How do you define a game that's trying to define itself? We talk with the developer to learn more about this multi-tiered shooter.
Announced late last year, Escape from Tarkov is, according to the developer's website, "a hardcore and realistic online first-person action RPG/Simulator with MMO features and story-driven walkthrough." Those are a lot of words and a lot of genres. But while we haven't tried out the game ourselves yet, we thought maybe talking with the developer could shed a little more light on what exactly Tarkov is (and isn't).
In an email Q&A with Nikita Buyanov, who pulls double duty as Escape from Tarkov's project lead and developer Battlestate Games COO, we learned about the game's deep story, lack of traditional classes, and how Escape from Tarkov is handling microtransactions and modding
GameSpot: When designing survival aspects of a game, how do you balance mechanics that are fun with mechanics that may become a chore for players?
Nikita Buyanov: To start with, I'd like to say that our project is not quite about what's commonly defined as "fun," especially in FPS games. It entertains in a different way--by recreating a piece of reality that is missing from our everyday lives. Our goal is to take the reality and plausibility of players' impressions to the maximum extent achievable within the means of a video game--i.e. while sitting before a PC in the comfort of your home.
All the mechanics we are going to implement may deviate from the common concept of "fun"--hard to understand, even harder to master--but, nevertheless, we are going to test them out first on ourselves, then on players who enter the Alpha and the Beta. Some of them can even make the gameplay worse--but we will have to balance it out against the usefulness of the feature by gathering extensive statistical data and seeing how it all works together to create the reality of Escape from Tarkov.
What is the story for Escape from Tarkov? Who are you and what's the world you're in?
That's a hard question. Touching it even briefly would take up too much time, because we have a very elaborate storyline. Right now, we're preparing a large package of materials in English that will shed some light on the background and circumstances that led to the game events. However, here are some basic facts: the game is set in an alternative historical timeline, but in our present time, in the fictional Russian city of Tarkov. And it revolves around the conflict between the transnational corporation: TerraGroup and the Russian government. This conflict has, over time, escalated into an open localized urban and suburban armed conflict between two private armies, serving as proxies for the sides: the USEC and BEAR PMCs respectively.
This conflict will become both the scene and the target of the player's exploration: Why did the city slide into chaos? Why did its infrastructure collapse? Where do the local scavengers come from? And many more questions. All of the answers will be gradually uncovered by players as the game scenario progresses and the story unfolds.
Why is this happening? Who's the culprit behind it? What can it possibly lead to? The crisis deepens not only in Tarkov, but worldwide as well, and nobody seems to know why. There may be some similarities with the events of the world today, but this is an original story that was conceived and drafted a long time ago.
The story is narrated as if it happened in the past, from the third-person perspective; and the player takes control of a person whose memories and accounts are being retold--a regular PMCs operator, either USEC or BEAR, who has a long road to escape ahead of him. On the way from Tarkov, he goes from fighting for survival to solving a conspiracy theory.
What do you think separates Escape from Tarkov from other FPS games out there?
The answer to this question was thoroughly reflected in our attempts to give Escape from Tarkov a genre definition. It is most easily perceived as an FPS, but in fact, it is the only game that encompasses the traits of so many genres. Story-centered to the point of bordering a quest, MMO, survival, RPG, simulator - and, on top of that, it features some other things that only we can do (or at least we hope so). This game is a complex multi-layered cocktail of genres, served in a steel mug of general hardcore approach, and this is what makes it unique.
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Ambitious as it may sound, we have tried, with utmost attention to detail, to recreate the piece of that other life we (hopefully) will never experience--a life within an isolated, collapsing city, on the brink of survival, a life within society that is on the edge of extinction. However, we only set the background, environment and goals. What the players will do in the game is completely up to them; we don't believe in artificial limitations, and this freedom creates an unparalleled depth of immersion.
On the subject of character development, what can players expect in terms of classes and specializations?
There will be none. The players start out as a generic PMC operatives with decent, but balanced combat training, and from there on its their choice. There are no rigidly preset specializations or professions, players build their own roles by choosing skills to hone, weapons to master and equipment to utilize based on natural preference, real-world experience, and/or previous experience playing other shooters, thus evolving their own personal play-style. The game does not impose any kind of classification upon players.
When you die in the game, in some cases you lose everything you've found--what was the thinking behind this kind of punishment?
We carefully thought this out as one of the features that significantly deepens the feeling of reality this game needs to deliver. If you die, you will lose everything you brought with you and everything you have found. It may be harsh, but it will teach the lesson, and next time the player will learn from previous mistakes. However, since our game is pretty hard and surviving will be much more difficult than dying, especially for players with no previous experience, we didn't go as far as to introduce a permanent death or full loot. If killed, the player gets to keep all the skills, weapons, gear and loot stored in the stash, and items locked away in a special secure container.
What kinds of weapons are in the game? Are there vehicles as well?
Only actual, existing mass-produced and formerly mass-produced weapons and custom parts are in the game. No makeshifts, no fantasy guns, no prototypes that never made it to the market. Only real items, proven by at least several years of service. As for the vehicles, no control over them is planned so far. Of course, with our level of detail and interactivity, the graphical part of driving gameplay does not pose a problem; however, we will only accept an equally good physical behavior, and that is a whole new layer of work we are not yet ready to undertake. Maybe we will do it someday, but not in the foreseeable future.
It looks like Escape from Tarkov places an emphasis on realism when it comes to weapon operation in that guns can jam, overheat, etc. Why did you want to take this more realistic route not always seen in other FPS games?
Well, the reason is so obvious that it can be easily overlooked in search of some deeper motives, but actually, it's very simple--we love weapons, almost everyone on the team is a so-called "gun nut". In as much as firearms, love it or hate it, are the cornerstone of every FPS, it was our dream from the very start of the project to finally have the tools and means to make the weapons feel like real ones and operate like real ones.
From the looks of it, it sounds like Escape from Tarkov is multiplayer-focused. What about players who want to play solo?
Escape from Tarkov is indeed focused on multiplayer and can't be played offline. If a player is firmly set on beating the game solo, he's welcome to try. However, even when playing solo, encounters and interactions with other players are virtually unavoidable. A compelling and believable game cannot be created with NPCs only. If we want it to function like a real society, we need human beings to populate it. Inside the raids, however, it all depends on the play style. You may never encounter other players there and run into NPCs instead--it's mostly luck and your stealth skills.
How deep are the RPG and MMO elements?
I won't go into much detail here, but we do have a character leveling system, flexible and detailed repetition-based skill learning, weapon crafting and handling upgrades, characters' physical characteristics, and MMO elements include an extensive branched quest system, trading with auctions and flea markets, a clan system, and various communication means for players and clans.
What kind of game modes can players expect and how are they unique in Escape from Tarkov?
There are three modes planned. The first and main one is the story progression mode with limited-time scenarios, somewhat similar to Destiny or Left 4 Dead, taking place over different locations and gradually leading the player to escape from Tarkov. These scenarios can be re-entered for exploration or looting. Second is the free-roam mode in the large open location of about 16 sq. km in size, where you can do pretty much anything (and even carry out some tasks) but without any time limit or key story progression. Third mode is Arena, which basically features a sort of gladiatorial fight. 1v1, 2v2, etc.
One hot-button issue today is micro transactions; will Escape from Tarkov have them?
Escape from Tarkov will be a traditional, full purchase. Not a free-to-play, microtransaction title.
What about modding support--do you plan to offer mod tools to players so they can build their own maps and items?
After release on Steam, we will provide assets and guidelines for creation of derivative works; if all the requirements are observed, we will clear these creations for addition to the game, but that's about it. Since it's an online game, we can't allow completely uncontrolled modding.
Do you have any plans for a console version?
We do; however, they are just plans with no particular details on how we are going to implement them for now. Releasing a fully functional, graphically impressive, feature-rich and unabridged PC version takes priority.