Chaos! Madness! Carnage!
When I arrived to preview Edge of Reality's new game, it was lunch for the team. They were ecstatic about their upcoming game, Loadout—less so about San Francisco.
"This is the only thing I miss from here," Online Marketing Manager Ty Root mockingly said with a nod, taking a bite of food that the marketing firm brought in from Chinese Restaurant King Ling. Edge of Reality is based in Austin.
Mark Nau, creative director on Loadout, joked about the team being their own publisher on the game. "Who's going to tell us we have to change objectives every few months? Oh wait, I guess that's me!"
The lead programmer and Edge co-founder Mike Panoff told me that the positive early response they've gotten from GDC and their closed beta has had people calling their third-person online shooter, "Team Fortress 3" or (with love) "Team Fortress on Crack". In spite of the game's third-person perspective, it's a comparison that immediately comes to mind, with Loadout's cel-shaded graphics, fast-paced gameplay, and online shooter gameplay. However, instead of choosing a class, the player builds their role from their loadout, which is massively customizable through the game's weapon-crafting feature.
Partially inspired by Borderlands, the game's central mechanic is based on what Mark Nau think most people want: "I want to make my own weapon." In Loadout this manifests as changing the key components of the gun and testing it in an area with spawned enemies. The customization or weapon-crafting screen allows you to change the weapon type, stock, magazine, type of amunition, spread of amunition, sight, rate of fire, type of damage, environmental interaction, detonation (for explosive ammunition), and so on—to a point where Panoff told me that the potential millions of combinations in this build were dwarfed by the billions of possibilities they were running back at their offices (with more to come).
With each change, the shape of that section of the gun in question is replaced with a different kind of cartoon-like component, giving every custom gun a unique look. The first gun that I made was a rocket launcher that fired sticky rockets, with Tesla amunition, that were proximity-triggered—I had essentially made a lightning-proximity-mine gun. Another gun I tried slowed down the speed of the rocket but let the player guide it; while guiding it, though, your character stands stock still and can easily be gunned down out in the open. As for ammo, the liquid-metal ammunition can penitrate walls and healing amunition can turn any gun into a way of replenishing the health of your teammates. Panoff tells me that in their new build, which will be playable at PAX, they've added napalm and ice-ammunition types.
"You die a lot, but you don't care." Nau says, as we play against each other. Dying in Loadout is hilarious. Hit high by a rocket, your cartoon avatar's torso gets blown off its legs, and the camera follows the legs as they keep running for a few seconds, fountaining cartoon blood. Progressive damage to different parts of the body can reduce arms or legs to bloody bones (that still work); Nau compares the violence in the game to The Simpsons' Itchy and Scratchy) or reduce a head to floating eyes attached to a brainstem. The effect of "healing damage" brings them back to form. But even with someone using a healing weapon, you die a lot in Loadout.
So they make it fun, and easy to get directly back into the game. Respawning happens right next to the action, so there's no real penalty for death (other than a change in your Kill:Death ratio). Nau also talked about how for those who couldn't keep up as easily, the loadouts create the option of different kind of combat or support roles. Want to be a sniper? Make a sniper rifle. Want to be a support tech? Make a healing gun or something that makes proximity mines. The gun you make, rather than the character you play, decides your tactics.
The game mode we played was called Blutonium Blitz, and the score was decided by the number of Blutonium crystals that each team harvest. Only a single character can harvest the Blutonium at a time, and it cycled through each player on the team after each died. The character doing the harvesting was hardly safe, in addition to normal damage, the Blutonium crystals are explosive.
Since the game is their baby, and they plan to self-publish on Steam, Nau says that Edge of Reality's plan is to progressively roll-out the game to the public by slowly expanding their beta as they do extensive playtesting of new features as they develop. Loadout is designed to be free-to-play on the PC, and the different gun parts for weapon-crafting can be accessed through challenges or leveling the character; or by purchasing them through microtransactions.
The game is shaping up well, and without a publisher to give them excessive notes, it sounds like Edge of Reality is on the track to release a game that they will be very proud of. The floating bloody eyes attached to a brainstem speak volumes.