SiN Episodes: Emergence - Past, Present and Future

With SiN Episodes: Emergence in the hands of gamers, we decided to catch up with the development team to look back at the first episode, as well as the SDK and the soon-to-be-released Arena Mode add-on. On to the questions:

Ritual is following internet chatter closely in order to determine what fans want improved for Episode 2.
Are you satisfied with the response Emergence has gotten so far? What features do you think people enjoyed most about it?

LEVELORD: So far the responses have been positive. Reviewers have given the game medium to high scores, and we're happy with them. Some of the comments (i.e.: only three weapons, etc.) have us wondering if players are remembering that this is the first episode in a game, but the game is being well received for the most part. We are also seeing the need to educate the retail merchants who see a $19 price tag and presume the product to be budgetware. It isn't always easy being the first to do something new and groundbreaking, that episodic development and distribution ;)

Has there been any specific feedback that you are going to incorporate into future Emergence patches or even episode 2? Have you gained any useful insights from statistics uploaded by players to Ritual?

LEVELORD: Two issues come to mind for me. There are many, many cool suggestions being made on the forums, and we are reading all of them with open and eager eyes, but two are quite profound.

The first is related to cliff hangers in the story that would transverse from episode to episode. Although it seems obvious that we should approach those in the same way as television shows like 24 and Lost, there are restrictions for us when making a game-based story. We aren't presenting a new episode each week, and the longer time delay between our episodes means we need to have more closure at the end of each episode. We also want each episode to be a stand-alone product, that is, someone could actually start at Episode 5 and still have a good game. After releasing the first episode, we think we will push the suspended intrigue and what-the-hell-is-going-to-happen-next cliffhangers more as the episodes progress.

The second has been the lack of Blade's characteristic comments in Emergence. We have received many emails and read many forum comments showing a split audience on this feature. Some were glad that Blade was the silent-type because it allows the player to more easily ‘become' Blade. The other camp, though, misses Blade's in-your-face cracks and remarks. The suggestion has been made to have a switch or something to allow both.

Can you shed some light on why it was decided to not have Blade talk in the first episode?

LEVELORD: As mentioned in the previous answer, this was a big question for the SiN community after release. It was also a big question for us before release. We remembered the responses from the original SiN, which were both positive and negative; those that loved the comedic and snappy comments from our man Blade, and those that found his comments distracting from the immersive effect of a strong, silent character. We opted for the latter, feeling it was the safest approach for the first episode.

Our thoughts are now that we may head back and add more of Blade's witticism. We may also explore the switch-control feature mentioned above.

One of the Arena maps, aptly titled Vertigo, throws the player in the middle of high-altitude action.
Is there anything that you wanted to get into Emergence that you weren't able to?

LEVELORD: For me? …probably more puzzles and thought-engaging activities. Half-Life 2 was absolutely the best FPS game to-date. One of the things I liked best was their puzzle solving. Each one brought me right to the edge of frustration and then, …WHAM! …the solution became clear to me and I felt very accomplished.

I also wish we had more eye candy. More big-time, Hollywoodesque events to entertain the player would have been good.

With Emergence boasting such a comprehensive stats system, are there any plans to make these available online?

Ken Harward: We intend to make the anonymously collected stats available through our website. We're still working on this, so we do not currently have an exact timeline. Because the data we collect is anonymous, we cannot provide leaderboard type stat-tracking at this time. However, as we deliver multiplayer modes, we hope to support non-anonymous stat tracking.

How extensive is the SDK going to be, and do you have a timeframe for its release yet?

Ken Harward: We're hoping to release a mini-SDK very soon, which allows for all types of content-making (maps, models, materials, etc.) for both traditional single-player and arena-mode maps. Once we have merged with the latest version of the Source engine from Valve, we intend to release an SDK that allows for mods to be made of the game. This will have all the functionality of the HL2 SDK. We're hoping to release this later this summer.

LEVELORD: The SDK and multiplayer are our two biggest concerns right now. I know it would seem easy to the common gamer out there, to just release the tools we have, but it isn’t. Our plan is to release a small SDK first, so the mappers out there can start their thing. Then we will release a full SDK after that.

The same is true for multiplayer. We are working very hard on both right now to get multiplayer out the door. We will be introducing a new game mode soon, called Arena Mode. This new mode was shown at E3 and used in our Win-A-Vigor-System contest.

Arena Mode will test your reflexes and strategic thinking as you strive to achieve new highscores.
Tell us more about Arena Mode. How did it come about and what is the basic idea behind it?

Ken Harward: Arena Mode was brought about by opportunity for us to run a contest at E3 featuring our game. The original idea was from Tom Mustaine who put the contest together with Vigor, who provided the computing hardware for the competition (and the prize!). We adapted the idea of a straight-forward see-how-long-you-can-last style of game to one which takes complete advantage of our Personal Challenge System. The system is running extremely fast in this game mode, and things can change every few seconds. The higher the challenge, the more points you score per second, but of course it is significantly harder to stay alive. Around the office, we love the mode. We're going to be releasing it now only as a single-player challenge but later on as co-op and team-based multiplayer modes. As a single-player mode, it is the best way to really improve your chops, allowing you to perfectly measure you progress as you get better at adapting to situations.

How many maps is Arena Mode going to ship with, and are there any plans to release more later, possibly with later episodes?

Ken Harward: We'll be releasing around 4 Arena maps with the initial release, and an additional few maps every couple of months. All of our modes will always continue to upgrade across every episode. This is one of the great things about episodic content--the products will get better and offer more functionality with every release. By Episode 3 I expect we'll have several multiplayer modes, tons of Arena maps, and not only will the AI in Episode 3 be outstanding, but that same AI will be retrofitted back to Episode 1. The Episodes will update like a MMO does, where the whole product updates all the time.

When are we going to be able to get our hands on Arena Mode?

Ken Harward: We expect Arena Mode to ship end of June.

That's all for now, folks. We would like to thank the Levelord and Ken Harward for taking the time to answer our questions! Keep checking Ritualistic for the latest news and information regarding SiN Episodes!

Related Information:
· SiN Episodes game section
· SiN Episodes forum
· Official SiN Episodes website