For indie-developer InnoGames, Rising Generals represents a lot of firsts. It’s the studio’s first free-to-play MMORTS to use a modern warfare setting. It’s the first cross-platform title to be built by them using the Adobe Air platform. And it’s the first to turn the genre on its head, swapping timers and delays for rewarding immediacy.
During the recent office housewarming at the new InnoGames premises in Hamburg, I managed to take a peek at Rising Generals, which the studio is aiming to enter Closed Beta in summer this year. At first glance it makes me think of RISK, the classic board game with a world map divided into territories. But, as I zoomed in further, I could see hostile player territories bordered in red, and plenty of neutral outposts ripe for conquering. According to producer Christoph Schmidt, the studio is aiming to have 40,000 players on each map.
Zooming in even further, I can see small supply vehicles zip around, reminding me of the classic Command & Conquer series. But don’t expect to be playing a massive battle for hours at a time, as Schmidt tells me he’s aiming for a session length between 5 and 15 minutes. That’s supported by immediacy – tap a button to build troops or tanks and you get them right away, but then have a cooldown before you can build more. You can use those troops to launch an attack straight away, and see the benefits immediately. Cooldowns are also flexible – you can ask for a bigger supply drop with a 7 hour cooldown before you go to bed, and make use of it there and then.
As I tap away on a tablet, it’s clear that Rising Generals has been designed for touch from the ground up. The studio admits that mobile gaming has a much higher bar than traditional PC browser-based gaming, and it’s something they struggled with initially. “We had to figure out and learn so much stuff, in between we rewrote the whole engine because it didn’t come out of the box. And also, we never really did a mobile game where you have the information bundled so simply – this is new to us. At least half a year into production we got our first user experience designer on the team - we didn’t have people like this before. We as InnoGames had to learn a lot, and I think we did.”
That slick interface is likely to remain the same across all three platforms, with the graphics engine delivering visual improvements depending on what hardware Rising Generals is running on. “During production, we came to a point where, quite early, we were still creating different versions of the UI, and it was twice the work. So we decided to start with the phone – it’s the smallest, you have to reduce what you put in there. But due to reducing it, it will become clearer for the player. And we just tried to use this UI even in the browser, and it worked so well.”
Welcome To My Underground Lair
By tapping on my base, I could enter it and have a closer look at everything that was going on, from how much wealth I’d accumulated, to what production facilities I had available. All of it was arranged in a series of underground levels, as if I was flicking through a Bond villain’s subterranean fortress. That’s part of the gameplay that Rising Generals is offering, with the whole empire building and player PvP that the MMORTS genre is known for. Further units and armaments can be researched, providing a layer of progression beyond tap-and-invade.
If you’re looking for more of the MMO experience, it’s likely that Battlegroups will be what you’re after. Through these, players can band together to take on larger challenges, including other groups. And yes, chat is baked in to make cross-platform communication easy. “We have a messaging system that works like Whatsapp; you will be able to send messages to groups or players – it’s really basic, but it works. Also, when you’re in battlegroups, you have a wall where you can swap strategies.”
Being the first title from InnoGames with 3D graphics brought its own set of challenges, particularly with keeping models simple enough to work on a range of mobile devices. But sometimes, change can be a good thing for everyone involved. “It was also a great pleasure, because I think what you see there, the overall visual identity of the game, the concept artist did a really great job there, and the guys are really into it. We have a lot of historical stuff, and we just thought to try and do something else. I think the whole modern war setting is something that people like – something fresh.” I pointed out one of the banners nearby as an example, featuring a kilt-wearing Scotsman with bright orange beard. Grinning, Schmidt responded “We have 12 concepts for the officers, and Marketing sided with him, because he’s the guy you want to drink a beer with!”
Once an underground base has been developed as far as possible, and all military units have been unlocked, I was curious to know how Rising Generals’ endgame would pan out. Although there are some concepts – regional control being one of them – the team is interested in seeing how players respond to it in Closed Beta this summer. Schmidt tells me that his team of 25 has been working on it for a year and a half, but internal playtests have given him confidence. “We tested it here with around 250 people and they liked it, so I hope the outside world is the same.”
Ultimately though, Rising Generals is much more than just a game to InnoGames – it’s about arming it with the ability to develop high-quality massively multiplayer games that work across tablet, phone and desktop, and which ignore boundaries like iPhone and Android. If the studio ever hopes to break free of its browser-based beginnings, it’s through games like this that it will manage it.
Gareth Harmer / Gareth “Gazimoff” Harmer has been blasting and fireballing his way through MMOs for over ten years. When he's not exploring an online world, he can usually be found enthusiastically dissecting and debating them. Follow him on Twitter at @Gazimoff.