With its clean sci-fi/fantasy aesthetic, monstrous enemies, and robot-clad heroes, you’d be forgiven for mistaking Stormgate for a new real-time strategy from Blizzard. And, in a way, you would be right; Stormgate may not be from Blizzard, but it comes from some of that company’s brightest minds. These days, they’re at Frost Giant, a new studio built from the ground up by a collection of ex-Blizzard developers, and they have the ambition to take some of the best ideas from StarCraft and Warcraft to the next level.
Among those minds is Tim Morten, the soft-spoken former production manager of StarCraft 2. Today, he’s the CEO of Frost Giant, still leading production on a multi-faceted RTS. Stormgate, he tells me, was born at least in part out of a desire to evolve one of StarCraft 2’s most successful modes: co-op.
Cooperative play was an “afterthought” for StarCraft 2. “It really wasn’t something that we expected to resonate with players as much as it did,” Morten says. “But in fact, it became the most popular mode in the game after its release with Legacy of the Void. It’s clear from that that there was an appetite to play more socially.
“Social” is a big word for Frost Giant, and Stormgate is built for multiplayer. As you’d expect, there’s the classic competitive 1v1 matchups, but these are supported by a tournament system built right into the game. Forget forums, Twitter or Discord; you will be able to create leagues, teams, friends and rivalries within Stormgate itself.
But co-op isn’t considered a casual mode on the side. It will go through everything, so much so that it looks like the game’s flashship idea. Story-driven campaign missions will be playable with a friend, and three players can take on AI enemies in the “3vE” co-op mode. Even competitive multiplayer will have a co-op offering via 3v3 team battles.
Beyond competitive and cooperative modes, Stormgate will also feature a game editor, which Frost Giant hopes will allow a creative community to thrive by sharing new maps and modes. “Literally, every part of the game is meant to provide a more social experience,” says Morten.
While Frost Giant is a brand new venture and Stormgate is the studio’s first, the team is already pre-equipped with tons of valuable research gathered during their previous projects. Work on StarCraft 2’s co-op mode, for example, provided Frost Giant with a lot of useful information to create a game focused on co-op strategy.
“The learning from co-op mode in StarCraft 2 was that players preferred to build their own bases and their own armies, versus a shared base and a shared army,” Morten explains. “So we’re going down a path where players will be able to control all of their own game pieces. At the same time, we’re building the missions and we’re also designing the heroes for the co-op mode so that it’s not an isolated experience. You are not in one corner playing an experiment, while someone is in another corner playing their own experiment.
Alongside Morten is Tim Campbell, President of Frost Giant and Game Director of Stormgate. Having worked on Warcraft 3 before, he knows a thing or two about making a good strategy game. However, getting this to work on two or three armies playing in tandem is an ongoing process.
“We tried to look for opportunities in the tech tree, in our ability design, in gameplay and objectives, for closer cooperation,” he explains. “We’re doing a lot of gameplay iteration and experimentation right now.”
With all this social gaming talk, it can be easy to assume that Stormgate is casual RTS. And you would be right, to a small extent. Frost Giant wants everyone, regardless of skill level, to have fun in Stormgate.
“We’re really trying to create that core experience that we all know and love about traditional RTS, and find a way to open it up so more people can enjoy it,” says Campbell. “We’re providing ways for players to bring their friends, play together, have this great, positive social experience, whether they’re at different skill levels, and just try to support that end throughout our gaming experience.”
Stormgate – Cinematic Trailer Screenshots
Despite that, Campbell says we can expect all the traditional RTS elements that die-hard fans of the genre demand. “From day one, it was important for us to develop a core RTS experience,” he says. That means gathering resources, building bases, producing troops, upgrading trees, and learning it all in tandem.
“But that said, we think there’s a lot of room for innovation in this space,” Campbell continues. “[We’re] look at how we design abilities and how we design units, and do it in a way that promotes team play. We think it gave some really good opportunities for him to feel fresh for players.
Frost Giant’s aspirations to make Stormgate a game for all skill levels means aspiring esports athletes won’t be ignored. “There is an audience that is very passionate about high skill play, and so 1v1 competition is really the mode [where] we put a lot of effort into finding the balance,” says Morten.
Despite Frost Giant’s plans for all skill levels, there’s no escaping the fact that RTS is one of the most intimidating genres in the entire video game space. For many, curiosity alone isn’t enough to justify the price. But Morten and Campbell already have plans in place to circumvent this barrier: Stormgate will be free-to-play. No firm decision has been made on how it will be monetized, but Stormgate will offer a range of free and paid content. This approach has allowed Frost Giant to think differently about how it will approach the post-apocalypse scenario that fuels the campaign.
“We want to be able to share stories in this game world for years and years and years to come,” says Campbell. “So in addition to the elements we’re building for launch, we already have the next five years of story arcs already mapped out and ready to go as we move forward.” It seems like Destiny and Fortnite have certainly changed the way developers think about storytelling, regardless of genre.
“We had the opportunity late in development for StarCraft 2 to experiment with delivering content in smaller bites with the Nova Covert Ops campaign,” Morten explains. “It really touched the players, allowed us to tell a bit more personal story in this case. But it allowed us to tell a story over time, and that’s something we’re really excited to do. take it to the next level with what we’re doing with Stormgate.
This story begins with the newly assembled shield that can be seen in the first cinematic trailer for Stormgate, which was revealed during the Summer Games Fest showcase. “[The shield] has a constellation of locations on it,” Campbell reveals. “It’s actually the keystone of a map used by one of the game’s factions to identify places they need to go to retrieve other relics that have been hidden for thousands of years. actually become mission objectives for you during the campaign, you will participate in these missions to collect these relics.
This cinematic trailer may be short, but it communicates a lot. This is an RTS that values world building and story. This hopefully means a campaign with a narrative backbone, something that paved the way for StarCraft 2’s incredibly experimental approach to mission design. Producing a campaign designed for co-op only opens up more exciting opportunities in this arena, and I hope Stormgate will remind us all that while the legacy of the RTS genre has been esports, its most exciting innovations have were found when developers created new ways to challenge us. in the countryside.
Warcraft 3 introduced heroes and StarCraft 2 took concept missions to new heights. Will Stormgate add another unforgettable piece of RTS design to this list? We’ll find out when Frost Giant has gathered all of its minerals and the open beta arrives in 2023.
Matt Purslow is IGN’s UK News and Features Editor.
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