Of all the new games I tried at PAX South, my favorite had to be Gigantic, Motiga's arena battler, with its colorful and diverse cast of characters and smooth, accessible gameplay. After a couple of games, in which I performed surprisingly well (I'm as surprised as you are) I had the chance to sit down with Joe Pikop, Gigantic's Lead Character Artist and talk about how the game looks and plays.
MMORPG: You revealed the game with a big press event about six months ago, and it looks like it's come along really well since then. What would you say are the major things you've worked on since then to round it into shape?
Joe Pikop: When we first announced the game, a lot of the in-game progression, the skill upgrades, were really free-for-all, you could have an a la carte pick of your three upgrades. We've changed that to be more role-based, so when you actually do buy your skill upgrades, they split into different trees, more defensive or more offensive, maybe a bit more support-y... that's been a really big thing. The feel of the game is a lot different.
In general, there's always development on the art side of things, like tightening up animation, finding better ways to do certain things like the way you jump, the way you land...
MMORPG: All the fine points, the sort of thing where you're not going to say “I'm not going to play because it's missing an animation...”
JP: Right, it's the things you're not even meant to notice, that you're actually meant to not notice. It's smoothing things out, making sure that when you look at it, you just go, “Yeah, that looks perfect, awesome, I love that.”
MMORPG: It's like how sometimes people don't notice good art, but bad art really stands out.
JP: If you consider it, like when you're playing a game, what things “ding” you... what makes you go “Whoa, what was that?” It's the weird animations, the walk cycle that doesn't quite loop. It has a little jitter at the end, or the jump where it's just one frame of animation. You see that, and maybe you laugh about it, but the truth is, we put great effort into making things the best they possible can, but they're not meant to make you look at them. The package is what you look at, not just the one thing.
MMORPG: So which character is your favorite? My current favorite is Uncle Sven (an AoE and support character), with him throwing his potions around.
JP: He's pretty fun, right? Like when you land on your butt and you straight gummi-bear it, you hit the ground and bounce up? It's pretty cool.
I like playing Tripp (a stealthy assassin character) and the bull (Lord Knossos, a strong melee fighter). I feel like the bull has really good presence and Tripp is... kinda a bastard. I like putting one over on people, getting into the fight but then getting out of the fight before they can deal with me. If you have a good player playing her, she probably murders you.
MMORPG: That's how stealth characters always are. I ragequit so often when a good spy player farms me in Team Fortress 2...
JP: She's actually faster than the spy, she uses mobility and invisibility. With the spy, their mechanic is that you stand still, you stop and you wait. With Tripp, you go very fast and you murder. Very quick, very squishy.
MMORPG: In the demos and videos I've seen, you stress in-match character development as being evolution of your skills as opposed to other games where you have items that you need to acquire either during a match or between matches. Why did you take that approach?
JP: It was very intentional that we chose not to do items. I think approaching a game with that almost encyclopedic knowledge, just to start, feels completely different [than our approach]. This basically eliminates the encyclopedia that you have to learn first. It's “Here's a skill, and then here are modifiers that make it play more the way you want to play.” So if you want to be the stabby death rogue that is invisible and just deals burst damage out of stealth, you can do that. Or instead, you can play the evasive “throw daggers from a distance and finish you with a regular attack” type.
The whole point is that you can go with very different roles for a character and make it a player choice that's reactionary to the match. Oftentimes, when I play a game with items, I go with a build that's specific to what I want the character to do. This just lets you say, “Hey, that character's bothering me, how can I deal with him, what tools do I have?” It's more that you've got the tools with your character to deal with all of the things – like maybe you use slow to slow down the assassin – but you choose that based on how the match is going, and it's all inside that one skill.
MMORPG: Something I'm hearing a lot from your guys is, “Hey, if you shooters, try this character, if you like MMORPGs, try this character,” and so on. Is that a focus in development, trying to make a little something for everybody?
JP: Absolutely. I mean, why not? It's a challenge, but it's a fun challenge, and it makes for an interesting conversation about how you play the game. You can approach it from many, many directions. You can be a very defensive, “I want to build towers, I want to just defend this area, I want this area to be mine,” build your little castle, or you can be super-skirmishy... letting people play the way that they play means that it's a little bit easier to bring someone from an MMO or from a shooter and they'll feel at home and they'll start from the place that they're comfortable.
Gigantic is currently in alpha.