Interwave Studios Explain Nuclear Dawn

By Jim Rossignol on August 14th, 2011 at 9:47 am.

Post-apocalypse means war, not tea.
Source-powered FPS-RTS hybrid Nuclear Dawn – which was once a mod and is now a full-blown commercial release – hits its closed beta next week, with a release scheduled for just month after that. Intrigued by the sci-fi imagery and talk of clever commander-led FPS team combat dynamics, we decided to speak to Interwave Studios’s Igor Raffaele about the project. He told us about their plans for free DLC, and explained what challenges lay ahead for the game after two years of commercial development. Also check out the trailer, below.

RPS: Before we get into details of what’s going on with Nuclear Dawn, why don’t you tell us who you are and what you role is on the project?

Raffaele: Igor Raffaele. I am the general manager at Interwave, but my role has been design. I helped design the game, set up the classes, that sort of thing.

RPS: And how did you come to be involved with the project?

Raffaele: I joined only when Nuclear Dawn’s development was picked up as a commercial project. When Interwave decided to make that happen I came on board as part of the team. So I’ve only been involved for two and half years, while the project itself has been in existence for longer. We instantly saw the potential here, not just the awesome name, but everything else that went with it. That potential was what lead me to become involved with it.

RPS: So what have the last couple of years meant?

Raffaele: The last couple of years have, due to this being the first AAA project we have worked on, been an enormous learning experience for everyone involved. There’s the usual take of innocence: we wanted vehicle and so many classes, and so many weapons, and different uniforms, and we soon realised that you cannot develop everything you set out to do. But despite this the process has been incredible, and we have been busy learning from our own mistakes, working out what is possible, what is realistic, and so on.


RPS: So what have you had to discard, and what have you achieved that you didn’t expect?

Raffaele: I would say we have achieved a surprising amount of things. The game itself, the basic mechanic of an FPS and RTS working independently and together at a new level is a major achievement. It’s hard to explain in just a sentence why we think it is different from any other similar game, but we rebuilt the genre from a unique perspective – our perspective – and that influences everything from how the classes are set up, to the interaction with the environment, the interaction with other players, and so personally I feel that is our strongest achievement, over anything we have left out: the game is there, it is challenging, it is interesting.

What we did leave out we are planning to introduced later in free DLCs, because we hate the having to pay for extra content thing, will be advanced AI. Players will be able to use bots as soldiers, so the commanders can play with AI bots under his control. We want to create a mode where commanders can play exclusively with bots, and even an AI commander. That was a big chunk we had to rip out because it was not fun. We could have tried to shoehorn something in for release, but we think there no point in even trying unless it is going to be fun.

So AI was the major hit, but we have also postponed some more advanced game modes, which will now feature in in a DLC. We will catch up with the original design over time, in both those aspects. We also had vehicles – physics driven vehicles within Source – but we had to leave those aside. They worked, but their network performance was dreadful, and when we went to look at what this was, we realised why Valve hadn’t done it in any of their games: we’d had to have rewritten a major chunk of the netcode, and you’re looking at about six months for a couple of programmers to make that work, so vehicles were set aside!


RPS: Okay let’s talk a bit more about the details of Nuclear Dawn’s FPS/RTS hybrid play. How do you sum it up?

Raffaele: That’s very straightforward. As an FPS player you choose from the classes: you have a heavy guy in armour, you have the regular soldier guy, you have the tiny dude (or girl, depending on faction) that turns invisible and backstabs, and you have the medic/repair guy. The way these interact means that certain classes are much better at killing others with specific weapons, and that generates a gameplay where players are constantly forced to assess their class and equipment, and whether that is right for the job they are faced with. We want to move away from the “I’m just a sniper guy” sort of class mentality that some games encourage. Classes are – when you apply yourself to the game, at least – tools. You learn that if there is an exo-rush – loads of the big armoured guys coming at your base – you will go stealth to take some of them out. You will know you can’t stick as a regular guy with a machinegun!

Of course players are called upon to capture resource points, and they do this for the commander. The commander is just a regular player, and he is elected at the start of rounds. People are not forced to deal with the RTS section, and a player chooses whether he wants to be considered for election. The RTS role is completely separate. It’s totally separate from the FPS section of the game, and it’s a complex RTS. When you entered the command console you are taken to a high level RTS command interface, just as you get in Starcraft or any other RTS you may be familiar with. Commanders advance the base, build fortifications, forward spawn points, artillery, or anything else that will help their players get across the map and destroy the enemy base.

Soldiers can ignore the commander, of course, but because of the tactical elements we have built into the game you will need commander support to get through some of the challenges the map has. Whether it is the commander unlocking the siege weapons for you, or the players capturing resources for the commander, neither of the two roles can fully develop without support from the other. That is one of the core elements that we have changed from the way this kind of works: the FPS and RTS elements might be separate experiences, but in play they are designed from the ground up to interact with each other.

RPS: So what is the challenge that remains for you now that the game is mostly in place?

Raffaele: Well truly 99% of the game features are in place. We have done several strict rounds of balancing, and the game is all there, and it is fully playable. Our challenge now is making players aware of what is actually going on in game. I think this is something that we underestimated: the challenge of what are you supposed to be doing? What could you be doing? What is the commander telling? Could you be doing that later, and something else now? We are on our fifth major UI revision, and I think we are on the final run now. This is the stuff that you take for granted as a player, because you only ever really notice it if breaks down!


RPS: So what’s the plan for the roll out of the game then?

Raffaele: The game is on pre-order on Steam, and we going to start a closed beta on the 25th of August – scary! – anyone who pre-orders will get a 10% discount and access to the beta, obviously. We’re planning some little bonuses. We announced today that players who ordered before the beta will get a veteran medal in game, which is a little thankyou from us for having faith in our idea and supporting us even before the game was playable. There is no embargo on this beta, by the way, we will be encouraging people to talk about their experiences, take screenshots, videos, and so on. Although there will be a beta watermark in there to say it’s not the finished product!

It’s quite exciting, because all the systems that we have refined over the past couple of years – often by just getting the wrong! – have finally found a balance that everyone is happy with, and that is now going to hit a new wave of players with their own ideas about what should be going on in game. And that’s going to be exciting.

RPS: So you mentioned some free DLCs, what’s the plan for the game after launch? Any plans?

Raffaele: As I briefly said before we have two major DLCs. We had to draw a line in the sand on some of that stuff because money was going to run out. But the game we set out to make needs those elements in order to be fully complete. So after release we will first deal with those bugs that appear under stress testing – although the game is very stable now – but when you hit this stress test you know bugs will appear. As far as community feedback is concerned we will monitor the beta closely. Games like Team Fortress became successful because they reacted to the requirements of players and even, in some visionary moments, anticipated them. So we are going to be listening to the community, and the later developing the DLCs. We will be hitting the ground hard after to release to bring the AI and advanced game modes to Nuclear Dawn.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

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51 Comments »

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  1. Jayson82 says:

    If you want to play an fps/rts just try http://www.empiresmod.com/ Been around longer and is quite fun.

    With the source engine that you need to run source based mods now released for free you don’t need to own any source based games to play this mod or any other mod now.

    • Premium User Badge

      KindredPhantom says:

      Empires is really fun mod, and people should check it out and play it.

    • Zakkeh says:

      For an interesting rts/fp game check out Savage 2. I love that game

    • ColdCoffee says:

      Empire mod doesn’t know how to use proper scale, at all. Ill pass on the recreation of insect battles. Both examples are bonk… Natural Selection 1 and 2 are the only great RTS/FPS games.

    • MadMatty says:

      Warlord: Iron Grip is actually a pretty fun FPS/RTS also- turrets are overpowered, if theyd only nerf those, it´d be a pretty decent game- it has a few laughs and moments, machinegunning hordes of incoming AI troops, and is dirt cheap.

    • choconutjoe says:

      I love Empires. But it has the double-whammy of a horrible community and no offline practice mode. Anyone playing for the first time should expect to get nerd-raged.

    • Joseph says:

      I play Empires pretty often, i was one of the initial members of one of the current big clans when it was formed, and i know the game very well, and i have to say i’m VERY EXCITED for competition like Nuclear Dawn to come out. Empires suffers from a shitty community, horrible maps, and a development team that’s entrenched in the tiny, silly clan fueds and rebalances the game in idiotic ways to favor certain playstyles. If ND is any good at all i’m all over that shit and brigning all my friends.
      BUT: Empires is very fun and you should play it.

    • Tei says:

      @ColdCoffee
      Tremulous is like Natural Selection, but with a modern engine (based on ioQuake3) and withouth “commander”. I think the commander element remove part of the fun of that type of games.
      Going “engineer” in TF2 is weird because you can only built one turret. In Tremulous you can build 4, of different types, and other type of structures. Feels like a evolution of the Team Fortress idea.

      Re: Nuclear Dawn
      Looking forward for it. My favorite experiences in gaming are on games with a strong team element.

    • DOLBYdigital says:

      I agree with others that Empires is fun (especially the ability to create/modify vehicles). Savage 2 is also a sweet game and very different…. Finally Warlord: Iron Grip is also fun as hell… NS2 is getting better with every alpha

      However I welcome the new comer, I think this style of gameplay works very well and makes sense to combine.

  2. Dreamhacker says:

    The article did lack that question: Is there any connection to the BF42 mod Empires? Because this looks like either a shameless ripoff or an impressive evolution of Empires.

    Also, it’s too bad they didn’t choose the Unreal engine…

    • Premium User Badge

      KindredPhantom says:

      Nuclear Dawn started off a source mod, it was in development as mod from 2005. It does share a similar concept with Empires of RTS/FPS but Nuclear Dawn looks to be heading in a different direction to Empires. The reason it would seem like a rip-off would probably be because they both are RTS/FPS games and both run on the source engine.

    • zeroskill says:

      and why would Unreal be better then Source?

    • MadMatty says:

      Unreal allows for huger landscapes, looks nicer and the vehicle netcode in Unreal actually works.

    • PatrickSwayze says:

      Shame about the rest of the netcode.

  3. tanith says:

    I’d say that Natural Selection is worth checking out, too.
    Especially because the Natural Selection 2 Alpha/Beta is undergoing testing at the moment.

    Then there’s always Savage: The Battle for Newerth.

    Apart from that there’s also Tremulous for the Quake 3 engine and Gloom for Quake 2.

  4. kwyjibo says:

    Not sold on this.

    It’s a class based team multiplayer game. It’s also not free. How is it going to pick up enough of an audience to sustain a community? You’ve also got issue that just one poor commander will fuck up your team. It’s an issue Natural Selection had too, and to be honest, with the team election thing is probably solved – but I’ve never thought that having one player play essentially a different game was particularly elegant.

  5. yhalothar says:

    Paid DLCs in a multiplayer game are seldom a good idea.

    • Premium User Badge

      BathroomCitizen says:

      And that’s why here they’re free :)

    • ShineDog says:

      Well, in the case of a huge game like CoD or BF they can get away with that without splitting the community. (Edit – well, without splitting the community to the point where you can’t get a game)

    • Premium User Badge

      JB says:

      Yeah, well done on missing that basically every time they mention the DLC they say it’s going to be free =)

    • Droopy The Dog says:

      I do miss the days when “free DLC” was just called a patch though. Would solve all this misunderstanding where everyone assumes it’s going to cost something.

  6. Koozer says:

    Well I’m interested. It’s nice to see them being honest about what they couldn’t squeeze in. If they can get the UI right and the interface between commander and soldiers it could be golden, or it could be like BF2 where you tell specific squads to do specific things, most of them ignore you, they all run to the same point with all the shooties going on and the point you REALLY need defending with the tank spawn is lost.

  7. Unrein says:

    After buying E.Y.E. (more like P.o.S.) I’ll be doubly careful about spending my money on another Source mod turned Steam game.

  8. ColdCoffee says:

    I ordered it… Its going to come with a TF2 hat. I love the ripped off 2142 style of the armor. Animations look very clunky. God did you see those weapon reloads like they are changing a light bulb… Walk animations look like stock source stuff. Animations are becoming very important now and these aren’t good at all. They glossed over way to much stuff which means they aren’t that proud of it. Has an old school feel to it. I’m sure the balance will suck and be a big fail in the long run. But least ill have the last laugh with my tf2 hat! na na na na

    • MrLebanon says:

      cause tf2 hats are worth 20 bucks

    • daf says:

      @MrLebanon Since the only way to get said hat is trough the buying the game, and the game costs that then ye, he could probably sell the hat for a close equivalent value, more if said hat is pre-order only as it will become rarer.

      Of course that all depends on the demand for the hat, or so I’ve been told in Hat economics 101 :)

  9. Dawngreeter says:

    Here’s what bugs me. There’s a token breast-owner in the game. I have issues with this. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it invokes a knee-jerk reaction in me.

    • Unrein says:

      Um… Bugs you why? They don’t seem overtly sexualized and for once a “military” FPS isn’t a complete sausage fest. Recalibrate your brain, man.

    • Droopy The Dog says:

      ….I think he’s satirising the sexism posts from last month…. I’m not even sure anymore, people forget subdued sarcasm translates so well in a text form.

      (Much irony intended)

    • Dawngreeter says:

      No no, ’tis no satire. I honestly had that knee-jerk reaction. I can’t quite place it. Maybe it’s just leftover shock from that Korean TF2 knockoff.

      I agree that the female is not overly sexualized. Looks more than decent, in fact.

  10. tsmike says:

    After Dino D-Day, I’m a bit cautious about pre-ordering. The Source engine doesn’t inspire much confidence either.

    I’ll wait until I hear people’s thoughts on the closed beta.

    • Premium User Badge

      KindredPhantom says:

      Dino D-Day was pretty bad. It was source mod quality rather than retail game quality. Not that all source mod are as bad quality.

  11. Premium User Badge

    KindredPhantom says:

    Check out the first of a series of gameplay tutorials, it shows some in-game footage. http://youtu.be/FhpMOcv2fx0

  12. MadMatty says:

    Problem with Valves vehicle netcode is that it only updates the position of the vehicle graphically every net-packet “frame” instead of setting the course and speed of the vehicle and then having the client render graphically in-between frames by “guesstemating” its course.

    Well actually the stuttering movement seen in Valve´s game when it comes to railway trams and elevators in multiplayer, could be down to errouneus guesstemating code…. why are they stuttering about? it goes one way at the same speed!? could easily be sorted client side – with any luck the whole thing can be fixed with just modifying a few parametres and/or writing the 5 right lines of code-
    mind you, the 5 RIGHT lines of code, which is sometimes easier said than done.

    • krenzo says:

      @MadMatty: Yes, you can add client-side interpolation to vehicles, but that’s not the problem. You need client-side prediction which means the client needs to run a simulation of the vehicle that matches very close to what the server is simulating. This is how player movement is done. You press forward, and you move forward immediately instead of waiting for the server to tell you it’s ok to move. Valve didn’t program this into Source because they never have vehicles in any multiplayer games.

      In addition, you also need to simplify the physics of the vehicles so that they aren’t as computationally intensive to simulate which bogs down the server. By default, you have to simulate the main body, suspension, and wheels, and if each player has a vehicle, you’re simulating 32+128+128=288 objects each frame with many subframe simulations performed. The Source SDK does not have access to performance tuning options for the physics code which makes speeding this up difficult.

      It’s a headache with the only clear answer being don’t use Source if you want vehicles. Just go with Unreal.

    • MadMatty says:

      thats what i said- and interpolation and client side physics isnt much of a problem these days- see Valves elevators- they got two sets of numbers, speed, and vector…neither which change once they get underway, and still stuttering insanely in multiplayer. thats just lame.
      A little more finesse is required for cars, simulating physics client side, which is not exactly a problem, you should see something like Arma 2 vehicles.

  13. Sauronych says:

    CHOOSE not to have an annoying narrator.

  14. Lagwolf says:

    I would be very wary of buying a Source based game. I made the unfortunate decision to buy E.Y.E. on first weekend. Its buggy, freezy, crashy & if you are really lucky hard crashes your machine completely. Their tech support is unhelpful and slow with a less than stellar understanding of the English language.

    Add to this experience the wonderful and funny tear-down of dire Dino D-day by Total Biscuit and its not good for the Source engine.

    • Spider Jerusalem says:

      That’s strange. I haven’t had a single problem with E.Y.E.

      Do you have a 32bit OS?

    • zeroskill says:

      Total Biscuit? You mean that guy that even hates Portal 2? Yeah, thats really an authority. Oh god…

    • thebigJ_A says:

      He doesn’t “hate Portal 2″ specifically, he just doesn’t like puzzle games of any stripe. They just aren’t his thing.

  15. The_Great_Skratsby says:

    From all that I remember as a mod it had a lot of troubled development and drama, though as a stand alone game I just think it’s far too late to the table to offer anything interesting or different; even if it’s competent on its own.

    Which is what separates it from a game like E.Y.E. which may be buggy in its current state and its own brand of incomprehensible, but it has a strong identity and is utterly unique and creative in a wide variety of ways.

    I do suppose the gold standard is Zeno Clash.

  16. Dana says:

    I’llbe playing Red Orchestra 2, so Il’l wait for the promotion and buy it later.

  17. Bilbo1981 says:

    Looks pretty good to me, I love FPS/RTS hybrids. Seeing as theyre removing commander from BF3 (aka bad company 3). I loved playing as commander it ass a whole extra level to the game and can lead to some really interesting games.

    • Jhoosier says:

      I have some great memories of playing BF2142 as commander. I wasn’t very good at it, but it was fun to order people around, and you couldn’t do THAT much damage if you screwed up.

  18. Davee says:

    Mmnh. As much as I like Sci-Fi and Post-Apocalypse settings; I would’ve been more interested a few years back – when there weren’t a lot of good FPS/RTS games/mods around and this looked like an AAA-grade game on all the screenshots (even if it was only a mod). The idea has been done a few times now and the media dosn’t look particularly gorgeous anymore.

    The combat looks like that of many Source mods to me (very basic hit-scan type weapons with a few soulless projectile ones). Of course; I may be completely wrong about this – I haven’t played it after all.

    Unless it gets good reviews and proves really popular; I’ll be too entrenched in RO2 (pardon the pun) – and possibly BF3 – to be bothered really. Maby they should’ve chosen a less crowded time for releasing ND. ;)

  19. hermpesaurusrex says:

    I’ve pre-ordered this. It looks refreshing. I’m tired of the Battlefields and Call of Duty’s. Fuck em’ I want something new. And yeah, EYE sucked balls; big, fat, fugly, donkey balls.

  20. Sardaukar says:

    Preorder now, play the beta, if you don’t like the gameplay, cancel preorder. Seems like a good plan.

  21. Tetragrammaton says:

    0:09 – Weirdest pronunciation of ‘today’ in a trailer?