With Xbox 360 RTS Stormrise due this month, we spoke to the game’s developer Creative Assembly Australia about the challenge of establishing the genre on console, the local industry and the battle Down Under for tax breaks.
Develop: Stormrise is arriving shortly after Halo Wars. Do you feel this could be the year for console RTS titles?
Vispi Bhopti: It certainly has been a busy period for RTS on consoles. A successful and fulfilling transition beyond PC is well overdue for the genre.
It is interesting to note that although all of us are aiming towards the same objective, we are all taking very different paths to achieve this.
Develop: Why haven't RTS games managed to succeed on consoles thus far? And how do you hope Stormrise with address that?
The key obstacle has always been the control system. Keyboard and mouse has always presented the simplest, fastest and most accurate solution.
This is why we developed the WHIP Select control method. The new system is as easy to use as flicking ones thumb across the right control stick, and the end result is accurate movement between units that is faster than anything we have ever achieve in the past.
An added benefit of the WHIP Select system is that it is a radial control method. This means that we can now incorporate real verticality and three dimensional level design and gameplay to an RTS, something that has never been done before to this extent. Taking the genre to new levels, regardless of which platform it’s played on.
Develop: What was the thinking process behind the new control system?
We needed something that was fast and simple, but didn’t compromise the freedom and control that the player would experience. What we didn’t want to do was abridge the RTS experience, just to make it accessible with the console controller.
The solution was actually remarkably simple. All units on the play field are represented on screen by a small icon. When a player holds the right thumbstick out in any direction a light beam is emitted from the centre of the screen in that given direction. To move to any particular unit, regardless of distance or direction, the player simply rolls the thumbstick around until the light beam is highlighting the relevant icon, and then they let go. Done. For shorter local area movements, you simply flick that same stick towards a general direction to go to the nearest unit in that bearing. The end result is simple and lighting fast.
Develop: Have you had to develop any new technology in creating Stormrise?
The entire game, along with almost all of its tech, was developed from the ground up. We genuinely started with only a prototype of the WHIP Select idea and started wrapping a game around it. Layer by layer a game started forming. The beauty of this was that we could sculpt the game to exactly what we wanted and ensure that it took full advantage of our new control method, without needing to compromise anything to make it work cohesively.
Develop: How has your work on the Total War series influenced Stormrise?
Working on Total War has given us a very robust grounding in what it takes to make a successful RTS game. It has allowed us to move forward and tackle the challenge of bringing RTS to console with the full confidence that we are well versed in the fundamentals that make this genre work.
That said, we have approached this project with the respectful understanding that what works on PC does not always translate (dare I say ‘port’?) to the living room, and what has succeeded in the past does not necessarily mean it is right for the future.
Develop: What is the state of the current Australian development scene?
Australia has a very vibrant development community, with a lot of talent and some great ideas. We are however not immune to the international economic climate, so, just like the rest of the world, there is growing pressure on studios. But in general, Australia is still very much an untapped resource with great potential for future growth.
Develop: What are your thoughts on tax breaks for Australian developers?
The local arm of the IDGA has been lobbying the Australian government for a while to get the same tax breaks that the Australian film industry currently enjoys. This is something we obviously support and look forward to, but it is a battle that is still being fought.