Against all odds, the Triads are rising again. After an attempt at performing some dark form of necromancy on Duke Nukem blew up in its face, mod-group-turned-developer Interceptor emerged mostly not-hideously-disfigured. And then, in a wondrous moment of happenstance, a resurrected Apogee offered the team the Rise of the Triad license, and the rest is history. During QuakeCon, I got the chance to play a very early version of the blindingly fast, unabashedly silly old-school FPS (hint: there is something called 'Dog Mode') and talk with Interceptor CEO Frederick Schreiber about what makes Rise of the Triad worth remaking, what sets it apart from other modern "old-school" shooters, why Interceptor thinks zany fun's better than balance, mods, whether or not it's bitten off more than it can chew with an incredibly short development cycle, and more. He also howled at me. It was kind of amazing.
RPS: For a lot of people, this remake came out of nowhere. I even saw a tweet that was like "A Rise of the Triad remake? So we've finally run out of things to remake, huh?" Do you think people are just knee-jerking?
Schreiber: This has been a thing we've wanted to do for a long time. It's all about licenses. So even though we may want to remake something, we can't because of license issues. The whole Duke Nukem thing was that we secured the rights to Duke Nukem. We wanted to do Duke Nukem, we wanted to do Rise of the Triad, we wanted to do Shadow Warrior. Those were our three big things. At that point, the only one we could get license to was Duke Nukem. And that's a whole other story, but we had to cancel the game because it was such an unfair deal for Interceptor. Then we were offered Rise of the Triad, and it was like "Oh yes! Finally!"
RPS: So why did you single out Rise of the Triad initially? What makes the original so special that it's worth reviving 17 years later?
Schreiber: Back then, a lot of competing games came out. Duke Nukem 3D came out the year after, Doom came out the year before. So Rise of the Triad was this small middle game. It pretty much had a year to itself. But it got a huge fan following, mostly because it's so insane. The original developers just decided "OK, let's make all the insane things we can think of - that we would never normally implement in a game." It's like "We could do this and that and this and that." And they were like "Well, let's just do all of those things!" That's why it's so beloved.
The multiplayer has a lot of fans, again, because it was so insane. Extremely fast-paced. Almost too fast-paced. The cool thing about it is that it's just about having fun. In most multiplayer games, you pretty much can't be unbalanced. And sure, there are weapons that are used way more than others. But, you know, everybody is just having fun. Rise of the Triad was all about having fun - not thinking so much about story and realism and stuff like that. Just having fun and making stuff blow up. But it was also a bit more skill-based. So that's why we decided to remake it.
RPS: How much is the focus here on remaking Rise of the Triad in a very literal way - reproducing exact levels, etc - versus recapturing its spirit using modern technology?
Schreiber: It's more recapturing the spirit of the original. We think of it as a reboot, because we're basing all our levels on the original levels, but we definitely have to change up some things. Back then, they [did some pretty silly things]. Like, one of the original levels is a letter. Like, "Hi, I'm Ryan A." That's a level. So we took the best from the old and did some new stuff on top of it.
All the weapons are the same weapons, but we have re-envisioned them all. Same with all the characters.
RPS: But the main character in the demo I played was, well, you. Were you in the original game? Are you a time-traveler?
Schreiber: Well, the old developers were in the original game, so we're doing that too. And it's the same with the weapons and the bosses and the pickups and the power-ups.
RPS: Obviously, there's quite a gulf between what you're doing and the majority of modern shooters. But you're not entirely alone. Games like Serious Sam, Hard Reset, and Painkiller have attempted to recapture old-school glory with varying degrees of success.
Schreiber: Well, a lot of developers are now trying to create back-facing games again. But no one's taking the chance to just go nuts. They create a game that's like "OK, we have multiplayer. We have a lot of weapons, and they all work like in Unreal Tournament or Quake - but they work a little bit differently and the name's different." So we wanted to take that idea, but just go crazy. Like, if we think too much about needing a railgun-type weapon, because someone needs to be able to snipe, fuck that. We need six rocket launchers that all do different crazy things! That's what we need. That's our state of mind.
RPS: And having just played it, it's certainly unbalanced and very glitchy, but it's also really fun. And I'm not sure if ridiculously over-the-top weapons (the Flame Wall is my favorite) and zany humor can make up for frustration that might arise due to unbalanced weapons, but I definitely like what you're trying to do. Realistically, though, do you think you'll have to fix that?
Schreiber: We will balance some things over time, but we'll balance them to a level where it'll still be the original weapon. Like, even though the original weapon was unbalanced, we'll change a few things so that - to the naked eye - it doesn't actually feel different. But it really is. I mean, with the original Flame Wall, the wall of fire went from one end of the map to the other. It just went through everything. So we want to capture that effect, but we slowed it down. So you can actually outrun it. You can also jump over it. So in that way, we're trying to balance it out.
Or there's the heat-seeker. When we started out with the heat-seeker, it was so accurate. We replicated the original, so it was so accurate that you couldn't run away from it. Past walls, around cars, whatever - it would keep following you. It looked really funny. So we had to nerf that, make the missiles a bit less accurate, and make them a bit slower. So we have balance in the game, but we want the player to feel like "Whoa, this is nuts."
RPS: What's the absolute most batshit thing you have? Is it, er, the bat? With the eyeball and the torrent of flaming baseballs?
Schreiber: Yeah, it's definitely the Excalibat. I don't know what they were thinking when they came up with that. Someone must have taken mushrooms. It's like, "Whoa guys, it's a baseball bat that shoots baseballs in a World-War-II-style setting." That's just so awesome.
There's also a missile launcher that rapid fires ten missiles - like ten, ten, ten, ten - and they just go all over the place and explode. In the original Rise of the Triad, that just killed everyone all the time. We're gonna do the same thing, but we're gonna create small, tiny missiles that don't do as much damage.
RPS: So there's a Dog Mode. Given that I consider myself something of a connoissuer of both dogs and modes, I naturally want to know more.
Schreiber: It's a power-up. We have a bunch of power-ups, actually - like one where you can fly around. There are also power-downs, like shrooms mode. You get high and it messes you up.
Dog Mode is a mode where you turn into a dog. So you see a nose and tongue lolling out [from first-person]. And you can get into areas as a dog [that you couldn't as a human]. Primary fire mode is biting people in the crotch, and they die instantly. Or you can hold down the mouse buttons to howl [makes frighteningly accurate howling sound], and everything just explodes around you. That's Dog Mode. It's super awesome.
RPS: You're five months into development, and you plan to have the game out by early 2013. But obviously, there's still a long, long way to go. I mean, single-player doesn't even have AI yet. So how do you plan to pull this off? And how do you keep polish from being an issue? This is, after all, your first commercial product after spending your career as a modder. Are you worried that you've bitten off more than you can chew?
Schreiber: We chose the right game to do this with. So we want the graphics to be triple-A. We want the gameplay to be extremely tight. But we've selected a game to remake that doesn't require us to have a story writer or cinematic directing of cut-scenes or things like that.
Development's going really great. We're around 55 or 60 percent done right now. We have 80 percent of all our single-player levels done. We only need to create two more out of our 14 weapons. So we're getting there. The AI is high-priority right now. I mean, ideally, we could spend two years creating a game, but having a game in development for so long without sharing what we're doing is something we want to avoid. We want the game out there. That way, people can play it and help us out. Fans can be like "Hey, we want this," and we can add it. Minecraft, for instance, came out and kept constantly adding to the game. We want to do the same thing.
RPS: But there's a difference. Minecraft launched as an alpha. Notch didn't even try to pretend it'd be polished or ready for primetime. Sure, he charged for it, but he was very upfront about it all. Meanwhile, your plan is to launch on Steam as an essentially "finished" product.
Schreiber: Right. We want to release the final game.
RPS: So where's the line between that and having your customers act as glorified beta testers? What, in your opinion, are the absolute essentials here?
Schreiber: We're definitely not going to use them as beta testers. What we're hoping to do is, if the players say, "Wouldn't it be cool to have a new shotgun," we'll add it. All of our DLC will be free. We'll do map packs. For instance, people might want old levels completely one-to-one with the original Rise of the Triad. And, if so, then cool, we'll do that.
So the game that gets released, we want that to be for the old-school hardcore gamers. And then we'll have fun with it. Add new stuff, add new weapon types. You know, go crazy with it.
RPS: You seem pretty set on the early 2013 release window, but you're also willing to add more post-release. So, if need absolutely be, would you delay it? Or would you cut a couple features and stitch them back on - for free, obviously - a bit later?
Schreiber: We won't announce the release date before we're ready to announce. So that might be one month before release or two months before release. But when we're at the point where the game's pretty much done and there's only bug-fixing, then we'll announce the date.
RPS: So it's PC-exclusive and at a fairly attractive price point, but why opt for that over F2P?
Schreiber: Well, the whole idea behind F2P is that you don't pay, and then - if you like certain stuff - you purchase new content. Our game is primarily single-player. We don't to release a game and make you feel like you have to pay to get this weapon. We want to deliver an experience where people can sit down and just play through the entire game. Offline. LAN. Everything. They can play through it the way they want to. But if we did Rise of the Triad as a multiplayer-only game, we'd definitely do F2P.
RPS: You're focusing on what you call "old-school level design." And sure enough, I saw a big spinning death trap and a fair amount of openness in the level you showed me. There weren't any hamfisted "choices" or anything like that - although you did make the "choice" to walk into the horrible deathtrap and get chopping into little pieces.
Schreiber: The old-school, original levels were pretty much open-ended. You had an exit, and how you got there was your call. Like, remember the first level in Duke Nukem 3D? You could go to a cinema, you could go out the back, you could go anywhere. Meanwhile, a new game - Call of Duty, for example - [restricts you].
RPS: I totally agree. But old-school level design wasn't perfect. A lot of it was dead-end-ridden, confusing, and fairly nonsensical. How much are you "modernizing" it?
Schreiber: We do a bit of both. We don't want this game to be one where you're getting your hand held. It's a hardcore game. So if you start the first level and expect that it'll just lead you through it as an experience, you will be like "OK, where the fuck do I go now?" But if you're an old-school level fan, you'll have a pretty good time playing through.
I mean, there were some levels in the original Rise of the Triad that were insane - impossible to get through almost without having a strategy guide. We've cut those out and streamlined some things, but it's still an old-school level design-based game. And that's something we embrace. A lot of people think "Oh no, we can't ship like this. Our player won't see this scripted event here." But the way we see it, if you play through our game again, you'll just have a different experience.
RPS: You're all about mod support, which is great - especially since you're going with Steam Workshop integration out of the not-box.
Schreiber: Yep, the game will launch with Unreal Editor, so you can make your own levels. We supply all of our code, so you can go crazy and create a Flame Wall that goes everywhere or something.
[Note: Interceptor also later confirmed to me that there are plans to highlight really great mods on a regular basis even outside of Steam Workshop. They're also hopeful about getting on mod services outside of Steam - ala Nexus, etc.]
RPS: How about a more accessible mapmaker than Unreal Editor, though? Is that something you'd consider?
Schreiber: No. Mostly because mapmaking in Unreal is actually pretty easy. The editor hasn't changed that much since 1999, and neither have the tutorials and guides. If we were ever going to do something like that, it'd be for a console version.
RPS: Thank you for your time.