Ex-BioWare Devs Fuse Tribes And An Open World In Epoch

By Nathan Grayson on March 13th, 2014 at 11:00 am.

I hope they add a stretch goal that lets us vote for a better name than Epoch: Return

As long as this planet continues to spin, there will be a new Intriguing Kickstarter From Folks Who Used To Work On Major Triple-A Franchise X Of The Day. In this case, that Kickstarter is one for Epoch: Return, and the games that once – at least, in pieces, like so many tinker toys scattering from a bucket – emerged from developer Innate’s collective brain are Mass Effect and Dragon Age. But to be perfectly honest, Epoch doesn’t really bear much family resemblance to its distant BioWarian cousins. It takes place on a colossal, open planet that’s ripe for exploring, and you traverse it by way of high-flying momentum-based leaps that strike me as a midpoint between Mirror’s Edge and Tribes 2. It still looks rather floaty, insubstantial, and, well, early, but I definitely like the idea. Watch below.

The story focuses on a husband and wife explorer duo who end up stranded on – what else? – a world where everything is just hunky dory and also made of candy. Wait no, sorry, I meant a strange alien planet packed, jawbreaker-like, with layer upon layer of unknowable danger. Their relationship will apparently be put to the test as they attempt to repair their ship, escape certain doom, and all that good stuff.

The game will be an open-world explorer, but with a premium on mobility and traversal. Or, in short, this:

  • Moving, personal story designed by industry veterans of such titles as Mass Effect and Halo 4, where the player gets the final say
  • First-person terrain traversal gameplay – leap, slide, and slope-run across the barren landscape
  • Freedom to explore an enormous alien world and discover its secrets however the player wishes
  • Epic, symphonic-electronic soundtrack of haunting themes, using live instruments and analog synthesizers
  • Vivid and impactful visual design inspired by classic animation to encourage curiosity and inspire exploration
  • Narrative Design integrated across all disciplines to focus on immersion and emotional engagement
  • Launching for Windows on PC.  We plan to make other platforms part of our stretch goals.

Looks solid, although I’m kinda sad that the wife seems to be removed from the action entirely and, indeed, might just end up a voice chattering in your ear every once in a while. “She’s not a princess who needs to be rescued,” they say, but out of sight, largely out of action isn’t much better. Here’s hoping I’m just misreading it all and she gets some good opportunities to push the plot forward.

Movement still needs some major polish, but I do love the idea of a freely explorable planet where I can ski around like the most carefree of Tribes super-soldiers frolicking in a hovering dandelion field. And the environments look just desolate enough to oppress with their atmosphere while also disguising a thick, nougaty center of secrets.

It’s also worth noting that the Innate team referenced Mass Effect 1 on multiple occasions, and this does seem kind of like an ideal version of that game’s planetary exploration. Hopefully this time it turns out a lot, you know, better.

There’s definitely potential here, but Innate unfortunately does not possess the innate ability to print infinite money. So of course they’ve taken to Kickstarter, where they’re seeking $150,000. Certainly not a modest sum, but not unachievable either.

What’s your take on Epoch: Return? Are you going to back it?

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47 Comments »

  1. Philopoemen says:

    Have backed, but I’m sort of iffy on their maths. <150 backers thus far, but over $19k pledged.

    Nathan Moller did a reddit AMA http://www.reddit.com/r/AMA/comments/209eyd/mass_effect_dragon_age_halo_4i_designed_on_these/ to plug it, but information about E:R got lost in the mix of why Halo 4 sucked, and why did he (Moller) ruin everything from his lofty heights of cut-scene director…

    • bills6693 says:

      Hmm, yeah. Looking at Kicktraq (http://www.kicktraq.com/projects/270067936/epoch-return/) the average backer pledge as I write this is $141. Thats waaaay too high to be legitimate.

      It might not necessarily be underhanded tactics like have been seen in some games (e.g. the dev who backed himself for $10k to make the project seem like it was doing well to attract others and get their money). It could just be that friends, family and industry contacts knew this game was going on kickstarter before it launched, and they wanted to give their support and put down larger amounts of money. The highest single backer is £300 (x2) so its not that there is some ridiculously high tier backer.

      Have put this on the ‘remind me’ list and will see how its going and if that backer curve normalises out.

      • DrMcCoy says:

        Well, at least one of the lower-tier backers must have added a lot of extra money for the average of $140 to work out. Just adding all backer amounts together (assuming everyone pledged only the tier amount) gives you about $4500, an average of $32 per backer.

      • star5CR34M says:

        It was averaging like $25/backer yesterday. It’s not possible there’s a well off friend of the project? I know Nate personally, and he doesn’t do shady stuff like that.

        • bills6693 says:

          Fair enough, and as I said that cannot be at all ruled out – someone generous donating. Just odd they didn’t back for a higher tier too (especially given what the above comment said about totals added).

          And he may not have but someone in the studio? Heck could even be a fan planning a big support to raise its profile even though they’re not going to see it through. I just feel that at this stage, especially with no ‘early bird’, it doesn’t hurt to wait and see, make sure it doesn’t look like dodgy things are going on. I make copious use of the ‘remind me when its 48 hours to go’ button on kickstarter and this one is included – and the concept looks so good, I’m probably going to back it.

  2. Viroso says:

    Not going to kill the wife but make her a housewife instead.

    I don’t particularly care but felt the impulse to point this out the moment they said she was the ship mechanic and he was out there exploring.

    • bitesize says:

      Would be great if you could have the option to have the husband on the ship & the wife out exploring… But that would mean twice as much voice work/animation work etc.

      • Viroso says:

        I think they wanted someone to give directions to the player and wanted a female voice to do that. I hadn’t realized before but this is kinda common.

      • SuicideKing says:

        This “twice as much to do the female character(s) properly” is the most pathetic excuse in the industry at this point.

        BIS gave it for Arma 3, then proceeded to announce that Zeus mode, while their main game is still unfinished and has lots of basic bugs.

        • The Random One says:

          Well, at least you know it’s not an excuse – they’re legitimately unwilling to do work that would please their players.

          • SuicideKing says:

            Yeah that’s true. But as someone who paid to alpha and beta test the game for them, in the hopes that it would be the the most satisfying military shooter, i’m annoyed.

    • Philopoemen says:

      To be honest, it reminded me a little of that latest Tom Cruise movie (whose name I have forgotten/deleted from memory) where Tom goes gallivanting around fixing robots, and Mrs Tom tells him to stay safe a lot.

    • mashkeyboardgetusername says:

      I didn’t get a vibe of the wife being useless, given she’s both the pilot and engineer and he’s just some grunt, and my impression is that the developers think of her as being capable. But we’ll have to see if any of that comes across in the gameplay in terms of us actually seeing her do cool and impressive engineering-y stuff, or (if one were to perhaps read too much into things) it’s a case of [man] brings [item/food] home, and [woman] makes [hyperdrive/dinner] with it. But as I say, my feeling is she’s not a housewife in terms of being the more skilled of the pair.

      Anyhoo, vaguely interested in this, will have to see how it comes along. I do hope there’s at least a little randomness in the planet (though not full procedural generation) to make replays a bit more interesting, and the game not an exercise in resist-the-wiki. Movement looks cool too.

      • Viroso says:

        Yeah, like, still way too early to talk about anything. But when I said she’s a housewife I didn’t mean that she’s useless. It’s just that their roles really remind me of a breadwinner/housewife dynamic. She stays at the ship, their house, taking care of it, while he goes out to get what they need to blast off.

    • SillyWizard says:

      Seriously? With all the “I want womyn to be in games” yelling going around, these guys make a pivotal, central character female, and it’s not “good enough” because she has the technical skill and her cro-magnon husband who jumps pretty good is the playable character?

      Don’t you people get tired of hearing yourselves?

      • Viroso says:

        I dunno man, don’t you. Look at all the crap you pulled out of nowhere. It’s like you didn’t even read my reply and went into full auto MRA mode or something.

  3. Alien426 says:

    I don’t feel it. Also, Twitter is their “development blog“. A little more commitment would be nice. Show us that you care about the project and at least get a free blog. No need to spend money on a domain name. But give people more than 140 characters.

  4. leandrombraz says:

    About the wife role, I get what you mean but I see an issue on this kind of thinking, it restrict creativity. What if the story they want to tell doesn’t work with the wife in a more active role (assuming she won’t have an active role)? I mean, they want to tell the story about this couple that drive a ship together, with one being the engineer and the other the explorer. Why they should restrict themselves to make the wife the explorer just because people are eager to see woman in active roles? They should tell the story they want to tell, without agenda. If they want to tell a story about a engineer woman that will be fixing the ship while her husband look for ship parts, why they shouldn’t?

    In an ideal world, this shouldn’t bother us. It should be natural for both the husband and the wife assume any of the roles in the game. The writers shouldn’t feel obliged to a specific role for the characters, they should tell the story they want to tell…

    • frightlever says:

      I think the point is that any story that puts the wife is a more passive role isn’t helping the gender struggle.

      I kinda agree with you, but I also think that in this day and age offering people the choice of playing the male or female character as active seems like a given. And even then there’s a panoply of other gender choices not being catered for or to.

      TL:DR doesn’t matter who the main character is so long as they show plenty of skin.

      • pepperfez says:

        It’s not about helping the gender struggle, it just gets boring seeing traditional gender roles carried over to settings where they don’t make much sense. That happens because devs just don’t think about it, not because they have a story that can only be told with active male and passive female protagonists.

      • Hmm-Hmm. says:

        I agree with leandrombraz.. in theory. Some games offer choices some offer none and that’s fine. The Witcher only allows you to play as Geralt, for instance.

        But for me it depends for a large part on how they implement it. That, and if there’s a whole slew of troubling archetypes there probably more reason to step away from that and break the mould. Having the male being the acting party (the one being controlled by the player) is not exactly progressive.

      • Potem says:

        It’s funny how you don’t seem to realize the implications of having to make both male and female characters playable as a given, from a developmental and narrative perspective, how it characterizes your idea of balance as a fundamental hindrance to telling the stories you actually want to tell, to crafting the worlds you want the player to experience. You’re not expanding on the potential of the medium, you are actively restricting it.

    • Josh W says:

      A “home” based role for the female character isn’t exactly the pits though is it? So long as someone is creating active mobile female characters in relationships, having the female character in this game be doing something vital and productive on the ship, and having a good relationship with their husband sounds good.

      Like a few friends of mine are currently on maternity leave looking after their new kids, while their boyfriends and husbands scoot around sorting out money and stuff, it may match a stereotype, but it’s perfectly good, if exhausting.

  5. frightlever says:

    So, Waking Mars – 3D?

  6. DarkFenix says:

    I know I’m being irrational, but seeing ‘Ex-Bioware’ gave me an immediate sinking feeling about this. Kinda the same way seeing the name ‘Peter Molyneux’ makes me stay the hell away from a game.

    • TheTingler says:

      Why, considering nothing Bioware has made apart from Dragon Age 2 is actually bad? And that the last ex-Bioware team Kickstarter was The Banner Saga which was pretty darn good?

      Then again I may have said the same about Peter Molyneux before that Godus alpha fiasco.

      • DarkFenix says:

        Dragon Age 2, SWTOR and Mass Effect 3; the first two were just awful, the latter merely left a very bad taste in my mouth, three strikes. That built up an impression that they just don’t understand what makes a good game any more. That plus they haven’t really made a great game since the BG series, they’ve just been riding its success ever since.

  7. Ashrik says:

    Wow, the difference in the quality between the wife voice actor and the husband voice actor. Someone has got to tell the guy who leave the Buzz Lightyear impression at home.

  8. Coops07 says:

    I read the title as ‘ex-bioware devs: questionable, tribes: good, the end result: unsure’
    Not sure if it this interests me but I’ll keep it on the back burner.

  9. Josh W says:

    About the game itself, sounds good, although they do seem to be doing a little bit of “action voice”, whereas I imagine a pair of explorers used to their company would be much more natural in how they speak, with more history in inflection etc. It’d probably be a good idea for the devs to watch some documentaries about real life explorer families, where there’s that kind of shift between light talking and where things hang a little, and it’s like “this is one of those important things, lovely, I need you to help me with this” and they’ll drop everything to sort something out.

    In terms of open world dynamics, you’d have to be careful about the framing of the relationship; the player will act out whatever he wants to do, regardless of what his character says, and this will shift to some extent how honest his played character starts to appear. Does he say he’ll do something and not do it? Does he do it and go further, suprising his wife?

    The classic logic, from molyneux’s dog to bioshock, is that primarily supporting characters should act as a bonus to what you’re doing, giving you extra things and not putting much demand on you. Conversely, in-ear mission people can work best when a lot of what they do is warning you about things you will otherwise need to deal with anyway if you don’t listen to them, such as saying about enemies in a level design where you are about to meet them whatever you do. In each case, the characters build up a kind of gratitude in the player via optional cooperation that means that when urgent things happen, players are more inclined to listen.

    That might work in this context, or you could have it that most of the requests you receive are done without urgency, so that the overall mission context is in the hands of your wife, and you choose how you approach it. This seems a good baseline to me, allowing freedom to explore, with purpose being defined by the list of things you need.

  10. HisDivineOrder says:

    People remember Tribes? In this day and age of “Titanfall is so aaaamaaaaazing!”, people still remember the real Tribes? Wow.

    Anyways, I look forward to a game with more “gray” decisions where the choices aren’t:

    “You happen upon a kitten and a puppy tied to the train tracks. You:
    1) Twirl your mustache and laugh uncontrollably until a train smooshes them.
    2) Throw yourself in front of the train, derailing it just in the nick of time to protect the puppy and kitten at the cost of your own life.
    3) Untie the kitten and puppy, feed them, and keep them living happily ever after.
    4) Hit the lever to divert the train to a completely unused and abandoned track that also goes to the same place as the track the puppy and kitten are currently tied to.
    5) Take out your rocket launcher, laugh maniacally and blow the train up before it can reach them.”

    Some real gray options would be nice in these “decisions-based” games. I’d also love to see them keep far, far away from “numbers”-based “relations” games. No more “gifts” giving to boost Leliana’s affection toward me after I dumped her by saying, “Morrigan was better in bed.” Oh yeah, I’m sure that Silver Symbol of Andraste is going to really win her back as one of my best friends.

    I think Bioware has a lot left to figure out on the whole “relationships” angle of their games. Let’s hope these guys got it all figured out.

    • El_Emmental says:

      “People remember Tribes? In this day and age of “Titanfall is so aaaamaaaaazing!”, people still remember the real Tribes? Wow.”
      Well, Tribes: Ascend died a few months ago, right ? It wasn’t Tribes 2, but it still had a few elements (HoF, skiing, less hitscan/smg weapons at the beginning).

    • derbefrier says:

      a lot of people praising titanfall are doing so because the freedom of movement is reminiscent of games like tribes well at least those old enough are but yeah the console sites are acting like its revolutionary, and I suppose it would seem that way if your introduction to the arena shooter was COD4.

      I also agree with the other stuff you said about choice. Making every choice so black and white gets boring after about 2 seconds specially when its tied to some system where you have to go with one or the other to get certain bonuses. The real world is never so black and white its time for games to reflect this.

    • drinniol says:

      Play some Larian games. Dragon Commander is pretty but nothing other than shades of grey.

  11. CookPassBabtridge says:

    The characters are absolutely not my cup of tea at all and the constant use of the word ‘baby’ grates somewhat. May be my singleton resentment but this does read like Smug Marrieds In Space having arguments and nearly getting divorced. The game may carry it however.

  12. star5CR34M says:

    I went to college with Nate, and I’m excited for him and his project. Are you folks really complaining about a pedigree that includes juggernauts like Mass Effect and Halo 4? It’s really funny to read stuff like this when you know someone personally.

  13. AyeBraine says:

    Super-cool continuation of their own great idea, mass effect (the effect, not the game) that was under-developed in the actual Mass Effect games, considering its originality and flexibility.

  14. Phillibuster says:

    Backed! Really looking forward its development!

  15. Wonkyth says:

    I’m interested. Plz moar Tribes-likes, but without all those OP heavy morons. >:(
    I’m interested to see how they ramp up the gameplay beyond simple traversal. (although that’ll probably be enough make my day anyways!)

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