Q&A ANSWERED BY [INCLUDING JOB TITLE]: Chris ‘Zirp’ Zirpoli Writer/Designer
Please introduce yourself, your company and the project on which you're currently working.
My name is Chris Zirpoli, but you can feel free to call me ‘Zirp’ (everybody else does eventually so, there is no use fighting it! : -) I am a Writer and a Designer on Goblin Commander: Unleash the Horde for Jaleco Entertainment. It’s my pleasure to be answering these questions for all of the fabulous folks over at Gamer’s Hell.
The whole Goblin Commander concept sounds pretty cool. However, can you let our readers have more details regarding interface (Is it standard point and click or were you after something innovative?)
In Goblin Commander, players will have the ability to control their units in two ways. ‘Commander mode’ is a top down cursor component that will grant the player a bird’s eye view of the entire level. In this mode the player uses what is conceptually the spiritual form of their Commander to direct their troops using waypoints, enter and exit structures and stores, etc. However, from Commander mode, the player can also possess their units through Direct Control. Through it, they can get right down into the action, entering into a third person view that is pretty much unique to the traditional RTS. I have to say, this is a feature that I think the fans out there are going to be really excited about. I know that we are.
Nowadays gamers care a lot about graphics and according to screenshots released up to date, Goblin Commander will look great. Can you tell us something about the Goblin Commander engine and how would you rate it in comparison to recent standards set by Warcraft 3?
I can’t really speak for the Warcraft 3 engine... so I won’t ;-)
For us, though, our engineers and the Goblin Commander engine that they created for us to build our game upon are second to none, in my opinion. Ken Klopp, our own certifiable engineering guru, and his whole team deserve the MVP for this project. There have been no aspects of the console’s capabilities they have not pushed to the very brink and beyond. Believe me, when you tell an engineer in this business that you want the ability to have 60 characters on the screen at any given time, with their own unique AI, along with up to 6 Turrets firing off, a bunch of Titans rampaging through, blood and gore for all of them, full environment effects, ambient life, huge magical effects all with there own unique particles, and you want to package that in a completely destructible environments that look great and helps define the atmosphere for the universe that you are creating, most of the time they would laugh at you and pat you on your itty-bitty head... Not these guys! They took up the challenge and in doing so, inspired our entire art team to try to make them choke on their own words. They never did, and it shows. Let me tell you something, if you think the screenshots look great, you should see the game when it is full swing! It is truly a sight to behold!
What about units and weapons... Can u give us some raw stats on how many races/clans will enter the arena and how many different armies/weapons each clan can chose amongst?
The goblin race is made up of 5 completely different and unique clans: The Stonekrusher clan, the Hellfire clan, the Stormbringer clan, the Plaquespitter clan and the Nighthorde clan. Each clan has 5 distinct goblins that are made up of melee units, ranged units and a support unit, that provides bonuses for all the units in the clan when it is on the field. On top of that, each clan has a distinct defensive structure, or ‘Turret’, that only they can use. Turrets can be placed throughout the world and will automatically attack enemy units that come within range of it. Each clan also has one monstrous ‘Titan’ that is exclusive to that clan which can only be directly controlled. They are extremely powerful, and can be used to levy some heavy tolls on their enemies. The player will have the ability to control up to 3 clans when they get down to the meat of the game, and each clan can have up to 10 individual goblin units on the field. On top of that, they can place any 3 ‘Turrets’ and create one of each unique ‘Titan’. Truthfully, when the game is pumping and there are 60 goblins on the screen, and Titans and Turrets are cracking off... it’s really spectacular. Storywise, the 5 clans were spread throughout the lands of Ogriss, working on gathering resources for an enigmatic ‘Great Machine’ that is being constructed by the human wizard Fraziel that created them. Consequently, when the fighting starts, the goblins end up using their tools as weapons. For example, one of the melee units for the Hellfire clan is the Lumberjack. Before the fighting started, the Lumberjacks used their chainsaws to chop down trees in the forests of Ogriss, but when the battles begin, they use their chainsaws to take a slice out of their enemies.
Can we expect RTS heroes and level upgrade like in some recent PC RTS titles?
Each clan does have a unique Clanchief associated with it that is pretty much running the show. They are, in essence, the Goblin Commanders, and are basically the persona that the player takes on when they are controlling their clans. As for heroes, we really spent a long time tossing around the idea... but in the end we just didn’t think it fit for this game. For us, we were more concerned with establishing the uniqueness of the GC universe, and the uniqueness of the task of creating an RTS that really works well on the console. Believe me, the idea of heroes is not off the table by a long shot and is definitely something that we are reevaluating as we move forward.
As for upgrades, we do not have level upgrades that are applied to a specific unit. For GC, each clan has 3 upgrades that can be purchased up to a maximum of 3 times that are aimed at powering up the entire clan. Two of the upgrades have been designed specifically for the warriors of the clans, and tend to be nice buffs that really help to heighten the entire clan’s given talents. The third is applied directly to the clan’s support unit, helping to heighten that unit’s uniqueness as well. The nice thing about our upgrade system is that all of the upgrades are applied automatically to the units they effect as soon as they are purchased. This is reinforced visibly with upgrades to the art as well as the addition of upgrade-specific particle effects. This includes units that are right in the middle of a fight! Through playtesting, we’ve discovered that the timing the player uses for purchasing upgrades has really become just another strategic element. If you play your cards right, upgrades can be used to instantly turn the tide of battle, and sometimes, the war.
I assume the game will be based on missions, having a main plot to follow. What will be the average mission: build as much as you can and conquer, or will you have to fight with few resources, trying to optimize attacks or even stealth missions through proper use of fog of war?
Our Level Designers have done a fantastic job creating some really unique situations for our missions. Of course, there is an overlying story arc that all of the missions funnel into, but the individual levels really run the gambit in terms of setup, purpose and design. Of course, the common theme in all of them is maintaining enough resources to sustain the war effort, but the player will find that sometimes, that is easier said than done. Sometimes the player will have a full arsenal of units at their disposal, ready for a grudge match. Other times the player will have a handful of specialized units with no established rallying point or relief in sight. For example, there is one mission early in the game when the player has to use the Stonekrusher clan to lay siege on a Hellfire Gunpowder Factory that is built in an old abandoned ruin that sits on a plateau high above the forest. The main objective is basically to destroy it. The player starts out with enough Souls to fill out their clan a few times, but relatively little gold. As the player wades out into the forest, they have the opportunity to destroy some structures to harvest some gold for upgrades, but the trick is making sure they are protecting themselves while they do it. The Hellfire clan is sending small parties of Lumberjacks and Archers at them, trying to break through into the player’s base so that they can lay it to waste. At this point, the player really has a choice to make... they can try to press on up into the ruins, using Turrets to hopefully fend off the Hellfire attacks or they can take the time to try and clean out the source of the attacks, the secondary Hellfire encampment that is hidden somewhere in the forest. Through their travels, the player will discover a Soul Fountain that is right out in the middle of a clearing at one of the most centralized locations. They can capture it, bumping up the amount of Souls that they have streaming in, but the question is, for how long. The Hellfire clan will know that the player has seized the fountain, and will send units to recapture it. Eventually, the player must find a way up into the ruins. They can fight their way up the main ramp, which is heavily guarded and will basically cost them for every inch or they can try to find another way up, which is hidden behind some burnable trees. I don’t want to ruin the mission, but once the player gets up into the ruins, all hell breaks loose. There are strategic Lens Cannons emplacements that will fire off at them, specialized units called Bombardiers that use Hand Cannons to launch surprise attacks, and even an appearance by the Hellfire clan’s Titan, the brutal long-ranged Warpigpult. All in all, it really turns into a slugfest that will keep the player on the edge of their seat.
Which are the main resources to be collected in Goblin Commander, and will they be the same for each clan or will they differ somehow, adding another level of strategy?
To increase the action when designing an RTS for a console, we had to totally rethink the whole idea of resource gathering. What we were after was a streamlined rendition of the established concept, one that wouldn’t bog the game down in the same old resource management routine. What we came up with was two basic resources that are a constant throughout the game. The two resources are Gold and Souls. Gold is used to purchase upgrades and items such as magical Runestones from the stores and can be gathered by smashing up the environment around you. This allows the player to collect Gold on the run... making sure that there is never a point in the game when the player is waiting for peons to do the mining for them. The other resource is Souls, which is used to purchase units. Souls are gathered by killing enemy units or by capturing Soul Fountains that provide a steady stream to the player. This works well on a couple of levels. Not only does it provide the resources you need to build more units, but it does so through battle... not through inactivity. This keeps the pressure on the player. This also makes the Soul Fountains strategic points of interest on the maps. The enemy Ai is also programmed to recapture Soul Fountains if the player gains control of them. This results in some pretty heated battles in both the Single Player Campaign as well as the Multi-player contingent. Believe me, when you find a Soul Fountain on any of the maps, you better make sure you got it covered. Nothing will take the legs out from under an enemy as efficiently as choking the fight out of them.
How much did it add to the value of the project to have developers like Ron Millar and Chris Millar (StarCraft, Warcraft and Diablo) involved?
Who? Millar... MILLAR... Where have I heard that name before? Hmm... Just kidding, of course (lol). Bringing on two guys with the experience and talent that Ron and Chris have, believe me, can never hurt ANY project... no matter what genre it is. Besides their resumes, the thing that people don’t realize about Ron and Chris is that they are both dedicated people that are passionate about making great games. But, on top of that, they are both extremely approachable people that never take the high road, which, believe me, is pretty hard to find in this industry... especially when you consider what they have had a chance to accomplish. They are great collaborators that, despite all their success, realize that one man does not a great game make... and that is the most refreshing thing that anybody on this side of the curtain will ever find. They are open and honest, and extremely talented at knowing a good idea when they hear one, no matter what the source. It really sets them apart, in my opinion, and is why they have had such great success. Believe me, Ma Millar must have put something in their milk when they were growing up, because to see these guys in action at 3 o’clock in the morning when the chips are down and we’re staring at the gaping maw of a deadline is truly something to behold! Honestly, I have worked very closely with both of them on all aspects of this game and am proud to not only have them as co-workers, but to have them as friends.
Is a demo in development and if so, is there any particular magazine it will be covermounted on?
Yes. We have a playable demo of Goblin Commander that will be included in the January release of the Official Playstation Magazine™. It is just a teaser of a couple of the levels that we designed, but if you pick it up, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
According to our information, Goblin Commander is aimed for release on Gamecube, Playstation 2 and Xbox. Any hope it will make it on PC as well?
We designed GC specifically for the console and specifically with the console controller in mind. For us, it is where Goblin Commander was destined to be! When the idea was originally being concepted, our guys were focused on tearing down the perceived notion that an RTS could not work on the console... and we believe we’ve accomplished just that. Not to say that anyone can completely rule out a PC release in the future, mind you... but the console was definitely our target from the onset.
What about the sound/music department? it has never been a central point in RTS development, but once you're playing, it really adds value to the game. Have you got something special coming in this area?
For that, I am going to hand you over to our in-house expert and Audio Monster, Mike Smith...
Mike: Yeah, definitely... One of the challenges that you run into with RTS games that maybe you don't so much with other genres is information overload. With so many units running around, I think it's really easy to overwhelm the player with a bunch of superfluous noises that only end up distracting the player. However, Goblin Commander isn't your run-of-the-mill RTS, if for no other reason than it's designed specifically for consoles, so I think the audio department had higher expectations from the outset. We wanted to do as much as we could, sonically, to really drive home the point that you're playing a console game, but at the same time, pull back just enough so that it didn't become a distraction from the RTS gameplay.
Since Goblin Commander allows the player to possess units, we wanted the audio to be more immersive than the typical RTS titles. The maps have ambient sounds unique to each region as well as reverbs and other ambient elements that are more typical of 1st person games. As the player uncovers more of any given map, we also unlock more music scores - to give the player a sense of accomplishment and to reduce the monotony that is so prevalent in RTS titles. In general, because Goblin Commander was breaking some new ground by its very design, we felt compelled to examine all aspects of the audio experience as well, to determine what made sense for this title, rather than falling back on any established clichés.
Can we expect Multiplayer features, online on PS2/XBOX or even split screen on Gamecube as well?
For the release of GC, we concentrated on the fundamentals for our multi-player game, thus each of the consoles will ship with 12 skirmish maps that will be played split screen with each player having the opportunity to choose any 3 of the five clans and bring them to war in a bevy of different environments. Two of those maps are exclusive to each console, so the multi-player contingent definitely offers a nice variety that stressed all the different aspects of our game. I personally think it has become one of my favorite aspects of GC, and I think the people who play it will feel the same. There is nothing like throwing down against your buddies in an honest to goodness grudge match! We’ve had some real barnburners here in the house. It’s so funny to be sitting there playing against someone and turn around and have half the company behind you just glued to the screen. It’s pretty wild. As for online support, we again wanted to concentrate on nailing the core mechanics of our gameplay mechanism for multi-player. There is a lot of stuff going on that we weren’t even positive was going to work when we set out to create it... I think we were more concerned with proving that it was going to not only be viable but extremely rewarding. It worked out fabulously, however, and an online contingent is a definite as we move into the future.
What's the most special thing about this game, any feature in Goblin Commander that will become a de-facto in strategy/rts titles?
To me, I think people will be amazed at the ease of use that coincides with our control scheme. Since we set out from the onset to design this game for the console, it really translates well. I think people will be truly amazed at how simple and fun it is to play. Also, the ability to take Direct Control of your units will really be one of those aspects that I believe we will see show up in a lot of RTS games that come out after it. There is truly nothing like hopping into a Stone Ogre, instructing all 3 clans to ‘Follow’ it, and going to town on your enemies and their environments. Throw in the ability to fire off magical Runestones that rock the whole screen and decimate the environment, and it is one of those things that you have to see to believe.
Closing, anything else you wish to add?
I just wanted to say ‘thanks’ for giving us the opportunity to answer all of your great questions! It has been a lot of fun. Honestly, if you can’t tell already, we hear at Jaleco are extremely excited about Goblin Commander: Unleash the Horde, and hope that everybody that picks it up will be to. Believe me, we know about what has come before... we know what caliber of RTS has been shoveled into a box and released on the consoles, and people have every right to be concerned. But once you have a chance to sit down with Goblin Commander, once you have a chance to hop into a Titan and start decimating, once you have a chance to let loose our goblins on your friends on one of the Skirmish maps, I think all of those preconceptions are going to melt away and the walls that once separated RTS games from the console are going to come crashing down once and for all!
If anyone is interested in learning more about Goblin Commander, make sure to visit our website at: www.goblincommander.com. There’s plenty of information on the different clans, the story, a ton of screenshots and our newly uploaded movie clip that should really invite people into the GC universe.