by Terra_Cide, HSM Managing Editor
Answers provided by: Sophia Coney – Publishing Director & Andrew Jones – Producer
One of the most popular gaming genres in this console generation has been the shooter. Be it first person or third, if its got guns, it’s almost a guaranteed hit. In fact, the most recent industry report from the ESA has the sales of shooter second (18.4%) only to action games (19%) in sales over the past year.
That said, disc-based games are not cheap at $60 a pop, plus downloadable content, plus expansion packs. Even with buying from the bargain bin, once you choose to purchase any additional content for that game, chances are the savings you thought you incurred will have been swallowed up and then some. Then again, what seems to be quite unique to this genre is the vastness of its replayability. There are fans and players of shooter games that haven’t even so much as touched the offline parts of the game that solely play in online matches, and have done so for a much longer period of time than the average title, which in this day and age of virtual achievements, are all too often purchased and played until every achievement has been reached before returning back to the bargain bin at the local GameStop.
The natural – almost intuitive – nature that shooter games have towards multiplayer gaming made it a perfect fit for this console generation’s online network gaming. And if you read this interview with Blizzard Entertainment’s Rob Pardo, you’ll see the exclusively single player game is starting to see the end of its product cycle. Multiplayer is where it’s at, and shooters, with their open maps, expansion maps, and free-for-all gameplay, have been – for the majority of the past few years – the kings of online console gaming.
This does not make them invincible however. You may have noticed some rather dark clouds brewing around the Call of Duty and Modern Warfare camps. Lawsuits have bloomed. People key to games’ development have left. Players glitch, cheat and camp. Games have horrible lag due to the varying connection speeds of the players. The release dates of forthcoming titles have been delayed indefinitely. And let’s be frank here for a moment: there is a overwhelming glut of titles in this genre that are, in essence, just reskinned, repurposed duplicates of each other.
I mean really; just how many gritty, military-esque, or gang warfare-esque games set in a near-as-makes-no-difference post-apocalyptic hellhole, starring some egregiously muscle-bound, middle-aged men with monosyllabic names based on a stone of some sort (“Flint Quartz” or some such silly nom de guerre) with a troubled past, trying to redeem himself? Somebody lend me a hand here; two just aren’t enough for the facepalm I feel coming on.
The bottom line is this: the majority of shooter fans don’t give a rip about any sort of character story the game’s developer may have thrown in as an afterthought. And storyline? We laugh at your storyline. No really; the biggest reason why gamers are fans of the shooter genre is that they can run around an open map and shoot friends, family and enemies in the face, die, respawn and do it all over again. Wash, rinse, repeat. You don’t need a storyline or character development to do that.
Which brings us to the argument which has appeared all too often, ever since the decision to make Home more of a gaming platform: that developers creating games for Home really shouldn’t try to compete with disc-based games because of Home’s limitations.
So instead of beating that dead horse, let’s focus on what Home does have that disc-based games do not. Games that play to Home’s innate social strengths, while giving those that lack a mic or keyboard something to do as well work; games that provide a satisfactory return on player investment of money and time, and can repeat that process continuously, work. And, probably what is most unique to Home, games that provide people with an alternate reality within an alternate reality work.
I’m not even going to delve into that Inception-like quality of Home here, as that’s another article in and of itself. What I am going to delve into is Uproar, Lockwood’s newest gaming contribution to Home.
When the promotions started to appear for Mercia, no one in the Home community would have imagined that Lockwood would develop and bring to market another large-scale game to Home so quickly.
Except for perhaps Lockwood themselves.
Uproar has been in production for quite sometime, well before the recent 1.7 update. Yes, you may see it and think, “Oh look, another shooter coming to Home. Aren’t there enough of those already out there?”
But this game has some tricks up its sleeves that Home fans – who, let’s be honest here, are a (for lack of a better word) unique bunch when it comes to taste – will appreciate. And perhaps, traditional shooter fans will, too.
To find out more, HomeStation Magazine talked with Sophia Coney and Andrew Jones, publishing director and producer, respectively, of Uproar.
HSM: Were there certain aspects of the most recent core update to Home that were essential to get Uproar up and running?
Drew: The core elements of Uproar have been finished for a while and we’ve spent the last few months polishing and bug fixing, so we haven’t been waiting on the new update to finish off and release the game.
The PR buildup for this game – and for all Lockwood games, really – is quite unique: giving the gameplay a bit of backstory that’s meant to give the player’s actions more purpose in-game. What made Lockwood decide upon this course of PR action?
Sophia: We’re all big fans of story driven games, so developing a backstory for Uproar that you can really get invested in was a pretty natural process for us, especially during the early concept stage, where the artwork helped to conjure up all kinds of dystopian future ideas. Delivering the story in segments allows everyone to use their imagination to fill in the gaps, it also builds up excitement for the game’s release and leaves you wanting more. The pace and style of Uproar is totally different from our recent title Mercia, where story elements could be integrated with the exploration and quests. This has resulted in an extreme contrast in the approach to marketing each of these products, and us choosing to focus more on story than on things like developer diaries for this game.
Drew: The core focus of the game is fun, fast-action gameplay, but we wanted to provide some depth for those players who were interested in the game world; consequently we’ll be providing access to this story through an info point in Uproar itself.
There was mention on the twitter feed (@Troika_PSA) that there would be more than one arena (outside of its own main arena) in which Uproar will be played. Care to elaborate on that?
Drew: Throughout the course of the project we have kept the memory footprint for the game as light as possible which has allowed us to move the game into different pre-existing spaces. To start with you can find Uproar in the Action District and in the dedicated Uproar Arena space, each with its own selection of maps. But, you never know where Uproar might show up!
How will this game differ from other shooters presently in Home?
Drew: We have really tired to retain the freedom that you get with a boxed title shooter, whilst integrating key features of Home like the customizable avatar. You can play Uproar in different locations with multiple maps available – it feels like a more traditional shooter with its fast-pace and masses of player customization. We also allow for on-the-fly customization during and in between rounds.
Sophia: With customization being so important in Home, we wanted to expand upon this with Uproar. You can get ranged weapons, melee weapons, serums, clothing and taunts to really make yourself unique. Though some restrictions do apply, you can’t just wear any Home clothing in Uproar, as your clothing is essential to define which gang you are in! But you get given some free stuff to get you started.
Drew: Don’t hold me to this, but this might be the first time that you can essentially unlock nearly everything in the game for free if you have the time to invest. As you level up, you get unlock keys for various items, so you can choose your next gun or trial a Serum for free. This ensures the system is truly balanced, but also allows early access if you make the choice to pay for it.
Sophia: If you do choose to purchase content, there are a number of options available, with rental and gifting also on the cards. Which is a good time to mention the monetization method; we use consumable tokens similar to Lockwood Tokens, called Uproar Credits, which are used to purchase, rent or gift items in the game. This gives an element of ‘try before you buy’ if you go down the rental route. Gifted items are also discounted, which encourages players to form alliances.
The controls – where one can equip different weapons in-game – look to be similar to what can be seen in Mercia. Were there any other things learned from Mercia that were brought to Uproar during development?
Drew: We wanted a standard place on the UI for players to be looking for particular information, on the bottom left hand side for the weapons for example. We learned a lot from developing the inventory UI for Mercia and feel we have really streamlined that in Uproar. We want people in the action as much as possible, not running around a space trying to buy things and equip their character. Players are able to purchase equipment, change their load-out and customize their character all on the same screen, which makes for a faster and more personalized experience, allowing players to dip in and out of the action seamlessly.
In the QA gameplay video, there appears to be only six players total in the space, and it appears only eight people can play total. Will there be a cap on how many people can play in a single instance at a time, and why is that?
Drew: Yes, we’ve limited this to four per side to allow for faster paced gameplay. There can be multiple instances of the game played at any one time meaning that everyone in a space, the Action District for example, is able to get in to a game without waiting in a lobby. In other similar games in Home users have to wait in a lobby for other players to join, we have totally eliminated this in Uproar. Also, Uproar is all in one space, you don’t have a hub space and then have to launch in to a game instance, so time between action is vastly reduced.
How long are each of the battle sessions?
Drew: Each round is five minutes with a thirty second break during which you can check out the XP you’ve earned in the round, find out if you’ve won any rewards, view other players’ scores and change your load-out. We experimented with different round lengths and found five minutes was really the sweet spot allowing for jump in, jump out game sessions, and meaning that the next map is never too far away.
Will there be any character actions in the game?
Drew: The player will be able to jump and use taunts. We were thinking of putting crouch in at one point, but felt it would slow down gameplay too much, so we designed the maps to have a variety of obstacles and cover, eliminating the need to crouch and to encourage motion to speed up gameplay.
Sophia: The taunts are particularly cool! We are so used to seeing the Home avatar doing the same animations, so giving them a different personality with the taunts was really fun and added a unique element to the game.
Will there be mic chat available amongst the teams?
Drew: Mic chat will be available in Uproar using the standard voice chat method.
There are many different forms of power-ups for players to use. Aside from the obvious ones of increased strength/speed, what are some that people might not expect to see?
Drew: For this initial release everyone will get a free Super Strength Serum so they can get a taste of how beneficial these power-ups will be in the heat of battle. Other Serums to unlock or rent include: Speed Boost Serum, for a short, sharp rush of speed to dodge bullets and get to strategic spots around the Arena, and the Health Boost Serum, which gives a large health boost when in a tight spot, and there are more intended for future updates.
Sophia: The Serums are a great addition to Uproar that really help make the gameplay fun and action-packed.
What does the collecting of experience parlay into in Uproar?
Sophia: Along with the usual prestige associated with your XP level, ranking up through the levels unlocks a variety of rewards, including Home items, such as furniture and trophies, and also unlock keys for use in-game. Most in-game items can be unlocked using unlock keys, meaning the more you play the more varied a game experience you’ll have.
Drew: A level playing field was crucial for Uproar to work, so there are no statistical differences between the Swyfts and the Outlaws – just their colour schemes.
There is an interesting recurring theme of threes in this game: “Troika,” the name of the omniscient but not exactly personified antagonist, which means “a set of three” in Russian, there are three different manufacturers of weapons, but only two gangs players can choose to side with. Any chance we could see a third group, perhaps members of Troika itself, or even player-created gangs?
Sophia: You will notice in the lobby area that there are four unused gang booths. These are allowing for future gang expansions, one of which may be a Troika gang if that’s what the community wants? We wanted to leave this open and gage what the players’ responses were to the existing two gangs. We’ll be looking closely at the game statistics to see what people like about the existing gangs and use that to work out how to develop new gangs and update existing gangs.
The common issue amongst many games in Home which work on a level basis – at least, for those who have been in Home for a very long time – is that once the maximum level has been achieved and all the awards obtained, there’s very little incentive to continue playing. How will Uproar counter this?
Sophia: Primarily Uproar was created to be fun, accessible, repayable and competitive without any kind of end to it. The leveling feature allows for an enriched experience, with new rewards and keys being unlocked to help keep things fresh and exciting. Ultimately, as it’s entirely PvP, the people you meet will ensure that each game is different from the last.
Drew: We have a couple of updates planned already, so we hope to keep things interesting with those. But it’s out of our hands now and up to the people in Home to decide if we expand it further.
Closing comments from Lockwood:
Here at Lockwood, we believe the fun that’s put into creating a game is proportional to the fun that comes out of playing it – so, with Uproar we had a lot of fun making it! PlayStation®Home has untapped potential that we look to expose with all our products and we know that at its heart PlayStation®Home has two core features key to the success of any user experience: social interaction and customization, and they’ve been the primary driving forces behind Uproar’s creation.
Social interaction and customization; Home’s aces. Sure, you can communicate in the lobby of any current disc-based shooter, or out in the field, but rhetorically speaking, just how “social” – by Home standards – are those interactions? While Home has its fair share of obnoxious “kids,” they are nothing compared to what can be heard in the average game lobby or Battlefield map.
The ability to play as one’s own avatar, actively moving through the map, has been a major plus to any game in Home ever since the concept of total game integration was introduced. Uproar also introduces a potentially innovative solution to purchasing in-game items as well. And while it does not pretend to compete with the disc-based games, it also offers a more attractive starting buy-in price for those interested in playing shooter games: free. People can argue night and day about graphics, about the quality of the gaming experience, or why they are simply against shooter games in Home. To that, I offer this: different horses for different courses, and free fun with friends – as opposed to being thrown together with smack-talking pre-pubescents – trumps all.