Interview With Justin French: Upcoming RTS Game Failure a Possible Addition to E-sports?

Dream Harvest Failure

How many times have you failed? Where were you? When was it? How many people did your mistake effect? What if your failure cost your friends and family everything. As our technological advances continues to grow at an exponential rate; every aspect of our lives is being stored in Cyberspace. It’s only a matter of time before our online world will become as tangible as the physical world we live in now.

I think the general population has a lack of understanding of how dangerous our interlacing of reality with cyberspace can become. We are not talking about Mr. Barkley’s puppy sleepover photo album getting corrupted. No, think of a world where the records of entire businesses, economic stats, nuclear codes, espionage Intel even the information of individuals, their thoughts, ideas, motives. All of this vulnerable to being hacked, stolen, and sold in the blink of an eye.

Welcome to the Neuronet.

In Failure, gamers will face this reality head on. Three factions govern the “NeuroNet” of Failure: Tesseract, Bit.Crash, and Xanctuary. All three factions are engaged in a digital war with one another, holding unwavering belief in their unique motives. In this RTS game players will complete missions from the different factions and hack their way through battles. Players’ wins and loses, in both multiplayer and single player, will determine their standing among the factions as well as the factions overall control of the network.

At first players will hack their way through battles without a faction affiliation. But eventually, you must side with a faction. In Failure it’s not possible to live off the grid.  What hands will you trust Human or AI? Religious or Corporate? Or maybe you will follow the Anarchists?

The intriguing world of Failure is being developed by indie dev team Dream Harvest. The UK based Dream Harvest says they are implementing new and creative ideas into Failure that have not been seen in other RTS games. They want to offer a game different from your average RTS and see a possible future in the world of e-sports with this title. In my interview with Creative Director Justin French he told me their plans to make Failure stand out amongst this genre.

And so it begins…

Failure shares the familiar aspect of RTS’s where you are taking out enemy beacons with your minions. But I know Dream Harvest is trying to build a story behind the game, so story wise what is the objective of the player. Also what is the background of these different factions?

Its relatively complex (Laughs) in the sense that we have an intertwined single player and multiplayer narrative. Players play multiplayer content to unlock single player content and eventually become more powerful. Players play as a freelance hacker in the game, in the digital cyberspace world we’re creating. We call them Slicers. Players take missions from the three different factions.

The three factions are:

Tesseract

Dream Harvest Failure

Source: http://www.dreamharvest.co.uk

Which are a corporate faction.

Xanctuary

Dream Harvest Failure

Source: http://www.dreamharvest.co.uk

Which are a religious faction, and

Bit.Crash

Dream Harvest Failure

 Source: http://www.dreamharvest.co.uk

Which are an anarchist hacker faction.

As the player takes missions from these three factions they build faction standing. They play multiplayer missions, which have a procedural narrative system. This narrative system is based on the player’s previous actions; how well they have been playing matches, what their win and loss ratio is, what their faction standing currently is, etc.

The single player narrative, on the other hand, is more linear. You’ll get to learn more about the factions and the reasons why they are trying to take over the network, which we call the Neuronet, and their real motives for wanting to control all the data which is inside this network.

Does that make sense?

Yeah I didn’t realize there was a single player storyline that you could follow as well as the multiplayer. – Ellie

Yea, there is. Each faction has its own separate narrative, and as the player progresses through the multiplayer and single player they’ll eventually have to choose one of the factions to max out their factions standing with and unlock the full narrative for. They can’t do this with all 3 of the factions, they will need to make a choice at some point.

What’s quite interesting is that, in other RTS games players choose a faction at the beginning of the game and they play through the whole of that narrative for that particular faction, they then start the game again and play the narrative of another faction. In Failure you start off without a faction, and through normal play you start to build an affiliation with one of the three factions. It’s about the player’s journey through the NeuroNet, their individual story.

You might actually get an affiliation with all three and will end up having to make the hard choice of okay I want to be able to unlock the best abilities so I need to choose one of them (laughs). It’s a bit different in that sense and I hope players will enjoy this different take on an RTS narrative experience.

I know in the game you have to collect data to upgrade your troops and beacons. As your saying how you have to work with a faction will the ranking of the different factions affect how you can get data or if you can get more data?

So what happens is when you are in a match resource is known as data and the data is used to play your abilities. We call it a deck of abilities, which is one of the biggest changes between a normal RTS and our game. In a normal RTS you choose a faction and you get their buildings and their units. There’s often a very particular play style with a faction, Starcraft is a great example. The Terrans, Protoss and Zerg all play differently. In Failure this is done at the ability level; player’s can completely customize their loadout, their Script Deck as we like to call it, with a selection of different unit and building types as well as hacking powers.

You play —-each…m..bu….beem..t&^$#ej430@81

[Technical Difficulties – Or Maybe Justin is hacking my phone during the call?] – Ellie

Okay so scripts…there are three types of scripts; buildings which we call constructs. Units and there are the hacking powers which we call Functions and which allow you to manipulate the world. When players first start the game they get a standard Deck of these abilities. There are eight at the moment. We’re probably going to reduce that to six or seven though. As you progress through the game you get access to new Scripts that you can build your Deck out with. So every player will have a different selection of Constructs, units, and Functions.

One of the things you do in the game is you generate resource (Data) based on your territory. That’s another new mechanic that isn’t really done in other RTS games. Instead of having to build a very specific building that will generate you Data you instead just need to be taking as much territory as possible, this in turn increases the amount of resource that you generate. You do this by just building the different buildings.

However, Each building gives you a different amount and shape of territory. Some buildings will give you quite a small amount of territory and won’t increase your Data generation as much as other buildings that are perhaps weaker but give large amounts of territory. It’s all balanced to allow players to specialize with different playstyles. Territory is also required to play your Scripts, you can only play them within your own territory so this is an incentive to keep pushing for more. Data is used to play your different scripts. In addition, Data is also used to upgrade your scripts in a level. You can upgrade your Constructs, Units and Functions to enhance their innate abilities or even change them completely.

So that’s the main way data is gained and used. Outside of main gameplay we currently don’t have another currency other than faction standing, but we’re still thinking about ways for players to earn new things other than the Scripts.

When you complete missions for a particular faction your faction standing goes up for them. Say you take a mission for Tesseract, you’re fighting against another player that’s fighting for Bit.Crash, your Bit.Crash ranking will go down but if you win the match your Tesseract ranking will go up and you’ll unlock new single player missions for them.

During a match everyone gets minions/units to attack. But in Failure you don’t have direct control over them, which I think is interesting. So what exactly are you in control of during game play?

We all feel as a team that the RTS space has become a bit stale; there isn’t that much innovation any more and hasn’t been for quite some time. Milcho, our gameplay programmer / designer came up with the idea for Failure. The basic idea was an RTS game where instead of controlling your units directly you had to manipulate the paths that they can take by placing blocks on a square tiled board and in turn this affected the unit pathfinding. It was a really simple concept and was originally all in 2D.

[I just thought of the arrow control in Chu Chu Rocket while Transcribing this…Is that weird?]

That idea grew into something much bigger; into what Failure currently is.

Most RTS games have micromanagement as their main focus. You have to micromanage your units to go here, go there, constantly babysit every aspect of the game. In Failure it’s about Macromanagement. It’s about predicting what the enemy is going to do, predicting what your own units are doing. Manipulating the world itself through hacking abilities, building buildings to defend and attack, spawning units anywhere within your own territory to push the enemy back. Judging the battlespace and making informed choices, but without the crazy keyboard antics you see when playing games such as Starcraft.

It’s all about counter attacks, supporting your units with additional units or buildings. It’s all about the bigger picture of the gameplay, rather than micromanagement.

Dream Harvest Failure

Source: Dream Harvest Imgur

I know micromanagement is very common in RTS games, do you think your gonna have a hard time getting players who really enjoy nit-picking every part of the game? Because I know some players who will enjoy the broad-spectrum view of the game and other players who are like, I want to control everything.

(Laughing) We were worried about that at first. But we’ve had quite a few pro Starcraft 2 players try the game. We’ve had a few industry professionals play the game. No one has said anything negative about what we are doing which is actually quite frustrating. (Laughs) because we kind of need some negativity so we can make a better game.

But as far as we can tell no one’s got an issue with it. The thing with Failure is it doesn’t feel like your traditional RTS game, it doesn’t feel like a CCG game, it doesn’t feel like your traditional tower defense game. It feels like something really different and fun and what’s great is that the matches are super fast and last around 5 to 10 minutes.

The gameplay is really competitive; we just had an event last week and had loads of people play the game. It was just so much fun watching people go crazy when they are battling each other because of the intensity of it all. We see Failure as a game that could be a really really interesting e-sports game.

I think it’s really fun to watch matches play out. So yes we were worried but right now, no, we’re not worried anymore.

I’m not sure how far you are in development, but do you think you will release a demo or do you just want to release the whole thing once you’re ready?

That’s been a really tough question. We are about a year and a half into development. We’ve been working part-time up to this point. Myself and my art director are the only full time people in the studio, Sven and Milcho, our two programmers are only part time due to budget constraints. We’re still looking for the funding to have everyone full time. Doing early access might give us the funding needed to get everyone on board full time, but it’s not ideal as we really don’t want to be in early access for longer than 3 – 6 months. We want the game to be feature complete before we get the game into people’s hands.

But there are other advantages to doing early access. One of the issues of being a small team is that we don’t get to play the game as much as we should. And with a game like RTS you need to get a lot of people playing to balance things properly. Early access could help with this. I think what we’ll end up doing is a closed alpha some point at the end of this year, then an open beta before hitting early access around Q3 2017. We’re aiming for full release to be in Q1 2018 but until the whole team are full time it’s hard to put an exact date on it.

I saw on twitter you guys made a post recently of concept art of different avatars. From what I have seen of gameplay the avatar is not on board are they just there story wise or will they be used in gameplay?

We want players to be able to choose a persona, an avatar, when they create their profile. I think it’s good to associate yourself with a character. I think characterization in games is really really important. So we have been experimenting with different art styles for character portraits.

Players will choose an avatar and will be able to change the hairstyle change this and that.

So it’s more of just a representation of you – Ellie

Yeah and I actually want players to have a bio in the game that gets built up, changes, depending on the decisions they make in the game. So if they decide to side with Bit.Crash, their bio will change to mention their affinity with them. The more missions they do, their play history, everything they do in the game will impact their profile bio. Which obviously ties into our procedural narrative system.

The player will then be interacting with faction handlers who will be giving them the missions. The game is going to be voiced as well. I’ve got good contacts with a company called SIDE that I actually used to work for. Side are the UK’s leading dialog production studio for the gaming industry. They did the Witcher 3, Fable 2 and 3, and loads of really good games. So we will be working with them as we feel they’ll do an amazing job of casting and recording for Failure.

Dream Harvest Failure

Source: Dream Harvest Imgur

When I was reading up on Failure there is a lot of terminology and information that gets thrown at you all at once. You have construct abilities, modification abilities.

Oh that’s my bad I’m awful at that (Laughing), I have a habit of over complicating things…oops – Justin

It shows that there is a lot behind this game. But if I were sitting down playing for the first time what would be the main thing that you should focus on or try to figure out? Because I feel like it could be easy to get overwhelmed.

I think the main thing to focus on during a first player experience is the importance of expanding your territory in the game. And trying to work out the best synergies between your different Scripts. The ways that you can combine things to actually attack, and set up really interesting plays against the enemy. I mean Failure is very much a super complex version as chess played in real time.

So you got to approach it in the same kind of way; it’s all about strategizing, finding interesting combination of units, abilities and buildings. The more territory you have the faster you generate data the faster you play your abilities and the more locations you can play your abilities as well.

I wanted to talk about the units again. Since they are AI controlled how are you keeping them from getting too repetitive or predictable in their actions?

When we first started designing the unit AI it was actually really really complex. Some units would actually try avoid all enemy units. So it would go around the back and actually cloak itself and take down enemy buildings.

That behavior was actually so complex that players just didn’t get it. It was very hard to predict. The AI has now been toned down a bit so you can actually predict what your unit is going to end up doing. There will be a layer of difference between all of them, but not too much that players can’t predict things.

For instance we have a unit called the Firewall, which is  a defensive unit. Its unit action will be to protect your territory. The moment it sees an enemy unit it sends out a beacon that calls all your other units to converge on that space within a certain area. With a game where you don’t control the units I think the most important thing is to have predictability. The player needs to be able to understand what a unit is going to do, why it’s behaving in a particular way. Because if you don’t understand that, it’s going to be very hard to work out what to do next really.

Failure has a very obvious Sci-fi, cyberpunk feel, you get that immediately when seeing it. Where do you get inspiration from what movies, styles, and artists for Failure, even personally?

A lot of things really. Its funny because when we first started the game we didn’t have an art director; we didn’t even have an artist on the team. So Sven my graphics programmer, he’s also pretty nifty with 3D modeling, did much of the art. We knew we wanted to create a cyberspace world.

I was reading a lot of popular CyberPunk books such as Snow Crash, NeuroMancer, Ready Player One  and obviously then there are things like the original Tron as well as the Disney remake, and the Tron animated series that I watched through a few times. Other influences include films such as Lawnmower man, the Matrix and one of my guilty pleasures, Johnny Mnemonic – I love that film, even though it seems to have a bad rep.

We wanted to stay away from traditional depictions of cyberspace. I think the 80’s version of CyberPunk and CyberSpace have been done to death in games. We wanted to try to step away from that and do something a bit more unique. One of the inspirations for us is actually the human brain.

That’s why the world is called the NeuroNet. It’s been really hard getting it to look right; our visual style isn’t finalized just yet. Loïc our art director only came on board a month and a half ago reshaping everything. The direction he’s taking is very much based on organic brains, the neural pathways between areas of the brain, but turned around into a kind of an organic digital world.

It’s a bit of a weird mish-mash to put it bluntly. So yeah the way the game looks won’t be the same way it looks in say 3 to 6 months time, it’s going to start looking a lot better soon.

Dream Harvest Failure

Source: Dream Harvest Imgur

Dream Harvest is a small team, are you getting and help outside of the direct team?

Yes, we have some freelancers. We’ve worked with Anthony Johnston the writer on Dead Space and Binary Domain as well as several other big AAA games. He’s traditionaly a comic book / graphic novel author. He’s helped us with a lot of the backstory of the game.

We’re also working with Ryan Klaverweide who is a senior UI/UX designer at Bungie on their Destiny team. We then have a couple of freelance artists who are a lot more junior based in the states. I think we will probably be taking on more people at the beginning of next year as well. There are about 9 people on the team but only 4 of those are on the core team.

Alright, final question.

Failure to me seems like this fictional foreshadowing of cyber attacks that are really common today and are getting more common. Do you think in the future it would be possible to see a war like this where it is completely cyber everything is happening on a network?

Possibly. I think this is something we’re trying to get across with the narrative. Failure in it’s most basic narrative form is about our society; a society where we  grow up surrounded by easily accessible information, a torrent of information, information that is so freely available and in some ways it’s done so much damage to us.

Our brains really aren’t built to be able to have this much information in them, which is why we are seeing a massive rise in people with mental disorders and social problems. I think this is possibly due to the fact that we are constantly surrounded by information; advertisement, emails, the internet. Society as a whole is built on data, on information and there’s no getting away from it.

If governments are going to continue to try and get access to all of our information we could potentially see a day…I mean it’s already happening know Google, Microsoft they collect massive amounts of data from us and are able to share it willy-nilly, and sell it to the highest bidder, and we can’t do anything about it. How do you think target ads work in your browser? Your viewing patterns are recorded and that data is then sold to advertisement companies to better target products that you might be interested in.

The world we are creating [Failure] is very much about that as well. It’s a network where every bit of human information is stored within its data banks. But it goes beyond that because [in] our world people have synaptic interfaces so even their thoughts are stored in this network.

If people are able to buy and sell your thoughts what kind of power would they have? It could be insane and the people with money will be able to buy it all. They will be able to control us even more than they control us already. it’s crazy, but that’s one of the messages we are trying to get across in the game.

 

I’m not sure about you but that’s a really thought provoking message. After my interview with Justin I have decided I should continue learning how to code. You know it really is just a good skill to have people. Failure should offer an interesting gameplay experience when it is released. Who knows maybe it will be the next big thing in e-sports? If you enjoy the cyberpunk themed games and RTS games be sure to follow Dream Harvest on their social media accounts. Twitter, Facebook and Website.

According to my license I’m an adult… I think that means I can perform a citizen’s arrest now. When I’m not protecting civilians I enjoy indulging in sci-fi or martial art movies. I play videogames when I can’t fall asleep, and if that doesn't work I fistfight the ghosts in my basement. Nice to meet you.

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