QC Games and the Fall of Breach

Every year we see dozens, if not hundreds, of newer MMO games release into the games industry. With long standing titans such as World of Warcraft, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and the Guild Wars franchise its hard not to argue that MMO and online-driven games are incredibly marketable if not highly popular. Every year indie studios take on the challenge of putting together their own massively multiplayer game, some with great success such as Friday the 13th: The Game. Most, however, do not ever reach that pinnacle. Breach is one of those stories.

The Rise of Breach

Breach has been developed by QC Games, a newer game studio composed of former developers from Bioware Houston and Electronic Arts. They had previously worked on The Old Republic and Bioware’s cancelled Shadow Realms before leaving the company in late 2014. Designed from the remains of their former project, Breach is its spiritual successor; an isometric multiplayer endeavor much like 2015’s Evolve. Featuring a 4v1 multiplayer endeavor you play as a Mage, a techno-magical defender of the near future battling against demons invading from beyond the Veil. The fifth player in each match took up the role of a Veil Demon, a dungeon-master like entity that could lay traps, summon enemies, and personally possess minions to fight the Mages.

While putting a newer spin on the now tired isometric multiplayer model, Breach did not have a strong launch. Releasing on January 14th of this year, Breach suffered from the start; entering Steam’s controversial Early Access Program, commonly used by developers looking to develop and build their game overtime, it was not free to play at first. Instead those wishing to pick up into Early Access would pay an up-front fee of $25 USD, with the option to play free following after it left Early Access. Despite promises of wanting to market Breach as a Free-to-Play Microtransaction service model, those wishing to join in would need to purchase their ‘Early Access Pass,’ which featured game access, a 30-day experience and currency boost and 2000 QC points, the developer’s premium currency for their in-game store.

Breach

Breach and QC Games hit the ground hard and fast, finishing their closed Alpha prior to widespread release with a peak player count of roughly 1150 players according to metric database Steam Charts. QC Games had been utterly global in it’s pushing of their reborn game at conventions and trade shows. Claiming that there were 10,000 testers worldwide in their Discord Server, Breach was set for success.

To that end it launched in January and received moderate acclaim. QC Games was quick to jump on the hype and release their roadmap to future developments and plans for the game. In terms of public relations and social media power Breach was optimized for continuous, powerful growth. As a game, however, it was not.

From start up Breach featured both an incredibly interesting set-up in its world’s lore, and an unbelievably frustrating tutorial. While the game opened with a series of wonderful storyboarded cinematics the tutorial featured sluggishly wretched pacing, insincere voice acting and left far more questions than answers in the game’s wider aspects. While featuring gameplay interactions very reminiscent of Heroes of the Storm or League of Legends, there is nearly next to no information on how to go beyond combat and into modifying player gear and stats.

While particular levels and gameplay modes are blocked off until players have played certain numbers of games, I was both shocked and frustrated to find myself entering a game and stuck playing as a Veil Demon without any direction on what I was doing. The conveyance of Breach, the method in which a game expresses how to play it to you understandably, is so fundamentally lacking its simply rather astounding. While Veil Demons have quite a bit more to do in terms of their play mechanics in comparison to Mages, how to complete objectives or perform higher level aspects was simply never explained to the player. That is unless you bothered to check you hidden quest log to find a plethora of tutorials in additional gameplay modes. Gameplay modes which were not restricted in the slightest, yet playing online with your friends was.

Breach’s “Ultra” Graphic Setting in 1080p

Breach was a game of poorly planned problems in that regard.

From terrible graphics to wretched optimization and dull gameplay, Breach was a game incredibly typical of the Early Access platform on Steam. Most games launching on the platform like Tudo_RIP’s Secrets of the Forest are incredibly, frustratingly basic. From incomplete graphics packages to placeholder models these games are often requiring a steep amount of development and feedback to complete. QC’s darling multiplayer, the game the company had left Bioware to make, was incredibly troubled in this aspect. Early reviews of the game are plagued with issues of imbalances and far higher than normal GPU usages which ruined system performance and denigrated the game further.

In February the peak player count of Breach had plummeted from roughly 1150 prior to its launch, to nearly 300 by month’s end. It’s not hard to see why; Breach was a game that wanted to thrive as an MMO with nothing to grip players. Gameplay was boring, repetitive and there were no game-changing rewards. What was packaged in with its Early Access release simply wasn’t enough for long-term player adoption. Current MMOs such as World of Warcraft have faced similar problems over the last few years and have summarily injected controversial gameplay elements such as their Mission Table system to entice daily playing. Warframe too features returning rewards with a daily slot machine system for those who come back repeatedly. Breach simply did not have such systems in place.

All throughout, however, QC Games was energetic in its development cycle. Updates were incredibly frequent with more than an update per week in its second month. These patches would introduce a plethora of balance adjustments, new classes, new levels and new enemies. It was clear that despite the studio’s small size, Breach was a labor of love. Despite its glaring technical issues, of which there are still many, this was a game that was hitting its goals day after day with steady improvement.

IESnared

That changed, however, with the turn of the seasons and the beginning of March. Player counts briefly spiked upwards from a common curiosity. That curiosity, however, was not for what the game offered.

As early back as February 24th, 2019, Breach’s review scores began to drastically change. Steam users such as walkerb0h began to report that the game featured traffic tracking program IESnare. IESnare is a program that is incredibly shrouded in secrecy and frankly has quite a bit of incorrect information spread about it. Colloquially known as a type of aggressive spyware program, IESnare is a sub-routine program that runs stealthily in the background of your computer. Most often used by gambling websites to increase their odds against players, this program collects a concerning array of data and feeds it back to the originators database.

The data collected from your PC or electronic device can include its screen resolution, device type, operating system, its time zone, java script capabilities, or Adobe Flash capabilities. It can retrieve information on your browser cookies, your browser types, your browser history, how long you spend on certain websites, your IP address and geolocation down to the city. It can also read your router to discover your internet service provider’s information, your computer’s performance information including CPU speed and count, component serial numbers, your device name, your OS build number, your Kernel Information and more.

All of this information is distilled into a ‘fingerprint’ or ‘footprint’ of your system’s unique characteristics. Used often as a method of locating your phone or to see if your data has been stolen, more malevolent Steam Early Access Games have included versions of IESnare and other spyware data in their installation files. The more popular programs, like those accused of being in the game Abstractivism, reportedly utilize your gaming machine to mine cryptocurrency for the developer.

Later reviews of Breach also included reports of the launcher scanning Windows Jump Lists, a feature that allows you to view recent documents in programs pinned to your taskbar, on boot up. Several users complained of being unable to connect to Breach servers if they had IESnare blocked by their browser. Other users complained of the game searching through unrelated file directories during playtime, including those on other solid-state or hard drives unrelated to the game’s installation file.

These accusations are not unfounded either. QC Games’ partner company, En Masse Entertainment (formerly Bluehole Interactive), were accused of using IESnare as a method to check the validity of user accounts for Tera. This was later confirmed when a Redditor posted the script that ran on Tera’s load-up which linked backed to Iovation Inc., the owner-creator of IESnare. This code attempted to test several internet browser functions (including Adobe Flash) and obfuscated its actions with several lines of meaningless coding which attempted to hide what it was doing.

While no one managed to pull a similar string from Breach during its tenure on Steam, more and more users found that blocking IESnare’s target domains would not allow the game to play. Customers became confused as word continued to spread until QC Games released a frankly unsatisfactory apology. Responding to several user reviews individually instead of making a full public statement, one of the developers of Breach left the following canned response which did confirm included monitoring software used for Breach:

Several YouTube reporters and pundits would discuss the topic including popular personality Sidalpha. His video would neither confirm nor deny the inclusion of IESnare but did agree that there was some form of third-party authentication occurring during gameplay. Citing a high graphics load and communication with Amazon Gaming servers, he condemned the company for, “collecting far more information from your system than [QC Games] have any right to.”

I myself have personally checked through every individual file in my Breach installation package, having been supplied a copy of the game for the purposes of publication. I did not find any trace of IESnare during any of my playtime, nor its launching software ‘mpsnare.’ I was unable to test its reliance on connecting to its necessary communication websites. I did, however, find a version of Easy Anti-Cheat used in game launchers as a method of deterring cheating using non-authorized 3rd party software. This version is found in games such as Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands and has no connection to IESnare or its developer Iovation Inc.

QC Games Closes Its Doors

This was the unfortunate nail in the coffin for Breach. Whether or not IESnare was truly included in its package, the program’s history is tarnished with its invasive purpose and problematic applications. Coupled with a lackluster and dispassionate response from an otherwise passionate developer, the unchecked rumors were what ultimately killed Breach. By March its concurrent player count had plummeted to 446 players despite its second major update and continued support. Even on April 1st when the player count had dropped down to 52 users there were still published plans to continue updates. Inevitably, this was not to be.

On April 3rd QC Games announced that both its studio and Breach would be closing down. Most likely forced by its publisher En Masse Entertainment, QC Games had begun to ramp down production by the time of their posting, citing in a follow-up statement that, “[Breach] has not performed as we had hoped… The changes required to make it a successful product would require resources we don’t have.” As of April 4th all in-game microtransactions and DLC were disabled, with premium currency being removed so players could try out anything the game had to offer. Steam purchases were also disabled. As of April 30th 2019, Breach and its servers will be closed forever.

The story of Breach is one of a blind faith in itself. In splitting off from Bioware, convinced that their game could succeed, QC Games took their isometric multiplayer worldwide. This band of developers, excited in the success they knew their product could have, showed the industry what they were made of. Despite its rough-hewn edges and unintuitive design, I cannot deny that Breach had an incredible amount of potential. Sporting its own brief esports event this was a game that had the seedings to develop over time into a fully-fledged property.

This game, however, acted in such a manner, whether through including 3rd party monitoring software or the ineptitude of its developers, that it required an immediate and well cultivated response to concerned fans. Its userbase did not receive one and thus a breach of the developers own making was created. A breach which saw its player count plummet, its future decimated, and the foreclosure of a studio with a promising future.

To date Breach has sold roughly 14,000 units according to SteamSpy, not including alpha testers and those purchasing directly from En Masse Entertainment. Player counts have dropped to no more than two individual users at a time. As of April 30th the game will be shut down forever. There is little to what remains of its legacy, save some YouTube and Twitch footage of its gameplay. Breach was a game of incredible potential, but like Icarus it simply flew too high without realizing it had struck the sun.

Both QC Games and its publisher En Masse Entertainment did not respond for a request to comment prior to publication.

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Is Breach Finally 4v1 Done Right?

The idea of asymmetric PvP has a long history in the online gaming world that has never achieved its full potential. Back in the early MMORPG days of EverQuest and Asheron’s Call, developers actually spawned into the online words as raid bosses. Due to the unbalanced nature and resource constraints, these types of events haven’t been implemented in more recent MMOs. A few years ago, we had a small-scale take on players controlling raid bosses with Evolve while Shadow Realms attempted to recreate the Dungeon Master experience from Dungeons & Dragons. Now Breach is trying its hand at the asymmetric PvP subgenre as a 4v1, third-person action RPG that puts a twist on ancient mythology.

Breach Veil Demon

 

In Shadow Realms’ Shadow

Last week, I had the opportunity to meet with Dallas Dickinson (President) and Gabe Amatangelo (Chief Creative Director) of QC Games to get a hands-on demonstration of Breach. If those names sound familiar, it’s because they were previously part of Bioware’s Shadow Realms development team.

A few minutes into the game, I was instantly reminded of my time with Shadow Realm back at PAX 2014. The idea of taking over the Dungeon Master, or Shadowlord, role definitely intrigued me, especially as someone who very much enjoys PvP focused games. Setting traps, taking over monsters, and picking off heroes one by one was great in concept, but what was presented at the time lacked a special something. It could have been the generic characters, settings, and skills or the combat just not feeling quite right. It felt like the team had great ideas with Shadow Realms but wasn’t able to quite build the gameplay to deliver on them.

Already having those ideas to pull from, it seems as if the QC Games team has been able to spend more time building the core game mechanics such as combat, setting, and character progression . With that in mind, let’s look at what Breach is doing to set itself apart.

Breach gameplay

 

What is Breach?

In the short time that I spent with Breach, it was very apparent that the game does not simply fit into one category. It’s clearly a lobby-based, co-op third-person action RPG, but it also embraces pen and paper Dungeons & Dragons and pulls parts from the MOBA genre. Breach can be played solo as a hero or Veil Demon, co-op, or in full 4v1 PvP mode.

These varying game modes have the ability to draw in all kinds of different gamers and not just those interested in PvP; you can dungeon crawl with your friends or torment AI heroes as the Veil Demon. The standard game mode will have four heroes face off against a single Veil Demon that can manipulate the battleground and control hordes of monsters, but the number of players can be modified in the custom game mode.

There are the typical roles that one would expect from a team-based RPG: Mage, physical DPS, healer, and tank with a wide-variety of classes ranging from Necromancer to Nighthawk. Currently, there are 18 classes for the Heroes and 6 for the Veil Demon, with more on the way. Furthermore, players can mix and match skills between certain classes to tailor their own unique playstyle. Unlike traditional MMORPGs or MOBAs, players aren’t locked into a single class or hero but instead can customize an avatar that can change or modify classes before any match. In a way, it’s similar to Final Fantasy XIV where players can access every class on their main character and are granted extra ability options based on the number of unlocked jobs.

Breach God

Before a match starts, players will hang out in a central hub similar to Destiny or most other current lobby-centric games. This is where they can modify their equipment, talents, skills and practice on the training dummies. When a match begins, the two teams will take turns drafting. The heroes will draft their classes while the Veil Demon first chooses their class and then two elite monsters. In the current build, players aren’t forced to fill certain roles, and this can lead to some interesting team compositions. However, as I experienced in one of the play sessions, a team of all Demon Hunters isn’t the best choice and a good balance of roles will likely be optimal in most situations.

After the draft ends, players will be transported to the battleground and be required to complete various objectives as they move forward. These include missions such as killing a certain number of enemies before the timer expires or capturing points. While this seems simple enough, the Veil Demon is doing its best to stop the heroes from succeeding. The Veil Demon this omnipresent entity that can’t directly engage or be engaged by the heroes but it can spawn traps, take control of minions, or summon powerful elite monsters. At the end of each map there is a powerful boss that the Veil Demon can either take control of or work together with as a final attempt to stop the heroes.

 

Atmosphere

According to the story, 70,000 years ago humans lived alongside mythological creatures where they were enslaved and hunted. Taking pity on the humans, a group of Immortals split the Earth into two realities by creating the Veil. The humans were separated from the other mythological creatures and allowed to live in relative peace. However, the Veil is starting to collapse and the worlds are colliding. This has simultaneously allowed demons to invade the human world while also providing certain individuals with a power called “The Spark,” which grants them magical abilities.

Breach Environment

There are a lot of legendary myths from around the world and not focusing on a single one, such as Roman or Greek, allows the QC team a huge amount of freedom in level and enemy design. Each of the battlegrounds embodies a different culture from Egypt to Japan, and the final boss represents one of their gods or mythical beings.

This initially made me think back to SMITE, which currently has close to 100 gods from 12 different pantheons. Hopefully, this will give the development team a lot of inspiration to draw from and continue to create new content while allowing players to experience cultures from a multitude of backgrounds.

 

Game Mechanics and Features

Before meeting with QC Games, I had the opportunity to play through the tutorial on my own. One of the first things I noticed was how smooth and responsive the combat was. When you press a button, there’s no awkward delay or animation before the attack or skill initiates. The overall control and feeling of combat reminded me a lot of Neverwinter, albeit with better visuals , and specifically playing the Assassin was reminiscent of the Trickster Rogue.

Attacks have a nice ‘snap’ to them and you can feel the impact on enemies. Standard attacks can be performed without a target, but there’s a sort of soft-lock when correctly aiming at an enemy and using certain skills. This aspect is also similar to Guild Wars 2 and The Elder Scrolls Online, but the controls are much less floaty.

According to the development team, the game will be free-to-play once released and there will be no pay-to-win aspects. For monetization, Breach will be using a League of Legends style where players can pay to unlock new classes faster or purchase cosmetics.

For the most part, the game will feature horizontal progression, which should also decrease chances for pay-to-win features. Unlocking new gear won’t provide a direct power bonus but will instead increase options available to the players. For example, each item for a class provides access to certain talents that are unlocked during a mission. Swapping out that item won’t make you instantly stronger but it could provide talents more suited to your play style. Furthermore, classes can mix and match certain skills, which means that unlocking more classes provides more cross-class combination options.

Breach Elementalist

 

What it Needs

I feel like the elephant in the room is the lack of a map editor. With Shadow Realms likely never seeing the light of day, Breach is the closest we’re getting to that Dungeon Master experience. And while it’s fun to spawn traps and monsters on the fly, getting to create and setup an entire campaign ahead of time is exactly what this type of game needs. Player created content has a history of driving longevity in games and it often spawns entirely different ways to play or even creates new genres.

To answer my initial question of whether Breach is finally the 4v1 game we need… the answer is maybe. For being in Alpha state, the game already feels great mechanically and the tools are there, but it just needs a few more features and to give players a bit more control over design.

Breach Heroes

In its current state, Breach is a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to what QC Games has in store for its future. For those of you interested in trying out Breach, it will enter paid Early Access on Steam later this year with an expected free-to-play launch in 2019.

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