An extended interview with Scott Brown, President of NetDevil, the developers behind Auto Assault, who answers our questions about the fastest, most destructive MMO ever, which will be available from NCsoft simultaneously in Europe and the USA later this year. You can read more about the game on its European website.
Eurogamer: What actually happens when you start work on a massively multiplayer project like Auto Assault? Do you just wake up one day thinking "massively multiplayer vehicular combat" and then sit down with graph paper?
Scott Brown: When we started NetDevil we had several game ideas we wanted to develop that seemed to be ignored in the MMO space. A car combat game was one of our favourites and NCsoft believed in the idea and so production began. The very beginning stage of development was putting together a small product design document and some example screens of what playing the game would look like. From there the ideas begin to flow in, concepts of creatures and the world, are started all while the technology begins being developed to make it all happen. Amazingly, Auto Assault today is very similar to those very first documents. We have always had a clear vision of what we wanted Auto Assault to be and seeing it now is so exciting for all of us.
Eurogamer: Which would you say is the bigger influence - genre trends at the time of conception, perceptions of what people will be looking for at the end of the development cycle, or your own personal creative aspirations?
Scott Brown: Really its finding something that both meets our personal creative aspirations that we also believe will have a significant market presence. With any large project like this that you are going to be pouring your life into for many years you have to be passionate about what you are developing. At NetDevil we only make games that we would want to play.
Eurogamer: Obviously it takes years to develop games and the nature of technology and particularly Internet technology is unpredictable. How do you go about planning in the face of that kind of obstacle? Presumably working out the median home net connection speed however-many years down the line is absolutely critical?
Scott Brown: You are right that looking into the future of where technology will be is always a bit of a gamble. However, connectivity was not part of what we were concerned about. Even though users today have much better connections than years ago, you really can not make a game that requires tons of bandwidth as any number multiplied by thousands of users is very big. The goal is to try and keep bandwidth as low as possible. We looked ahead in 2001 and decided that we could expect users to have pixel shader video cards, lots of RAM and the CPU power to do full physics simulation.
Eurogamer: What sort of factors do you take into consideration when making those forecasts?
Scott Brown: We look at the rate technology is advancing and what new technologies are people talking about now. You can usually assume that the new technologies are 1 year from high-end systems and 2 years from more of a mid-tier system. I have always assumed that what people are talking about as "wouldn't this be cool" will be a standard in games in a few years.
Eurogamer: Yours is one of the first massively multiplayer games to really push dextrous skill as well as character building. Usually the balance is a lot more in favour of pre-planned strategies. Is this really a case of "now we have the technology to do it, so we're doing it"? Because that implies an incredible technology forecast several years ago...
Scott Brown: This was really one of the core designs of the game from the start. We wanted to combine the adrenaline fun of action games with the long-term enjoyment of RPG-style statistical character development. This has been extremely difficult as there is really nothing like this that exists today to lean on. Once we started looking at solutions for car simulation we realised how amazingly cool it would be if we integrated full physics to create a completely destructible world. Getting physics simulated server side with thousands of players has been no small task either.
Eurogamer: How much did you have to adapt the game during development to fit the progress of Internet technology?
Scott Brown: Not that much really as I said before. Since you have to support so many players all playing at once there is a limit to the amount of data you can send. Also, being the Internet you can also not count on perfectly low latency connections all the time. Auto Assault has been designed to be latency tolerant from the start.
What has really changed is distribution possibilities. When we started almost no software was available online but now more and more people are starting to purchase and download games. NCsoft now has downloadable and in store options for gamers which is pretty cool.
Check back in a fortnight for the second part of our extended Q&A. More details on Auto Assault can be found on the game's website.