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Mad Maximal: APOX Interview

The unusual-looking post-apocalyptic RTS Apox has just entered beta. Having caught our attention with its fancy maps, flamethrowers, and promises of 32-player matches, we thought it might be a good idea to have a chat with the people making it. So I spoke to Blue Giant Interactive's Mark Currie about the company, the game, Company Of Heroes, and their excitement about developing this RTS. Read on for splendid details.

RPS: Firstly, can you tell us a bit about your studio. I understand this is your first game? Have team members worked on other games previously?

Currie: After working several years in the UK, Vinnie Reddy, our CEO, came back to India to setup a new, independent game company, BlueGiant Interactive. At the time, I was a struggling independent game developer working from my bedroom in America. Vinnie convinced me to come to India to help setup the studio. Vinnie comes from a family of rice farmers. We joked that instead of being BlueGiant Interactive that we should be called Rice Powered Games.

It was a difficult process to grow BlueGiant to its current size of twenty. India is a young country, demographically speaking, and game development is new here. It's hard to find people here with game dev experience. We did reverse outsourcing. Vinnie recruited three game devs from the West, each having a lot of prior game dev experience. Having a lack of experience hurt us in the beginning, but we've come a long way since we started.

RPS: What about the tech? Is this your own engine?

Currie: If a company attempts to make a modern RTS game from scratch, you are looking at at least four years to complete the game. We shaved two years off that time by starting with an existing game as a basis. We started production with my previous indie game Trash and completely overhauled it.

For our rendering engine we went with the open source engine Ogre. Torchlight proved a game can be successful using Ogre. One great thing about Ogre besides being free is that it makes it easier to port to Mac.

RPS: Tell us a bit about the game concept - why post-apocalypse, and why a strategy?

Currie: We went with strategy because of the background of the team – these are the games we like to play. We were big fans of Company of Heroes. We liked what they did in terms of adding detail to RTS genre. We wanted to extend this philosophy be adding more detail such as having limited ammo and fuel. We wanted to let players control unit stances and allow switching of a unit's active weapon.

APOX, like CoH, has strategic sites. However we wanted our games to have a more climatic winning condition. At our strategic sites, you harvest precious resources that must be carried to a construction site. Using a few of these harvested items, you can build a super weapon. Then, using your super weapon, you annihilate your opponent. That's a much more climatic ending, in our opinion. This part of the game feels a bit like Capture-the-Flag type games. It's really fun to intercept a unit carrying a harvested resource item, kill him, and take the resource back to your own base.

Yes, APOX is post-apocalyptic. Like the Mad Max movie, there are no monsters or mutants. We hope this aspect will appeal to adults. We like the level of technology of this genre. We avoided ultra-high tech things like lasers and mechs.

RPS: Is it purely multiplayer or will there be a single-player campaign?

Currie: We have a strong focus on multiplayer and community. We have a match-making lobby, leaderboards, stat-tracking, clans, and tournaments. For single player, you can play in scrimmages with AI-controlled bots. We have several maps and game modes designed specifically with single-player in mind. It would have been great to have a story-driven campaign, but we decided to put more focus towards multiplayer instead.

RPS: What is like with 32-players in a game? How many units does each player control?

Currie: Massive games are awesome. They are very chaotic. You can be playing at the top of your game, taking out nearby opponents – then suddenly a huge enemy wave comes rolling through your area of the map, and it's over for you. It's certainly the case that the larger the game, the less impact each individual player has on the outcome. That said, it feels really epic to be in massive games with massive battles. And when you are that one guy in the massive game that actually makes the difference, it's really rewarding.

We designed APOX to encourage players to have around five to a dozen units at any given time. We give the player lots of things to control – which weapon to use, whether to prone, what grenade to use, which vehicles to put your soldiers in. Since you have so many options, we tried to keep the unit count to a manageable number. That said, we don't have any strict unit pop limit. If you want to sit back and make a massive army, you can – but doing so might backfire. You might lose teammates during that time.

RPS: With stance controls for individual units, the game sounds a little like Men of War? What would you say were the big influences on the game?

Currie: We only became aware of Men of War recently. Definitely Company of Heroes was a huge influence for us. Now that we know what we do about MoW, it seems to me that CoH was influenced by the prior games the MoW guys made. Anyway, APOX is like these games in that you generally control a small number of units but you have lots of options for what do with them. Our game is like MoW in that we have different stances like prone, crouch, and stand. But the crouch stance for us is automatic. We tried to find a sweet spot as far as adding new details to the gameplay without making it overly complex. I would say APOX sits somewhere between MoW and Company of Heroes in terms of details like that.

RPS: You seem keen to talk about the map editor, are you hoping for a lot of community content?

Currie: We know if we give good tools to the community, they will make good content. We have a nice mission/map editor. You can do almost anything with it. It has advanced scripting. You can import asset from any commercial 3d software package, or you can just use assets from the game's library. After we ship the game, we will polish the editor a bit, and then release it as a separate download just as Torchlight did.

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RPS: 100 maps seems like a lot, aren't you worried that players will just pick one or two favorites?

Currie: Our game needs 100 maps. We support up to 32 players. That means you can have 1v1, 2v2, 3v3...16v16. That's sixteen categories of maps right there. We also support free-for-all modes—3 to 32 players with every man for himself. We also support team-free-for-all. For example you can have 3v3v3v3v3. The team-free-for-all mode is something you don't seen much in other RTS games, but it's really fun.

As you can see there are many, many combinations, and each configuration has its own set of maps. Each mode offers a different gaming experience, and the maps should be customized accordingly. Originally we planned to have only dynamically generated maps. But these maps just weren't as good as maps made with the human touch.

RPS: When do you expect to release the game? And will it be purely via digital download?

Currie: We'll be releasing in late 2010. It will be released both in retail and as a digital download, both PC and Mac.

RPS: Anything else you're excited about that you'd like to share with the RPS readership?

Currie: Sign up for our closed beta! Mention RPS in the comment field, and we'll give you priority beta access!

RPS: Thanks for your time.

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Jim Rossignol