Interview: Sharpening the Emotional Reach of Destiny’s Sword

The MMORPG game Destiny’s Sword had some huge presence at PAX East recently, introducing a bevy of new audience members to the classic adventure. But this isn’t your typical tale. It’s one that utilizes a great deal of emotions. In fact, you can “feel” up to 80 over the course of the game, and your character could even “suffer PTSD, anxiety, depression or addiction depending upon what happens in combat and on their unique background and personalities,” according to the game’s description.

Destiny’s Sword

To give you an idea of what the game is all about, we had a chance to chat with Ken Hall, CEO for the developers at 2DogsGames, about what makes the game special. Chances are it might even take dedicated fans of MMORPGs for a ride.

 

First off, for those that are unfamiliar with Destiny’s Sword, how would you best describe it? We know that it’s a game that revolves around tactics, but it goes a little deeper than that thanks to the narrative.

Destiny’s Sword is a strategy/combat MMORPG – with a twist.  Rather than simply crunching numbers in pursuit of dominance, players will work together to manage the psychology and mental health of their team throughout the game. Players will have to get to know their characters, to understand what makes them tick, in order to get the most out of them.

But Destiny’s Sword is about social interaction and communication between players, too.  Whether it’s participating in the ongoing PvP faction war, coordinating with your guild members in a 20-player, cooperative PvE boss battle, or working together to help your teams recover from physical and mental injuries.  As an MMO, we’re all about creating shared experiences in an immersive environment.

Our innovative social game mechanics ensure that all players in Destiny’s Sword are valued and can contribute in a meaningful way, regardless of their achievement level or intensity of play.  This makes it a lot easier to form relationships with other players and continue to play together, and makes the game less daunting for new players.

 

Tell us how the conversations within the game work. Apparently you can have more than one conversation at a time, and it can have an effect on your character? How’s that work?

Sometimes conversations will just be relationship-building tools – shooting the breeze and enhancing trust and comradery.  At other times they will be more like a detective story – players will have to question multiple sources to find out what’s really going on behind the scenes.  How players interact with their characters can certainly affect their relationships and the character’s psyche.

 

How you hold a conversation can actually affect how your character works in the battlefield, correct? Like, one thing could see a critical push, but another could also be negatively affected?

What happens to characters in battle affects how they think and feel, and how they think and feel affects their performance in combat.  Players have to engage with their characters and understand what motivates them and what they’re going through in order to put them in the best place to succeed.

 

Could this eventually evolve into some kind of “beef” with fellow characters that may affect how the team works as a whole?

Absolutely – thanks to our Insight Engine technology (essentially the AI that drives our emergent world), every character has a unique backstory and personality.  They have a web of complex relationships with other characters and the players. Characters can form a synergy and work really well together, but they can also start to distrust each other and cohesion can break down.

Your squad’s morale can even affect other players’ characters within your guild.  In this way, players are incentivized to work together and help each other to manage issues, with more experienced players mentoring and guiding newer players.

Destiny’s Sword

How’s the battle portion of the game work? Turn-based? Team tactics? Or is it ever changing depending on the synchronization of your team?

The battles are real-time, and while players can influence events, they can’t direct them.  The player is the commander of the whole squad, not just a single member of the unit.

There’s a lot of strategy in how the team is assembled, matching the right personnel and equipment for the task at hand.  Then, during battle, players maintain an overwatch of their squad from an orbital support ship. They can coordinate with other players’ squads to score combination attacks, and they can steer the course of events by playing action cards, such as shielding their troops or calling in an orbital strike.

 

How long has Destiny’s Sword been in development? We understand you may be running a Kickstarter to help push it further?

Destiny’s Sword is halfway through development, and we plan to launch our open beta at PAX East next year (2020).  Although we have our production funding already in place, and the core game can be made with what we have at our disposal, we really want to take things further for players.  Our vision is to add exciting features: fully dynamic environments, more cinematic content with voice acting, guild customization. Those are things that the Kickstarter campaign will be able to help us provide.

 

What did you think of the reception of the game at PAX East? Did attendees have some creative criticism to provide? Feedback that could possibly affect the game’s development?

PAX East was awesome – it was so great to see our prototypes in the hands of our audience!  This is the first time they’ve seen a playable version, and it was rewarding to see how quickly they ‘got it’.  We thought people would sit and play like a 3-minute demo, but we were amazed by how many people sat down for over 20 minutes, playing through every line of dialogue we had!

It was very moving to have people turn to us and say – “this is just what I feel like dealing with my anxiety”, or “I have a friend who’s struggling with addiction, and these are the kind of things they say”.  It really validates our concept and shows us we’re on the right track. Now we have to get to work and deliver!

 

Are there any issues in the game that you haven’t explored yet? Like, perhaps, consistent defeats having an effect on a character in the midst of battle?

There are tons of ideas we want to dive into and explore more deeply.  That’s one of the reasons we’ve partnered with some amazing organizations: Take This,Spartan Wellness and Alda Communication Training.

They’re consulting with us to make sure we get the core experience right, and then we can branch out from there.  As a small indie studio, we have to start with a narrow scope, but we will continue to broaden the game experience throughout its future.

 

How many characters are you looking to include in the game overall?

Players will manage a squad of up to 20 different characters, but thanks to our Insight Engine, there will be an infinite number of unique characters in our universe, and no two will react the same way.  As new characters come into the squad and old characters go, the entire dynamic of the group will evolve. War does change, despite what Ron Perlman says in Fallout 3, and Destiny’s Sword is going to offer not only a constantly changing world but characters that grow and change with their experiences and with players’ actions.

Destiny’s Sword

Finally, is the game only coming to the PC front, or do you have console ports figured out as well?

We’re going to initially launch on PC through Steam, but crossplay is a big part of our vision, so expect to see us on the consoles not too long after we get the PC version up and running!

Destiny’s Sword doesn’t currently have a release date, but its open beta is set to open sometime during 2020.

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Splitgate: Arena Warfare Hands-On: Now You’re Playing With Portals

Considering how well the competitive gaming market has done over the years, it’s not a big surprise that a lot of companies want in on the action. However, just because you think you have a winning formula doesn’t always guarantee you do. Case in point: LawBreakers; a game that had a ton of potential but very little follow-through, and the developer Boss Key even closed down following the game’s release.

Splitgate

Even so, it’s always great to see a new and ambitious team give a new formula a try, and there’s something about 1047 Games’ Splitgate: Arena Warfare that truly stands out. Maybe it’s due to the fact that you can use portals just as conveniently as you can weapons.

That’s right, portals. Ever since Valve introduced these innovative little doorways with their self-named Portal series, they’ve been high on the wish list of players, and why not? They basically provide an exit to another portion of the map: a quick teleportation that can provide an excellent advantage. That is, however, if you don’t go flying off the edge of the map by accident.

The general rules of Splitgate remain intact from most other shooters: take down as many adversaries as possible and help your team win the match. The fact that players can open portals at will and use this newfound physics to their advantage provides a fresh spin on the proceedings. Can’t quite get an angle on someone that’s taking pot shots at you? Open up a portal, do a quantum-style leap from another part of the map, and hit them from the other side. It can’t be that hard, right?

At first, Splitgate takes a lot of effort to fully grasp. This isn’t one of those games where you “git gud” by accident. Instead, learn to embrace the physics from jumping through portals and mastering what your weapon has to offer. The way portals open requires you to do a deep bit of thinking as you try to get the jump on your opponents. Considering that they can leap around the map just as much as you can, it becomes tough to really get a bead on them.

The multi-dimensional build of each battle stage goes a long way in Splitgate. Once you get a grasp on what you can do with the portals and platforms, then you can really get things cooking.

Splitgate

The physics within Splitgate work as expected. For instance, if you want to build momentum going into a portal, you can do so by running on the ground. However, the real treat here is opening up a portal after falling off a ledge and opening it up on a new area where you float up onto a platform. This can take a bit to master, precision is everything, but once you do, you’ll find it’s a tactic that works wonderfully here.

Along with getting the jump on opponents offensively, Splitgate can also open them up to give you some defensive purpose. When you get ambushed and need an escape route they can provide a fresh perspective on how to take down your adversaries. A shooter like this depends on quick movement to avoid getting fragged, so you’ll need a few rounds to get into the mechanics and see all the options that are on the table for you. But once you do, you’ll find that you’re in for a treat.

As for the weapons that you can use within Splitgate, they’re the general variety when it comes to what you’d typically find in a shooter. But in no way is that a bad thing. For instance, SMGs and pistols can deliver bullets at a very good range, and there are battle rifles that mix things up rather nicely as well. If you prefer a sniper class, you’ll get that with the power of a railgun that can end someone’s run pretty neatly. Of course, those of you with an explosive touch will certainly make do with the game’s rocket launchers, and that’s just what we’ve discovered from the demo that was available at PAX East last week.

In other words, it takes the arena based experience and puts it into perspective with a neat new tactic. That’s not something that’ll guarantee instant success; we’ve seen innovation in shooters before, only for interest to fall by the wayside in favor of the “next big thing.” But 1047 puts its heart right on its sleeve with the game, and there’s some stuff here that comes together pretty nicely, especially on the creative side of things.

That said, I do hope the recoil gets tweaked a little bit. It doesn’t really feel like your weapons have much heft without it, but keep in mind that the game is still in beta (you can learn more about it on Steam here), and by the time the finished release comes around, we could see all sorts of tweaks to make its play sustainable.

As far as the game’s visuals go, Splitgate runs very smoothly. It utilizes Unreal Engine technology for each of its maps, which means the frame rate is pretty sturdy. But on top of that, the Tron-esque visuals really pop to life, almost to the point that you’ll want to stay in this world a little while longer. The animations can be stiff in some places, but as a whole the game runs very smoothly, based on the multiplayer demos I took part in over the weekend.

Splitgate

Now, one thing you’ll want to keep in mind is that Splitgate wasn’t really built as a massive multiplayer shooter experience. Up to 10 friends can take part in online multiplayer at a time. While that’s not as hefty a count as, say, Battlefield V’s 64-player set-up, it is quite good for an indie-based development.

Not to mention the fact that it can be quite overwhelming when you have a gaggle of players flying all over the place thanks to portal tactics. The lesser player count actually serves as an advantage when it comes to planning tactics, and it allows the game to run at a proper speed without having to worry about all the little animations that are coming together. So far, the game runs pretty smoothly, and we don’t see why 1047 would want to mess with that by adding more players. In this case, the lesser, the merrier.

However, let’s say you’re a solo player and you want to get the hang of the action before you jump through the portal with both feet. Fortunately, Splitgate will have something to offer here. The game will enable you to go up against AI bots if you prefer, letting you master the controls and some of the weapons before attempting to thrust you into the online action. This is a welcome option, mainly because some shooters just don’t provide it. With Battle Royale games, for instance, you have to “live and learn.” That is, if you can live. Here you can tinker around, master your placements and become a lean, mean portal-taking machine.

When you do make your way online, there are various options available. There’s a fun Oddball mode that takes a cue from Rocket League, to add some competitive flair outside the norm. But if you prefer, you can also hop into the usual gamut of match-ups in Deathmatch, King of the Hill and Domination. For those thirsty for an extra special challenge, there’s also a team SWAT based mode in which you’ll fight without armor. Think you’re good? Let’s see just how good you are when you can only take so many hits before going down. Time to put those portal skills to work!

Alas, there’s a catch. For the time being, it looks like Splitgate: Arena Warfare is only heading to Steam/PC at the moment. This could change in the future, depending on the success of the game. I hope it does because something like this would be welcome on the console front, especially for the low-end $20 to $30 price tag that the developers are going for once all is said and done with development later this year. Fingers crossed.

Splitgate

For the time being, however, I like the direction that Splitgate is taking in terms of its gameplay and design. True, the long-term value of the game has yet to be weighed, depending on how the modes hold up and how much content 1047 has in mind for future updates. Currently, it has enough going for it to give it a shot, and there could be additional betas in the future that will allow you to take a test drive with it. Keep tabs on the Steam page above, and we’ll keep you informed once more information becomes available.

In the meantime, who knew that there would be someone that could handle Portals as well as Valve?!

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