where they can watch other matches and say, "Oh, I didn't realize that that guy could use this ability to interact with this other character and do this type of combo attack." That's the sort of thing that we're excited about showing and getting into the genre.

Speaking about learning the game, that's probably one of the greatest barriers of entry for a lot of MOBAs. What is it that's going to make this approachable for someone who might not be into League of Legends or Dota 2?

The skills people have from those other games will transfer over really nicely. And the use of things like projectiles makes a number of the interactions between characters a lot more intuitive. When you get hit by a giant boulder you understand that it damages you. And there's been a big focus for our art team and our design team in trying to keep the experience beautiful, but have it be something that you can watch and understand.

That's another thing that's really important with our replay system; if it was just particle soup, you wouldn't be able to tell what was going on. Also, having that physicality between characters and their interactions, we think it's like watching a baseball player make a diving catch. You understand those interactions between things. When it's top down you lose a bit of that.

Beyond that, as a living game we're going to grow it over time and see how people learn and tweak how we teach those systems to our players if they seem to be struggling.

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Does this follow the same layout as what we know in League of Legends and Dota 2?

It does have core MOBA tropes. It has three lanes, it has towers, it has minions. However, we've made it a little different to adapt it to the 3D space and also keep it as something that's really easy to watch. It's a very open map. The map is sort of shaped like a bowl, so your spawn points are higher up and when you spawn in you can immediately look out across the map, look at the lanes, see where your teammates are, and figure out what you're going to do.

Beyond that, the lanes themselves are arranged in a high-mid-low layout as far as verticality goes. From the top lane, you can look down to the middle which then looks down to the lowest lane, so you can see people across the way interacting with one another.

Another difference that involves something inherent to MOBAs is the jungle--the difference for us is that it goes down in between the lanes. Part of the reasoning for that was so it wasn't a sight obstructor. You can actually see across the lanes without the jungle blocking your view, but it still serves the MOBA purpose of a jungle because it is that sort of area of mystery where, as you dive into it, you can't see what's underneath.

There's a jungle canopy that blocks the line-of-sight. So if I went all in on a team fight and just barely made it out with a few health, I could leap into the jungle and hope to lose whoever might be chasing me. But hopefully there isn't an enemy already in there. I won't know until I get down unless I've done some very careful warding, or I have another teammate who's in there, keeping an eye out for me.

You also have characters who have enough mobility to jump up out of the jungle into a lane and set up surprise attacks.

From the top lane, you can actually look down to the middle which then looks down to the lowest lane...

Is this going to be set up with a similar monetization system to League of Legends, where you buy characters and skins?

We're not going into too much detail about the monetization yet. What I can say is, yes, we're going to have many of the things that you see in other MOBAs, where you'll be able to buy characters.

One of the things that's really important with what Epic is trying to do is be really generous and respectful of the player. You can earn the things that affect gameplay and it will always be something you can do by playing the game.

In the MOBA space, there can be a lot of vitriol. How are you guys thinking about keeping that under control?

That's where it's really helped to have a lot of guys who are really passionate about MOBAs on the project. It's been something from day one that we've been mindful of. A big part of it is in the stuff you're going to see over the next few months as we're revealing more about the game. Our plans have been very carefully geared towards starting at a point where we think it's going to create interactions that are more likely to be friendly. Or at the very least offer us the opportunity to be able to change based on the player reaction.

Talking about similarities and differences, obviously a big difference is that this is also coming to a console. Is this going to have cross-play?

Absolutely. Cross-play is another big piece of the game and it's something that we're excited about in large part because Sony and the PlayStation guys have been awesome partners. And it's the same experience on PC and PlayStation 4. We have an entire competitive QA team who we pulled from the community. They're hardcore players of this genre, action games, and everything in between. We have them playing every configuration: console, PC, and against each other. As we do this, we have mixed teams with PC and PS4, and we have players playing on PC with PS4 controllers. That's a big part of it to make sure it's a great experience on both platforms.

Another thing we're really proud of is being able to allow cross-progression. You'll be able to carry all of the things that you've earned on PC over to the PlayStation 4 and vice-versa. There's no limit on it, allowing you to take it back and forth. It gives people flexibility to play wherever they want.

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Does that mean it's primarily something that you see people playing with a controller?

We think it's going to be a great experience on both. We can't wait for people to give us their feedback, but within this studio it's been really important to us to make sure that it's something that people are playing actively and equally on both controllers, and keyboard and mouse.

On the console side, why did you choose PlayStation 4 over Xbox One, or over bringing it to both?

For us, we're excited about the PlayStation 4. Sony's been a great partner to us. They were really excited about having a game like this on their platform.

Or, why focus on console at all? MOBAs are something most people will think of a primarily PC-focused.

A part of it is that Epic has such a long legacy of doing console games. Everyone on our team is a hardcore gamer, so we play on everything. There are those who were excited to play it on their couch, but we also have guys who are adamant about playing on PC; for us, it's great to support both.

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It sounds like you are already thinking about the esports focus and how that will play into it.

As far as esports goes, it's something that we leave entirely up to the players and the community. We think it's really important that they're the people who decide if and when we ever become an esport.

What we're really focused on is making a great game that we hope the players will agree is fun. We'll give them these awesome tools to share moments, remember the cool things they've done, and educate each other. If an esports experience comes out of it, that's awesome. Otherwise, we're going to be focused on making a great game.

What would be a successful experience, at the end of the day?

Success for us is about player satisfaction. They're going to tell us what they like about it; they're going to tell us what they want changed. Seeing them enjoy the product is our most important metric.

...the cool choices you make in a MOBA, but in an action game world done in the way Epic does action games

There are so many pieces that are unique to MOBAs. There isn't a game out there that bridges the experience like Paragon, where you can have the cool choices you make in a MOBA, but in an action game world done in the way Epic does action games. That to me is the success and that's the fun.

How are you going to make sure you don't fall into the same pitfalls as other games that have come before and have not quite been able to maintain an audience?

A big part of it is being focused on being a great MOBA and embracing what that means. It's like a car, there are a lot of moving pieces. It is not a skateboard. Embrace that. You wouldn't start pulling pieces out and hope it all works. That's how we approached making this game.

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