We speak with 3D Realms founder Scott Miller about the upcoming classic first person shooter, Ion Maiden.
The genre of first person shooters has changed beyond recognition over the years. While the current landscape is dominated by the likes of Call of Duty, Overwatch, and Battlefield, back in the 1990s, franchises such as DOOM, Duke Nukem, and Wolfenstein ruled the roost. And though there’s certainly a huge market for first person shooters as they exist today, there is a large section of the genre’s fanbase that yearns for those earlier days of genius design, fast-paced action, and bombastic, unapologetic shooting action.
For all those people, the upcoming Ion Maiden, being developed by Voidpoint and published by 3D Realms – the creators of many of the aforementioned classic shooters – is just that. A throwback to classic 90s era first person shooters, following many of the same design philosophies, and even being built on the Build Engine. Recently, we sent across a few of our questions about Ion Maiden to talk about some of things we’re most excited about in the upcoming shooter- the following questions were answered by 3D Realms founder Scott Miller.
"Ion Maiden is 90% a throwback game, fast-paced, nonlinear, guns blazing, and secrets galore. The new is just some added modern touches like super high resolution support, and some cool added features like colored lighting. But for the most part, it really feels like you’ve stepped back into time to the golden era of first-person shooters."
As a prequel to Bombshell, many people might have been expecting Ion Maiden to feature the same top down shooter style- what made you decide to go into first person shooter territory?
We wanted the first Bombshell game to be first-person, too, but the game’s budget at the time forced us to do a top-down perspective. So with Ion Maiden, the idea was: Let’s go back to the original Build engine and make the game in the original 90’s shooter style! And because we used the Build engine, the budget was super reasonable.
How much of an influence have old school shooters like Duke Nukem and DOOM been on you for the development of Ion Maiden?
Duke Nukem for the most part, but certainly elements and inspiration came from other 90’s hits, too. Many team members of development studio behind Ion Maiden, Voidpoint, have roots with Duke Nukem having modified the Build engine going back over a decade. We really lucked out having this talented team behind the project.
Given the game’s nature as a throwback to classic shooters, how does it achieve a balance between the old and the new?
Ion Maiden is 90% a throwback game, fast-paced, nonlinear, guns blazing, and secrets galore. The new is just some added modern touches like super high resolution support, and some cool added features like colored lighting. But for the most part, it really feels like you’ve stepped back into time to the golden era of first-person shooters.
The Build Engine isn’t an engine that’s used too regularly, yet Ion Maiden makes the curious decision of doing so nonetheless. What unique benefits does it provide that made you decide on using it for this game’s development?
Our goal was to give current-day players a taste of 90’s old-school gaming. So rather than take a modern engine like Unity or Unreal and try to make it come across as old-school, we decided to use a true old-school engine! It’s really that simple! And since our 3D Realms was known for our Build engine in the 90’s, it just made total sense for us to bring it back 20 years later and see what is was capable of doing. And it turns out, it can still do a LOT!
"The soundtrack will be entirely new and original, and we’re going for more of a synthesizer sound, which adds to the 90’s feel of the game. We all really think that a soundtrack is super important to the feel and mood of the game, so we always put extra effort into this area and work with talented musicians."
What can players expect from Ion Maiden’s multiplayer offerings?
We’re not really sure yet, that part is the last piece of the puzzle for us. Hopefully some form of old-school deathmatch, of course, but we just don’t have that fully finalized yet.
A blaring, pumping soundtrack is something that one often associates with games like DOOM and Duke Nukem– is that going to be applicable as well? How important would you say the soundtrack is to this kind of an experience?
The soundtrack will be entirely new and original, and we’re going for more of a synthesizer sound, which adds to the 90’s feel of the game. We all really think that a soundtrack is super important to the feel and mood of the game, so we always put extra effort into this area and work with talented musicians.
Given that the early access part of the game is tailor made specifically as a preview, how much of it can players expect to see translated into the final release as well, both in terms of mechanics as well as maybe the larger level itself?
The Preview Campaign, which players get when they pre-order Ion Maiden, is just an appetizer to the full game. The full game is so much larger, has more enemies, weapons, features and everything else. For example, Voidpoint recently added voxels to the game which really adds a LOT! Voxels are a for a true 3D. We used voxels in a few of our 90’s build games, but in Ion Maiden they’re be showcased a lot more.
But overall the full game will be everything players are hoping for, with more game mechanics, modes, and a much larger world that’ll have a meaningful story as you make your way from start to finish.
The reception to the game’s early access release has been very positive. How much of an influence has that been on you during the game’s development? Does the reception to what is essentially an early access-specific build also signify that this unique approach to early access can be successful if done rightly, and that maybe more developers should be looking into it?
We were pleasantly rewarded by the game’s early success and especially the review scores. It really solidified our feeling that going back to our true old-school roots–including the use of our 90’s-era Build engine–was the right call. And it also gave everyone involved on the team an energizing boost to do the best job we can to live up to the expectations that are now in place by those who pre-ordered the game and played the Preview Campaign.
Our approach was sort of like our shareware approach from the 90’s. Will it catch on? Maybe. But for certain we’ll be doing it more in the future ourselves.
"The game will not be heavy on story, but it will have enough story to keep players interested, in the same we we did going back to Duke Nukem 3D."
Can you set the stage for the game’s story, and how it’s going to tie into Bombshell as its predecessor?
The game will not be heavy on story, but it will have enough story to keep players interested, in the same we we did going back to Duke Nukem 3D. Ion Maiden is essentially the origin story for Shelly Harrison, a military agent who specializes in explosives and demolitions. We know that Shelly looks different in the Bombshell game (for example, she has a cyber arm), so in Ion Maiden we experience her story before she gets to that point in her life.
How important is it to you that Ion Maiden has an active modding community?
We hope that it’ll give new life to the Build modding community. The Build engine is actually still a very fun and powerful engine to mod and create content with. Sure, it doesn’t have the cool graphics of current engines, but it’s fun and powerful in its own ways, so we plan to help people and groups that want to give Ion Maiden mods a try.
Will the game will feature Xbox One X specific enhancements. What can players expect if they are playing the game on Xbox One X? Is 4K/60fps on the cards?
We hope to take advantage of each consoles special enhancements/resolutions, for sure. That’s still a work-in-progress, but it’s our goal.
Next gen is coming sooner or later. From a development perspective, what is your biggest expectation from PS5 and Xbox Scarlett?
Physics. I think this is the next frontier for gaming. With graphics we’ve reached a point of diminishing returns. But have accurate real-world physics can make a game world seem far more real, and open up all kinds of new gameplay possibilities.
But also, greatly expanded multiplayer, too. Imagine 10,000 or 100,000 people live in a game world. This would usher in event gaming live we’ve never seen before. You could literally have a major band playing on a stage (motion capped live) and attended by 100,000 people who buy tickets to be in the audience. And, if the band sells a million tickets, you have them playing in 10 different outdoor venues around the world, and fans get to buy tickets to whichever venue they want.
The world is changing!
"Ion Maiden is essentially the origin story for Shelly Harrison, a military agent who specializes in explosives and demolitions. We know that Shelly looks different in the Bombshell game (for example, she has a cyber arm), so in Ion Maiden we experience her story before she gets to that point in her life."
Do you think cross platform will be one of the defining features of next-gen consoles?
I hope so. It definitely helps fans and game developers by not having divided markets. Now that Fortnite has opened that door, let’s hope it stays open.
What is your take on the ongoing drama of loot boxes and microtransactions?
I try to stay away from drama! But, my feeling is that as long as these things are purely optional for players, then I don’t really have an issue with them.