Originally Published for MCM Buzz on the 28th of February 2014.
With the announcement of their open beta launch and after a hands-on with the game MCM Buzz catches up with Ryan Bednar, Turbine’s lead designer. We talked about his break into the gaming industry, MOBA (Multiplayer online battle arena) tactics and their upcoming DC Comics project Infinite Crisis.
Me: So you are the lead designer on Infinite Crisis, that’s exciting.
Ryan: It is pretty exciting!
Me: What inspired you to work in the videogames industry? Was it something you always wanted to do or something you just came across?
Ryan: So I went to university for Industrial Design, graduated in 2003, and I knew my entire life that I was always into videogames. And I remember the year before I graduated I was talking to my parents in my kitchen and I was kind of figuring out or trying to figure out what I wanted to do after college, and I decided out of the blue then and there I wanted to try and get into the games industry somehow. Really at the time there wasn’t really any clear road to actually making that happen at all. You didn’t have any friends who were like, “Oh, this is how I broke into the games industry,” ’cause everyone who wanted to do it was kind of scattered all around. So I moved to Boston, because there were a couple of industrial design firms up there. About a couple of months after I moved to Boston, Turbine posted an internship for Lord Of The Rings Online, the MMO they developed a while back. I applied for the internship, I got it, and I’ve been there ever since. I started out as an intern on Lord of the Rings Online, became a world builder, then a lead world builder, then a lead systems designer, then I moved over to this project as the lead designer.
Me: It’s got to be exciting working with all those incredibly different worlds. The Lord of the Rings universe to start is tremendous, and now you’ve got the DC Universe, the DC Multiverse even!
Ryan: We’ve had some great opportunities to work with the best IP (Intellectual Property) that are possibly out there. We’ve just been really fortunate in that regard.
Me: Have you always been a fan of DC comics? Was this something that you were excited to do?
Ryan: I would say that I’m a medium fan for DC Comics, and I say that knowing that a bunch of people on our team are superfans! My level of comics knowledge does not compete with theirs, but it takes a team to make a game and we have the people that are super-into the comics doing the back-stories, the writing and the character development side of things. My area of interest and expertise was on the competitive MOBA side of things, so we all collaborate together.
Me: How do you think the DC Universe translates to the MOBA genre?
Ryan: It’s perfect! When we were deciding to build a MOBA at Turbine we were looking to build on a new genre. MOBA seemed like a great thing for us to get into with the RPG background we have. The MMO’s translate really well into managing all the systems and advancements that you have, and that’s worked out really well for us. When we were acquired by Warner Brothers, the DC Comics IP was something we really wanted to build games with, and we saw that as the perfect marriage of genre and an IP. The main content of a MOBA is its characters, and DC has fantastic characters. If you add the concept of the multiverse in on top of that, then we have an opportunity to make our own characters. For people that are super into the comics this is the thing they’ve wanted to do for their entire lives, the fact that they can take a character like Green Lantern and get two versions of him, it’s been a ton of fun and everyone loves working on the project.
Me: It’s great the way that instead of the standard class systems this is implemented into different versions of the same superhero, it’s a smart way to do it.
Ryan: It’s really interesting that if you’re a Batman fan one of the great things about having this multiverse is that you have three Batman’s, and they all have a different skill set. So if you’re a Batman fan who likes to play a bruiser character, you play Batman Prime. If you like ranged attack characters like marksmen, Gaslight Batman’s your guy. If you like assassins, Nightmare Batman. You can really be a fan of the IP and still find a play style that suits you.
Me: One thing that’s noticeable is that this game is catered to fans.
Ryan: Yeah, because we’ve had all these different people working on the project, people that add the really tight competitive balance in the game, and people who are working on the voice and video that’s driving all the action between the characters. When Green Arrow ends up fighting against Batman they’ll say something as they are fighting, so when Batman gets low on health Green Arrow will have some line to say in response to Batman being on the other team or his health bar. There’s all these interactions; you might not be super familiar with all the characters that are in the game, but because they’re always talking to each other and about what their state of mind is in the game you get an insight into their backstory without having to read a book.
Me: Right, even in-game it definitely gives the characters personality. Now Turbine has been at the front of online gaming since the very start, you guys have been doing this since dial-up.
Ryan: (Laughs) Yup! Asheron’s Call has been around since Ultimate Online and Everquest, those were the big three that started everything MMO, eventually that genre evolved into what it is today. We saw MOBAs gaining the same kind of traction and [when] we really got the chance to play a bunch of them ourselves we realised that was something else we were very passionate about and I think that’s why we’re here, we were excited to make this for ourselves.
Me: And that’s part of why Turbine is so exciting, you guys are at the forefront and it gives you opportunities to build on what you have already done and tweak it.
Ryan: We have a lot of experience in managing online games and keeping them running and pushing out updates and figuring how to take a game that you’ve launched and evolve it over time, and that’s something that we’re really excited about in this game. We’re getting to the point where it’s in open beta, we don’t have a long list of features that we really really want to add to the game. There are no features that are notably absent from the game. Now we’re just polishing it up, and then we’re into the world of live content, that’s what we’ve been really good at for a long time and we’re excited to get there. We are kind of already there with the champion releases that we do, they’ve been steady for a long time now every three weeks, we are about releasing three of them at a time, we have a backlog of about 20 that are in development in different stages so that’s starting to get going and then there’s going to be even more content available afterwards.
Me: That’s what’s interesting about designing an online game, there’s not really a point where it stops.
Ryan: No, it just keeps going and going; Asheron’s call is still going! We have thousands of people that are still playing that game and are die hard fans. We’re just getting started with this one and we plan on keeping it going for a very long time.
Me: Do you feel like some of the features in the matches themselves put a slight spin on the MOBA genre?
Ryan: The big thing that we’re pushing for in this game is aggression. If there’s one constant that we’re trying to steer everything towards, we want to build a MOBA where it’s okay and incentivised for you to go fight the other players. We’re making a game where Batman faces off against the Joker, and you can make that game and have it be about Batman fighting tiny robots for 15 minutes and then he finally decides to fight the Joker, or it can be that Batman’s there and the Joker’s there and they have a lot of reasons to actually fight each other right out of the game. You can see that with the currency drops we’re doing, as the tiny robots fight each other, if you don’t last hit them they just drop their coins to the ground. You have to walk over there to pick them up, when you walk over there the other team can either spend their time attacking robots or they can start attacking you, and if they do you’re probably going to attack them back. It’s all there to drive that point of tension between two or four people in your lane to fighting for the resources that are available to you. In addition to that in standard MOBA’s, you can only buy items at your base, for us we wanted to give people the opportunity to get stronger whilst playing without having to recall and then walk all the way back. You can actually buy artefacts, which are the items in our game, at your turrets themselves. That gives someone the incentive to potentially be lower on health but not go all the way back to base, actually to stay out there and try to get stronger while also running the risk of getting ganged by others.
Me: It can be a numbers game that’s for sure, if you’re on your own and there’s five people around you, you’re done.
Ryan: Oh yeah!
Me: It is great when you’re in that group though.
Ryan: Yeah, when your team shows up and you get a couple of kills and just push forward and seeing how far you can get. That’s part of the cadence of a MOBA too, and I feel like that’s why they’re so popular, because the game starts off slow and less is happening because everyone is distributed pretty evenly, and there will be those stand-offs where people are fighting against each other, and then all of a sudden it evolves into play between two or three people fighting for objectives. One thing that is specific to our latest map Gotham Divided, there are objectives out in the jungle between lanes, and if you kill these creatures they give out beacons that a member of your team can pick up. What happens is they get a new skill that they can use that drops that beacon pretty much anywhere in the map. You’ll be top lane, someone from your bottom lane can pick up a health pack and drop it that you can pick up, and that might be enough to can swing the battle in your favour. We want to make sure that as people are getting those objectives there is a lot of opportunity for skillful play, that you’ve got this thing that you can use in a variety of different ways.
Me: Are there any plans to bring social features voice communication to Infinite Crisis?
Ryan: Voice definitely helps, we don’t have any plans to integrate voice at the moment. MOBA communities can be kind of all over the place with these kind of features. So we are hesitant to investigate voice, but it’s something that we’ve done in the past and we could see in the future. Turbine has a lot of experience in developing social features. I think something like a Guild would be great to add to a MOBA, just to give you a social identity right out of the gate, it also gives you a great way to meet other people that will be supportive of you, there’s a lot of comradery there and I think there’s a great opportunity for us to have that. At the same time too we have a whole range of audiences, there are a bunch of people whose friends might want to play the game or people who are curious about this new genre, and a Guild-type atmosphere you could have players to help new players. Perhaps even implementing a game mode with less stress for new players, something like that that would be great.
Me: I guess with this being a DC Comics game, there will be a lot of people who may be new to the genre but fans of the universe?
Ryan: We have a lot of people who have checked out the game but never played a MOBA before because they like Batman or Superman, and they want to play the game. We want to make sure those guys have a fun time too.
Me: One last question, if you could have any superpower from the DC Universe, what would you choose and why?
Ryan: (Laughs) I’ll take Aquaman’s ability to talk to sea-life! I’m curious, who knows what could happen!
Infinite Crisis goes is out now on Steam.