Last week, we secured transport down to planet Shear via the Ebon Star, to catch up with Turtle Rock co-founder and design director, Chris Ashton. While we were making our descent, he prepped us on some of the things we could expect…as well as a couple secrets for those hoping to vacation on Shear next week.
Can you speak a little about the overarching narrative? Can we expect the story to be constantly changing a la Evacuation?
A: Shear is a frontier planet on the edge of explored space. It’s newly colonized by humans and one of the things you can run into on a planet like this is dangerous wildlife. That’s where the Hunters come in. Their job is to keep the dangerous wildlife away from the colonists. We call them, “Planet Tamers.” They were called to Shear to do just that, but these Monsters show up right before the Hunters arrive and wreck the planet. Now the wildlife mission turns into a rescue mission. They have five days to save as many colonists as possible, get them on a transport ship and away to safety.
What happens during those five days, and whether or not the colonists are saved is up to the players. Along the way you’ll pick up bits and pieces of the story. As you play you’ll learn more about Shear, about its inhabitants, the Monsters and the team of Hunters. Depending on what mission you’re playing, what combinations of characters are in the game and where you go in the maps, you’ll hear different bits and pieces of the story. There are hundreds of conversations and we expect it would take many dozens or hundreds of hours of play to trigger them all.
Having the world of Shear be inhabited by aggressive wildlife is a bold design choice…especially when dealing with a massive (and sometimes massively overpowered) monster. What made you decide you go in that direction?
We needed dangerous wildlife for a number of reasons:
The Monster player spends a lot of their time killing and eating wildlife so we needed to have some variety in there to keep it interesting. Deciding what to attack, how and when keeps your brain active and can make the difference between a win and a loss.
The Hunter players spend a lot of their time trying to find the monster. We needed things for them to interact with to keep their trigger finger happy.
And lastly, the wildlife can turn the tide of battle for either team. We never wanted the end of a round to become predictable. We always wanted there to be a chance for either team to make a comeback win. Sometimes that involves player skill but it can also involve Elite wildlife buffs and wildlife attacks at critical points in the game. I have seen the killing blow to either team delivered by wildlife, and in some cases, carnivorous plants!
During the open beta, did you see any unexpected environmental and/or enemy interactions?
Not yet. I think that is a testament to the team and to all the playtesting we have done over the past four years. I think it will happen, but I think it’ll be a few weeks or possibly months before we start seeing new strategies, plays, or combos that we’ve never seen before.
Can you speak about the creature design inspirations? The Kraken is clearly Lovecraftian, while Goliath has its roots in classic Godzilla style monsters. What was the design inspiration behind Behemoth? Is it a bipedal anklyosaurus? What about the feminine Wraith? Is it based on any specific character/trope?
Because the Wraith’s abilities were very tricky and deceiving, it made us think of sirens or mermaids calling the Hunters to their doom. So that inspired the female form. Then to add a little monster spice, we referenced Praying Mantis and Cobra snakes for her blades and tentacles.
With Behemoth, we wanted a Monster that used stone as armor. Essentially he is Evolve’s version of a stone golem. He needed to be huge, heavy, and powerful so he is very wide and has these massive tree trunk sized arms.
Visual tracking (literally tracking the monster’s footprints), environmental stimulus and other tracking effects have a strong emphasis on visuals–as opposed to the over-reliance on sound cues that most shooters tend to have. What was the impetus for that design choice?
At one point in time, Wraith didn’t leave any visual tracks. The only way to track her was from sounds that she projected across the entire map. From a gameplay perspective, it was fun to shake things up with a monster that you had to hunt differently, one that required using different senses. But in testing, players who had a hard time hearing, whether deaf or whether they just had a bad audio setup, couldn’t play against her effectively. That was the moment that we realized how important the visual clues are to a lot of people and that was something that we measured against for the rest of the project.
The drop-in co-op from the beta was clutch: can we expect any kind of offline couch co-op in the final version?
You can certainly play co-op games in your own custom matches where you can set all the variables you want and the only people that can join are people that you send invites to. And you can co-op matchmake into Evacuation mode, but you are always required to be on-line for any sort of multiplayer. If you are offline, you can play solo, and you can still progress through all the player levels, badges, character mastery, etc. Everything still works on-line, offline, solo, co-op or versus.
Will playing offline level the same as online? IE can you boost your levels while battling bots?
Yes. The only thing you won’t do when playing offline is acquire leaderboard stats. Those are only valid against other players. We didn’t want to lock anything away from offline players. We have experienced that as gamers before and it tasted pretty bad. ;)
Scaling is a huge (no pun intended) part of the game’s design. We’re there any specific challenges you encountered I in shifting perspectives between the hunters and the monster?
Great question. There were more challenges than we ever expected!
Obviously the Monster gets a lot larger than the Hunters do so we had to make sure the environment was easily traversable by both teams. That’s a lot harder than it sounds. A Hunter player expects to collide on a rock that is four or five feet tall, but a player who is controlling a 25ft tall monster expects to seamlessly step over that rock so now we have different collision code paths for Hunters and Monsters.
We also have crazy camera height differences. For the Hunters, the eye height might be at five and a half feet off the ground and they are in first person view. For the Monster, the camera is third person, above the character’s head. The view might be thirty feet off the ground! The world has to look great from both perspectives and for the Monster, we have to worry about the camera colliding and clipping into ceilings and tree branches, something we never have to worry about with the Hunters.
Third person and first person games are usually two completely different games. It’s really rare to find both in the same game and have both feel really good. I am really proud of the team for what they have accomplished.
Can die-hard Turtle Rock fans expect to find any L4D Easter eggs hidden throughout Shear?
Nah. We were so singularly focused on Evolve that I don’t think it occurred to anyone.
Lastly, will the pre-order incentives skins/models have buffs attached to them…or are they purely cosmetic?
Skins are all cosmetic. They might have a minor impact on how visible a monster is but no, they don’t have any buffs attached to them. They just look cool as hell!
Evolve is coming to PC, Xbox One and PlayStation February 10th, just in time for Valentine’s Day! Be sure to reserve it now to lock in all of the snazzy preorder bonuses!
Oh yeah, and it’s rated M for Mature.