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Interview: Anthem Executive Producer Talks Progression Systems, Post-Launch DLC, and More

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Last week, we here at Game Rant were given the opportunity to go hands on with a preview of BioWare's forthcoming action-RPG Anthem during a press event at EA headquarters, and we walked away impressed with the potential that the gameplay holds, but a bit wary about how the story would be handled. Of course, with this being the developer's first attempt at a connected loot based shooter, we were left wondering about the development process behind the release and what the company's plans are for the game at launch and beyond.

During the course of our hands-on session with Anthem, we were able to take a break and sit down for an interview with BioWare Executive Producer Mark Darrah to discuss the next title from the company primarily known for such series as Dragon Age and Mass Effect. Throughout our conversation, we talked about how the game came to be, what players should expect at release, what BioWare has planned for post-launch content, and more.

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Game Rant: Why was Anthem chosen as the final title for the game?

Naming things is incredibly difficult. We’ve had other names that we considered for this game. What you want for a game like this is, you want something that feels big, that sort of hints at the nature of the game. So, something Anthem does, is it hints at cooperativeness, it hints at togetherness, it hints at some of the other themes, whereas some of the other names that we talked about maybe felt a little too small.

GR: How quickly do you believe the team will be able to make bug fixes, balance changes for weapons, or anything in the world that might need fixing?

It depends on what we have to do. A lot of the balance stuff is actually driven from the server side, so we can theoretically do that immediately–like literally within the first couple of minutes. Then, if we’re getting into stuff that requires actual content, then it could take anywhere from a couple of days to do something relatively simple to up to potentially weeks if it has to be something major.

Now, I think we can do a lot of stuff to react to the way people are going to engage with exploits, to deal with features that are maybe broken under certain circumstances just from the server side, which we can do right away.

GR: How does Anthem intend to avoid potential content drought and keep players engaged within its loot-driven play cycles?

So, from the progression cycle, the game is designed so that you have several different horizons. So, at first, the goal is get through the critical path, then get to level 30, then get a Masterwork gear or weapon for every slot, then get a Masterwork gear for every weapon or slot that has the right infusions to get you the build that you really want to have. Each of those horizons is designed to be a relatively long chase, but as we know, people get through this super fast–often way faster than we than we possibly could imagine.

Then we introduce additional content things where we want to have a much quicker conversation with our players than we have in the past where we are dropping things more regularly, more often, and one of the things on that is Cataclysms. It’s relatively big–not big like a piece of story DLC we’ve done in the past–but something to chew on for a while that changes the meta, that introduces new ways to think about the game, and then we can do that on a regular cadence to make it feel like the game is pushing back on you as you’re reaching your horizon, and we can then introduce a new horizon, a new goal that keeps you engaged over long term.

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GR: Did the team ever think about letting players fly constantly rather than there being cool downs and other restrictions involved?

Yeah, we did play with that a little bit of having no cool downs, and I find that what it actually does by having cool downs is that it introduces a skill component to flight, because it actually requires you to manage your heat. When you get really good at it, some people can fly really far, because you can, like, dive to cool down and then fly through a waterfall. And by introducing that skill component it actually adds additional engagement into flight, as opposed to it just being kind of a bus ride that you’re using to get from place to place.

GR: Be it connected shooters, platformers, or what have you, what games did BioWare look to as inspiration before the formulation of Anthem?

Yeah, so, Anthem’s actually been in development since before Destiny came out, so it’s interesting–it’s kind of a bit of parallel evolution there where we kind of ended up in a similar place, but from a different route. Our lead combat designer actually worked on Halo, so that definitely has influenced our combat in terms of tightness of controls.

And there's a lot of examples of games out there with flying, but what's really been interesting on this game is, I think, with flying and combat sort of banged into each other, that's been where we've actually found something special, which I don't really think exists out there right now, and so we've had to kind of forge our own path. But I think in that forging, that's where we've really found something.

GR: If PvP ever does get introduced, what would BioWare have to change with Anthem in order to make it fit?

One of the major things that not having PvP lets us do is have the four Javelin be very different from each other. They don't have to be balanced against each other, they just have to be macroscopically balanced and interesting to play in different groups. But they don't have to be a Storm and Colossus go[ing] at each other, and there's an equal chance that either one will come out on top. That doesn't need to be a thing we take into account.

So, it also lets us do more different weapons that, again, don't have to take into account the fact that there's a person on the other side of that. Things like the Sparkbeam are very good against AI, but actually, probably quite useless if you're using it against somebody who can dodge and get out of the way.

If we were to introduce PvP in the future, there would have to be other criteria where we could narrow that realm. So that either means a mode where everyone's a Storm, or everyone has to be the same Javelin, or a mode where gear is restricted in some way. We wouldn't want to do it where we restrict gear for the game as a whole, because that just degrades the PvP experience in the service of PvP. If we were to add a PvP experience in the future, we would want it to be connected to the experience you're having in PvP, but somehow restrained to allow that balance to come in.

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GR: It's been confirmed that Anthem will have Seasonal Events of some kind, but how will they work?

So, there'll be two things, let's call them “real world events”, which will be more like Christmas events, Easter events, St. Patrick's Day–I don't think we'll do St. Patrick's Day, but whatever–where it's a more of a cosmetic thing. The world will do some visual stuff, maybe now it's at Easter, so grabbits are ten times as likely, and they're putting eggs everywhere, I don't know, like those kinds of things where it's more acute, short, and it's more of an engagement with the community.

The second thing is Cataclysms. Cataclysms are much more of that season more in the way that something like Diablo has a season, or Hearthstone has a season, where it's a timed event with specific gains to the end of a bigger thing with more story attached to it, with more endgame purpose.

GR: When Cataclysms were originally called Shaper Storms, Anthem lead producer Mike Gamble said in an interview that they could theoretically fit Mass Effect's universe into them. Could Cataclysms feature crossover events in that regard?

Yeah, certainly crossovers are not impossible. I don't think we'll go there right away, because Anthem needs a little bit of time for its IP to solidify, and establish its own boundaries.

GR: Right. You wouldn't want to have older intellectual properties overshadow the new one.

That's right. If you kind of collapse it all together, then all the IPs potentially run the risk of getting undermined a little bit.

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GR: When you have the free time, what games are you able to play other than Anthem?

I'm not really playing anything right now. I've played Red Dead enough to, you know, kind of “get it”, but right now there's not enough time for me to really dig my teeth into anything. There's a lot of games in my stack that still have the shrink wrap on them.

So, right now, there isn't really anything. I'll be playing Anthem after it comes out, but there's things I need to get back to, for sure.

GR: Are there any games you're looking forward to?

I don't know that I have an answer to that right now, actually. I've kind of got tunnel vision a bit right now.

GR: Understandable. Finally, what will Anthem offer that no other game can?

I think, really, it comes back to that flying aspect. The ability to move in through the space, and integrate that seamlessly into your combat experience–I think it really is that. That's the thing that makes Anthem special.

Anthem is scheduled to release on February 22, 2019 for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

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