Guns of Icarus Online interview: Sky has no limit

Yes, we did it again. We just love providing our users with exclusive content and this Guns of Icarus Online interview, we hope, proves it once again. If you are unfamiliar with the game, it’s a steampunk/dieselpunk first person shooter dedicated to multiplayer and developed by Muse Games; its perk is the focus on airship combat.

The game itself has been already launched on 29 October 2012 and it’s also available on Steam, but after successfully kickstarting the first release, the development team turned to crowdfunding once again in order to expand the game and add a persistent world, faction conflict, explorable towns, some PvE and much more: all of this is called Adventure Mode.

We contacted them, of course, in order to learn more about these interesting features and we got the chance to be replied by Jess Haskins. Their Kickstarter campaign (already funded, now pursuing stretch goals) is closing in just little over a day, so if you want to contribute, I’d suggest to do it now. Enjoy!

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WORLDS FACTORY: First of all, welcome to Worlds Factory. Please, introduce yourself and your game to our readers.

JESS HASKINS: Hello there! My name is Jess Haskins, and I’m a game designer, writer, and community manager at Muse Games. Our game Guns of Icarus Online is a team-based multiplayer online airship combat game on Steam where four people work together as crew aboard an airship and team up to fight other airships in massive aerial battles. Every crew member has a different job to do, from piloting the ship to making repairs to manning the guns, and it requires a lot of strategy, teamwork, and coordination to achieve victory.

We’re currently working on an Adventure Mode expansion to the base PvP combat game, which will add a persistent online world, towns, trade, PvE missions, and six player-run factions each vying for dominance. We have an ongoing Kickstarter campaign right now to raise funds for the development of Adventure Mode, which we’re very excited to finally be moving forward with.


WF: Let me start by saying that I love MMOs, and I love games where players can make an impact on the world itself, so the premise of Adventure Mode for Guns of Icarus Online is really appealing to me. However, this is also why I have a lot of questions! Just to begin, you mentioned that the factions are player-run – in which way, exactly? Do you intend to add a political system such as the one featured in TERA, where players are able to vote players for Mayors and Governors spots that grant them specific powers?

JH: The whole faction system is still in the design phase, and there are a lot of different ways we can go with it at this point. It’s really important for us that each player be able to make a visible and immediate impact on the world with every one of their actions, so that will be one of our guiding principles whatever we do. In the beginning the factions will be autonomous actors, much like towns, each with its own resources and economic and political goals that it will generate missions to further (for example, trade missions to increase its wealth, or conquest missions to expand its territory). Factions will “pay” players for successful missions by granting faction reputation, which can be used to attain rank within the faction or sway it in a particular direction, sort of like shareholders casting votes. The more reputation you’ve earned, the greater influence you’ll be able to exert.


WF: Since the missions are instanced, how will their results be tallied to evaluate the outcome on the world? Let’s say that there is a mission that commands players to attack/defend a certain city. Will you get the results of all the single skirmishes and then, perhaps the day after, change the city’s affiliation?

JH: Again, the specifics of the mission and faction system are subject to change, but something like this is certainly possible. Of course, taking over a city is a huge undertaking. More common will be small, immediate goals, like trading, raiding, and shuttling resources around. Each time a resource moves from one place to another it’ll change the state of the economy, boosting one town or harming another, and immediately affecting supply and demand. You don’t have to have 500 players successfully deliver food to a starving town to flip a big switch from “hungry” to “not hungry” — each delivery counts, and the town is a little less hungry each time.

Conquest missions could work the same way. If you’re trying to take over a city, with each successive attack it will get weaker and weaker, until finally maybe it surrenders or sues for peace. Then the faction’s members can collectively decide whether to accept the surrender and call off the assault, or leave the “attack the town” mission open and try to wipe the city out.


WF: Speaking of affiliation, how will the player choose his/her own? Is this a long term commitment, or can we expect to change often? Also, since you said that going for the mercenary way will be possible, what about giving players the chance to create their own clans/guilds?

JH: Players will choose their affiliations primarily through their actions. Every mission you undertake will have reputation repercussions, often among multiple factions. The most obvious results are that you will gain reputation with the faction you are working for, and negative reputation with the faction you are working against, but your deeds may also affect your standings with other interested factions.

For example, say you successfully complete a raiding mission for the Baronies against a Yeshan trade convoy. As a result of this action, you get (warning, totally fictional numbers): +50 rep from the Baronies, -60 from the Yesha Empire, +10 from the League, an ally of the Baronies, and -20 from the Mercantile Guild, who disapprove of attacks against merchants of any faction. Say you’re still a free agent at this point, but with the rep you earned from Baronies, you’ve accumulated enough for an invitation to join the faction. If you join the Baronies, you’ll receive more rep for successive missions completed on their behalf, but less rep, and more negative rep, from other factions. That same raiding mission completed as a member of the Baronies might earn you +80 from the Baronies, -100 from the Empire, +5 from the League, and -30 from the Guild. On the other hand, you might decline the invitation to join the Baronies and remain a free agent, playing the field and working for different factions as it suits you.

Changing your alignment is as simple (or difficult) as working to change your reputation score with the faction you want to affiliate yourself with. If you’ve spent your entire career preying on merchant vessels and now want to join the Guild, you’re going to have a lot of work to do to dig yourself out of the reputation hole you’re in!

There will be a clan system in the game, expanding on the informal clan system that already exists in Skirmish mode (and will be getting more in-game support later on down the line). Clans will have the opportunity to participate in the larger faction system, with clans as a whole being able to join a faction as long as their members are eligible. There are some interesting opportunities for intra-factional struggle as competing clans attempt to gather influence and exert control over the direction of a faction by working and voting as a bloc and elevating their members to leadership positions within the faction. Clans will also have the option to operate independently, with their collective actions and reputational standings among all the factions reflecting on individual members.


WF: You mentioned dilemmas such as choosing “war or peace, trade or plunder, independence or conquest”. But is there any actual benefit in pursuing peace, trade and independence in a game which is after all centered around combat?

JH: Good question! Obviously combat is the core of the game, and there will always be conflict. The choices you have to make are more about not whether to fight, but whom to fight and how: not “do I want my faction to be peaceful and never engage in war,” but “do I want my faction to make peace with this other faction and ally with them against a common enemy?” Your faction is hurting for resources. Do you trade with a nearby town to get what you need, do you try to steal it from others, or do you try to take the town over to gain control of production at the source?  Will you be a merchant fighting off pirates and raiders, or the one doing the plundering?

Every mission is a combat mission, there’s no getting around that. You can try to be diplomatic and play the field, but ultimately it will be difficult to stay friends with everyone and you’ll make some enemies somewhere.


WF: A goal already reached in your Guns of Icarus Online KS campaign is that of the PvE/Co-op addition, named AI Director. This strikes me as a clear nod to Left 4 Dead’s notorious AI Director system, so I’m wondering if you plan to use your own version similarly to keep every game as varied as possible in terms of enemy type, positioning, and even music spikes just at the right moment.

JH: Left 4 Dead’s AI Director was indeed a huge inspiration for us. Fortunately Valve has been very generous in making public some of their design principles and processes for developing their AI systems, and we’ve learned a lot of lessons from studying how it works and how they used it to shape player experience in that game. It gave us a big head start on designing an AI Director and co-op system that addresses the challenges unique to Guns of Icarus Online. We gratefully acknowledge our debt to L4D and are looking for ways we can put the AI Director concept to good use in our game.


WF: In the last update, one of your developers stated that all the many enemies faced in the PvE battles will be properly recognizable as affiliated with one of the factions. As such, I imagine that PvE battles will surely be a factor in the Econo-Political system, but what about PvP fights happening in the Skirmish mode between players who are affiliated with different factions?

JH: The extent to which Skirmish will factor into the political situation in Adventure has always been a bit of a question mark, and things could change a lot during development. Most likely they will be kept separate, so that you can play any match you like against whomever you want in Skirmish without worrying about how that will affect your standing in Adventure Mode. We may come up with a non-obtrusive way to integrate them, but anything that affects the state of the world as a whole will more likely be confined to the Adventure Mode side of the game.


WF: The last of your stretch goals is all about expanding the actual world of Guns of Icarus Online, and it seems like you plan to do it with the procedural generation approach. This is becoming really common in the game industry, so much that one might wonder if it will be the standard soon – what do you think? Moreover, another interesting bit is that of walkable towns. After introducing such a feature to the game, would you consider ground combat for city/town raids?

JH: I think that as tools improve and more developers refine and share their processes for procedural generation, it may well become more common. There is some interesting work being done in this area — one of my favorite examples is the indie game Sir, You Are Being Hunted by Big Robot, currently in development and also funded through Kickstarter, that features a “British Countryside Generator” to procedurally generate all the environments.

What we’re talking about doing is a little different, though. Rather than have procedural generation as part of the game, we want to use it in our content creation pipeline to speed up the development process. In other words, rather than the landscape changing every time you play, we’ll use the tools to generate the terrain once, and then manipulate the environments by hand before incorporating the final version into the game. For us it’s largely a question of budget and manpower, and maybe larger studios with more resources are content to keep creating everything by hand. We simply can’t afford to do it that way, so we’re looking for alternatives.

If by “ground combat” you mean surface-to-air combat, we’re already looking at the possibility of incorporating fixed or ground-based defenses into our co-op mission scenarios. There will never be any ground travel or combat outside of an airship, though, if that’s what you’re asking. What we would really like to do as one of our stretch goals is walk-around towns, where when you dock at a city you can disembark and walk around with other avatars, visit shops, and go to the pub to chat. But fighting hand-to-hand or walking from town to town through the wilderness like in WoW, I can pretty much confirm that that’s not going to happen!


WF: Finally, I’d like to ask you something about an answer of yours in the FAQ section which made me really curious. You declared that “boarding is the antithesis of teamwork” and as such won’t be featured, but why do you take such a hard stance? Boarding is a staple of ship to ship combat from games to movies, and even though your ship combat actually happens in the air I think it could be really fun nonetheless. Also, one might argue that boarding could require teamwork, too, since the Captain should decide who needs to stay and who needs to attack amongst the crew members. Would you reconsider this if there was enough feedback from the community?

JH: If we were going to set a simple threshold for feedback before we decided to consider boarding, we’d already be there — I’m hard pressed to think of a single time where we presented the game to someone in person or solicited feedback from a new player and boarding DIDN’T get a mention. It’s kind of the universal reaction, the one feature everyone expects to see. What’s interesting, though, is that we almost never get this request from anyone who has spent a considerable amount of time with the game. After they’ve been playing for more than a couple weeks, veteran players generally recant their earlier requests for boarding and acknowledge that the game is better off without it. From the theme of the game it seems like a natural addition, but it takes a little longer to really get a sense of how it would throw the gameplay out of whack.

I don’t want to rehash too much of what we’ve said on the subject in our FAQ, but the core of the game is about four people working together in a confined space to operate a single unit, the airship, which is the real actor in the game: the ship occupies a single position in space, it has health, it has weapons, it gets points or kills. Players, on the other hand, are not combat units. They don’t have health or weapons, they can’t act independently. Boarding, and its oft-requested corollary, player-to-player or even player-to-ship combat, would throw all that out the window and make it into more of an FPS melee free-for-all where it’s every player for themselves. That might be a fun game, but it’s not what Guns of Icarus Online is about.

Now, while players generally stop asking for boarding after a certain point, the same can’t be said about skywhales. That’s one request that never gets old!

Alessio PalumboBy Alessio Palumbo (1097 Posts)

Gaming writer since ages, now Founder and Editor in Chief of Worlds Factory. Clan Leader/Guild Master of La Legione del Drago, clan/guild of heroes jumping from a virtual world to another for the most epic (?) adventures ever seen.

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