Original StarCraft's Lead Designer Making New Competitive PC Game Called Gigantic

Motiga's James Phinney discusses the importance of straightforward gameplay mechanics and not overwhelming players.

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Independent developer Motiga's recently announced free-to-play PC game Gigantic may be reminiscent of a MOBA game, but the studio has described it as otherwise. To gain a better insight into how this new IP differentiates itself from MOBAs, we spoke to James Phinney, vice president of product development at Motiga. Prior to working on Gigantic, Phinney was the lead designer on Guild Wars and StarCraft.

What genre does Gigantic fit into?

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When asked how Gigantic would differentiate itself from other MOBAs, Phinney explained that he did not categorize the game as such. "It's not really a MOBA," he said. "I think when people talk about MOBAs there is a very specific DOTA lineage that they are talking about."

Based on gameplay footage revealed thus far, Gigantic places players in the role of a single character with a third-person camera angled behind them in the style of Gears of War. Gameplay features verticality, there is no tab targeting or lock targeting, and the map does not have lanes. Phinney described the use of physics-based elements in various skills and abilities and how they lent to the game "more diverse and dynamic play."

"What we're making is a game that's a cross between a third-person shooter and an action RPG. It's an attempt to take characters and mechanics from many genres and bring them together in an all-star battle royale," Phinney explained.

"You've got a character that clearly takes its lineage from fighting games, or one that takes more of its mechanics from new wave, more recent action-MMO combat, or a character that's just a straight-up sniper from a shooter. And we bring them all together into a strategic battle. So playing the game, the actual experience of it, is actually not at all like a MOBA."

Why does Gigantic mix genres?

"Some of my favorite games going back are just competitive shooters and action RPGs on console and PC. Trying to bring in some of those elements was really the origin of it to me," Phinney said. He cites "the days of the original Quake and the original Team Fortress mod" as inspirations for class-based competitive multiplayer games.

"I wanted to create something here that [has] real potential for strategic depth," Phinney said, but he also wanted the game to be accessible, where "really serious competitive players could geek out on the possibilities."

Part of that accessibility is the ability for players to make a comeback in the game even when losing. "When you're designing games with a strategic flow to [them] where your decisions matter, there's always a balancing act between rewarding people for doing well and that causing a snowball, and having there be some way so that the fate of the game still hangs in the balance. It's important to make sure that there are ways to come back, and that they are not random," Phinney said. To that end, Gigantic allows players to incorporate use of a focus ability, which Phinney described as "sort of blatantly ripped off of fighting games."

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A player's focus ability can be built up by dealing damage, but also by taking damage, eventually granting the opportunity to make a dramatic comeback. According to Phinney, the feature does not act as a way to make a player overly powerful, but offers an increased opportunity to do something that's going to turn things their way. "They still have to use it, they still have to land it, and they still have to choose the right time to turn things around," he said.

Why is it called Gigantic?

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In Gigantic, players fight with the goal of downing the opposing team's Guardian, which Phinney likens to "a giant creature that plays off console boss monster mechanics, in terms of working it into a state of vulnerability, dodging a certain pattern of attacks."

While players won't have direct control of the creature, the Guardian will respond and move forward based on opportunities presented in the game. If players have secured enough power for the Guardian to go ahead, it will move to attack the enemy's Guardian. In addition to this, the Guardian will move forward to destroy features on the map in a way that assists its team.

Each Guardian sports a health bar divided into three "wounds". When in a state of vulnerability, players will have a small window of opportunity to wound the Guardian. "That degree to which a single hit point can make the difference between a couple of minutes of working to get the Guardian vulnerable or diving in front of a single shot to save that last hit point can make a huge difference in terms of how the game swings." Phinney said.

Who would like this game?

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"The game is PVP, we're expecting people who are interested in a competitive experience." Phinney said. However, he reflects on the importance of balancing accessibility with making a game that contains depth.

"It's easy to pile on features and details, but to try to take a number of controlled elements and elegantly simple design is kind of a challenge. I personally don't have the patience to go in and memorize waves and waves of information to learn how to play a game. We're trying to start with something where all the fundamentals are just there, and they're straightforward and easy to pick up." he said.

According to Phinney, this approach stemmed from the studio's "let's make PC games like how we used to make console games" philosophy.

"The game shouldn't overwhelm with making sure that you need to learn," he said, referring to Gigantic's use of conventional PC shooter bindings like using WASD to move, the space bar to jump, and the shift key to spring.

"These sorts of things just make it so that that's not the learning curve, that's not the challenge. Learning to be really tactical, learning to do specific twitch maneuvers, depending on what kind of character you are playing... that's where the challenge should be."

Gigantic will launch for PC as a free-to-play game in 2015.

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