In 2010, game developers Zombie Studios released Blacklight: Tango Down, a first person shooter set in the near future and with a heavy emphasis on multiplayer. The original game was made available for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 for a $15 download. Now the same team is developing the sequel but this time the game will be PC only and will be free to play with additional content available via microtransactions. Blacklight Retribution, published by Perfect World, is just entering its open beta phase today after months of closed beta testing.
So what makes this game different than the other PC free-to-play shooters that have been released already? We got a chance to learn more about Blacklight Retribution with an interview with Zombie's executive producer Andy Kipling.
First, the original Blacklight game came out a while ago. Why did you decide to make the sequel a free-to-play shooter?
When we first set out to create the Blacklight shooter IP, we had originally wanted it to be a free-to-play (F2P) game. We had seen the huge success of the F2P games in Asia, which was pretty crazy because the gameplay and the quality of the game were at odds with how successful they were. In short, the F2P market looked like it was stuck in the late 90s. We saw that as an opportunity. However, at the time, no one was interested in developing F2P titles. We shopped around, but publishers were primarily interested in competing with Call of Duty, not making F2P games.
Of course, that has all changed now and it seems that everyone is trying to get a F2P game out. During that time, we did what we could and we ended up signing the game as a downloadable title only. XBLA / PSN and digital distribution in general was a runner-up option. That said we still see a ton of potential with the console's networks, but it was a logical first step for us to think about digital distribution. We’re big believers in the idea of games as a service, rather than as a product.
As a developer, we are contracted to build games, but then turn the game over to the publisher to do everything after it is launched. This essentially means that we are not in control of our own destiny, which can be frustrating for us because we poured our lives into making this game. We want to continue to support it, interact with our community and more. In a traditional retail ship style game development, little of that allowed unless you are a major developer and have enough clout to throw your weight around. Free-to-play met the bill of what we wanted to do on many levels and Perfect World Entertainment has been a great partner.
We are launching a game that will allow us to interface with our customers, respond to them and improve the game. Blacklight Retribution is all about the customer service style model and building a solid service, as opposed to just putting out a product and moving to the next one. Why a shooter? Well, because that is what most of us love playing, and we have a lot of experience in developing shooters. Moreover, Blacklight Tango Down was a shooter, and we didn’t want to change the style of game too much from the original.
The game takes place in the near future. How does that setting affect the gameplay?
It opens up worlds of possibilities for us. Having worked on more than my fair share of "realistic shooters" or "modern day shooters" – your creativity is largely chained to what exists today and really a lot of that is defined. However, people (us developers included) don't necessarily want fantastic things that are just over the top and literally unbelievable. For example, people like the fact that their seems to be some scientific understanding behind much of the fiction in Star Trek, even though it is fictitious and pretty fantastical; it still makes sense and is believable. That is what the near future allows for us in our game development. We call it science fact – we can have some pretty cool technology and gameplay systems that have not been seen in today's world, but are still very much based on factual things that do exist today. This allows the user to jump to the futuristic elements from a solid and stable understanding of what is out there today.
Of course the biggest of these science fact systems is the HRV. Hyper Reality Visor (or Vision depending on who you are talking to) is a key gameplay feature in the Blacklight universe. It basically amalgamates a 3D image from all the various electronic stimuli and data feeds in the environment around you and constructs a real time 3d image of the world around you; providing you with more data than you would otherwise get with your two eyes. HRV allows players to see through walls, easily identify friends vs. foes, locate level objectives, see deployed enemy equipment and more. It also leads to a very fast paced game where players are rarely standing still. The other great thing about HRV is that you are never left looking for the action or wondering where it is. You can easily find it by turning on HRV and moving in the direction of your enemies.
What can you tell us about the game modes that will be included in Blacklight Retribution?
Blacklight Retribution is shipping with your basic set of game modes including: Team Deathmatch, Deathmath (or Free For All), Domination, Capture the Flag and King of the Hill. Our domination game mode follows the same style that we developed for Tango Down. Players can cap a domination point by holding it with their teammates, or by hacking the communications node to take it over immediately. This leads to some pretty fast paced and hectic gameplay. King of the Hill is another favorite, where the hill point is another communications style node that has been deployed to various areas of the map. Players fight for control over the nodes, one at a time and capture it by holding it. Of course as a free-to-play title, we are always adding more gameplay systems and features. We may have some additional game mode surprises up our sleeves as well. Come out and play and see what we deliver in the near future.
What sort of weapons will be available in the game?
What sort of weapons aren't available in the game would be a more appropriate question! We have a very elaborate and complex weapon system that is all about customization. Rather than releasing 25 different weapons, we will be starting out by releasing 6 core different primary receivers. We also have numerous secondary receivers as well. These receivers can then be outfitted or customized with new or different barrels, stocks, magazines, ammo types, scopes, optics, iron sights, grips, camo paint, muzzles and even our Weapon Tags. Weapon Tags are essentially charms that players can hang from their weapons that provide additional stat bonuses, in a subtle way. They make the gun that much more personal and gives the weapon a bit of a signature feeling to it. Our receivers include a light machine gun, sub machine gun, assault rifle, semi-automatic combat rifle, a bolt action rifle, light pistol, heavy pistol, machine pistol, shotgun, burstfire pistol, burstfire bullpup rifle and a revolver.
We also have a ton of gear options that players can choose to load out with from defensive gear, to offensive gear, to straight up utility items that can be utilized to support different tactics. Additionally, we have what we call our tactical gear, which is more of a game changer than your standard gear items. These items include backpacks that allow players to heal teammates, revive teammates, repair items, cloak themselves, utilize different aspects of the hardsuit and more. There is just too much to describe here. You really need to check it out and go through all the various options and build a character and weapon set up that allows you to play and perform exactly as you want to.
Lastly, we also have heavy weapons, those items that you can get from the weapon depots in game. Weapon Depots are in-game kiosks, where players can purchase heavy weaponry with Combat Points that they earn in that match by completing objectives and killing enemies. Once you get enough combat points, players can go to a weapon depot and purchase one of 5 items. Before the match, the player can customize what 5 weapons he has available to him at weapon depots. The current list of available weapons at depots include: grenade launchers, anti-vehicle rocket launchers, anti-personnel rocket launchers, health and ammo refills, air strike weapons, mini-guns, rail guns and of course the hardsuit targeter.
What can you tell us about the game's Hardsuit and how it is used?
In short, the hardsuit is a wailing tank; a small device that allows you to designate an area to have a hardsuit air dropped into. It has a ton of health and current versions of it come equipped with an arm mounted mini-gun and an arm-mounted rail gun. It is a very fun element to the game and adds a level of combat escalation that is really enjoyable. Sometimes you run in fear when you see hardsuits, other times you go hardsuit hunting where you are just looking to steal the enemies’ prized weapon. The hardsuit will only work outside and it takes a bit of time, so be careful. However, if you can get your hardsuit properly deployed to the battlefield, it can be a game changer. It moves slowly, but when it gets to an area it can do some heavy damage.
With that said, we did not want it to be a situation where players had to just run from it and had no way of taking it down. To that end, every Hardsuit has a randomly generated weak point. That weak point is subject to small arms fire, so a player can quickly and easily take down a hardsuit if they focus on the weak spot. The trick though is finding that weak spot and exploiting it. For that, HRV comes in handy. Hardsuits are probably best used with multiple supporting units around it. They can be taken down quickly by people who know what they are doing. So utilizing teamwork and various tactical gears will really support your hardsuit play experience. Alternatively, the weapon depot is a great anti-hardsuit component. There you can get an AV Rocket Launcher that does focused damage on the hardsuit, or equip a flamethrower and burn the pilot out of the suit and take it over for yourself.
What other features do you think are important in Blacklight Retribution?
Since Blacklight Retribution is a multiplayer game, the community is paramount. We really spend a lot of time focusing on creating a game that not only has great gameplay and is fun to play, but also a game that has a lot of support systems to support that gameplay including clan support, stats, awards, ranked matches and so forth. While we are still growing the game, we really want Blacklight Retribution to have a strong presence in the FPS gaming world. To that end, we are building tools and systems that will allow us to gain strong support on the community side and create gameplay that is super solid. There are a lot of other cool features in Blacklight Retribution so the best thing you can do is to simply download and check out the game for yourself at http://www.PLAYBLACKLIGHT.com. Afterall, it's free so you have nothing to lose.
The game is about to go into open beta. What kinds of new features and content can players expect when it goes live?
We plan to have an actual release from Open Beta, but in Open Beta, anyone can now play the game. We are working on developing a steady stream of new content, gameplay and systems. We already have a huge list of things we want to do, plus things from our users that they (and us) want to do. There is a lot more coming. We will be releasing new game modes, weapons, maps, features and systems, and of course bug fixes and balance fixes. Again, reiterating the "games as a service" model, we are all about creating longevity for Blacklight Retribution. Therefore, we will be doing whatever we can do to help improve the game and the player's experience.
Since the game is designed as free-to-play, how much can players expect from the game's free aspect and what will be available via microtransactions?
Well, this is a really important issue to us. A lot of people are extremely concerned about any sort of game that is free-to-play, because they think that they have to pay in order to win and stay competitive. That is not the goal here. From our perspective, the logic is pretty simple and straightforward: Blacklight Retribution is a multiplayer game. With any multiplayer game, you need to have people online and playing in order to keep the game alive and running. Of all your players, you can expect that the great majority, say 90 percent, will never spend any money on the game. Given that 90 percent of players is our bread and butter, those are the people that we need to make sure are happy and content to play the game. Because if they are not happy, they will quit and go someplace else. And then, at that point, you are going to alienate the 90 percent of your fan base and when they leave, the 10 percent who may actually be spending money will also leave. There goes any money you were trying to make and that spells the end of the game.
Therefore, from a business perspective and from a balance and game design perspective, our goal is to ensure that the game is not a pay to win game – ALL users, both those who pay and those who don't are enjoying and loving the game. From a microtransactions standpoint, all or nearly all functional items in game will be able to be acquired without spending a dime. You can earn the items simply through playing the game. There will be items that you can shortcut by spending money, but there will also be items that you can't get except by playing the game. Lastly, as a first person shooter, it is imperative for us that the game remains balanced regardless of whether you are spending money or not.
A FPS that functioned more like an RPG, where you could acquire gear or hit points that would make it impossible for a weaker player to take you down, would not at all work in the shooter universe. Rather, in the FPS world, everything is skill based, and gear selections (and microtransactions) are generally all about trading one stat for another, or emphasizing one style of gameplay over another. With that said, don't be surprised if we are tweaking balance variables during Open Beta. It’s all about keeping a level playing field and keeping it fair.
Finally is there anything else you wish to say about Blacklight Retribution?
I said it already, and I will say it again. The game is free so you have nothing to lose by checking it out. Check it out, play it, and let us know what you think! I think you will enjoy it. http://www.PLAYBLACKLIGHT.com.