State of Production #13
October 16, 2020
Hello everyone, my name is Tim Perreault and I’m the Executive Producer at New World Interactive. I’m happy to share this latest State of Production with all of you. Operation: Breakaway is now out. The studio has started work on our next update but we wanted to take a moment to reflect on some of the elements that went into Operation: Breakaway. This SoP is a bit longer than normal but that’s because I managed to wrangle five of the key developers responsible for two of the biggest parts of this update to talk about their experience bringing them to life. Don’t worry, there’s lots of pictures.
Key Points of State of Production #13
- Operation: Breakaway Retrospective
- Outpost Mode
- 1.8 Minor and Beyond
Operation: Breakaway Retrospective
During the development of Operation: Breakaway we learned some good lessons about how to refine our overall approach to updates and the amount of content we commit to per release. Moving forward we’re tightening up on the scope and focusing on increasing quality. As those of you who played the Open CTE event noticed, some content had to be cut late in the game. This was because it wasn’t working quite the way we wanted and we didn’t want to rush it out. Moving forward, we’re being a lot more cautious with how much content we’re including so we can ensure everything that goes in is polished and ready by the time we want to release it.
In addition to the content we released, part of our development effort was spent expanding certain tools to be used internally. We should all be seeing the fruits of these efforts translate into improved quality moving forward with our future releases.
Operation: Breakaway introduced the newest game mode to Sandstorm, Outpost Mode. To discuss some of the development efforts behind Outpost, I sat down with three of the chief architects: Lead Game Designer Michael “Mikee” Tsarouhas, Level Design Director Jeroen van Werkhoven, and Technical Director Steve Swires.
Tim Perreault: Outpost Mode was a mode in Insurgency 2014. What sets it apart from what we’ve created in Insurgency: Sandstorm? What did we need to keep in order to retain the spirit of that mode, and what did we need to change to suit Sandstorm?
Steve Swires: Well in Insurgency 2014, Outpost was a pretty simple mode. The players are just defending a single supply cache, and when it blows up, they lose. I don’t think there was even a wave limit.
Michael Tsarouhas: There wasn’t, it went on indefinitely. There was even an easter egg voice over line that went something like “You know this mode is endless, right?”.
SS: I think the implementation of Outpost in Sandstorm takes more cues from the mode in Day of Infamy called Entrenchment. It was kind of similar to Checkpoint, but on the defender’s side. The players would regress through various objectives depending on how long they could survive. There were some interesting things in DoI such as defending multiple objectives at once and the more controversial regroup mechanic.
MT: Admittedly, at first with Outpost it was a little shallow. Entrenchment expanded on that with having the regression, but the regroup mechanic was very difficult. It was very hard to get players to understand “Oh, I have to go somewhere else to try to get my teammates to respawn”. I was actually just playing DoI last weekend with some of my friends and I had to tell them over the mic “Hey you need to fall back now. Oh, remember, you’ve gotta regroup.” We’ve really tried to refine the mode and expand on it a bit in Sandstorm by creating a synthesis of these previous two modes while bringing some new elements to the table.
Jeroen van Werkhoven: We went for a more narrative approach with Outpost in Sandstorm. The objectives make more sense in a way where the player is defending a strategic building at the beginning all the way to a small military base like you see in Crossing. It makes it really interesting from that perspective. The players are defending valuable locations and not just random objectives.
TP: What were some of the biggest challenges, from each of your perspectives, in bringing this mode to life?
JvW: I think from a level design perspective that it was mostly figuring out what are good locations. We went really extreme at the start by just adding a ton of objectives, but then refining them down, then doing another pass to eventually end up with only the most fun objectives. We really had to figure out what makes each map fun and also what makes each map feel fair so players don’t feel overwhelmed by enemies. We also had to figure out how to make two active objectives work at the same time. It’s not something we use in every map, it depends a lot on the location of objectives. Adds a strategic element to it, where the player can either choose to defend one objective or both but has to split up the team.
SS: It was the whole iteration process. Trying different things out, trying different ways of implementing them. When we started out, it was pretty simple. Pretty much the same as Insurgency 2014. But there were a lot of little things we had to do: supporting multiple objectives, tweaks to the HUD, making sure bots would ignore players during the prepare phase. Once we were able to rapidly iterate on that, we made pretty good progress and I feel like Outpost mode is in a good state where it is.
MT: The special enemies were the biggest challenge. We decided early on that a way to give Outpost mode character was to give it special enemies players wouldn’t for the most part encounter in other modes. We had a bunch of different ideas: guys who would throw all flavors of grenades, guys who would rush you, guys who make better use of cover and snipe, some who had unique AI, and other sorts of enemy types that fought with different weapons and behaviors. When it came down to it, we had to find something that was shippable and make sure that each enemy had a uniqueness to them. We didn’t want to overdo it and throw too many enemies in there and just expect it to be fun. Getting feedback from the 1.8 CTE was really helpful to determine which enemies were fun.
TP: Internally we spent quite a bit of time play-testing various iterations of Outpost. I kind of remember the very first playtest we did on Crossing and if I’m being honest it wasn’t much fun. It was pretty difficult and there was a lot of death. Not a lot of wins for us. Do you guys remember any specific turning points during the development when it clicked for you that “hey, this is actually really fun now”?
JvW: I think when we started figuring out what objectives were actually fun, that played a big part of it. When we made some adjustments to bots, adding more variation to the spawn points for bots, making sure they’re not always coming from a single location. Making them play more like human players. It became less gamey.
MT: Yeah, Jason, our AI Programmer, made a lot of adjustments to the AI that really helped the flow and the feeling of the attackers. And all the spawn point adjustments the level design team made made the whole thing feel like much more exciting and interesting fighting. The low point for me was actually the first time we tried Ministry and we got to the garage. We got slaughtered every time in that damn garage, it was brutal. Nobody had any supply, we were like a bunch of civilians running around taking cover behind about-to-be-exploded cars and pillars. That’s where we were thinking we really need to rethink objective placement as well as starting supply. That’s when we bumped it up to two.
JvW: Yeah, the progressive difficulty, right? We’ve figured out we need to make sure we don’t start with the most difficult objective. The real turning point for me was when it started to feel less like a shooting gallery and bots approached objectives from different directions, like a human player.
SS: The difficulty and pacing of the mode really made a difference to me. We tweaked a bunch of the timers like how long each wave is and how long players spent preparing but also the objective placement and spawn placement. Once that all came together the mode was taking shape and you could really see what was coming of it. The special waves did help, but it was mostly just adding flavour and making it feel distinct compared to Checkpoint.
TP: Does anyone care to comment on the MVP of our playtesting team, Door?
MT: Door. Wow, you know, it’s a shame that Door couldn’t be here Tim. Because we’ve really got to give it to him. Door is on objective C in Outpost Power Plant. In Outpost Mode, obviously you’re defending a lot. You don’t move a lot, but you’re mobile within a certain space. So you get attached to certain spaces within your space. The door that you can open on objective C ended up being a real trooper, more useful than some of our playtesters actually. You could just close Door and any time an enemy came and tried to get into our building, Door would slam right open and say “Hey, an insurgent is here.” And we’d all turn and take care of him. It was really devastating for us when Door got kicked off his hinges. It was an accident actually, we kicked in the wrong direction.
JvW: We’ll never forget Door.
TP: Any final thoughts on Outpost mode?
SS: One thing that is really nice about Outpost is players get to see more areas of the map. In some game modes players only see part of the map, in Outpost players see all of the map. Objectives will be in areas of the map where someone might go “Oh, I didn’t know this existed”.
MT: Yeah, even though it’s on maps that exist, players will get into firefights and defend objectives in areas that feel like totally new spaces. Best examples I can think of are, as Jeroen mentioned earlier, the military base as the final objective on Crossing and the shanty village on Outskirts. Defending the shanty village in Outskirts reminds of the movie Seven Samurai. Everyone chaotically running from building to building defending the village. It’s very much like Jeroen was saying, it’s not a shooting gallery anymore. There’s multiple angles of attack. Some flanks will fall and you have to reinforce them. This is a cheesy overused word in game development, but it does feel dynamic.
JvW: Yeah, I also think the final objective in Outskirts of the gas station with the gas pumps at the front was fun. In one of our latest tests, the whole thing blew up.
MT: Oh god, that was ridiculous. We got a Rocketman special wave, and they used their rockets on us, that’s for sure. It wasn’t even a dignified heroic defense, where each one of us gradually died in slow motion. It was just, like, a cacophony of screams, and confusion to match.
Outpost mode is available to play on select maps. The remaining map layouts will be coming in a future update.
In Operation: Breakaway, we’ve remade the map Tell, a popular classic from Insurgency (2014) for Sandstorm. I’ve sat down with two of our level designers, Zach Snyder, the original creator of Tell, and Jan Huygelen, who implemented the vision in Sandstorm, to talk about the process:
Tim Perreault: What was the inspiration for the original map Tell?
Zach Snyder: That’s kind of a tough one, because it all went by so fast and I remember little of it. I knew some of the people at NWI and I got a message from one of them about the mapping contest, but I couldn’t do it because I was really busy with work. And then about a month or two later they announced an extension to the contest and it just so happened that work was about to slow down. There was about three weeks left in the contest and I sat on it for about a day and then said screw it, I’m just going to do it.
The inspiration, if you could call it that, was a small chunk of a Counter-Strike map I had been working on as a modder. I copied it into the editor and started from there, because I just needed something to jump in and start working from. I was still teaching at the time, but otherwise I was literally working around the clock for the remaining time and submitted it just before the deadline. I wasn’t happy with it, and if you go back and look at it on Game Banana, I think you’d understand. It’s a much rawer and unfinished version of the map than what ultimately made it into the game. After the contest I was asked to join the team and, thankfully, was given a lot of time to polish it, because it was in a pretty sorry state.
TP: You started with the CS map layout and it turned into something that worked and already fit the theme, or did you have to retheme it at all?
ZS: Well no, it was middle eastern and it wasn’t necessarily a piece of level design, It was just a quick place to start, because I was already in trouble time-wise and I wanted to spend as little time as possible deliberating about where to start . That little chunk is a little hard to spot now in the finished version, but it’s definitely still there.
TP: What do you think makes Tell stand out from other maps in Insurgency?
ZS: Without a doubt, the close quarters of it and the sheer number of spots that you need to be aware of. It’s definitely maze-like at times, and there are a lot of corners for enemies to hide around. The kind of gameplay that comes out of that, hopefully, is a careful inch by inch struggle, and it’s not that you’re just trying to get to the next objective, it’s that you’re trying to secure key points along the path that act as informal objectives, themselves. And because things become so tight and controlled, that back and forth is very visceral in the way that you understand your team’s progress. I can spawn and if I see that a teammate is on one of these key points, I can be confident that the area between us is clear because of the amount of effort it takes to reclaim an area.
TP: Why did we choose to remake Tell in Insurgency: Sandstorm?
ZS: Tell and Sinjar were the two most popular push maps from 2014, though I’d give the nod to Sinjar, overall. Tell was the most popular checkpoint map. I think it also made a lot of sense for variety’s sake, since the map is much tighter than anything else we have in Sandstorm.
TP: What was the approach that you took with the remake of Tell for Insurgency: Sandstorm?
Jan Huygelen: I only got involved when Zach finished the blockout and handed it to me. I was given a single photo that would be the base reference for the remake. The first step is always to find as many references as possible in order to build a mental picture in my mind of what a map is going to look like or what it could look like. When beginning on the map itself, I started with creating a vertical slice to get a feeling for the theme, based on all the references I’d collected. In this context, a vertical slice is basically applying a theme to a specific part of the map, as a proof of concept. After that vertical slice was done, I repeated the process in two other areas of the blockout, both with a different subtheme.
TP: What do you think ended up being the biggest challenge of trying to recreate and capture the essence of Tell and translating it to Sandstorm?
JH: Because Tell is a classic map, I think the biggest challenge was keeping the blockout Zach made intact. He works a lot with specific sight lines, so if you move a wall a little to the left or to the right then the sight line is gone. Related to this is applying the theme. Overall, this wasn’t an issue, but there were definitely some parts of the map that were quite challenging to make them work thematically.
TP: Did you ever find yourself cursing Zach’s name while you were working on it because he made it so difficult?
JH: [laughs] Um, no.
ZS: That has to be a lie.
TP: What do you think makes the Sandstorm version of Tell unique from the original?
JH: It’s a lot bigger and it features some extra game modes that weren’t in the Source version, for example Firefight and Push for Insurgents.
Tell is available now in Co-op and Versus playlists, come join us and be sure to check out some of the game modes that weren’t available in the original Insurgency!
1.8 Minor Update and Beyond
With Operation: Breakaway out the door, the team is starting to work on our next major update. Something else to keep your eyes open for is the 1.8 Minor update where we’ll be addressing some community concerns and quality of life improvements. Keep your eyes peeled for that to drop in the next month or so.
That’s it for this month’s SoP, until next time, keep your stick on the ice.