I’m so keen for Evolve I could cut diamonds with my teeth. Four players take the role of human hunters defending a colony on an alien, terraformed planet. A fifth player plays one of a handful of giant monsters, which consume local wildlife to grow larger and become more powerful. Both sides are attempting to hunt the other and gain an advantage, both have unique abilities which make playing either side enjoyable. During PAXAus 2014, I got to sit down with Producer, Jonathan Bloch and talk about how Evolve has… Evolved.. over the years.
What’s your experience been like so far at this years PAXAus?
Jonathan: It’s been pretty crazy, there’s a lot of people here, it’s a lot of fun and we’ve had the alpha out on the showroom floor, which is pretty awesome. We’ve got it over in the free play PC area and the XBOX area and the response we’ve gotten has been awesome. We’ve had a pretty good turnout, there’s heaps of people as I’m looking out the window at the showroom floor right now – it’s been busy, it’s really cool.
I’ve seen people pretty much going straight to the back of the line after playing the demo you guys have setup, what’s the feedback been like from players?
Jonathan: The response has been pretty overwhelmingly positive which is something that’s humbling, it’s awesome. It’s crazy to hear that much praise for something that you’ve spent a lot of time putting a lot of energy into. People seem to really love it and yeah – at this show and other shows we’ve had the game, they line up, wait, play the game and then just get right back in line to play again. It’s great when people come out and support us like that.
You guys worked on Left 4 Dead prior to this, was there any influence taken from the versus mode of that game for this idea?
Jonathan: The idea for this game originated even before we created Left 4 Dead. Chris and Phil, who are the owners of the studio and are the creative director and art director, they weren’t able to fully realise their idea back then. When they made Left 4 Dead, the tank battles actually kind of inspired them to revisit this idea. That kind of dynamic between the four survivors in Left 4 Dead fighting against this big, brutish monster of the tank. They thought, “wouldn’t it be awesome if you could be that tank and be on the other side of the fight? Be the boss or bad guy that’s taking down that group of four people.”
Was it difficult to keep it balanced between four players versus one?
Jonathan: A lot of what we do at Turtle Rock is iteration playtesting, playing it over and over to make sure it’s fun. We playtest the game every day and we have this pretty robust backend system which helps us through development, allowing us to look at what’s going on throughout each game, overall win-loss ratios – stuff like that. We also get a lot of other detailed information and we pull from that every day and Chris, our Design Director, makes lots of little tweaks here and there. Then we’ll playtest again, he might change some values over here and when we play it doesn’t work, or he might change them again or change them back.
Sometimes we even just go with a totally different idea, so the game at its core hasn’t changed over the four years now that we’ve been developing it, but a lot of other stuff around it has changed as we’ve tried ideas. We’re not always gonna be married to an idea because it sounds good on paper – we’ll try it, prototype and implement it, and if it doesn’t work we’ll either scrap it, or try some new iteration of it. We’re always looking to make sure the game is as fun, as balanced, as really awesome to play as possible – it’s something that’s really important to us.
Was there any particular influence with the monster designs we’ve seen so far and will we be seeing more monsters as the game progresses?
Jonathan: At ship there’ll be three monsters and as you play you’ll unlock each one through a kind of progression system; we want you to try each one before you move on and we want you to be able to have that progression system of drilling down into the character and really kind of exploring all the strategies to make the monster as awesome as possible. As far as their influence, we’ve pulled from all sorts of places – pop culture, real life creatures, fictional creatures, things from the bottom of the ocean that half the world probably doesn’t even know exists. Some of that stuff down there man? I don’t know if you’ve done a quick google search, but there is some terrifying stuff down there.
So we’ve pulled influences from a lot of different places to create the look of the monsters, a lot of it also comes from the design of what kind of gameplay elements we wanted to introduce with that monster. Like I said, a lot of our design process stems from what’s fun and from there we kind of branch out into ideas like “We think this idea is going to be fun and we’ve tried it out a little, what would something in this package look like? How would it work?” We might have a mechanic where it picks up rocks and throws them, so it needs to be strong – what sort of creature can do that? does that look like? How can we represent it? So we look to lots of different things to fill in those details.
The mode that I played downstairs on the expo floor was a kind of death match between the monster and the players, except the monster had an objective to fulfill as well. Will there be game modes where the reverse is true?
Jonathan: Well that’s a two-part question, so the first part is: Will there be other game modes and the answer is yes, but we haven’t announced any yet. Right now we’re showing the “Hunt” game mode, which is the kind of “core” experience of Evolve – that kind of 4v1 ‘hunt’, you know, it starts out with the four hunters trying to hunt down the monster and kill it as quickly as possible, while the monster is trying to hunt down wildlife and other things in the game world in order to eat, get more powerful and stage up. The tables kind of turn once the monster has staged up twice to it’s largest size and then the monster goes after the hunters. One other thing that happens once the monster gets to stage three is an objective becomes available to the monster as an alternate way of winning.
So the hunters can hunt down and kill the monster, but the monster has the option to either kill all of the hunters or go after a power relay, which is basically powering whatever the facility in the map is. This is an alien planet which has been colonised by humans, so there’s always a facility and humans in distress, right? So the monster will have the option to destroy that, that facility, through the power relay – so that is an alternate objective which is specific to the hunt mode, there will be other modes which introduce other ways to win the game.
Someone said earlier that this year at PAXAus you’ve had over 250 copies of the game available for play, will there be any changes that people can expect from any gameplay data collected from the con?
Jonathan: Well, major changes at this point – there’s not a lot of time until February, right? So I don’t know if we’ll be making any major changes, a lot of what we’ll be doing is balance and tuning. A big part of this alpha test was to make sure our infrastructure was solid, test our servers and make sure they’re working, that matchmaking is working, we’ve introduced the progression system into the alpha, so one of the things we’re paying attention to is how people are progressing through that system, does it feel right? Is it the right amount of time to unlock each character? The right amount of time to master them and to fully level them up?
We’re looking at a lot of the little details, we’ve setup a lot of knobs for us to turn to tune this thing, to make it a really awesome experience. We fully intend to keep doing that, so one of the things that we wanted to do with this alpha was to give ourselves the first opportunity to test this on a massive scale and figure out how this is working and make sure it’s as awesome as possible for when we launch in February.
Having brought this to PAXAus and a few other cons now, what is it you guys try to get out of these conventions other than ‘Hey, look what we’ve made’?
Jonathan: Well, that’s one of the initial things, right? We’ve spent the entire campaign saying that our biggest thing is that we’re not gonna sit you down and show you a driven, scripted presentation. We’re gonna give you a controller, or a keyboard and mouse, and just let you go and tell us what you think about it. Getting the game in front of people’s eyes is the best thing we can do for ourselves, for the game and for the people who are going to be buying the game.
If everyone out there is loving it then we’re doing something right, if there’s stuff that people don’t like then we take that feedback, we’ll go back and try to fix that. Because at the end of the day when we release it, it’s not our baby anymore – it’s everybody’s baby, right? So, we want to make sure that everybody’s happy with it and the best way is to come to shows like this and get it into peoples hands.
Are you guys going to be updating the game post release?
Jonathan: We do have plans for DLC post-launch and all types of content – we haven’t announced anything specific, except for the first monster which you’ll get for free if you pre-order the game. So, by the nature of us announcing our pre-order incentive, we’ve somewhat hinted at the fact that we’ll be doing DLC monsters. So you can kind of imagine from there the possibilities of what will be available later on. We fully intend to support Evolve post-launch with content and updates.
Evolve is developed by Turtle Rock studios and is being published by 2K games. It’s currently scheduled for release on February 10, 2015 for Windows, PS4 and XBox One. You can check out Turtle Rock’s official site for the game here and you can check out their Steam page here.