Bethesda and BattleCry studios rolled on into PAXAus and surprised everyone with the announcement that BattleCry’s beta is exclusive to Australia and New Zealand. Another free-to-play MOBA might not sound appealing, but Battlecry is one of the best multiplayer experiences I’ve had in a very long time. Up to 32-players duke it out in warzones: Arenas which have been created specifically for the purpose of waging war in a world which is set in an alternate timeline to our own. The game is fast, tense, it looks graphically amazing and, at least as far as the PAX demo is concerned, it runs amazingly well. I had a chance to sit down with Lead Designer Lucas Davis to talk about how Battlecry got started and what the game is all about.
What is a pansophic revolution?
Lucas: So, the Pansophic Revolution is pretty much like our “industrial revolution,” which is unique to the timeline of BattleCry. The game’s tagline is “A world without gunpowder,” the idea is that there’s been a world war hundreds of years ahead of its time. Gunpowder was proliferated to start that world war and as a result, coming out of that, there was the black powder treaty – a banning of gunpowder and the institution of the warzones.
This is where the timeline starts fracturing for BattleCry and it continues like that for a long while, because we realised “Hey, we could start from this altered timeline here, but it’s more interesting if we give it a couple of hundred years and find out what the real differences of this world are.” The Pansophic revolution really ties into that, so in our timeline during the same period there was an amazing amount of money spent on science and research into building guns, building things that build guns, that carry guns, that stock guns, things that fly with guns, that dive with guns.
Guns that shoot other guns!
Lucas: (laughing), which then shoot smaller guns themselves – exactly. So the pansophic revolution for us is what took the place of the industrial revolution and also its technologies. Everything that’s been invented in the world of BattleCry takes the place of all of that. That’s part of the fictional reason for doing things this way, for the gameplay reasons it gives us a lot of interesting sci-fi elements that we can bring in and play around with.
There’s a lot of interesting magnet technology in the game, and lightning technology and for the most part the rules that we make for ourselves are that it has to be feasible for it to have been invented there. A lot of the cool technology that we have now, the materials, the polymers, there was nothing getting in the way of us inventing them hundreds of years ago we just didn’t make the right discoveries then, or make the right investments, or have the right people, or even the right problems at that time. So, that’s where a lot of the world comes from and then a little dash of “Well, it’s just fun to do in a videogame, so let’s do it anyway.”
Was the inspiration for BattleCry that you wanted to provide an alternative interpretation of our own history?
Lucas: A little bit, yeah, a part of it was that we knew the kind of game that we wanted to develop and sort of knew the world we wanted to build around it. We wanted this world for a couple of different reasons, one of the things we asked internally when we setting out to make a triple-A free to play game was: “What does it mean to be triple-A?” And I think one of the things that it means for any developer is having a set of truths that are unique to your game that you stick to. So we wanted a universe for that, what are the grounding rules, what are the principals? If we’re constantly making our world and our technology stick to those rules, it shows up for the player, it shows that we have a consistency which is true to those rules and it makes the whole thing feel stronger and better.
When we started building the story, it was really just for us, we were like, “Yeah, we know players are gonna be interested in this” and we started developing the story, talking about it more. We started drawing some comics for the website for when the beta comes out, stuff about the “war efforts,” and lots of other ways we can talk about the story. But a lot of the reason we chose the era that we did is that it’s really the last point in history that these armies had these really bold, strong personalities. You enter the modern combat era and everybody started wearing olive drab and then it became camouflage and all the armies started training together and tactics became set.
Before that every army looked different, they had these bold colours that stood out, they had different styles of fighting and different approaches that they took to the battlefield. We really wanted to capture that time period where everyone was completely different, you look to these different armies and different factions you get these really strong personalities and archetypes. You get a really strong vision of what it means to be a British marine or a Cossack at that particular time period. We also knew we wanted to do a lot of melee and ranged and we didn’t want to bring guns into the war zones, we didn’t want to bring the traditional FPS weapons.
We even looked back to earlier times when swords were common on the battlefield and even at the turn of the 19th century you had cavalry and stuff. So we hearken back even earlier and took a lot of inspiration from classical weapons, doing a lot of research in museums, we got a lot of books and a lot of stuff which showed us the weapons of those times, going all the way back to the middle ages. We took those weapons and then asked, “How can we make them relevant?” One of the cool things about the world of Battlecry, in a lot of ways it’s a Utopia.
There are no conscripted armies, everybody’s a volunteer – you don’t go and destroy a city, you fight in these war zones. Kind of like the middle ages and the old knights, you have these warriors that have been trained their whole lives to fight with these weapons and in this style. We had the luxury of designing these over the top extravagant weapons that have this pansophic technologies strapped onto them and they transform and they’re the kind of things you’d have to memorise a 300 page manual to be able to use, but as a player you just have to press a button.
Why did you decide to go with a group of set classes, as opposed to the typical MOBA style champions, which require ten years of your life and a university degree to be able to effectively play?
Lucas: Well, I think you just answered your own question! I guess this is where you get into the idea of what’s a MOBA and what’s not, but one of the things we wanted to avoid was the “DotA” style, type of MOBA. We didn’t want something where there was a high level of learning, where you’d have to go read a wiki somewhere, or you’d have to spend hours watching some spectator videos before you can even jump in and play. So at Battlecry [studio], we’ve got an amazing team and a tonne of FPS experience and action game experience. We wanted that kind of mentality, the kind of game you can just jump into and have a ten or fifteen minute session.
We want players to feel free to play any of the game modes and not be afraid to jump into combat, or be like, “You haven’t read the wiki? Don’t even step up to that guy!” And additionally for a lot of players you get into that thing of what champions are in the free mode right now? What can I play? Oh, the one I’m really good at isn’t even there? Okay, I don’t even want to play it right now. We didn’t want that, we wanted people to be able to just get into the game and play as any class and even be able to change class if they don’t like what they picked. There’s no limitations to switching classes at any time, so it lets players think about the battle more – is your team losing? Could you be playing a different class to help your team succeed?
How did you arrive at the idea of wars being fought by small elite forces instead of massive armies?
Lucas: Honestly, that’s one of the things that played into that era – even earlier than the 19th century, if you go back to the middle ages when we’re starting to see the timeline fracture [for BattleCry] and the world war happens hundreds of years ahead of our time. This is a time when war was exceptionally ritualised, you’d send notes or writs to the Duke of Wherever and ask, “Pardon me, can I pass through your lands at 3 o’clock so I can go politely stand in some other field and kill each other until we die from it.” You had these kind of agreements between lands, so that you could pass through with your army and meet some other army in a battlefield and it was all weirdly polite.
You had conscription, too, but you also had a lot of trained knights and soldiers. We wanted to explore what these rituals would look like if you had this world war event and these treaties which come together. One, you want this kind of ritualised warfare to succeed for a lot of reasons. With gunpowder, it was the first time we saw the power of the peasantry, anybody can fire a gun and it was the first time in history – maybe crossbows first, before that – that someone who was totally untrained could kill someone who’d been trained in warfare their entire life. What we envisioned with this early world war was that the powers that be, the governments of the time had that kind of quick glimpse of the future and thought “Wait, if this really does hit the masses and gets into everyone’s hands then we’ll lose control of this.”
It fit all of their needs on several levels, they didn’t have this huge loss of life – we kind of imagined that the war to end all wars actually did end all wars to allow for a ‘civilised’ way of doing things. It’s still a way for them to do everything they knew, which is training soldiers and sending them to die, but doing it on a much smaller scale that they could manage. That way they didn’t have to worry about their precious political lives being held in the balance.
During the panel you made mention of nations which hadn’t accepted this treatise, will there be game modes that show players the differences in the world aside from this ritualised warfare?
Lucas: Potentially – maybe that’s me talking way ahead of what I should. We’ve got a lot of mythos which we’ve built and we’re still figuring out how to get it out to players, how frequently it bring it up and when, how much do you see of it? Should it end up in BattleCry 2? (laughs) That’s part of what we’re still figuring out, but we’re going to be keeping players in the warzones while trying to give them glimpses of what’s happening outside them. We also want to let players decide if they’re proud to be defending this ‘utopia’? Do feel a little bit dirty because you’re being used by politicians? Do you like the fact that you feel dirty? Basically you get to choose what you’re championing, you decide what role you play in the whole scenario.
The narrative won’t be entirely obvious, but delivered ‘piecemeal’ through gameplay?
Lucas: Absolutely – ultimately we could take all of our story docs and dump them on a wiki and say, “here you go.” We actually don’t want to do that, my genuine hope is that as we post up these “war efforts” on the website and as we give all these hints, like missives from the Queen and stuff like that, players will start forming their own map of the world. It would just be awesome if three years down the road, I can go to a player made wiki and read the same documents that I have hidden back at the office and be like “Yeah, they’ve translated it and they’ve read between the lines and they’ve figured it all out.
You said during the panel that there’s going to be a fourth faction, someone from the audience suggested ANZACS, but we’re guessing it’ll be America?
Lucas: (laughs), sorry man, no hint at all – by the time the beta comes out, you’ll know!
What were you guys hoping to get out of PAXAus and why have you decided to release the beta exclusively to Australia and New Zealand first?
Lucas: Well part of the reason for coming to PAXAus was that we were planning on releasing the beta here first and we wanted to announce it. We wanted to start it off somewhere and Australia quickly bubbled to the top of our list – it’s an absolutely great gaming community and it’s one of those things of I don’t know what came first, the chicken or the egg, but a lot of games these days do bring their product here to Australia first. It might be because you guys are such an outspoken community and people want outspoken communities to play their games. They can bring their game in to hear about what people like and what people don’t like.
The Australian community also maps well to the rest of the world, if we come here and talk to the Australian community and build a strong game that you guys absolutely love, we’d be pretty confident that that’s going to apply to everyone else as well. And Zenimax has offices here in Australia, so Battlecry’s traveling from Austin, Texas but as far as Zenimax is concerned it is local. We have people here that can manage things but because Australia mostly speaks English it allows us to also talk directly to the community over other areas we were considering.
We decided pretty quickly that Australia was the strongest candidate because of so many elements. The surprise is how warm it’s been received, one thing that never occurred to us is that the community here feels that they don’t get things as quickly, or as often or even at all. It never even occurred to us that we wouldn’t come here, so when we did and we got this awesome reception of “WE’RE SO GLAD YOU’RE HERE!” we were like “WE’RE SO SURPRISED AND GLAD THAT YOU’RE SO GLAD THAT WE’RE HERE!” It really made us feel like we’d absolutely made the right choice, basically.
There was also some mention of drop bears during the panel and someone on the expo floor saying that there was a hashtag on twitter, #dropbearsforbattlecry, are you guys planning on putting drop-bears in the game?
Lucas: Well, I guess we’ve been saying a lot that we’ll be listening to the community and hearing them out on what they have to say, so this is one way to make us put our money where our mouth is!
For more information on the Battlecry game you can follow the studio on Twitter, Facebook or their official website. You can also sign up to the beta – only if you’re in Australia or New Zealand – right here. See you in the warzone!