A discussion with 3D Realms vice president Frederik Schreiber and lead developer Jeremiah Fox about the upcoming old school first person shooter.
It’s not just the first person shooter genre, but really the industry at large that owes an enormous debt to the likes of DOOM, Quake, and Duke Nukem, games that have had a massive impact for decades on end. 3D Realms’ upcoming first person shooter, Wrath: Aeon of Ruin is an exemplification of that impact. A mixture of old and new, the game is looking to harken back to those classic games with its look, design philosophies, and action, while introducing elements from modern shooters as well, to make for what is hopefully going to be a winning combination. Recently, we sent across some of our questions about Wrath to the developers, hoping to learn more about the game- and learn we did. The following questions have been answered by 3D Realms vice president Frederik Schreiber and Wrath: Aeon of Ruin lead developer Jeremiah Fox.
"Wrath was conceived in late 2013, and there was no Ion Maiden, Dusk, or Amid Eevil, or even DOOM 2016 then – just the classics like DOOM, Quake, Blood, Duke Nukem, etc. I love those games and wanted to see one like that in the 21st century. These games are always described as being “90s”, but to me they’re timeless."
Wrath: Aeon of Ruin is touting an FPS that’s been made in the vein of the likes of DOOM and Duke Nukem– what is it about those classic shooters that drew you to making a game that harkened back to them?
There are a number of reasons, but I think the main ones are that those games themselves have a certain magic and purity that I was seeing less and less of in other games at the time. Wrath was conceived in late 2013, and there was no Ion Maiden, Dusk, or Amid Eevil, or even DOOM 2016 then – just the classics like DOOM, Quake, Blood, Duke Nukem, etc. I love those games and wanted to see one like that in the 21st century. These games are always described as being “90s”, but to me they’re timeless.
Lore and narrative seem to be quite important in Wrath: Aeon of Ruin– is that an accurate assertion? How much work would you say you’ve put in on those particular elements?
Lore and narrative is very important, but maybe not in the way you would think. At its core, Wrath is not a story-driven game; it’s combat and exploration-driven. This is not to say the story is just a “throwaway” with little attention paid to it, quite the opposite, really. The goal is to convey a narrative that is interesting and compelling, but in the most succinct way possible. The last thing we want to do is burden the player with a bunch of lengthy exposition.
There is some explicit exposition, but we tell much of the story through the environment and various readables therein with things like manuscripts, engravings, murals, etc. We want the world to feel massive, rich, dense and mysterious. Tolkien was a master at deftly creating vast worlds simply by referencing a past event, place or thing, almost in passing. Though brief, mentioning these things captivates the mind, which then fills in the gaps of information to create a world that is far more interesting and personal than something that could be created by paragraphs upon paragraphs of authored text.
Can you speak to us a bit about the artifacts and how they function in terms of gameplay?
The Artifacts are a strategic complement to the players offensive arsenal. They’re essentially an improved version of the consumable item systems found in games like Duke Nukem 3D, Heretic, and Hexen. We wanted consumable items that are easier to access, more clear in their function and more integrated into gameplay. For example, rather than a consumable medkit (not to be confused with regular health pickups) that gives you a fixed number of hit points, he have the “Life Siphon”, which gives you health for each enemy you kill while it’s active.
We have some risk/reward items like the “Cruel Aegis”, which sets your health to 10, but gives you momentary invincibility in return. This can come in handy in the right situation. Other Artifacts such as the “Trinket of Respite” slows the world around you, “Betrayer’s Shroud” grants invisibility, and “Drowner’s Apparatus” allows you to breathe underwater. We currently have 10 artifacts, each with its own purpose.
"We want the world to feel massive, rich, dense and mysterious. Tolkien was a master at deftly creating vast worlds simply by referencing a past event, place or thing, almost in passing. Though brief, mentioning these things captivates the mind, which then fills in the gaps of information to create a world that is far more interesting and personal than something that could be created by paragraphs upon paragraphs of authored text."
Can you talk about the weapons and the variety they exhibit?
We have a number of things we want to achieve with the weapons, such as making each one useful throughout the length of the game, more effective in various encounters, and visually interesting. In many classic shooters, the melee is used to kill the first two or three enemies then is never used again. The melee in Wrath, the Ruination Blade, is a more effective weapon in terms of damage, but is also a mobility tool that only becomes more and more important as the game progresses. In order to make each weapon more capable in a given encounter, we gave all weapons an alternate fire.
The shotgun, for example, has a primary fire that you would expect, but the secondary fire, a blast of ricocheting shrapnel, might be a better choice in some situations. The weapons we’ve shown so far are a variation of the classic suite of guns, but we try to give each one a little visual tweak to make things more interesting. Our machine gun, the Fang Spitter, doesn’t fire rounds, but the fangs of fallen enemies. The Retcher, our version of the grenade launcher, lobs cysts of noxious fluid rather than grenades.
Wrath: Aeon of Ruin is promising interconnected and layered level design- is it full on metroidvania, or instead something that has elements of that?
Wrath isn’t full-on metroidvania, but leans heavily on some core elements, namely exploration and discovery of diverse, interesting and interconnected worlds. The “gear gaming” aspect, that is the upgrading of your skills or gear to access previously unreachable places or challenges, is a bit different because the player doesn’t have a skill tree or upgradable gear.
You can go back to other words to access places you couldn’t previously, but this is a bit more rare and is achieved with artifacts, weapons, flipped switches and the like. This is something we’re being careful with. For example, Hexen is a good game, but it had a lot of of confusing backtracking that became rather tedious. We’re going for quality over quantity in this regard.
As an extension to the previous question, why did you decide to focus on having interconnected level design, seeing as that isn’t something we see too often in first person shooters?
It’s just more interesting and rewarding when done correctly. There was a period of time where we abandoned this plan and opted for a linear set of levels, but the more open, non-linear approach works so well with the theme, scale and mechanics of the game that we ended up going back to it.
It seems you’re focused on fostering a strong modding community around Wrath when it launches- how important do you think something like that is for your game- or any game?
I think it’s immensely important, and not just for Wrath, but any game that can pull it off. Imagine having access to free, endless content for your favorite game… that’s a huge plus. Many modern games, like DOOM 2016, aren’t really able to have such a strong modding foundation because the tech, in addition to being closed source, just requires so much more time and experience to use.
Older tech has the advantage of being more accessible, allowing more people to just be creative and make cool stuff. The DOOM, Quake, and Duke Nukem communities are still very much active and produce tons of top-tier content regularly. Without these communities Wrath wouldn’t exist. One of the things I’m most looking forward to is all the cool stuff that will spawn from the Wrath modding scene.
"Wrath isn’t full-on metroidvania, but leans heavily on some core elements, namely exploration and discovery of diverse, interesting and interconnected worlds."
Why did you decide to go with the idea of having the ability to save being consumable a consumable resource?
In my view, a traditional save system is somewhat flawed. Saving is a powerful mechanic that has a deep effect on the game itself. Strangely, the player doesn’t interact with this mechanic the same way they would others. It is often the case, that in order to save, you must leave the game, even for a moment, to access a save menu. You are pulling your mind out of the game world and into an interface for a piece of software, which you then use to influence the world you were just in.
This disconnect between the action and the effect, along with save-scumming, is what the Soul Tether and Shrine system remedies; saving is now tied into the game both mechanically and thematically. Soul Tethers still allow for player agency and saving whenever needed, but make it more difficult to abuse in addition to adding an element of strategy. Shrines, which are static checkpoints that must be deliberately activated by the player, offer a save fallback as well as an intermediate goal when exploring the world.
Do you have any plans laid out for post-launch support for the game?
Absolutely! Besides full Steam Workshop support for Mods and Maps (which we highly encourage), we also have a range of post-launch content planned for the game. Stay tuned for more news soon!
What resolution and frame rate does the game run on the Switch in handheld and docked mode?
Right now, we’re running at an average 60fps, which we intend to stick to. Both docked and in handheld mode.
Will the game will feature Xbox One X and PS4 Pro-specific enhancements? What can players expect if they are playing the game on the enhanced systems? Is 4K/60fps on the cards?
The game is already running blazing fast, and we do intend on supporting native 4k, 60fps on both Xbox One X and PS4 Pro.
From a development perspective, how do you find the Xbox One X to be and how do you compare it with the PS4 Pro?
From a development perspective, PS4 is a bit more comfortable to work with, due to its development environment. However, the Xbox One X is much more powerful. For Wrath, this allows us to have a realistic aim for native 4k, 60fps for both consoles.
"The game is already running blazing fast, and we do intend on supporting native 4k, 60fps on both Xbox One X and PS4 Pro."
How is the game running on the original Xbox One and PS4, frame rate and resolution wise?
Currently, blazing fast. As mentioned previously, we aim for 60fps, native 1080p on both platforms.
Next gen is coming sooner or later. From a development perspective, what is your biggest expectation from PS5 and Xbox Scarlett?
With each generation of platforms, the development environment has come closer to PC standards, which benefits all developers. We expect the next generation of consoles to be easier to develop for, alongside a much needed overall boost in performance. The current generation is already fast, but GPU, Memory and CPU technology have come a long way since the current generation of consoles was introduced, which will hopefully give us a lot of new opportunities with the next generation.
What is your take on Sony’s reluctant policy on cross-play with Xbox and Nintendo?
We support the idea of everyone being able to play together, cross platform, and were very disappointed when Sony decided to be the only platform without cross-play functionality. Luckily they have recently changed their policy in regards to cross-play, which makes us hopeful for a better collaboration between all 3 major platforms.
What is your take on the ongoing drama of loot boxes and microtransactions?
We’ve always taken a stance against loot boxes and micro transactions. Both go directly against everything we stand for in terms of games. Our main focus has always been about great games, first and foremost. We really dislike the current trend of splitting games into 10 different purchase options, micro transactions, DLC, loot boxes etc. It’s predatory behaviour against the consumers, who ultimately end up being the losers.
Do you have any plans to launch on Stadia?
We have no Stadia launch plans at this moment.
"We support the idea of everyone being able to play together, cross platform, and were very disappointed when Sony decided to be the only platform without cross-play functionality. Luckily they have recently changed their policy in regards to cross-play, which makes us hopeful for a better collaboration between all 3 major platforms."
Do you think Google’s Stadia has a future specially given the infrastructural issues?
It’s hard to say. At this moment, no. In order for any platform to exist and become successful, the basic requirements for it to operate flawlessly has to be available at every household. With current consoles, electric power and a TV is the only requirement for you to get the flawless experience. Until every household has a gigabit fiber connection by default (expect that to take at least 20+ years from now), a network/internet based gaming solution won’t be a success. The alternative (a regular console), is simply a better and faster solution for the average consumer.
What are your thoughts on Stadia’s specs?
We don’t see Stadia being relevant at this point, so we have no thoughts on the specs.
Do you expect PS5 and next Xbox to be as powerful as Stadia in terms of specs?
Yes, by far.