Welcome Back, Commander!
Welcome back to another Firestorm update! We've got a lot of exciting news to share in our latest devtalk. Our focus in this update is to provide insight into our dev cycle, where we've been, what we didn't like, and what we loved. Firestorm has had 3 major chapters that each had hallmark positives, as well as negatives.
Besides infrequent dev talks and social media posts displaying some of our art assets, there has been limited communication from our team about Firestorm. This is partially due to the volatility of game dev cycles and limited time on our part. We'd like to share a few things regarding what we've learned from Renegade X, our time spent iterating Firestorm, and the current direction of the game. Our approach, which is the standard formula for game development, is to take the knowledge from all of our past attempts and remove or re-work elements that were either terrible or were not implemented well.
Game Mode Highlights
First, we'll break down the most iconic and fun mechanics within Renegade X and our iterations of Firestorm. Let's talk about what gives identity and fun to each game mode.
Renegade X is a spiritual successor to Westwood's Renegade. What made Renegade fun? Having a working base with functional buildings drew the in-game experience closer to what one would expect from an RTS series; player-specific economy allowed each player to experience the game in their own style; weaving infantry combat with vehicle combat gave you many ways to interact with the battlefield, whether it be in a supportive role or through your choice from an array of different vehicles and infantry classes. Games could be won with huge rushes by either team, high-pressure building infiltration, or coordinated efforts to plant a beacon and detonate a superweapon. Having various paths of gameplay and methods to end the game, with each their own adrenaline-inducing moments drew in many die-hard fans that still play to this day, closing in on 2 decades after its initial release. Renegade X built upon each of these core tenets and extended them even further.
Firestorm: C&C 2.0 (2019 - 2021)
Moving onto the first iteration of Firestorm, which we called C&C 2.0 (and was very Renegade X-like), we took many elements of Renegade X to a greater extent. There were several high points of gameplay for C&C 2.0; having an expandable main base, the dynamic nature of outposts and base building that gave a unique RTS feeling of progression, and a more open combat area that gave way to increasingly tactical and strategic gameplay. Similar to RTS games, buildings were unlocked in a tech-tree system and gave access to new units. Upgrading or building structures relied on credits at each base/outpost and balancing power production and power consumption.
Firestorm: Assault (2021 - 2022)
After having several issues with C&C 2.0, namely performance and engine limitations, we wanted to try a more slimmed-down version of the game that would still fit in the Tiberian Sun world and create a more narrative-driven team-based combat, Assault mode. Points that we highlighted in this game mode were having great infantry combat in close quarters, as well as medium range. During this time, we iterated heavily on weapons and their gunplay. In addition to tweaking each weapon, we implemented the class loadout system, which allows each player to select a role archetype that has unique abilities and a few unique weapons to complement their role. Due to Assault being a game mode centered on infantry combat, we were able to finely tune time-to-kill in a way that felt rewarding for all players.
Firestorm: Conquest (2022 - 2023)
Over time, the excitement of developers and testers towards Assault stagnated. It did have some Tiberian Sun elements through the units and lore contained in the maps, but it lacked any dynamicness and without a lot of different maps, felt somewhat boring. We turned our sights back onto a bigger scale game mode, Conquest, and made some concessions, namely buildings. Having a mostly flat-tiered infantry class setup, paired with load-outs allows each role to be played in an impactful way without having to collect credits. Over time, each map has been developed to accommodate both infantry and vehicle combat. The game mode itself naturally progresses and follows a tried and true format, having a somewhat soft time limit and progression via squad ranks. Secondary missions are initiated throughout the game, providing extra rewards to teams who can complete them successfully. Having a clear path to victory allows first-time players to drop in and have a sense of direction.
Game Mode Pain Points
Now that we've overviewed what is loved most about each game mode, let's cover exactly what we learned from Renegade X, and how we've learned from each iteration of our dev cycle in Firestorm.
One of the biggest issues with Renegade X is the apparently unintuitiveness of objectives and skills that are acquired over time such as Proxy C4 mining, which often can decide the entire state of the game. This among other things, leads to a very high skill barrier to entry. While being a new player will always result in that player not being as useful as a skilled veteran, this is extremely exacerbated in Renegade X. Having no innate progression of the game state often leads to hours-long stalemates that aren't attractive to a large portion of the player base and often leads to fatigue after just one match. One bandage fix for stalemates was creating the commander role, which helps give extra power to pushes and rewards teams for rushing together. However, this forces one person to play the game completely differently than everyone else; and can lead to commanders being blamed by the team for the outcome of a match.
Firestorm: C&C 2.0 (2019 - 2021)
While the large-scale and heavy sandbox elements of C&C 2.0 were very fun, they were a double-edged blade. Large maps were made to accommodate room for several bases and ended up creating walking simulators. Vehicles were necessary to traverse the map in a timely fashion and oftentimes had the upper hand in vehicle vs. infantry combat. On paper, having a multi-tiered economy tied into a tech-tree progression sounds fun, but ends up becoming very confusing. This also led to teams being punished if they didn't follow the "meta" build path or had a building destroyed at an inopportune time. One meta that maintained a strong point in the game was a main base rushing, as there was not much way to counter it. Balancing vehicles to be useful on their own while also not completely destructive in a large group proved impossible. The large-scale approach to the game mode also resulted in unplayable FPS on low-end computers, to very unstable FPS on high-end computers. The matches could also potentially go for hours since the only "end-game" was total base destruction.
Firestorm: Assault (2021 - 2022)
Taking part in missions from the Tiberian Sun lore set a good atmosphere for Assault. However, this also locked the replay-ability of each map and created a very linear experience. Most playtests resulted in similar outcomes for each map. Removing vehicles from the battlefield also made the game feel quite hollow and led to an overly simplified experience that lacked any depth.
Firestorm: Conquest (2022 - 2023)
With Conquest, we moved towards a tried and true format that was popularized by the Battlefield series. The class and loadout system played well in this game mode and the vehicles naturally fit. The game was fun, but it wasn't Command and Conquer. The lack of bases or any sort of building stripped most of the C&C identity from the game and it felt like a simple Tiberian Sun skin of Battlefield Conquest.
Firestorm Present State
And finally, we are proud to present our final iteration of Firestorm on UDK. We've evolved Conquest mode into Uplink mode. Our team has re-introduced the best parts of all of the previous versions and has improved upon the dated Conquest game mode into something with more depth. While at the same time solving all of the pain points listed above. Think of Uplink mode as if it lies somewhere in between Renegade X's C&C Mode, mixed with Assault Mode's Infantry Combat, Loadout Systems, and the Attacking / Defending back and forward gameplay; C&C 2.0 Mode's Base Building, Base Expansions, and Competitive Gameplay, and finally Conquest Mode's easy barrier of entry, robust but minimal infantry roster, map composition, and reasonable match durations. So, let's outline some of the key features of Uplink mode:
As stated by nearly everyone; Conquest was not "Command and Conquer" enough. We felt the same way. Tiberian Sun Era buildings were present in Conquest, however, they were mostly just window dressing. In Uplink mode, everything matters. Although main base building structures are automatically built after a few minutes, they can be destroyed and will impact your team's performance until they are (automatically) rebuilt. Instead of the mining defense system that has to be micro-managed in Renegade X, all buildings have "hackable" doors and take a few moments to be infiltrated. Buildings still have a weak point, a Master Control Terminal (MCT), but instead of using weapons or explosives to target it, the player simply "hacks" it which will overload all structure's systems causing it to self-destruct. All players in a radius are then alerted to the "self-destruct" state and the opposing team has under a minute to revert the hacked state.
These are predetermined points on each map that can be controlled by either faction. Upon entering a neutral outpost, if no enemies are present, your team will automatically begin capturing that point when in its radius. Once captured, a crane located near the center of the outpost can be used to access the build menu. Each outpost allows for one structure. The player can choose from the Power Plant, Refinery, or Barracks/Hand of Nod. However, if you approach an enemy outpost that has a structure already built, then you will be unable to capture that outpost until that structure has been destroyed.
Each building on the outposts will have a different effect on your team. Power Plants will increase the tick rate for your Uplink meter allowing your team to charge up the super weapon faster that will destroy the enemy base once fully charged. Refineries will increase the team's credit rate, whether that is through the AI-controlled Harvester, or if you wish to operate a harvester yourself. Both Green and Blue Tiberium can be harvested giving you two different rates. (You can also choose to use these filled Harvesters as weapons with EXPLOSIVE results!) Credits can then be used to Purchase Vehicles, Heavy Infantry Classes, and Squad Support Powers. Barracks / Hand of Nod will allow the Heavy classes to be spawnable at that outpost. The Barracks / Hand of Nod are also the only structures out of the 3 you can build in the outpost that comes equipped with a purchase terminal allowing you to refill, resupply, and adjust your loadout.
One major issue we've found with Renegade and C&C 2.0 was the snowball effect and/or lack of end-game. This was one of the major reasons Uplink was created. The ticket system of Conquest was ambiguous and somewhat confusing. With Uplink, each team has a number to reach depending on the map. Points are earned by capturing and holding outposts. It is not affected by a player's K/D ratio. Map control plays a vital role in the victory for your team, However, keep in mind that sometimes you can pull ahead even without having map control and instead switch to power plants to speed up and zip past the enemy team's superweapon production.
Of course, a time-based victory condition isn't the only way to win the game. You are still able to assault and manually destroy all structures in the enemy base before any of them can be rebuilt in order to win. Pulling off a victory by assaulting the enemy base will be challenging, but can create some of the most tense and action-packed moments similar to the base race finishes in Renegade / Renegade X. This tactic can be a double-edged sword as you risk pulling team members off of outposts to gather your forces and prepare a rush, whilst the enemy can use this opportunity to push and take over all of your outposts in this time.
We decided on a loadout class system instead of a Character class system such as in Renegade. There are four classes with a multitude of weapons and abilities for each class to choose from. Instead of a central commander, teams are broken into squads of six. Squads have support powers as well that will unlock as you level up your entire squad. The more you work together as a squad the faster you level up. The faster you level up the more powerful support powers you will unlock. Work together with your squad to keep an edge over your enemy!
Each team has the option to spawn at the main base, spawn beacons placed by your squad member, spawn at any deployed APC, or in an Air Transport Vehicle. You can also spawn via Air-Drop using Drop-Pods GDI and Gliders for Nod. Be careful though, as you will be defenseless and can be shot down! Air dropping can be an excellent way to get right into the action or get past the front lines and flank the enemy from un-defended positions.
These will occur at random during the match, and the team that can achieve these will be rewarded with tangible rewards such as uplink tick increase, credits, bounties, reconnaissance, weapons, prototype vehicles, vehicles repurposed by the Forgotten, or other vehicles forgotten to time. Secondary Objectives help to vary up the game loop and always provide a way to mix this up. Not only do they offer rewards, they can help to shift the tide of battle.
The game can be ended by destroying the enemy base; however, this will prove to be very difficult. Main bases have automated defenses and as stated, buildings will automatically rebuild within a few minutes. The other end-game mechanic is filling the Uplink meter and destroying the enemy team with a Super Weapon. Once one team's uplink has reached 100%, the game enters a sudden death state and the opposing team will have a chance for a "comeback" if they can capture enough outposts in a short amount of time! We've found this adds a lot of tension and can lead to some very interesting back and forth without dragging things out forever. (The sudden death timer decreases each time it is "reset" in a given match).
Below is a sample of some renders of characters, models, and effects that will be featured in Firestorm! Enjoy!
The Orca and Osprey transports serve dual roles, transporting infantry and being a weapons platform. Each vehicle is capable of holding a large number of infantry and offers 1 manned turret per side.
Utilizing a GDI specialty, hover mobility, the Hover IFV's main weapon is an excellent anti-infantry and anti-air dual barrel turret that fires explosive air-burst flak shells that can damage nearby targets. The passenger weapon fires high-velocity explosive discs.
The epitome of Nod agility and speed, the Buggy, controls a quad cannon that proficiently rips through any infantry or air unit. Mounted on the back is a fast-repeater laser chaingun.
Featuring Nod's signature stealth technology, the Black Hand operatives have many tools at their disposal to rid the battlefield of GDI — and claim the precious Tiberium for the Brotherhood.
Portable Ion Cannon
The latest in Ion technology developed by GDI's weapons manufacturers, the huge Portable Ion Cannon is manned by the Zone Trooper to destroy Nod units in one fell swoop.
The Refinery and accompanying Harvester are the heart of the conflict. Tiberium must be collected and refined to fuel the GDI and Nod war machines.
GDI's Barracks grants access to the Zone Trooper, a heavy armored suit designed to withstand even the harshest conditions.
Power Plants are at the heart of every base, a critical structure that keeps the lights on.
A staple for re-enforcing GDI Troops in the Tiberian Era. As EVA puts it best: "Drop-Pods now available".
Although not present in the original RTS, we felt a need to keep each faction unique, so we pulled some inspiration from Tiberium Wars. The glider is an asymmetrical counterpoint to the Drop pod and fits perfectly with the Nod aesthetic.
We'd like to thank all of our fans for sticking with us for so long. We are so excited to be able to share this world we have been building with everyone. In the latest Devtalk video, you can see that the gameplay is in a great state. However, there are several assets that need to be completed, bugs to squash and corners to sand down. Before we set a release date, we have to be sure that we have a stable product that doesn't have any rough edges and leaves a great first impression for all players. We can't wait to see all of you in-game!