By Spencer . March 1, 2014 . 5:00pm
Nosgoth is a free-to-play online shooter set in the universe of the Legacy of Kain series. Siliconera recently had a chance to go hands-on with the game, and provided our impressions of our time with it. You can read that report here.
We also caught up with Bill Beachem, Designer Director at Square Enix, to ask him a few questions about game and the development team’s vision for it.
How has Nosgoth changed since when it was supposed to be a multiplayer component of [Legacy of Kain] Dead Sun? What were the first changes Psyonix made?
Bill Beachem – Design Director, Square Enix: Nosgoth was always intended to be distinct from any single-player game in many ways, since we knew that they would require different player characters, abilities, and maps to support the different gameplay requirements.
While the two were sharing the world of Nosgoth itself, the multiplayer game had its own place in the timeline and backstory that suited the experience the team wanted to make. Part of the reason we were so happy to work with Psyonix—apart from their great pedigree in multiplayer gaming—was that we wanted a team who could handle the creative “heavy lifting” required to make the characters and arenas really come to life.
I think fans of the Legacy of Kain series were drawn in by the storyline. How does Nosgoth fit into the bigger picture?
Nosgoth is set in the almost millennium-long period between Raziel’s supposed execution at the hands of Kain and his other five Lieutenants, those who had formed Kain’s Vampire Council, each the head of their own Clan. Then, not long (at least, in vampire terms) after Kain cast Raziel into the Abyss, Kain disappeared into the time-stream in search of a way to restore Nosgoth to the world it was before the collapse of the Pillars (in terms of series chronology, Kain doesn’t reappear in this era until soon after Raziel’s re-emergence from the Abyss as a wraith and the Empire has fallen into in a state of disarray, as seen in Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver).
Kain leaves the land and his court in the hands of his Lieutenants, who without the iron-grip of their Emperor, were soon riven by jealousy and conflicts, ultimately leading first to in-fighting and then to all-out civil war between the Clans. With the vampires focused on their internal squabbles, Nosgoth’s human population seize the chance to grow stronger. Cities are rebuilt, skills relearned and Humanity’s power recovers to the point where they can launch a devastating attack on their Vampire masters. This attack reunites the warring Vampire Clans in the face of a common enemy.
Now, each race is pitted against the other in a war to control the land of Nosgoth and for the very survival of each race—which is precisely when Nosgoth’s gameplay occurs.
Will there be nods to the Legacy of Kain series? Arenas based on areas from the other games?
We’re obviously keen to provide a lot of links between Nosgoth and the previous games in the franchise—our first levels, for example, are all based in places seen on maps of the world from previous games but never before visited. We’re always thinking about how to build on this, but that said we’re also very aware that whatever we do makes sense within the wider lore and fiction.
For instance, while the Pillars of Nosgoth might make a cool-looking setting for a map, is it really likely that Humans could invade the Sanctuary of Clans, the very heart of Kain’s Empire? We have a LOT of conversations like this, and while we definitely plan to show some familiar sights in the future we don’t want to use them purely for throwaway cosmetic value—the fiction behind the war needs to make sense.
MOBA and MOBA-like games tend to require lots of playtesting before a good balance is struck. What have you learned from the players so far?
Well, we don’t think Nosgoth is a MOBA, it’s much more in the tradition of PvP games going back to Unreal Tournament, Quake, Team Fortress and Counterstrike, although we choose to go third-person rather than first due to our unique gameplay elements. That said, games like this require just as much playtesting and balancing, and we made lives harder for ourselves too by making it asymmetrical rather than just two bunches of guys shooting at each other.
We obviously did a lot of playtesting over the course of development, but as soon as you go the community you realize that the sheer volume of data and feedback you get from them is going to make you rethink all kinds of things. We’ve been refining and tweaking everything, from finer points of map layout to the precise handling and performance of particular weapons or abilities. It’s part of the beauty of working in a live environment—the game keeps evolving, keeps getting better.
What new ideas does Nosgoth bring to the genre? Which was the hardest to implement?
The genre of third-person Vampire vs. Human multiplayer games? We hope we’re offering something that is fresh and new. We’ve seen elements of the gameplay that Nosgoth offers in previous games, but we feel that the final experience is something that you haven’t seen before and so will enjoy all the more. The core mechanic of asymmetrical sides, one using ranged weapons and the other relying on melee combat was probably the hardest thing to get right—the team spent a lot of time iterating on this to ensure that both sides feel powerful and fun without dominating the game.
It went from one side to the other during development, and we’re still fine-tuning and balancing right now. There are other systems that we’re very proud of too – the way that Vampires can free-climb any surface within the play area for instance, gives you a level of freedom in moving through the level and planning your tactics that you just don’t get with more conventional PvP games, for example, and poses unique challenges in level design.
That was probably the other biggest challenge—making maps that allow Humans a good field of fire to take down incoming Vampires, while at the same time giving enough cover and angles of approach for smart Vampires to close in and get the drop on their victims… The team already spent a huge amount of time working on map layout, vantage points, lines of sight, and will keep refining these as players keep giving us feedback.
How will Nosgoth be monetized? It’s a free to play game so will there be accessories to purchase? Funny vampire hats?
There will indeed be content that can be purchased, but it’s worth saying that from the start we’ve been focusing on avoiding any pay-to-win mechanic since that can spell the death of a competitive multiplayer game. Even more fundamentally, the game has to be fun to play without spending money, or again it’s just not going to have the longevity that we think it deserves. We’re really trying to put our players first and monetization second.
Of course, any FTP game has monetization options, and with Nosgoth we’re looking at offering players the chance to purchase consumable items like Perks or Boosters, as well as renting or buying new variants of weapons, equipment, and abilities. New classes and custom skins are also part of the line-up, and there will be other content as the game evolves over time. The vast majority of this content will be unlocked just by playing the game, since we don’t want players to feel they have to pay if they’d rather just enjoy playing to earn the rewards over time.
Even with the smallest items—the Perks that give you a choice of boosts to your characters’ statistics or performance—we want to be as generous as we can: we give away free Perks of the Day so everyone is on a level playing field, for instance.
If Nosgoth is successful, will Square Enix revisit the Legacy of Kain series with a new game in the series more akin to the traditional titles?
We get asked that a lot, unsurprisingly, and to be honest there are so many factors to consider that it is impossible to give a definitive answer at this point. As we’ve said before, there are three key things that need to be in place before any game will go into development: the right concept, the right team, and the right market conditions.
The games industry as a whole has been evolving rapidly, and the traditional AAA market is now dominated by a few massive titles with a lot of still great games just not getting the audience they may deserve. At the other end of the scale you’ve got free-to-play games that are increasingly sophisticated and polished, and a lot of new gamers coming to the industry through new devices. Against this kind of background, any new project has to be scrutinized to make sure it is going to be worth making. When you’ve got a franchise like Legacy of Kain, you obviously also want to make sure that you can do justice to its history.
We see Nosgoth as a way of broadening the franchise and bringing it to a new generation of gamers, but that doesn’t mean that this is the only way that the franchise can exist going forward. Personally I’m a massive fan of Legacy of Kain— it’s one of the reasons I joined Eidos originally—and if the conditions are right then I’ll be one of the loudest voices arguing that we should make many more games in this universe. Right now though we’re focusing on Nosgoth: it’s great fun to play, we have huge plans for it, and we’re happy for it to stand on its own merits.
Nosgoth is currently in closed beta. You can register for the beta here.