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Exclusive Fallen Earth Update Interview - Testing, Timelines, and Flying Fists

Posted Fri, Aug 08, 2008 by Cody Bye

Questions by Cody “Micajah” Bye, Managing Editor
Answers by Lee Hammock, Lead Game Designer on Fallen Earth

For game developers, creating an MMOG is one of the most daunting tasks imaginable. Thousands of man hours are logged in the creation of even the most basic MMOG, and the bigger a project gets the longer it takes developers to produce a final product. So when the group of developers at Icarus Studios opted to create a skill-based, post-apocalyptic title that included real time combat and vehicles, the Ten Ton Hammer staff knew it was going to be a major undertaking. However, it seems the team and their product - which is titled Fallen Earth - are really starting to come together. Recently, the developers announced that they were “feature complete” and ready for testing. To find out more, Ten Ton Hammer’s Cody “Micajah” Bye sat down with Fallen Earth’s lead game designer Lee Hammock and had an in-depth discussion about the game and its progress thus far. Please enjoy!


The developers behind Fallen Earth have really made some outstanding improvements to the in-game graphics.

Ten Ton Hammer: Over the past month, you’ve really made a point to show off all of the new artwork and models going into Fallen Earth. Have the graphical upgrades been a recent push or were they simply churning in the pipeline until everything was ironed out and you could show them to the public?

Lee Hammock: We’ve been working on the graphics upgrade for a good long while and a lot of it has been ready for public exposure for several months, we just wanted to save it for a big constant media push rather than trickle out some bits and pieces.  Things are moving pretty quickly for us now and we want to keep interest constant rather than just create interest spikes every few weeks.  We’re going to be continuing our weekly updates, including screenshots, for awhile longer and as always we’ll continue the Question of the Week feature on our forums.  

Ten Ton Hammer: Recently, you announced that Fallen Earth was “feature complete” and ready to begin testing. How are you going to be rolling out the Alpha testing positions? Will this Alpha test go beyond the “friends and family” sort of stage we often see?

Lee: Currently we’ve got a Friends and Family test running following the “If you screw up I can punch you in the face,” rule to only recruit people personally and we know won’t break the NDA, will give good feedback, etc.  In the coming weeks we’re going to be running a wider Alpha Tester recruitment process through Gamespot.  That pool of Alpha testers will be increased steadily over time until we’re ready for closed beta testing.    

Ten Ton Hammer: If you could have the Alpha testers concentrate on one thing, what would it be?

Lee: Combat.  It’s the meat and potatoes of our game, so we want it to be as fun as possible.  Being an FPS system with a strong PvE element we’re doing something not many other MMOs have done and we still have fine tuning to work out.  We’ve got lots of bugs and stuff to work out in missions, crafting, etc but the only thing that I real think needs fine tuning in terms of overall feel is combat.  

Ten Ton Hammer: Now that you’re feature complete, what’s the next big step in your development process aside from becoming content complete? What kind of information should gamers expect over the course of the next few months?

Lee: Really, aside from content complete we’re primarily focused on getting the outside testing process rolling, but most of our energy is being spent on reaching content complete.  We’re concentrating on getting missions, crafting info, vehicle stats, instances, levels, and storylines into the game now.  Our next big goal is to get all of that in the game and running so we can switch over to a primarily bug fixing stage.  Over the next few months players will see how our initial plans may have changed after they’re run through rigorous testing.  Much a no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, no game design doc survives contact with the testers.  

If all goes well, Fallen Earth should be content complete in a few months.

Ten Ton Hammer: What sort of timetable do you have in mind for content completion? Will there be a day when you simply say, this is as good as it can get?

Lee: We’re shooting to have content complete wrapped up in the next few months.  We have a deadline, we’re just not making it public in case something goes wrong and we have to move it.  Then we’ve got scheduled polish/testing time to make sure everything works right, during which we’ll also be working on the first round of expansion material.  

Ten Ton Hammer: As you unveil more and more of the creatures seen in Fallen Earth, it becomes readily apparent that radiation and mutants are going to play a large part in your Fallen Earth storyline. However, are we going to see any “normal” enemies that players can encounter like unmutated humans just bent on violence? What about creatures that have simply “evolved” since the apocalypse?

Lee: We’ve got plenty of non-mutated creatures and people, we just don’t tend to put them in screenshots since most MMOs have wolves, bears, velociraptors, etc.  We’ve got lots of bad people doing bad things to…less bad people and most of them aren’t mutants.  Some of them are rabidly anti-mutant.  

Ten Ton Hammer: Vehicles have also been a big part of the recent image unveiling. What sort of role are vehicles going to play in Fallen Earth? Will they be incredibly important? Will everyone have a vehicle?

Lee: Vehicles are important, but we’re not making a driving game.  Our world is freaking enormous, and without a vehicle or horse it will take a good long while to get anywhere, especially in later sectors as they get bigger with every sector.  Primarily vehicles serve as transportation and cargo haulers, allowing players to store more gear in their vehicle.  They can also be used in combat, but that can get real expensive real fast.  We expect most players to have vehicles or a horse by the time they reach the middle levels of the game, but most won’t get to the higher end vehicles like the Interceptor.  Researching and building vehicles have massive time and resource requirements, so people won’t be churning them out quickly.  

Ten Ton Hammer: Obviously it’s been pretty busy few months for the Fallen Earth developers, and there have probably been a large number of changes to the game and the general gameplay. Is there anything that has been adjusted that the gamers should know (or care) about?

Lee: We haven’t made a lot of large scale changes aside from the graphics upgrades; it’s mainly been tweaks here and there.  Making melee combat faster, improving reticle control, adjusting movement speeds to make PvP more fun, etc.  The biggest change we’ve done overall is revamping the tutorial to be more intertwined with the history of the game and to show the player more of what the game is about at middle and high levels.  The old tutorial was sort of a relatively low key zombie killing experience where the players were armed with a revolved and a pipe, while the new one has vehicles, machine guns, rocket launchers, mutant super soldiers, and lots of explosions.  

Ten Ton Hammer: Fallen Earth has now been in development for quite some time. Personally, what’s been the most challenging part of the whole process? The most exciting part?

Vehicles will certainly play a large role in Fallen Earth

Lee: Most challenging: the longer you work on something the harder it is to see the good in it after spending so much time trying to fix the bad.  Our testers have been a huge boon in dealing with this since they’ve really energized us by having tons of positive feedback.  

Most exciting part: seeing people play the game and having a good time.  This comes both from our testers and from internal tests in the office where people don’t want to log off because they’re having such a good time.  

That, and finding a good harvesting node.  Our crafting/harvesting system is like crack.  

Ten Ton Hammer: Is there anything else you’d like to tell Ten Ton Hammer readers and Fallen Earth fans?

Lee: The regular updates are going to continue for the next few weeks and we’ll have more announcements regarding our schedule as they go along.  Check out www.fallenearth.com for more info and the Question of the Week posts every Thursday.  Also thanks to the Ten Ton Hammer folks (who are always a bright spot in the interview schedule at conventions) for letting us do this update.
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