had two recent interviews with the developers of Chromehounds, the new Xbox 360 online squad-based mech-battle game (slated for release in the U.S. on July 11) that is like an upgraded version of Armored Core. Read the full interviews below and check out the trailer and more info on the game.
Sega, interviewed the game’s general producer, From Software’s Toshifumi Nabeshima. Nabeshima was involved in the planning of the very first Armored Core game and produced the subsequent titles in the series.
He describes Chromehounds as primarily “a network action game,” stressing that the network play focuses on “squad-versus-squad, not one-on-one battles,” and said the game’s development centered on “the twin cores of the mechs and bringing the network onto center stage.” Regarding the mechs, he said he wanted the player’s assembly process to allow for even more freedom than in Armored Core. Although the player only has to put together the legs and cockpit at a minimum, Nabeshima said “the number of combinations for the various parts is overwhelming.”
With respect to the network play, Nabeshima says From Software chose the squad-based approach to increase the importance of the different roles featured in the game. “With player-versus-player battles, each player would simply build the strongest Hound possible, but that’s not what Chromehounds is about. Rather, we want players to focus on constructing Hounds that will let them carry out their assigned tasks according to their [squad’s] strategy.”
As to why the developer targeted the Xbox 360 for this title, Nabeshima said “the fact that squad battles are the game’s focus made it inevitable that we choose the Xbox 360. The foremost factor was the Xbox Live voice-chat feature.” This will be central to coordinating squad actions and will be available from the time players enter the squad lobby, even during the mech-customization phase. Nabeshima says he wants players to “chat with each other about strategy, who will take on what roles, and how they should construct their Hounds.” This communication, combined with a system that lets teammates swap or give each other parts, will hopefully make the game less intimidating to newcomers. “With help from other squad members, even new players will be able to play a meaningful role in battles.”
On the subject of weaponry, Nabeshima said the squad-based gameplay has freed the developers to unleash truly devastating weapons. “In games that emphasized battles between individual players, creating weapons that can decimate opponents with a single shot risks destroying the game’s balance. Since Chromehounds is squad based, we can have more extreme weaponry. Players may even feel some of the weapons are too powerful.” But again, having the biggest gun on the block isn’t necessarily a trump card in Chromehounds. “With teamwork, even a very powerful opponent can be countered. Players needn’t give their Hound any weapons at all, if that’s what their strategy calls for.”
Locomotion offers yet another opportunity for strategizing in Chromehounds. As in Armored Core, the types of legs offered to players will affect speed and carrying capacity, and the player’s choice of legs is a question of trade-offs. “Players who emphasize speed will have to keep their mechs light, which means low durability and firepower. On the other hand, players who overemphasize carrying capacity could find themselves victims of close-range attacks or be destroyed by snipers before they’re able to flee.”
Finally, while acknowledging that its always fun to play pick-up games with people met randomly on the Internet, Nabeshima expressed his hope that players who are already acquainted will take advantage of the game’s squad-based approach. “After school or work, you can meet your pals again on the Chromehounds battlefields to chat and play…I hope that players will enjoy fighting alongside their buddies while communicating with one another.”
And with the game releasing in Japan today, Nabeshima talked about its long road to store shelves with ITmedia in another interview with GameSpot.com.
Chromehounds may be finished now, but it was a long road to get there. The original prototype was shown at the Tokyo Game Show 2003, Nabeshima said, when it was called Chromehounds: Age of Arms. That version of the game was originally shelved when From Software determined it did not have the resources to run the required servers and that the development team lacked experience with network games.
While From Software is already known for its Armored Core series of mech shooters, Nabeshima noted some big differences between developing games for that series and Chromehounds. “The Armored Core series has continued for many years, so we always must leave the game’s atmosphere intact,” he said. “Chromehounds is a first title, so we needn’t worry about this. One of the game’s attractions is the unrefined looking mecha, which you’d never see in Armored Core. Hounds aren’t robots, they’re evolved tanks… Overseas, the superhero styled robot that Japanese gamers love is not as popular as mechs that look like weapons of war.”
Another difference from Armored Core is Chromehounds’ lack of flying mechs. The explanation turns out to be simply a matter of balance. “In a game focused on land war, airborne units would be too strong. Non-flyers would be sitting ducks.”
Concern over balance notwithstanding, pilots can eject from their destroyed mechs and wander around the map armed only with a light machine gun. “Damage for the machine gun is actually calculated, but if the target is a Hound, this damage always works out to zero,” Nabeshima laughed. “Of course, this weapon is effective at defeating infantry.”
The ability to wander around on foot is more than just a gimmick, Nabeshima said. “We put this feature in because we didn’t want players to experience dead time until the end of the battle if their Hound is destroyed. We originally thought of letting the player float freely around the field in a sort of spectator mode, but that would have the unintended benefit of allowing him/her to search for the enemy’s base with impunity.”
Nabeshima also touched on the trials and tribulations of developing for network play. “The hard part was finding out which of the things we wanted to achieve could and could not be done with Xbox Live features. Also, each step of development was long. For example, on past hardware, I’d just tell the development staff ‘fix this like this’ and two or three days later, it would be fixed. Now it’s not that simple. I cannot request fixes so lightly, and the balance between quality and scheduling is difficult.”
Now that the game is out and online in Japan, the question of additional content is already at the forefront of gamers’ minds. Nabeshima remained coy on the subject, saying only that the developers were thinking about it–“just thinking”–and should be able to announce something in the near future.
Nabeshima concluded by summing up his thoughts on the giant robot genre in general. “What’s important is being able to express yourself. This genre allows the player to be narcissistic, but in a good way,” Nabeshima said. “The truth is embarrassing, but I feel that the robot action genre expresses a common fantasy that everyone has, deep down.”