While we spent a good bit amount of time talking with Hi-Rez Studios COO Todd Harris about its revival of the Tribes franchise with Tribes: Ascend, we also spent some time talking about its upcoming free-to-play MOBA game, SMITE, and how it is positioned against the likes of League of Legends and DotA2 as well the different gods in the game, the art style and whether or not we could see something like Cthulu in a future update.
Examiner: How do you feel SMITE fits in with the other MOBA type games such as League of Legends and the DotA2?
Todd Harris: I really think it’s going to surprise people. We got great feedback at Gamescom. I mean there’s a lot of noise being made about the MOBA gametype. It’s a really fun gametype and still under-exposed. A lot of people play it but there’s still a bigger group of people that have never played this gametype. There’s a reason that its successful and in the same way that the FPS market can support many FPSs even though there’s Battlefield 3 and other titles, we think that Tribes can be successful because it is different enough. That’s really the same with SMITE. We see League of Legends, Heroes of Newerth, DotA2, all those things are just really helping to train people and expose them to this basic idea of a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena. But those are all played like a RTS with an RTS perspective. We think there’s a larger audience that will enjoy that experience like an action-game in the third-person perspective using ‘WASD’. We got some great feedback to that effect at Gamescom.
EX: Do you feel like the RTS perspective is kind of intimidating to some people?
TH: I think it is intimidating to some people, yes. I think the third-person is both more accessible at the beginning level, just as fun and deep at the high level, and more visceral. You are just much more in the action.
EX: I’ve heard you say “visceral” before. What makes it visceral? Do you see the gods take impact from being damaged or do you see the creeps or enemy gods react to being hit?
TH: I think that all those other games have exceptionally good animation but because you are not right in there, the player doesn’t get to necessarily appreciate the great animation or effects or sounds the way they are intended as close-up. So that I think is really it. All those games are quite well-polished and do that but if you are above the battlefield it doesn’t have the same impact.
EX: In a Gamescom interview you mentioned that you had gods coming from five different pantheons with six gods each.
TH: Yeah, that’s the release plan.
EX: Down the road are you looking at adding other god-types from different mythologies?
TH: Yeah, I think that we will certainly consider other mythologies at that time. We haven’t yet decided which one we would add or whether we would do that versus expand the family but that would be a good time to consider other pantheons.
EX: This is going to be kind of a silly question but would you consider non-traditional almost atheistic mythologies like Chtulu or the Flying Spaghetti Monster?
TH: <Laughter> Nothing is off-limits. We want it to be mythological pantheons or gods but I would never say never to a family of god if it was interesting enough and it supported the gameplay.
I think the key for us, and I think this is an advantage I think we have with SMITE particularly with the starting gods, we are looking at gods and archetypes where the player will already have an impression of what it does. Which is very helpful because now you as a player going in, you have some idea of whether this character is probably a little more of an assassin or more of a tank or more of a mage. And when you are fighting the other ones too, that’s a lot of characters to learn. You probably have some idea that Zeus uses lightning and maybe you want to stay away from that versus something that is kind of too random then there’s a lot more that the player has to learn. There’s this bit in canon.
EX: You’ve released both good gods and bad gods for SMITE so far. Is the plan to have it split even within each pantheon?
TH: That’s not a super-high priority. I would say we are more focused on the pantheon first, the gameplay role as well because we basically break them down to assassins, tanks and mages more or less. Those are really what drives it. Ultimately, you are fighting alongside any four of them so you’re not necessarily grouped by family or good or bad, you’re just trying to find complimentary powers that work well.
EX: Are the creeps and towers based on the various mythologies as well?
TH: We’re going to start with one map and we’ll look at more down the road. They are themed mythologically. The minions that move in the lanes are humanoid currently, the camps in the jungle are inspired by mythology with Cyclops, harpy and a minotaur.
EX: Are there plans for more than just one gametype and map for SMITE beyond the traditional three lane map with the objective to destroy the enemy portal/nexus?
TH: We’re going to start and release with the very traditional three-lane map that players are used to. We think that is the battlefield and a lot of the diversity and replayability comes from the gods and the third-person perspective. We’ll start with that and look at what the community wants and how much it wants it to be different game modes.
EX: How would you describe the art style of SMITE?
TH: It’s different than anything we’ve done before. It’s our first non-jetpack, non-sci-fi game. It looks like a fantasy game, the team has done a great job of using Unreal 3 to make something that doesn’t look like a Space Marine game. It is fundamentally a fantasy, mythological based game.
EX: Was there anything you based that on? Like just a general Tolkien or looking at different art style from the different cultures the pantheons are based on?
TH: The process that we used was less picking just one piece of art or reference work. Really, when we started we had many artists on the SMITE team and even beyond doing concept of the same few god. So we had five renditions of Zeus, five renditions of Kali. Out of that we really discussed those, did art reviews, multiple renditions. From those we evolved the current style which tries to play to Unreal 3’s strengths but doesn’t make it look just like every other Unreal 3 game. There’s a lot of exaggeration and we obviously try to make every god’s powers are well illustrated. It was more bottom-up in regards to art style.
EX: Riot Games released a retail box for League of Legends that came with a selection of the Champions. Are you looking at doing something like that with SMITE or will you stick with digital download only?
TH: For both Tribes :Ascend and SMITE we will definitely have a bundle so that from a pricing stand point for players that aren’t in the micro-transaction thing, they could buy a collection of gods for SMITE or loadouts for Tribes: Ascend. There are no plans at this point for a retail box. There are many interesting parties talking with us about a retail box. I wouldn’t discount it but there are no plans yet.
Hi-Rez is hosting the first publicly playable demo of SMITE at PAX Prime this weekend in Seattle, Washington. Players will get the first look at newly announced Egyption feline goddess, Bastet, and her impressive looking….whip.
Be sure to check out our other interviews with Todd Harris about Tribes: Ascend (part 1, part 2, part 3) and what it is like being an independent games developer in Atlanta.
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