Interview: Goblin Commander unleashed
20th Oct 2003 | 12:52
Goblin Commander: Unleash the Horde is an RTS for PS2, Xbox and GameCube that's being developed in-house at Jaleco by a team headed up by strategy legends Ron and Chris Millar.
While console owners might be unfamiliar with the pair, the brothers are well known in the PC gaming world for their work on the respected Starcraft, Warcraft and Diablo series' at Blizzard Entertainment.
With such talent at the helm, it's expected that Goblin Commander, which is due next month and deals with the plight of gobos on the world of Ogriss, will be an RTS title worthy of attention. We recently sat down with Ron Millar to find out exactly why we should be sold on a real-time strategy game on console - let's face it, it's a little unusual - and what precisely Goblin Commander has in store.
First off, can you give us a bit of background on Goblin Commander?
Millar: Sure. Goblin Commander is all about controlling chaotic packs of goblins and monsters in a fantasy world that is in the midst of a war. The game features both a top-down strategy component that you would see in typical RTS games as well as the ability to jump in and take direct control of your troops from a third-person perspective.
The game features lots of environment destruction, spells, blood and gore and five distinctly different clans of goblins that have five units and a big monster called a "Titan" each.
The story begins with the player in control of a goblin commander named Grommel. He is in charge of the StoneKrusher clan. All the goblin clans are working on pieces of a Great Machine for the human mage master Fraziel. Something goes wrong and Fraziel is killed. StoneKrusher are blamed for this disaster and the sabotage of the great machine.
The player then ends up battling the other clans in an attempt to redeem themselves. There are other twists and turns to the story but I don't want to give away too much.
The main objective for each mission is varied. Sometimes it will be capturing an important area, other times it will be destroying a ruined city or finding a lost Titan. A lot of love was put into making each mission of the campaign interesting and exciting to play.
Most of the time the player will find themselves playing at a frantic pace as they are wrecking the world to gain gold, capturing soul fountains similar to the Battlefield 1942 style of region capture, and directly controlling their Titans and goblins as they wage war on the enemy.
You're developing Goblin Commander for consoles only. Why no PC version, and what unique RTS features has making it console-only allowed you to introduce into the title?
Millar: The basic reason is that no really good RTS game existed on the console, meaning there was a gap in the market for a game like that. The reason it was not also created for the PC is that we wanted to devote our time to creating a solid action-strategy game from the ground up that was designed around the console controller.
One thing this has allowed us to introduce is direct control of the units and a more arcade-action feel to the game. The controls have allowed for some really fun gameplay mechanics.
For example the Hellfire clan's Titan is a Warpigpult, this is a giant pig with a rider and a catapult strapped to it's back. You can actually rotate and flick the right analogue controller to aim and launch the fiery rocks different distances.
It's really a visceral control scheme that would be harder to obtain with a mouse and keyboard.
Readers might not be familiar with your previous work, with your résumé. Could you go into that briefly and also explain how your previous experience in the RTS genre has impacted development of Goblin Commander?
Millar: I was fortunate enough to be part of another amazing team back at Blizzard that was responsible for the creation of games such as Warcraft, Starcraft and Diablo. For seven years my experience at Blizzard as its senior designer taught me a lot of valuable lessons in both console and PC development. I began life as an artist and animator for systems like the Game Boy, NES and SNES.
I moved on to take more designer-related roles in 1994 with the creation of Warcraft. After that came Warcraft II, Diablo and StarCraft. Each of those titles had its own set of tough hurdles to overcome. I believe those experiences have all taught me what to focus on in a game to make it fun and hopefully appealing to as many people as possible.
I would have to say that neither Goblin Commander nor any of the past games could have been possible without amazingly talented teams of people and visionary leadership. Two things that I have been thinking about for years is where can the RTS go that's fresh and would it be possible to create a really great RTS style game on the console.
For years I've watched people attempt it, and I had always thought that if I had a chance I could pull it off. Goblin Commander was a challenging project but a lot of fun. Who knows, with this base perhaps there may be a future project that's even better in the works.
In what ways has it been a challenge developing an RTS for console, to make it appealing to console gamers?
Millar: As I mentioned before, the control scheme was the backbone from which everything else was laid upon, and that was probably the toughest part of the design. Apart from that I would probably say the other tough parts were streamlining all the favourite parts of strategy games while maintaining an RTS like feel.
Another complicated problem was that we wanted to have both the overhead commander view as well as direct control. Many AI and control scheme revisions were made to accomplish this.
How is the game broken down in terms of missions and campaigns? Can you give us a couple of examples of missions featuring in the title?
Millar: There are four acts and 17 missions in the single-player campaign. The first act features two missions that teach the player all the fundamentals of the game.
After that, the player is let loose on the second act with their first mission to seek out and destroy a hellfire lumber encampment. As the player goes on, they get more experience and gain the ability to create more units, Titans, find more runestones, learn to capture special structures and so on.
More importantly, as the game goes on the player fights against the other clans in the game and ultimately gets to control each of the clans and the Titans in the game. Well, I don't want to give away too many of the fun surprises in the missions but I can say that you will get to control other contraptions in some of the levels as well as fight some bosses.
Can tell us how a typical level of Goblin Commander plays out?
Millar: The player begins with an in-game cut-scene that explains the current situation and what the objectives are. These objectives can be displayed at any time by pressing right on the D-pad. The player then starts out at their base, or with their given selection of units, and must attempt to clear their objective.
Usually, some resources need to be gathered first to unlock and upgrade your units. These are gained by smashing everything you can in the environment.
It's also usually a good idea to place a turret or three around your base to stave off attacks from the enemy. Souls are needed to create goblins and Titans, which are gained by killing goblins or capturing soul fountains.
Soul fountains are captured by clearing out any enemy around them and then holding them for a short period of time. The enemy can recapture them though if left undefended. Captured soul fountains bleed out souls that the player collects automatically.
Other buildings out on the map also work as stores where the player can buy one-off magical spells that either power up their clan members or do things like rain down fire or turn the opponents into sheep.
How intuitive is the game interface?
Millar: The focus of Goblin Commander's development began, and has always been, focused around creating a really good system of control for the console. We scrapped two entirely different prototypes and six months of work because the interface for them was simply not good enough.
We were aware that getting the control scheme right was absolutely key to bringing this game to life.
The console RTS genre with its bad ports of PC versions and awful control schemes has left a bad taste in the gamer's mouth. We hope to change all of that. Instead of creating an action-strategy and then applying a control scheme to it, the game itself is designed from the ground up with the console controller in mind.
An example of this is that we grouped the goblins into clans of 10 and assigned each clan to a button. This allows the player to press a button which sends the whole clan to that area.
There are a total of three clans and one Titan that the player can control at any one time. Not only that, but you can drop down waypoints by holding down the L1 button and even press the commanders enter/exit button to jump in and directly control your units yourself.
While in direct control, the clan button becomes the attack button. Also while in direct control, all the other clans can also still be ordered to locations as well as ordered to follow you. This is also how Titans work. This means I can lay down some waypoints for a clan then jump into a Titan and have the other two follow me as I storm a base while the other clan attacks from the rear.
Many people have been sceptical of the control scheme until they see it in action or play it for themselves. You can see a change taking place on their face and attitude when they see how intuitive and easy the control scheme truly is.
Just because it is easy though doesn't mean that options are restricted - you can still pull off very complex tactical manoeuvres.
Couple the above with the fact that the D-pad features important map navigation features such as jump to the last action or home.
The player can also define 16 locations on the map that they can warp to at any point. A built-in help system and mission objectives are also available from the D-pad.
A final important aspect of Goblin Commander is that the UI is designed to complement the controls. There is always plenty of onscreen help at all times to help the player understand at a moments notice which button it is that they need to press.
The level of help can be adjusted from beginner to normal to expert at the touch of a button. This means that, once you become more familiar with the controls, you can clear off the help interface or all UI if you so choose.
You've mentioned resource management and unit upgrades - what other traditional RTS elements are you including? Is there an experience system for units, for example?
Millar: Again, the idea was not to analyze other RTS games and simply include those things in our game. The point was to create a really fun and fresh action-strategy war game that featured goblins and monsters. We wanted it to not only appeal to the console gamer, but put something different out their in terms of gameplay.
For example, resource collection - I personally am a little sick of the whole resource harvesting model seen in traditional RTS games. You send a worker unit out to gather resources and then it repeats that forever until it dies or the resource runs out.
We decided that to gain resources you needed to go out and smash up the world to gain gold, kill other goblins and capture resource-spawning points to obtain souls.
There are, however, some familiar ideas in Goblin Commander such as spending those resources to upgrade your units and the unlocking of units as the game progresses, but with the fundamental difference that it happens instantly.
When you create a goblin unit or you upgrade them there is no time to wait - that unit instantly appears on the battlefield or their upgrades instantly take effect.
This and other elements truly increase the fast-paced, action feel of the game. There is no aspect of base building in the game. Instead the focus is on the goblins, the Titans and the combat.
You can build turrets to help defend areas that you deem important, but it is true that the game is less SimCity and more about fighting and glorious destruction.
What differences are there between the PS2, Xbox and GameCube versions, if any?
Millar: We worked very hard to ensure that the core experience is the same for the gamer no matter which version they play, but we have included two unique multiplayer maps that you can only play on each console.
Can you tell us more about the multiplayer side of Goblin Commander?
Millar: The multiplayer side is where Goblin Commander truly shines, as it is so much fun to play. Unfortunately we were not able to include an online component, although we may in the future, but we managed to get a split-screen version in.
At first I thought this wouldn't work very well but I was actually pleasantly surprised that it not only works, but also truly fun to play.
There was a period toward the end of our testing cycle where we had the whole team playing multiplayer. Many times we had to ask people if they were truly testing the game, because they wouldn't stop playing it.
There are 12 multiplayer maps, each of which features some unique hook to them. There are things like teleport pads, roving hostile units, gem spawners, runestones, secret areas, burnable trees and so on that the player can use to their advantage or fight over. Each player can take from one to three clans into their game.
There are also elements that can be altered to handicap each player, such as starting gold, souls, the level of the tech tree, whether or not you want Titans or turrets and so on.
During the game, each player can also choose what level of UI they desire. Beginners can display all the controller help and so on, experts can turn everything off and play only looking at what exists in the world.
Finally, what's been your most favourite moment when playing Goblin Commander so far?
Millar: I'd have to say I love playing with the Stone Ogre. He's this giant monster that has a big spiked ball on a chain and a goblin on his shoulder that's keeping him in line.
The Stone Ogre is a hungry devil and can gain hit points back from eating unfortunates. It's a load of fun to pick up and eat goblins, sheep, slugs or whatever is available in that environment. It always gets a laugh when I show it to people.