Warface still has one of the silliest names in the industry. It’s one which just feels like it should come attached to PS2 game of the early 2000s which went straight to the bargain bin. It’s not though, and is in fact something of a sensation over in Russia, where it has garnered over 11 million players.
I sat down with Joshua Howard, the Executive Producer on Warface, and asked him about just this. Do the team kick back and chuckle to themselves about it?
“We chuckle at the fact that people have given such a story to the name,” he explained. “We wanted a name that was universal, language independent, culturally independent and memorable. The fact that people continue to chuckle about the name Warface demonstrates we hit it on the head.
“To hear the Chinese talking about it, the Brazilians talking about it… hey, they’re all talking about Warface. Goal accomplished!”
A goal accomplished with quite some style, going by the player counts for Russia and the successes in China, Korea, Brazil and elsewhere. Except that these were just the first steps for Warface, and Crytek are now bringing the game across to the Western world, with an impending open beta and a slew of tweaks and changes in tow. Yet it still feels somewhat puzzling for a major first person shooter brand to release with an Eastern focus first before spreading to the West.
“I think that where we released had more to do with our partners,” Josh said. “Once we had a product that we were proud of, we started sitting down with partners around the world who share that vision. We had some strong interest in Asia, and that was exciting, but we also had interest from Mail.Ru in Russia, and that was right in our back yard.
“Kiev is a Russian speaking team, and it made sense to partner with Mail.Ru in the first place, as a good way to get it started. All along, our Asian partners were very supportive, and they were helping us to understand what was different in the Asian market compared to what we experienced in the Russian market.”
Sitting down to play the game, a group of us jumped into a co-operative mission. It’s where Crytek intend for most players to really start playing the game, in order to get used to how it handles. This is effectively the gateway into the game for newcomers, as the Warface forces fight against the evil Blackwood PMC.
Of course, as a PC-based shooter, your standard WASD keyboard layout is present, but there are other ideas which aim to keep things nice and fast paced. When you’re running around, you can initiate a slide move, which sees you skidding across the floor, still firing your weapons. It is, frankly, quite hilarious to see from the third person, as another player skids into a couple of enemies and sends them flying.
A nice idea -which was related to us as we played on quite an easy difficulty level- was to have the co-op missions rely a lot on the teamwork and interplay of the different classes. With a Rifleman, Medic, Engineer and Sniper combining together with their individual weapon classes and special abilities, they should make quite a good team by virtue of the various distinctions between them.
The level itself played out as a kind of quick instance of gameplay. We were dropped into the fight, and battled out way through a level, moving from objective to objective. Simple, straightforward and quite fun, but with the potential to become something grander and more engaging. It would certainly seem that there are mechs to fight.
“There’s a lot of great player vs. player shooters out there, and early on, the team recognised that co-op was a good opportunity for differentiation,” revealed Josh. “So they took a good amount of time to think about that deeply, and do so in a way that not only was good for players, but was effective and scalable from an online service stand point.
“You can’t really deliver that if every single piece of content is going to be hand crafted and takes a year to build. The demands on an online business as a service is that it needs to scale. So the team came up with a solution that turned out to be good player experiences.
“Personally, my view is that Warface is a co-op game. I’m the kind of player who sucks at the PvP experience! I’m an old school Call of Duty and Battlefield player, and I’ve been playing shooters a long time, and I’ve never really been able to succeed, and at a certain point that gets in the way of my enjoyment. The idea that Warface offers this really robust co-op mode; that’s the game for me, and that’s awesome.”
Of course, the Deathmatches and PvP games are still the lion’s share of the experience here, and it’s the same fast-paced action from the co-op mode, though here you are butting heads with real humans. There’s even some of the co-op game’s ideas brought across, with the need to get a leg up to reach certain vantage points for snipers integral to a well rounded team.
It was all very fast paced, with very little needed to take someone down or be downed yourself. On quite a small-feeling and densely packed map it was quite difficult to really get into the rhythm of the game, unless the rhythm is for me to die a lot.
The problem I had was all about choke points. After becoming somewhat accustomed to more expansive level design, it was quite jarring to find myself spawning in a set base and be one or two corners away from the fight. Instant gratification, yes, but also instant dissatisfaction, as the wider world seems to be full of players more than happy to tuck themselves in a corner behind boxes, and just wait for someone to come round it.
Storm is a fairly new addition to the game mode list, bringing an attack and defend mode, with a series of control points to capture and hold. More compact than Battlefield’s Rush mode, this also brought out a bit of camping, though this is simply part of the game mode. By then we had decided to retreat from the open network and hold a more private lobby, something which I personally found a lot more enjoyable, with a less frantic and more considered pace to learn the map and gameplay with. Even then, I think the co-op side of things might simply be more to my tastes.
One of the pillars for the release to Western markets is the use of a new Crytek social hub called GFACE. Over time it will expand beyond Warface, but for the time being it will act almost exclusive as the browser-based front end for this game, launching matches, managing friends, organising lobbies and providing other core services.
It’s part of how Crytek want to tailor the experience to each market, and this is something which extends right down to the gameplay, as well.
“We try to articulate what we think of as the core of Warface, and then apply that culturally to each region,” stated Josh. “That’s been an interesting challenge that we’ve learned a lot from over the last year. A good example would be weapon recoil. It’s an important thing for a shooter, and you may take it for granted, but it’s one way that we can make weapons feel distinct.
“Turns out the Russians love lots of recoil – even more than the Western players – whereas for the Chinese players, even the concept of recoil is a lot more difficult. So the same weapon in these different regions has different amounts of recoil. What we try to do is, relatively speaking, make it still be appropriate.
“So the AK-47 kicks more in the West than it does compared to other regions, but even though the absolute amount of kick is different, it’s still more elsewhere. So we’ve had to take what we think of as the relative differences and scale them to the different markets.”
Managing such a wide variety of cultures, markets and communities, each demanding slightly different things is surely a huge challenge for the team. However, they’re constantly bringing a stream of updates and new content. The recent addition of the Storm mode, as well as having – admittedly overly busty and fleshy – female skins to unlock and play as.
“The reality of an online game is that you’re hitting it at different levels of cadence,” explained Josh. “So players that have been in various phases of the closed beta will recognise there will be some things we’ve changed, and a lot of those changes came because of what players were asking for.
“While I’m happy with the changes, there’s already feedback that changes may have been to much this way or that way, so already the devs team are working on variations of those to try and soften them.
“But then there are the bigger investments, when players say, “We want rocket packs!” – this is totally hypothetical, we’re not doing rocket packs! – and this is then a whole new thing that’s going to take a few months to do. So, we still might invest in that, even if it takes longer to come.”
Of course, I simply had to follow up on this, and ask when we might see rocket packs, even though I knew he was speaking in hypotheticals.
“We’re not seeing rocket packs, no matter what I said!” he protested. “I think it was in February, I told somebody about if players want submarines, and then submarines kept coming up. I was just coming up with a thing!”
There was me thinking every game had to have horses and bows, and Warface won’t even have rocket packs and submarines…
Warface is hurtling towards an Open Beta period in the West, with a “pre-open” Beta (which surely just means closed?) currenly taking sign ups via their website. This also seems to have a gigantic countdown to the early hours of Monday 21st October.