Recently Christian Allen, a veteran of game development branched off and created his own company Serellan LLC. His new companies vision? To create a hardcore tactical shooter that is build around input from the gamers themselves. To get support he put up a Kick Starter project asking that gamers help by donating. The reason for the donations is to prove to big investors that there is a want for a game of this type on the market.
I was able to catch up with him recently and ask him a few questions about his project, the company, and his vision for the future of tactical shooters. What follows is the email interview with Christopher Allen CEO of Serellan LLC and lead developer on "Game-X".
Firstly, a little bit more about you. You have an extensive back ground, working on games like GRAW and other Tom Clancy titles, and HALO: Reach. What got you into the game developer side of the house?
I got my start as a modder for Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear, after I got out of the Marines. My buddies wanted some mods that no one had made yet, so I started making them. They were popular, and the rest is history!
Being a gamer yourself, what features of games past and present do you like/dislike? Gameplay aspects you love or would like to change?
Co-Op is huge for me. I loved that I could work together with my friends
to conquer challenging situations.
As far as disliking, I don’t like the proliferation of regenerating health. I understand the reasoning for it, but I think it removes that tension from the game. I don’t mind it when it makes fictional sense, like in Halo, but in games that have a modern, realistic setting, it is just weird when you blast a dude with a shotgun and he hides for a few seconds and then comes back and kills you.
I guess one of the main questions on everyones mind is why? Why go out and pull from the players? It seems that today most game developers have taken the stance of "We know what the players want" all the while taking as little input as they can from the people that pay for and play the games they make.
That is one of the whole reasons I wanted to go indie. You can be more responsive to the fans when you don’t have all the layers of management that a big studio has. The key to fan input is to carefully select when that input is appropriate. I’m not going to be asking fans to design AI aiming systems, but why not let them decide whether they want a K2 or a C7A1 assault rifle? Why should I pick my favorite guns, and not give them input on their favorite guns?
How would you guage the overall reaction you got from gamers when you announced your project? Your Kick Starter donations have been growing steadily would you say that there is indeed a want or moreso a need for a game of this nature on the market?
The response has been mostly positive. It’s the internet, so there will always be haters (I think if I had launched a Kickstarter to save puppies at least someone would call me names), but a lot of people are excited about the prospect.
As far as if it is viable, that is what this whole experiment is about. If it turns out not to be, no one is out anything, and we’ll move on to other things. We’ll see. It’s really up to fans to step up and spread the word. We can’t do it all ourselves.
What is it you want this game to do? Apart from actual gameplay aspects, what is it you and your team want this game, as well the development process, to bring to the table?
I think this is an opportunity to show game publishers that there is room for different titles that all don’t copy each other’s features in order to try and grab that coveted 15-24 demographic.
Almost every big developer uses in house game engines and guards those engines very closely. On your forum you mentioned looking at engines that allowed for easy modding. What is your stance on mods and modders? You said you really started this journey as a modder, but to most companies they are seen as a nuisance and have their request for access promptly denied. Do you want to have mods and see what creative players can do with your game 1, 2, or even 3 years down the road?
I’ve been inspired by games like Project Zomboid and Skyrim. They encourage modders, and I think it makes the games better. Modders can do things that the development team didn’t have time to try, or push games in a new direction. Just look at Valve and Counterstrike. Brilliant!
A big question would be cost to benefit ratios. How much of that is going to influence the game? Recent games have been released on PC without features such as VoIP, and the ability to manage squads etc. PC gamers have ranted and raved about it and the universal answer seems to come back "its not worth the time and money". What are your thoughts on that and do you want to do the things those other companies dont or can't?
That’s because the games were developed for consoles first, and then ported to PC. Consoles have things like VOIP built in, so the developers never build the system, and YES, it doesn’t make a lot of financial sense to build them in after the fact (it’s a lot harder to put in a feature after the fact than it is to build it in from the ground up).
It seems like a lot of games coming out these days really focus on individual players, how do you see this project in relation to large gaming communities or clans? Do you see them as something that needs a certain level of attention or acknowledgement?
Clans are hugely important. I worked to add in a Clan system into GRAW2 after Xbox dropped the feature and we didn’t have time to implement it in GRAW. It wasn’t as robust as I wanted, but at least it was there. Clans extend your game and keep it alive, introducing it to new gamers, as they often cross various different games and genres. We plan to reach out to the Clan community and see what systems they have already built and see what we can integrate into the game.
In a market that has become saturated with yearly releases of "Battle of Warfare-field Modern Shooter 18" do you envision this game as a breath of fresh air that so many have hoped and dreamed about for so many years?
That is my hope. I understand why the mainstream shooters are all going that way, because the people writing the checks are afraid of taking risks in this uncertain financial climate. That’s the reason I am trying this experiment, to see if together, we can show the industry that there is room for different games that aren’t all “me-toos.” Some people have criticized us for being too “niche,” but that is the great thing about Kickstarter…we get to see if it is too niche, and if it is…no one loses.
In regard to the yearly "Shooters", do you see this project as being one that shows other developers that "on rail" shooters or "cinema gaming" isn't always the formula to great games? That indeed taking it back to the basics, the meat and potatoes of FPS gaming is still very much a saught after commodity?
Non-linearity has always appealed to me, whether it is in super old school games like Starflight or Wasteland, or modern games like GTA or Fallout3. I have always felt that difficulty+linearity=frustration, while difficulty+nonlinearity=challenge. I learned my lesson from GR2.
Cinematic games like COD or Uncharted are great games. They provide a cool experience that can be thrilling and exciting. But I think there is room for a game that doesn’t need to chase that dog.
During your video you mentioned your Dev Team. Would you care to give us some info on them? What other games have they worked on and are they ready to tackle a game like you have in mind?
Right now due to contract negotiations, I can’t name names, but I can give the background of some of the team members. These are folks who have worked at studios like Red Storm Entertainment (not me), Bungie, Microsoft Games, Monolith, etc. Their pedigree includes F.E.A.R., original Rainbow Six, original Ghost Recon, Condemned, Halo, and more.
What engine would you idealy like to use? Or will you and your team try and make one from scratch if you cant find what you are looking for?
We will be licensing an engine, we are focusing on gameplay, not engine development. Currently evaluating Unity and Crytek, although Unreal isn’t off the table. It needs to support modding, strong AI, and rapid iteration.
How will the multiplayer game differ from the single player. Will it be like most where either SP or MP is an afterthought?
We believe game systems and balance are best developed in Co-Op and Multiplayer. If you can support good Co-Op and MP, SP follows.
What do you see as far as leadership concerning the multiplayer aspect? Are squad leaders and/or commanders important to the game in your opinion?
To me that is the kind of feature that often times is added for fluff. It can be cool, but if the core game systems support team play, than players who are in the game will work together, because if they don’t, they will get their asses kicked. Getting killed is the best motivation to work together (and then put in systems to boot the one ***hole that just wants to teamkill or grief).
Given that your title will be an indie title, how would you like to get your game into the hands of the gamers? Would you work with digital distribution groups like Steam?
Exactly. We will be working with existing digital delivery systems.
In the age of VoIP programs like Team Speak and Mumble, what are your views on in game supported comms? Are they a must have or a must avoid? If it is to be added how will the team go about it?
We will be investigating the best way to deliver voice support. I haven’t brushed up on the best systems yet, but it will be a focus. Ease of use is paramount.
How will you be able to avoid 'too man chefs' in the kitchen? If I understand correctly we are paying money to have the ability to have input into this game. For example what will happen if Joe gets a Platinum level subscription and so does Steve. Joe wants a game that has hats and pay to own weapons like TF2, Steve however wants a realistic tac shooter sandbox. Who wins out?
I think there has been some misunderstanding on this point. We are not opening EVERY decision to the fans. We will choose what people vote on. We aren’t voting on shader technology. It’s not going to be “do you want an open world shooter or a driving game?”
It’s going to be more along the lines of “Where do you want this level to be set, Athens or Paris?” Or “Which do you prefer, the SIG556 or the AR70/90?” It’s amusing to me that people instantly jump from “We want fan feedback.” To “everyone votes on everything and we don’t give a **** about the features.” How do you make that leap?
I really want to applaud your efforts with this venture. Your stance on the development aspect and giving the gamer a voice again really shows that you have our best interests at heart. If more Devs did this I think the gaming industry would grow by leaps and bounds. I wish you the best and look forward to helping out with this title, I really look forward to being able to get hands on with it too! Great job, and good luck