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Archive Nosgoth: Interview with a Game Dev at Dread Central (by Ted Hentschke)

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When Nosgoth was first announced back in 2013, the internet was aflame. “Multiplayer only?!?” shouted the fans, specks of Cheetos launching from their lips and dirtying their empty Monster cans. “how can such disrespect for the canon exist in this modern age of enlightened gaming?” Others cynically snorted, wiping their thick-rimmed glasses with a corner of their alpaca scarves, “It’s just another damning indictment of the modern multiplayer ‘free-to-pay’ explosion. Another long running franchise reduced to a dollar sign. Another step on the short march to the grave for real storytelling.” Some watched the trailer in their boxers, enjoying what was probably a combination of beer and chicken wings, and thought to themselves, “Huh, that looks pretty cool.”

I bought into the Nosgoth beta back in 2014, and had a pretty rough time getting my ass kicked by people way better than me for a good few weekends. I’m not bad at shooters, but the asymmetric gameplay and focus on teamwork created a skill cap too high for myself, my single friend, and the two insufferable scrubs I was invariably paired with. I was okay at the melee focused vampires, but setting up a defensible position, coordinating attacks, and outmaneuvering in close quarters as a human proved to be my downfall. I felt like this could be solved with some matchmaking improvements or simple team commands, so I quit. As luck would have it, I had a chance to revisit the game when contacted by Square Enix about an interview.

I pounced at the opportunity like a Reaver, both as a journalist and gamer. I had some genuine questions I wanted answered. First and foremost, what was the new content they had planned, and what is their plan for future content? Secondly, I wanted to know how they planned to improve the matchmaking problems that drove me away in the first place. Lastly, as one of the most controversial aspects of their game was the switch from single player to multiplayer, how do they plan to tell a story in the Legacy of Kain world, and what does that mean for the canon?

I was joined by Jacob Mott of Psyonix and Bill Beacham of Square Enix London.


Ted: Alright, so let’s start off with the Beastmaster. Tell me about him.

Jacob: Throughout Nosgoth’s history, the game has been split between the more mobile vampires and the humans sticking to the streets. It’s a key part of the asymetry, but made for some gaps. For the first time, the humans can now experience the same freedom of movement as the vampires. A fundamental part of the Beastmaster class is the ability to transform into a winged raptor and take to the skies.

Ted: So this is a more aggressive type of character? Does he take the fight to the vampires?

Bill: Not exactly. The Beastmaster is vulnerable and unable to attack in his winged form. He has to go back to his less agile human form to fight. He’s equiped with a shotgun, giving him great close range damage, but he still doesn’t match the raw power of a Tyrant in a melee. It’s more accurate to say that humans now have an option to chase down wounded vampires. Their heavy burst damage and mobility makes them perfect for hunting down damaged enemies who think they are out of range. He does a few other things, but we aren’t ready to release his full kit yet.

https://i1.wp.com/www.dreadcentral.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/nosgoth-beastmaster.jpg?resize=640%2C360
Excuse me sir, but could you not tell by my crazy hat, shotgun, and ability to turn into a raptor, that your kind ain’t welcome ’round these parts?

Ted: Alright, cool! Now let’s talk about the new vampire.

Jacob: So the sixth vampire clan in Legacy of Kain is the Rahabim. In the lore, the Rahabim are more animal than the rest, masters of water and more snake/spider-like. The role that she fills in the game is a kind of special forces unit. A lot of what will make for a successful Rahabim player is picking the right loadout to set up the battle positioning based what the rest of the team is doing.

Bill: We’re not ready to talk about specifics yet, since she’s still in the works and her kit is always changing. What we can say is that there’s a more tactical element to her play. All vampires have tactical roles, but we’ve been focusing on making this part of her core ability set. If you manage to pull off certain combinations of move, they will have a devastating effect. She’s still mobile and combative like the rest of the vampires, but she’s a bit more of a thinker.

Ted: It just sounds a bit like the Summoner. What differentiates the Rahabim?

Bill: The summoner relies on the ghouls as initiators to engage from range. The Rahabim is much more hands on. She’ll need to get in there and do the damage herself. It’s much more about planning the engagement to make sure that you’ll have the maximum chance for success.

https://i2.wp.com/www.dreadcentral.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/rahabim.jpg?resize=250%2C348
Original Rahabim pictured here, in all its pixelated PS1 glory

Ted: So when can we expect to see her in Nosgoth? Same time as the Beastmaster?

Jacob: Beastmaster is definitely coming soon, but there’s still a lot of work to do on the Rahabim. There’s still a bunch of polishing and fixing to do, and a lot of her audio still hasn’t come in. Unfortunately, she’s a long way out.

Bill: Where we go after that will be up to the players. When we come out of Early Access, we’ll have many more players telling us what they want. There’s plenty of room to grow, be it through maps, classes, or the crafting system. Once the core gameplay is done, we can focus on making those plans.
―Ted Hentschke[1]

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Ted: Since you mentioned moving out of Early Access, I want to move on to questions regarding new players. I started playing again about a week ago, but when I tried to play in the beginner mode (sub level 15) I would sit in the queue for an hour and never find a match. I was forced to jump into the general queue, and my results varied wildly. Oftentimes, I’d be going up against a team with vastly more experience. What do you have planned to ease new players into the game?

Jacob: With MMR, you have an aggregate score of a player’s overall skill based on wins, losses, kills, objectives, etc. It’s a general evaluation of a lot of stats, and it isn’t always perfect. Ideally, players would be placed every game with players of equal skill and an even chance of winning or losing. In practice, factors like server ping and communication make MMR matchmaking an imperfect system. We don’t just match players of equal skill, but players that they will have the best time with, which means being able to play without lag and speaking the same language. That means that sometimes, especially at non-peak hours, you’ll be paired with someone outside of your normal MMR range. We expect that coming out of Early Access will bring in the amount of players needed to allow for more more balanced matches.

http://i1.wp.com/www.dreadcentral.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/nosgoth-tyrant.jpg?resize=640%2C465
A lot of this was happening to me. I’m not the big guy.

Ted: I certainly find the game fun, but as a new player I’m definitely overwhelmed by all the content. I know there’s an exploration aspect in finding out what all the weapons/classes/abilities do, but I wasn’t even sure at first how to purchase them. After I played a bit I figured it out, but it almost prevented me from getting into the game. Do you have any plans for practice matches against bots to learn the maps? How about a shop tutorial?

Bill: Funny enough, we were just talking about this before the call. There are a lot of areas we have to focus on with limited resources—expanding the game for our longtime players, bug fixing to maintain a live game, getting to a state where we’re ready to come out of Early Access, and a never ending backlog of other features. Along with all that, we have to consider the first time user experience. We can’t promise anything since it’s all still in discussion, but we are certainly aware of all the things we could add. It’s just a matter of fitting it into the hours in a day. What I will say is that live games are constantly evolving. The launch is just the start. Players are going to be key and figuring out our priorities.

Ted: From what I’ve read on the forums and heard from friends, higher level players really like this game. The Leagues were well received, allowing for a higher level of cooperative play. How do you balance making money with player focused game design?

Bill: Free-to-play is a tricky situation. We know players respond very poorly to overt money grabs, and that’s what we’ve been trying to avoid. From day one, the guys at Psyonix were adamant that they didn’t want to make anything pay-to-win. Realistically, any attempt to monetize will be met with resentment. But we are a business, and have worked hard to monetize as painlessly a possible. We want to find a balance between allowing players to support the game if they want without forcing them to do that. All of the core content you can get by just playing the game. Higher level gear can be dropped at the end of matches or crafted, and all of that is free. If you want to get there faster or have more exotic visual options, you can pay for that, but it’s not like you can’t play and win if you don’t.

http://i2.wp.com/www.dreadcentral.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/nosgoth.jpg?resize=640%2C359
I honestly don’t care if it gives me speed and takes damage or whatever, because I look faaaabulous.

Ted: Some of the advanced gear that I got had modifications, with a pro and a con. With modifiers like this, it’s always possible that you’ll inadvertently make something overpowered. How do you make sure this doesn’t happen?

Jacob: So what we do right now is assign positives and negatives at random. Higher level items will have up to two positives and two negatives. Something the players can do if they aren’t happy with their modifiers is use the forge. With earned gold and crafting materials, they can re-roll those stats into something else. As far as those numbers, the +5% speed or -10% ammunition, those aren’t random. This system has been one of our biggest challenges with balancing. As developers, we have to address these problems quickly to make sure that the game stays healthy.

Ted: So in regards to all of these changes, what would you say to old players that quit? How would you entice them to return?

Jacob: Well, obviously, so they can play the new Beastmaster class! More seriously, we’ve fixed a lot of bugs and balanced significantly approaching release. We’ve recently been talking to a lot of the professionally rated ESL teams about how to improve. So for those that left because it was imbalanced or too hard, there have been substantial meaningful improvements. The back end system has also improved in parallel—Player registration, matchmaking, anything that isn’t part of the core gameplay itself. The systems are in place, and once we get out of Early Access and increase the player base you’ll really see those shine. We have twice the maps and character classes than we did when we started, and we’ve got some new game modes that will be going live with release.

Ted: New game modes? Do tell!

Bill: The first mode we’re introducing is “Capture the Body.” A Nosgoth take on Capture the Flag, the vampire team has to drag a corpse from one side of the map to a shrine before it explodes. It swaps the typical dynamic, with the vampires getting hammered as the humans hunt them down. It gets bloody fast. We’ve also got “Flashpoint,” where humans try to capture and hold certain parts of the map. It’s a bit similar to Team Deathmatch, but the humans can’t chose where they engage as much. It makes the maps play differently.

http://i0.wp.com/www.dreadcentral.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/nosgoth-capture-the-body.jpg?resize=640%2C359
“Ugh the one time I make a joke about Dumah, and he’s right behind me. Now I’ve got corpse duty for a week. Way to go, Ralph, you’re really making your mother proud.”

Ted: I want to move away from the gameplay for a bit and get into the lore. It’s been a bit of a sore spot for fans since Nosgoth was first announced. With the Legacy of Kain franchise, you have a massive canon and history of rich single player games. Yet Nosgoth is exclusively multiplayer. How do you plan on telling a story in the Legacy of Kain vein, and how does the lore influence your development process?

Bill: We aren’t blind to the controversy surrounding Nosgoth. It doesn’t have a traditional narrative with cutscenes and exposition. That just wouldn’t work in a multiplayer game. We tell Nosgoth’s story through the world. In Legacy of Kain, the vampire clans evolved based on the ecology and psychology of their leaders. Take clan Zephonim for example. Their leader Zephon was devious, untrustworthy, jealous, and a master of psychological warfare. That turned into the Deceiver, masters of illusions that mess with their enemy’s brain. On the other hand, sometimes we needed to fill a gameplay role. For something tanky and more brutal that could lead the team and initiate combat, Clan Turelim fit perfectly. Maps are also more than just arenas, but areas that were discussed and hinted at in the lore. The Crucible map is actually based on a level that was scrapped in the first Soul Reaver game. Symbol of military might and industry, it’s loaded with clan Turelim iconography. If you look at the Razielim map The Fane, you can see the places where the clan would lounge around while feeding on captives and getting high. The banners, statues, and murals are all based on existing iconography and lore in the Legacy of Kain world. It’s not a traditional Legacy of Kain game, but a tremendous amount of detail has been put in for fans who are looking.

Ted: So where does this fit into the Legacy of Kain world? There’s a distinction between a game that’s telling a piece of a story, and one that just takes place in a world.

Bill: This is a franchise that covers literally thousands of years and multiple timestreams. What we wanted to do with Nosgoth was realize a period that hadn’t yet been explored. At the end of Soul Reaver, Kain casts Raziel into the abyss and uses the Chronoplast to advance hundreds of years into the future. This takes place in the period that Kain was absent. Without his iron rule, the vampire clans he have begun to compete for power. This allows the humans to rise up and try to retake the world. We know they eventually lose, but it’s about looking into the world at this point in time. The vampires haven’t devolved into their final bestial state, retaining much of their human characteristics. Humanity is making its last stand. Only one of them can survive.
―Ted Hentschke[2]

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Ted: So how do you come up with the human classes? Human lore hasn’t really been there in previous games.

Bill: The human lore in Legacy of Kain is mostly a blank canvas, giving us some freedom to operate. So what we did was take traditional battlefield roles and give them a Nosgoth twist. Instead of a medic, you have the Prophets, an insane cult of baby stealers that poison themselves close to death. Those that survive gain grotesque otherworldly powers. It’s a bloody and macabre twist on what might otherwise just be a cleric or paladin. The world of Nosgoth is violent and brutal, so our heroes need to bloodthirsty mercenaries, merciless hunters, and sometimes deranged lunatics.

Jacob: While designing the classes, gameplay comes first. We start off by looking at something like the Scout as a sniper or the Beastmaster as a typical druid. Once the character is finished, the lore team takes over to develop the audio and visuals. We try to reinforce those decisions then in gameplay, but the character’s playability always is the main focus.

https://web.archive.org/web/20190105205540im_/https://i0.wp.com/www.dreadcentral.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/nosgoth-vanguard.png?resize=740%2C415
Better be one hell of a backstory to explain how this guy came to be facing Vampire Vin Diesel with nothing but an axe.

Ted: So what do you have to say to players that are upset about the change to multiplayer? Some must feel cheated that they don’t get a traditional story.

Bill: When we approached Psyonix about developing Nosgoth a number of years ago, it was because of their exceptional multiplayer pedigree. Even from the start, the multiplayer and single player were developed completely separately. They used different characters, different settings, and even took place in different time periods. When the single player campaign unfortunately didn’t work out, we had already been discussing selling the multiplayer as a standalone project. This isn’t us boiling down Dead Sun into a free-to-play multiplayer package, but something we’ve been developing as its own from the start.

Ted: Just another lore nerd point, are we going to see any Soul Reaver stuff in the game? Any Wraiths on the horizon?

Bill: No plans for that at the moment. Raziel is special, so it’s hard to fit him into Nosgoth. Early on we discussed the idea of a spectral realm, but decided it wouldn’t work in our multiplayer vision. A world where the normal laws of time and space don’t apply doesn’t really work into a fast paced PVP action game.

Ted: But a lot of that weirdness like time travel, the wheel of fate, and the Elder God is what fans love about the franchise.

Bill: Without ruling anything out, there are things in there for the hardcore fans to find if they look hard enough.

Ted: So we’re not going to find out that this was all the machinations of the Elder God to keep the Wheel of Fate spinning to feed his insatiable hunger?

Bill: I couldn’t possibly confirm or deny that.

https://web.archive.org/web/20190105205540im_/https://i0.wp.com/www.dreadcentral.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/elder-god-1024x768.jpg?resize=740%2C555
Whatever, Elder God. I know your tricks.

Ted: Alright, keep your secrets! As a final point, tell me why you think that Nosgoth is worth everyone checking out. Why should people be excited about playing?

Jacob: Personally, I love the core combat and the gameplay. The asymmetry between the vampires and humans makes this really unique. Vampires need to get in close, so the way they move, trap, and play mind games with their opponents is really fun counterplay. Humans offer a different style of play that’s equally fun, splitting into two phases. The first is where they plan their defense, setting up and preparing for the vampire attacks. The second is where they break, and it becomes about much more micro-intensive dodges, attacks, and abilities to in the moment outplay your more agile opponents to just try to get out in one piece.

Bill: I totally agree. The power of a vampire versus the coordination and determination of the humans is just unrivaled. It’s a totally unique experience, and we love it.


I came out of the interview pleasantly surprised by their candid honesty. Bill was a genuine lore nerd, and couldn’t help but geek out over a lot of the more minute elements. Jacob is a real, hardcore game designer, and that showed in his brass tacks approach to answering my questions. Together, they gave me a sense of the soul behind Nosgoth: hardcore gamers designing how it plays, and total nerds ruling over how it looks and feels. It’ a combination that I have faith in, and genuinely enjoyed.

Not all of my concerns are assuaged. The new content looks great, but I’m just not sure it’ll be enough to bring in more players. If matchmaking stays inconsistent, it’ll be too hard for new players to get into the game. Without new players, only the hardcore will stick around, making it impossible to expand. It would be a sad fate for such a unique title.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/DYR-nIqTHAE

Still, they’re the experts, not me. Maybe their advertising surge will open the floodgate of players and I’ll stop getting stomped by pros. I will say that my concerns over their care for the game are certainly gone. If at this point you think this is a hollow cash-in that disregards the lore, you clearly haven’t given it a shot. If you were holding out because you didn’t like the switch to multiplayer, don’t let your bitterness get the best of you.

If you are hearing about the game for the first time or just haven’t given it a shot, I’d say do so. It’s in a near finished state, and is more polished than many final products. For the asking price of free, fans of action games and shooters have no real reason not to give it a shot. Like me, they might just find it worth all the rough bits. No word on an official release date yet, but you can look forward to my full review when it drops.

―Ted Hentschke[3]

ReferencesEdit

  1. Archive Sat, 28 May 2016 20:27:18 GMT snapshot of Nosgoth: Interview with a Game Dev, 1 at Dread Central (by Ted Hentschke)
  2. Archive Sun, 17 Apr 2016 08:03:16 GMT snapshot of Nosgoth: Interview with a Game Dev, 2 at Dread Central (by Ted Hentschke)
  3. Archive Sat, 05 Jan 2019 20:53:34 GMT snapshot of Nosgoth: Interview with a Game Dev, 3 at Dread Central (by Ted Hentschke)

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