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'Evolve' Design Director Talks Observer Mode, Franchise Potential & More

Evolve Interview

After a surprising unveil nearly one year ago, Turtle Rock Studios' Evolve has been at the forefront of the multiplayer gaming conversation. Built by the same folks who delivered Left 4 Dead, Evolve deploys an approach that feels like something gamers have never seen before. Ostensibly, it's one giant cooperative boss battle, where the "heroes" are controlled by four coordinating players and the "boss" is guided by another player.

Today, Turtle Rock Studios is set to finally deliver that vision to gamers, and we had the opportunity to chat with Evolve's Design Director Chris Ashton about the game. In the interview, Ashton talks about the development of Evolve, how quickly the development team can patch in gameplay fixes, and what the future might hold for the franchise. Read the full transcript below.

Game Rant: You are about to launch a game on Tuesday. What does it feel like?

Chris Ashton (Design Director): [laughs]

The journey is almost over, or it’s just beginning depending on how you look at it.

"Yeah, exactly. I don’t know. I want it to happen right now. I’m so kinda tired of waiting. [laughs] The whole team is really excited. I think you are absolutely right. I feel like it’s been four years of really hard work, preparation, stress, effort, good days and bad days for the whole team to get to this point. But for us, this is really where it starts. You know, launching a new IP. And that’s something that, as a game developer, you rarely, rarely get the chance to do.

And so, we’re very fortunate to have a publisher that backed it and has put so much effort into it. But yeah, man, next week it’s for real. [laughs]"

Evolve New Hunters Screenshots 3

The Evolution of Evolve

When you sat down and you guys originally envisioned the game and you started developing it, and then you had an alpha and a beta, how much really changed over time? Specifically, what about your feedback from people actually playing it do you think you’ve incorporated or what are elements that you added based on how people have been responding to the game?

"Well, the really quick stuff is the balance stuff. Changes to the matchmaking system and balance changes, that stuff is really, really quick. And those systems are set up so that we can change the balance of the game and release a tiny update and it’s no problem. And we hope to be able to do that regularly.

The bigger thing is kind of for the future. You know, for the future of the franchise and for the future of the game, like what kind of game modes do we want to do? What kind of changes are people asking for?

So, right away people were asking about a way…like an observer mode in the game. So we’re investing in that. people wanted to be able to match make with five player parties. That is something we didn’t plan for initially, but it makes sense to us and we understand why people want it. And so that got in, in time for release.

So there’s just kind of like a whole slew of ideas. You know people are always going to find exploits and stuff. Like, people were frustrated by other players spamming the stealth pounce as the monster during combat. We just had a fix get put in last night for that that will be in an update after release.

So we’ve very, very keen to talk to the community and see what kind of features they want, what kind of game modes they’re interested in, as well as potentially what kind of perks would they be interested in, in the future?

It’s interesting for us and a lot of fun for us to watch them…lots of people get inspired by the game and start drawing and designing their own monsters and characters and stuff. So there’s a lot of potential for the future."

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Page 2: Improving Evolve's Multiplayer Experience

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With the balance changes, how quickly could you implement a fix? Because I know that’s a major point of contention, especially in multiplayer games. How quickly do you guys believe that if you saw some particular ability or something that a player could exploit - how quickly could you address that?

Evolve Screenshot - Hunters vs Goliath (Gamescom 2014)

The Future of DLC

With the new changes, are there any elements or features that you could talk about in terms of DLC or things you’re thinking about beyond 4-v-1 multiplayer. You’ve seen people play around with it. Are there things that are in the back of your minds or you are maybe kind of, “Oh, wow. We could do that now that people understand”?

"Well, like I said, we’re going to work on observer mode. Also, I think we’re going to do some ranked play stuff, find a way to make the game kind of more officially competitive and separate that from sort of the normal player pool of people who are just playing for fun. And then that eases the burden on the normal matchmaking stuff, like we can be a little more lax with parties and that sort of thing.

By that I mean, like right now, if you are in a party, we never allow you to be the monster, and a lot of people are kind of upset by that because, “I only have one friend, so we want to match make so we have a full game, but I want to play against my friend. I want him to be the monster.”

We’ve not allowed that up to this point because of a worry about sort of cheating and stuff. But if we make sort of a ranked play pool and a normal pool, then maybe that’s something we can open up to players.

Definitely we feel like we could have done a lot more. We really like the maps. We really like all the wildlife and stuff in them. But the different locations that we can go to in the future would be really excited. So I think map wise, we’ve always talked about if we do maps for DLC then they will be free so that everybody can play on them. We don’t want to split up the pool at all. So we’re excited to work on some stuff like that and take people to a new environment."

So with that, the DLC and the maps, you have the game launching on Tuesday, but is there stuff you guys are already working on? I know it may seem weird, but people, once they dive in and start devouring it, they might want to know what’s on the other side or what’s coming, Do you have stuff that’s closer to the release or is it you’re going to wait and see how it goes and then try and adapt from that?

"We went gold a little while back. But it’s very important for us to keep…It’s very hard to build the team, a lot of effort, a lot of time investment. And we got really good people. And we wanted to make sure that we could maintain everybody and keep everybody here.

As soon as, say, the concept artists were done with all of their work on the regular game, we put them to work on new stuff. And it’s the same across the board. And now we’re gold, so now the whole team is ether…you know, we’re working on new modes or we’re working on balance changes or bug fixes. The whole team is live on the game now working on more stuff."

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Page 3: Asymmetrical Multiplayer & the Future of Game Design

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With asymmetrical multiplayer, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think Evolve is one of the first games to really establish that idea in a Triple-A release. Do you think that that is where the industry is going in terms of multiplayer? Do you think that’s a direction that we’re going to see a lot of games that don’t necessarily copy Evolve, but emulate what it’s trying to do?

"I don’t know. Maybe. I think what the reality is, is that with the new generation of hardware…Like, there’s a lot of savings on making equal teams. If we have two teams, then one is red and one is blue, and they have the same weapons or whatever. That’s very efficient.

In our game we’ve got four player co-op. That’s half the game. And then we’ve got a third-person monster kind of simulator on the other side. And that’s really almost kind of like two games in one. Besides sort of the hard work to get that done, there’s also just, like, technically, you need the horsepower and the memory available to store all those crazy sort of different animations, and sounds, and models, and textures, and all that kind of stuff.

So I think the asymmetrical games are becoming more popular now, I think partly because people are just kind of tired of seeing the same stuff all the time, but also partly because, as a developer, all the developers are creative and excited to try new things, I think, and have partially, in the past, been sort of constrained by the hardware.

So, finally I think with this new generation of consoles and the new hardware on PCs, those constraints are largely lifted on us, and now we can kind of build what we want. So I expect really, really big things in this next year or two in the gaming industry. I think we’re going to see a lot of crazy innovation, a lot of cool new stuff, new ideas."

Evolve Screenshot - Maggie vs Hank vs Kraken (Gamescom 2014)

What Does Evolve Offer Gamers?

Yeah, I totally agree. So Evolve is largely seen as a multiplayer game, but you guys do have stuff that does cater to people who may be looking for a campaign or kinda want to play around in a single player environment. But it wasn’t really announced until much later in the marketing for Evolve. Was that a conscious choice? Was the goal to sell it as multiplayer? What was the decision with regards to how to position certain things - when to unveil monsters, for example? Because Evolve, in my mind, does have an appealing quality to everybody. What was your thinking behind how you revealed certain things?

"I think for us, whenever we used to talk about the game and we used to pitch it to publishers, we used to talk about, like, “OK. This is a game where me and my buddies, we’re going to co-op and we’re going to fight a boss monster.” I think that alone sounds pretty interesting because everybody’s fought boss monsters in games, but usually you do it by yourself. The idea that I can go fight a boss monster with my friends sounds pretty cool.

But you do see that in MMO’s and various other games. So it’s not terribly uncommon. But it does sound fun. But then whenever we would say, “And that boss monster can also be one of your friends or somebody who matched in online,” so you can be the boss monster or you can be these four hunters. And I think that that was kind of…that was always the moment where you saw that sparkle in people’s eyes where they were like, “Oh, shit!” That’s what set Evolve apart from every other game in the past. And that’s the thing that people really latched onto.

So I think that that was kind of the marketing strategy, was to try to have that conversation with players and with publications and stuff and try to sort of get them to understand, get them excited about the core idea and the potential there.

And then we started to dig down…There’s just so much in Evolve. It’s so deep with so many characters, and so many modes, and different ways you can play the game that we had to sort of sell the 4-v-1 first, I think, and then go into the details afterwards."

Okay, I’ll get you out on this. I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about Left for Dead. It does seem like the development team is committed to Evolve, but how do you feel about Left for Dead continuing on without you?

"We built Left for Dead 1 and then Valve built Left for Dead 2 entirely internally. And then we worked on some Left for Dead 1 and 2 DLC. So, really, I mean after Left for Dead we kind of weren’t steering that boat anymore. So yeah, that game will always be dear to my heart and I’d love to play another one. But it’s all Valve’s baby now. Now all that we’ve been sort of focused on is Evolve."

Yeah. I look forward to playing it come next week. Thanks for sitting down and chatting with me. I really appreciate it.

"Thanks."

We've only just gotten a hold of a copy of Evolve, but our working hard on our review. Until then, gamers can pick up and try out the game for themselves starting today.

What do you think of Evolve's approach to DLC and its evolution during development? What is the game's most appealing quality to you?

Evolve is out today for PC, PS4, and Xbox One.

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