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Interview: Interwave's Palmer On The 'Real Challenge' Behind Nuclear Dawn

It has seen a long and, at times, troubled existence, but the release of futuristic team-based shooter Nuclear Dawn is finally on the horizon. Gamasutra talked to Interwave's Ben Palmer about the game's past, present and future.

Mike Rose, Blogger

August 4, 2011

6 Min Read

It has seen a long and, at times, troubled existence, but the release of futuristic team-based PC shooter Nuclear Dawn is finally on the horizon. Starting life back in 2006 as a Source engine mod, Nuclear Dawn eventually saw startup development team Interwave Studios taking over proceedings in 2009. Speaking to Gamasutra last year, the team told us that it shared a vision with the original Nuclear Dawn team, and a merging of ideas was the most obvious decision. Jump to the present and, having missed its original release target by around a year, pre-orders for Nuclear Dawn are finally underway via the Steam platform. Looking back, Interwave's executive producer Ben Palmer admitted to Gamasutra that picking up on another team's work, especially for your first commercial release, is a mammoth undertaking. "It was exciting, but equally terrifying," he said. "The mod had a huge reputation and history, built from a combination of reverence for the incredible talent committed to it, and the controversies that it had been surrounded by." Indeed, the original team, led by project manager David Lyon, was far from stable throughout development, with multiple team members leaving over the months, and Lyon himself eventually stepping down after less than a year of development. Unfortunately, trying to pick up the pieces led to Interwave also having initial problems. "Generally, picking up a task from where someone else left off is difficult...a real challenge," Palmer told us. "In the first six months of development we quickly learned this the hard way and it was a real shame, because (as many might imagine) we went in with unrealistic expectations regarding the task ahead of us. As much as we wanted to finish up what existed of the mod and turn it into the full game that we all wanted to play, trying to understand and realize a large group's fragmented and incomplete vision just wasn't possible." nuclear dawn 1.jpg This led to the team having a huge rethink of what it was hoping to achieve. "We wanted to build a game that we could all be really proud of, and in order to do that we had to re-draft every aspect from the ground up." "We spent a lot of time going back and forth to the drawing board... but we are very happy with what we've achieved from that." "Nuclear Dawn as a mod was a brilliant concept with some incredibly talented individuals behind it, along with a thriving enthusiastic community... but the reality is that there was no game for us to live up to," Palmer explained. "Of course, we felt that initial pressure to succeed its reputation, but we can't compete with the positive or negative memories people have from its heyday." Running on a modified version of the Left 4 Dead 2 engine, Nuclear Dawn attempts to mix up the FPS genre by throwing in some real-time strategy gameplay as more than just a side-order. While a team of players rush onto the battlefield, looking to capture key points and hold the enemy back, their commander looks over the action from above, providing squads with assistance and support. Inspirations heavily rest of the FPS side of things, however, with ideas coming in from all walks of shooter life. "We've tried and tested many different systems for health, ammo, HUD etc, bouncing back and forth between extremes from the latest series of console-centric titles like Modern Warfare and Bad Company, to the roots of our personal experiences in the likes of Unreal Tournament and Counter Strike," explained Palmer. "Our weapons have a few realistic features and have been balanced to promote skill, tactics and teamwork. The heavy influence of Team Fortress 2's cat-and-mouse gameplay lead us down a path to a very dynamic class-based shooter experience, which was perfect for a game with two strategists in the sky changing the landscape of the battlefield." Combining the FPS and RTS genres on top of this required careful consideration of which features gelled comfortably together, he told us. "We've taken the pieces of each genre that best complement each other and have evolved both from there. On the most basic level, our prototype builds are what have had the most influence on the game that we see today, as its evolution has come directly from our experimentation with the hybrid genre." "We felt that more could be done with an FPS/RTS than we had seen so far," he argued, "and we took the opportunity with Nuclear Dawn to make our ideas reality." nuclear dawn 2.jpg While attempting to offer something completely new, Interwave is also very much aware that taking players outside of their comfort zones may well ward them off. To this end, Nuclear Dawn is set to feature a ranking and experience system similar to those found as standard in the majority of recent and popular shooters. "Players are rewarded XP for completing objectives -- killing enemies, destroying enemy structures, capturing resources, etc," Palmer explained. "This XP goes towards your rank, and it is by combination of your overall rank and the amount of XP earned as a specific class that you gain access to different weapon upgrades and attachments for your current weapons." "In short, our ranking and unlocks system is similar to what FPS players have come to expect from their Battlefields and Call of Duties." For many independent developers, having the backing of Valve and its Steam store is a dream come true. Interwave was lucky enough to have Valve behind it from the very beginning, thanks to the various backgrounds of Interwave team members in Source engine development. In fact, Nuclear Dawn has enjoyed one of the earliest additions to the Steam store prior to release of any game, having been provided with a Steam store page and official community page since its initial announcement back in 2009. Understandably, Palmer and the Interwave team have only good things to say about the industry giant. "The guys at Valve are really great. Of course they are incredibly busy but there has been no end to the support and hospitality they have shown us, and we look forward to working closely with them again on future projects." Interwave is more than eager to use the relationship to its fullest potential too. "Nuclear Dawn is fully integrated with SteamWorks and uses Valve's server browsing system, which means players will be able to join their friends and view game info directly through Steam," Palmer told us. Of course, there's one big question on everyone's lips... will we be getting Nuclear Dawn hats in TF2? "That would be telling!" laughs Palmer. "New content will most certainly be made available for free following release -- our plans include several major additions to the game if players keep us clothed, warm and dry post release in September." Those who pre-order the game will be receiving special bonuses, he tells us, with "perhaps even some cross-title content." If that's not a sneaky reference to upcoming headwear, then we'll eat our hats.

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