I had the opportunity to meet Pierre-Etienne Travers in Ragequit Corporation office, where four of its members work side-by-side in a friendly atmosphere. In a spur of the moment, on the terrace of the building, with coffee and cigarette in the sun, I had the opportunity, in a relaxed atmosphere, to inundate with questions Pierre-Étienne, co-founder of the studio.
Could you introduce yourself in a few words?
I am Pierre-Etienne Travers and I am one of the co-creator of Ragequit Corporation, a studio that is behind the Strike Vector game. My main function was basically the illustration, but now it’s the 3D …
… Yeah, I saw your page on Deviant Art, and precisely this changes a lot compared to Strike Vector!
Oh yes, that’s not necessarily my universe. I like science fiction, but I do have a slight preference for medieval-fantasy (laughs). So about the game, I do all the 3D, not the programming part, but all the scripting level and a little bit animations, too. In fact, we’re all a bit multitasking in the team…
… You’d better be when you’re just five; it’s still a small team to handle a game from A to Z !
Yeah! (laughs) It’s a big challenge for us to complete this project. We calibrated the game to our skills. Basically no one knew how to do 3D, but we got into it, which expanded the range of possibilities. And between us, we never had any major disagreements, big questioning about the game’s concept, and we are all autonomous; no need for big brainstorming, because we trusted each other. And it worked. In fact we were very lucky to find each other! The right people, in the right place, at the right time. But of course, we outsource some of the game’s development, such as the localization, the voices, the music; things we cannot do internally. It’s impossible. For some of the special effects, there are people who gave us a helping hand from time to time, but basically, yeah, we’re five.
The studio was established in 2013, and Strike Vector appeared initially on Steam Greenlight…
Yeah that’s right. We passed the Greenlight, then released on Steam in January 2014.
The Ragequit Corp team worked for other studios on other games, and I thought there were a lot of games with strong narrative component (Amerzone, Heavy Rain, etc …). But in the end, with Strike Vector, it’s totally the opposite.
Yeah. We all worked in studios where we didn’t get to choose the projects we worked on. In creating our own company this allows us the opportunity to create our own games.
OK! So the main reason of Ragequit Corp was really to create Vector Strike?
That’s it. We created the company for this game.
Bypassing Steam Greenlight, would it have been possible to create the game?
I think so, but it took us a good push for the project to appear attractive. Even before it was finished, it forced us to really communicate about, and make as much noise as possible. It’s just got us out of our cave. Besides, we now got our own office, but before, we were working at one of the founders’ home, and it was a little more complicated. So yeah, Greenlight helped us to start thinking about how to create a buzz around the game, although we had no idea how to…
… Well, it’s clear that this is a full-time job!
For sure! It took us a lot of time, in between meetings, about what we would say about our game, updates, and all the rest, but it was a good thing this Greenlight.
I was wondering; before there were not many games on Greenlight, but it has recently expanded a lot. Was it complicated to get visibility?
In fact, you really have a concrete base project. It’s not possible to just have some artworks or even screenshots. At least there is a video game that makes you want, be visually appealing, or at least that understands that the concept is interesting enough. So it’s clear that there is a competition which is more or less intense, but on the whole projects that are proposed, you quickly see those who will be selected. This is very restrictive for people who start like this, with virtually no experience – because there are many who don’t go through the « traditional studio » way …
… There are a lot of amateurs indeed.
Yes that’s it. So, it seems unfair for a lot of people, but the game is in any case submitted to the vote of the players. This is a test; a game that does not receive support on Greenlight won’t receive any, if it were sold. And still, the games that are Greenlighted, there are plenty, that not work out. The system they have in place is not totally illogical either.
And for financing, you started with on your own funds?
That’s it. Initially, we were all unemployed, that made things easier, and it allowed us to create the first Strike Vector.
To go through an editor wasn’t especially an option?
No, we were confident in the fact that we would have enough time to make the game. So we made sure that it works without an editor. This is what we basically didn’t want…
… Not to have imposed elements, and to be completely free?
Yeah, that’s it. In fact, I think there are editors who trust, but only people with experience.
I was thinking for example … Focus
Yeah, Focus seems to get all Parisians studios right now. After that, I confess I don’t know how it works with them. But I had the experience of my previous companies where, indeed, the studios were undergoing impossible pressure from the editor, with deadlines and things like that.
To return on Strike Vector, the first thing one experiences while playing it, it is reminisce of Quake. It was an inspiration, I guess?
There was that, yes. It was mostly to make an air combat game. The notion of Quake came later; this is really when we started developing, we started mixing air combat like Crimson Sky – arcade – with something that is closer to FPS, with the famous stationary mode. The Quake side came with time, when we realised it wasn’t going fast enough, so we increased the speed. It had a full-on effect and once we realized that the sensations were the same, it was further integrated. It was pushed even further into this aspect, for example by adding bonuses that must be caught on the different stages. Or even the size of the arenas depends on the speed level; all of this was studied to a certain point. After, I admit that there was some improvisation! It did not happen with a millimeter plan. (laughs)
Well, I imagine it’s the kind of games you play, and it must have helped …
Every lunchtime we play Quake 3 since … since … forever! (laughs) Actually, all the traditional aspects dealing with air movement, there were a lot of other examples and it was easy to find a clean base, while being strongly inspired. But for the FPS aspect, that was much more complicated, because of managing 360 degrees, and the only example we had was … Descent …
… Oh yes it goes back a long time!
It goes back, and it was a little bit difficult with maneuverability. So we told ourselves, when it’s not in flight-mode, it’s as if we’re human, but able to target at 360 degrees.
Anyway it’s still one of the highlights of Strike Vector: maneuverability. Of course one needs a little time to adapt to it, but once you get a handle on it …
Well, we put in a huge effort, because the first Strike Vector received some negative feedback. In terms of accessibility, the learning curve was clearly too long for most people.
There was also the hardcore aspect, in the sense it required a high level of precision.
In fact, Strike Vector Ex is really a new game, and not especially an add-on, because it’s a complete overhaul of the game. Graphically, to start with, we completely changed the engine with the Unreal 4 – is already prettier …
… Even thou, it already was.
Thank you ! (laughs) But especially with a move to console; this is not the same audience. Already, with the PC public, we overestimated their patience … So we thought we had created a first game, it was exactly what we wanted, but now we moved to console, and we have a public which is much more demanding, and much less patient than for PCs. Therefore a big effort was made. For example, the first one, we didn’t have a solo mode; the new player starts, and is immediately immersed, without being able to train.
In the second one, there will be a single player campaign, and so, we did a guide that we hadn’t done before. For manoeuvrability, we looked at FPS like Halo; it was interesting because their guide was really well done. To start with you don’t realise you’re being guided; we really took the time to make it step by step. We start learning at a slow, but steady pace, gradually increasing speed, and in the end, enemies appear.
OK so there will be a complete single player game, with a storyline?
Oh yes, there is a real campaign with cinematic, and a real story behind it, which was written by Stéphane Beauverger who is a « somewhat » known writer … (laughs)
… Yeah, obviously his name comes up regularly. I’ll have to go knock on his door!
We had fun with him, and it was a real story with the characters with very diverse goals. It was really the big experience of this project, and also the reason why it’s not at all the same game.
Yes the first one, it was really only multiplayer …
We realized that the PC market was too risky to go multi only. People told us, « Yeah but you are sick, you never will get there« . Good in the end, it wasn’t too bad, but it’s true that it was one of the main reasons for deserting the multi PC version.
Checking the reviews, the response is almost always « this game is visually awesome and the gameplay side too, but there’s no players«
A game with only multi is caught in infernal spiral. The moment there is a loss of players and servers are empty, well, it’s the end. It’s almost impossible to restart the game. We have plenty of examples, even free-to-play, and in the end we did well not to enter in this system …
… Besides, what do you tell to whiners who want all games to be free-to-play?
Well, it does not interest us. We had a press release before the release of the first Strike Vector to explain why we didn’t make a free-to-play. And strangely enough, it backfired on us, because people began to believe it was finally a free-to-play, because we had just talked about it (laughs).
… The great problem of cursory reading!
So now, they have their audience, they have their place, but we preferred content available quickly and where there is no stories about double speed game – what its defenders say …
My impression is that it’s a very Franco-French reaction, this aversion with free-to-play …
This is perhaps our social justice side, I don’t know ! (laughs) But yeah, we don’t like it; we grew up with games that were not like that. Even a game like Warframe I had tested gameplay. It’s a hit, but I quickly dropped the case for the same reasons as all other free-to-play games. Ten years ago I installed Korean MMO, and I was super disgusted because the games were really good, but suffered with clumsiness, like XP bar that no longer progress; It’s a shame because, if they had realeased it in standalone, it would have worked. And my last disappointment at this level was Phantasy Star Online 2. I was a big fan of the first one, and when they announced it was going to be a free-to-play … But it is not even released in Europe I think.
Strike Vector was also a bit against the grain of current productions; they advance the player by unlocking perks or skills progressively, where Strike Vector gave access to everything from the start …
We really regretted this; we were not out of our cave for months, and we said « if we do it, then everybody will get it« . But in fact, not at all. It’s a mistake that we made, which was not to test the game with « normal » people. Indeed, it’s true that we play Quake 3 at lunch for years, we’re not bad, so no, we’re not normal players. However, we won’t deny that, and make super easy games. I’ll use the example of Halo; this is a great game that is accessible, but which can also be hardcore. When you do the solo part, this may sound easy, and accessible. But on the multiplayer, we realize that there is still a very hardcore play. So in light of that, and in view of the return of players, we have focused on accessibility. This represented more than half of the development of Strike Vector Ex. We did test the game with people who are not necessarily gamers and that came out pretty good.
So in the Ex, there will not be any perks available from the start?
That remains always the same for multi, but not for the solo part. The solo, it was taken as a very large guide, well done and well wrapped, but will mainly prepare the player for the multi part, just that s/he could acquire some reflexes and don’t end up totally helpless. Once, we had fun doing a pretty funny test: there had been a free-weekend on Steam, and we connected to a server where there were only new players. It was like observing tadpoles that were completely lost (laughs) And among all, with a 16 people server, there’s one of them who will begin to understand how it works, and who will burn all others.
Yeah it’s also came back a lot this return, where some guys were quickly discouraged because they were destroyed non-stop …
Our goal is that it happens less. For multiplayer, which fundamentally changes is that there will be a matchmaking. People never fall on crude and will be automatically with players of their level. We were talking about Halo 4 just now, and that’s exactly it; in multiplayer, I never came across a part where I burst. It was always well-crafted and balanced. So it’s a novelty that will be quite important.
I thought there was already a great visual touch in the first opus, and in the second one it looks to be even better. But what were the inspirations from?
The first idea was already not to do something in space. It was really that. We said that if we did, we would be like all the shooters that exist in space with spaceships. We put this track here aside. After there was another thing, which was to create environments conducive to the game; in what we did not like in the classic air combat games is that ultimately it’s pretty empty. There are not many obstacles and when there are not very big. There is not really the way one can have in movies like Star Wars with the passage with the black star, as we were to it almost everywhere. There are different maps that are more or less complex, but there is still a management information which is quite fine.
Personally, I found the most coolest ones were those in interior, allowing more or less camouflage, even if it is clear that this is not the kind of games where we will stay alive for ages …
Oh yeah … it is clear! We had added perks for camouflage, disappearing from the radar, all that. But this is not the most effective (laughs). But it’s true that the game is pure reaction; it’s more of a reflex than real-strategy. There are some strategies with items and personal status. There are some behind-level design; it is not totally freestyle.
I thought it was typically the kind of game that would fit for e-sports. It remained one of the goals or not?
Well, no. We had an interesting discussion over a LAN where we had the game, and for once free to play have a huge advantage. People who play in e-sports do a lot of LAN, and if people say « Here I have a great game to show you« , and they have a choice between a game like ours where they have to buy it, and another that they can download right away with basic players already overwhelming compared to traditional games, it is more conducive to e-sports scene. The biggest, if I don’t say bullshits, that’s League Of Legend, and now it’s free-to-play. Most MOBA are also …
… Yep, and there is a big business machine behind.
When you see the French trying to e-sports, in the end they take the free to play way. Trackmania kind, it never both market with Trackmania Stadium, which was one too. So good, even when trying to make a competitive game, because we like everything scoring – and this will be a component that will always be important in Strike Vector Ex But it is clear that we don’t rely on e-sports, for sure.
Fun, more than the competition finally, and it is not enough to make a game, must also talk everywhere about it …
… That’s it. You need a big communication and marketing budget too. Yeah, that’s a big thing. And then the players must like and join the game. I know that League Of Legend works because it’s super accessible. This will not necessarily be the case over time with games such as Strarcraft 2, even if it is complex and all that, is not necessarily accessible to everyone. There really are games that are rated for, because of their business model and their marketing power, in order to organize cash prizes and such things. That too; if there are no issues, well… (laughs) Quake-Con time is over, where people were doing this for fun, but now e-sports is most end taken lightly. It’s tempting because when we see the numbers we say that it’s great, but everybody don’t have required capacities, nor the game for that either.
Strike Vector Ex is planned for the Xbox One and PS4; I guess it had to be a big challenge in terms of development to adapt to the world of consoles?
I was already thinking maneuverability with the controller, when we know that in the first one you had to be super accurate …
In fact, maneuverability was not the biggest problem, because we’ve got this knowledge. we’re still console players, so we looked at what was happening, how they had adapted aiming, and how they helped the player. Small parts we added like that are just slight enough eh; it was no big aim-assist, auto-lock, or that kinds of things. But the sights are wider, it’s easier to hit, etc … Nah, the toughest part in the development was technically. This is a new generation of consoles. When we started, it wasn’t so long that it was released. Even the engine we use, it is brand new. So brand new consoles with a brand new engine, which have not yet been tested by other developers, that means not necessarily a lot of support. It’s very hard. In addition, the requirements to be released on consoles are much higher.
Steam, I think they assume that if you release out your game while it’s plenty of bugs, well, it’s your problem, not theirs. The consoles it’s not the same because it engages their image, so they are quite adamant. That means zero bugs, zero misspellings in any language, it takes a PEGI, so submitting the game to all rating agencies, it means a lot of intermediaries and should contact Sony and Microsoft for be sure to have the proper release date. This is significant. Released a PC game, it is already not easy, but on console, it’s kind of an obstacle course. But it’s still a good experience for us because it adds another string to our bow as Indie. But again, it pushed us to improve the finish of the game, accessibility, and finally give the best. Many efforts that will benefit us for the future.
It will be available for download only?
Dematerialized only. Were considered all the options at a time, but we realized that it was not necessarily appropriate to do that with a fairly heavy logistics behind.
In new features, so there will be single player, the fact that it is on consoles, accessibility, and you mentioned locations where the first opus was in English only. For the Ex, how will it be?
The game is translated into six languages, even Japanese! (laughs) Anyway, for console, I think with a game available in several languages, it is a standard. This is also why there is a lot of Japanese games that never go out in Europe. Even when it’s in English, it’s not enough. It is not imposed, but it’s highly recommended. But if not, at the latest, there will be no new vessels or that kind of stuff, and maps of the solo part are those that have been rehabilitated for the solo part.
There will be cross-platform?
No. But I do not even know if that is possible between Sony and Microsoft. I do not know, but I’m pretty sure that it’s impossible; they are not buddies (laughs)
And about music?
It will be mixed; there will be music from old game, and others composed by new musicians. But it will remain quite muscular heavy metal.
(I point a finger at his t-shirt to Metallica’s colors) Eh that’s surprising! (laughs)
And for the future of Ragequit Corp, there are special development cravings? Other than Strike Vector …
We’re asking us a lot of questions in relation to the size of the company and the type of projects we do. We have a lot of ideas and we still have not chosen, but it is clear that it would be an action game, because we don’t have big narrative ambitions. We just want to make games where we have fun.
A last word for our readers?
I think it will please our initial community the fact that we have taken into account the feedback from players. Moreover, there was one topic on Reddit, where there were three pages of discussion on « Why Strike Vector had not worked » – which was not the case for us; we took those most frequently mentioned in order to make adjustments. Whether solo, matchmaking, or accessibility, we took it into account. It’s eager to finish, and it’s hoped the 2016 first quarter people could play the game. So be ready, it will tear! (laughs)
That’s all I wish you!
After the interview, I had the opportunity to try Strike Vector Ex, or at least his guide, which, as promised, was written and witnessed, leading to a gradual hand grip; there was no need Pierre-Étienne provide me other indications. Yet I began from far away, as my skill with a controller is close to the common snail one. In short, beyond the fact that the game is more beautiful and more accessible, it is my opinion that the little guys from Ragequit Corporation are promised to bright future! To be continued …