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September 28, 2007
AGDC 2007 - Fallen Earth

By Linda "Brasse" Carlson

 Struggling with his mouse and threatening some violence against it, I found Lee Hammock at the Fallen Earth Booth at AGDC. The Lead Game Designer for the product, Lee proved to be an amiable man, death threats against hardware notwithstanding.  

Fallen Earth is set in a post-apocalyptic world, set in the southwestern United States , a hundred years after a nuclear and biological cataclysm. The Grand Canyon is one of the few places that remain habitable after this event.

 "Our map of the world is based on an actual topographic map of the Grand Canyon .

We have about 83 kilometers per side, for a total of over 700,000 square kilometers of space for the game," says Lee, "Looking off in the distance, (here he points to a plateau that appears nearby on the overhead map), it would take me about an hour and a half to reach that." It is a truly enormous environment, and entirely free of zones.

 I looked at the towns in the newbie map, and lingered over one called "Slaughterville". "It's not as bad as you might think," laughs Lee, "They just have a lot of cows there."

 Fallen Earth is a first-person-shooter, based on target resolution. If you actually want to hit somebody, you have to get him within in your targeting reticule. You can also play the game in 3rd person mode, with the same targeting method. Hammock found first person better for ranged combat, and preferred 3rd person for melee, due to the greater range of vision available.

 "Damage done to the target is based on more of an rpg model, taking into account your skills, weapon enhancements, their armor and the target's skill at not getting hit," says Lee, "However, you will never get a situation where you will have an enemy targeted, but are told that you "miss". Now, if they have great armor, you may not do damage, but you'll hit them!"

 Fallen Earth is a project that was originally intended to demonstrate the Icarus gaem engine, but it rapidly gained momentum and became a freestanding product.

 "As you advance in the game, you get advancement points, which you are able to spend on stats and abilities," explained Lee, "You can max out several different abilities, so that you are not just rifle guy or just first aid guy, you can fill a number of roles depending on the situation."

 There are levels in the game, but they do not mean as much as they do in other worlds. Says Hammock, "If you have a 100th level player and he's spent all his points in tactics, first aid, and other support skills, and he runs into a level 70 guy who has specialized in straight rifle skills, the rifle guy will probably win."

 I asked what happens if a player decides they want to change their playstyle. Lee replied, "We're working on a respec system, but we've not finalized anything yet. It will probably be a process where you respec over time, instead of instantly dumping all your points and reassigning them." The Devs want to prevent people from repeatedly dumping their points and respeccing on a whim.

 "We want people to enjoy the game in solo or group mode, so that they can enjoy the world the way they want to play," says Lee. Of course, some areas are better suited to solo play than others.

 Hammock went on to explain the way Fallen Earth will handle the traditional "boss mob" encounters. "Large scale encounters will tend to be with large numbers of creatures as opposed to high level boss mobs, because it fits the real-world environment we are aiming for. It does not make sense for level bosses to have to be shot 500 times. Battles will tend to be fighting through hordes of minions and then a slightly tougher boss mob, as opposed to one HUGE guy.  We will have some tough mobs, but they will be the exception to the norm."

 People will have a number of different goals in the game. "We'll fill the 'Gamist' goal of getting to high level, amassing the best equipment," says Lee, "We have story-driven goals, where players will find out what's going on in the world, why they are clones, where all the tech comes from, what's behind it all, and we also have extensive crafting, which is essential to the game."

 Crafting may seem a little out of place in a fps-type game, but it makes perfect sense in the Fallen Earth economy. "At the start of the game, my weapons are a rolling pin and a pipe," says Lee, "As you go through the game, you dig through piles of junk and find something like 'torn cotton', which you can use to make a shirt. Or you can take an existing shirt that you don't like, tear it apart to get some cotton out of it, and make a different shirt. 95% of the items in our game are craftable."

 Crafting is essential to success in this harsh world, as Lee illustrates, "If you're a 75th level guy a mob may drop a weapon that is in the mid 50's, so if you rely on creature drops, you will be at a sub-optimal level of equipment. A crafter can make gear up to ten levels higher than themselves if they max out their skills. All gear has skill requirements involved as opposed to levels. Players can use gear at up to ten levels higher than themselves if they have maxed out the applicable skills."

 You will not need to go through a high level encounter twenty times in hopes of a 5% chance of a good drop. Instead, you go through it once and obtain a component that can be made into a good item by a crafter.

 Crafting skills do not take advancement points in order to progress. They are dependent on use to increase skill. All of crafting has a real-time component with it. "If you are making a gun, for instance, it might take three or four hours, but you can log off and sleep while it finishes. You can queue up more items to be processed in sequence when the first one finishes."  Most items take 1-5 hours to make. Bandages, for instance, take 5 minutes. Guns take 3-5 hours depending on the subcomponents and quality of the gun. A car on the other hand, being large and complex, might take 2 weeks.

 As Hammock explained, allowing crafters to "work" offline avoids the player worrying about wasting game time. "When the player logs back on the next day, they are greeted with a nice chunk of crafting experience." he says.  It's an interesting approach.

 All resources come in several quality levels: scrap, salvaged, normal and superior. You can even refine lower level resources to upgrade the quality. Of course, the better the components, the better the end product.

 Acquiring resources is a little different in Fallen Earth, and consists mainly of scavenging, "Digging through piles of garbage, finding scrap metal, unburied bodies or even graves," grins Lee, You can look at the dead guy and say, 'Huh, this guy doesn't need his pants' ...and then take his pants."

Players will be kept busy building and maintaining player-run towns. "Our PvP is largely based on taking over towns for your faction, governing them and keeping control of them," explained Lee. One of the underlying ideas of the game is rebuilding the world in accordance to the manner you think is best. You will need to align with one of the six factions in Fallen Earth.

 "We are shooting for a very grim game," Hammock laughs. It's a post-apocalyptic, dog-eat-dog world, where the factions that have formed each have their own very specific view of how civilization should be rebuilt. Therein lies the political motivation of the game, and the basis of PvP in Fallen Earth.

 Each faction has an ally and a sworn enemy faction, which can make interactions fairly complex.  Outlining the various factions and relationships would be a whole article in itself, so I'll just point you to the page that explains it all:

 A third of the landmass is devoted to player versus player conflict, but fortunately the Plateau (newbie area) is off-limits, so you will have plenty of time to learn your way around the game – and maybe learn your way around a weapon as well.

 Fallen Earth is clearly a far more complex game than most in its genre. It will be interesting to see how all of the factions play out when the game releases. When will that be? "When it's ready," smiles Lee.

made by Icarus Studios:


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