PAX Prime 2013 – Takedown: Red Sabre Q&A With Christian Allen (Live)

505 Games is publishing a few games that I’m really going to end up sinking some hours into.  I already took a look at Rekoil, the second game is Takedown: Red Sabre.  This tactical, team based shooter brings back the memories from my Tom Clancy days like Rogue Spear. I got a chance to talk to Creative Director Christian Allen at Pax this year.  This is a long read, but it’s good stuff.

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TVGBL: In a market saturated by a bunch of first person shooters, what does Takedown bring to the table?

Christian Allen: So Takedown: Red Sabre brings lethality, non-linearity, replayability, realism, tactics, communication, and teamwork.  It’s not a cinematic, run and gun, rocket jump, or corridor shooter that’s all about cinematics, blood on your screen, brown buildings, and shooting people from other countries. It’s really about looking at a scenario, being provided with the options, how you want to go into that scenario, what weapons you want to take in, what armor do you want to take, and then really working as a team.

We don’t do anything artificial to enforce teamwork.  We just make a non-linear space with lethal enemies and with the need to cover each other’s ass and stick together, it occurs naturally.  People start playing… honestly they get killed a few times. The first time they realize they can’t respawn, realize they can’t just hide behind a couch and let their health regenerate or slap a magic bandaid on their femoral artery to stop themselves from dying, they slow down.  In coop they stick together.  Even in multiplayer when things are a little more fast paced and people learn the maps, because they’re completely non-linear, you’ll see people sprint to action points where combat seems to happen, then they’ll slow down, start engaging, then they’ll sprint, slow down, start engaging.  I can honestly say that I don’t think that there’s a game that embraces this kind of CQB, tactical, lethal, combat out there right now.

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TVGBL: Not like there used to be.

Christian Allen: Nothing like there used to be.  I was originally a modder on Rogue Spear, that’s how I got into the game industry.  Before I was creative director on the Ghost Recon franchise, I worked on Halo Reach and when I started my own company I wanted to get back to that.  So we’re in a position today with digital distribution where we can make a title that’s $15 and can be really focused on a hardcore community because that’s what they want to play. We don’t have to try to make a game that’s going to be pleasing to your grandma or those other stereotypes that publishers throw around. ‘Oh we have to broaden this audience and we need to get our Farmville players into our game and we need to have unlockable content’ and do all those things.  We just make a core game at a reasonable budget and a reasonable price and available to gamers that like this style of game.

TVGBL: I’ve played a lot of the recent shooters and I’m just not the biggest fan of most of them lately.  I’ve found myself playing more Ghost Recon Online.  With Aegis and all that tactical stuff, you’re always try’n to be in cover, you’re not try’n to jump out.  So it’s basically something like that?

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Christian Allen: I think the difference between us and something like GRO would be… GRO has a lot of the forced teamwork aspect where you kind of have to stay near your friends.  Also if you look at the maps and the way they flow, they tend to be heavily choke pointed. And then of course the free to play aspect which we don’t do.  You buy the game.  You get the game.  Everything’s unlocked at the beginning.  There’s no killstreaks, or pay $.99 to get the special armor or anything like that.  It’s about learning the weapons, the handling, the tactics and then ideally having a team that you communicate and play with.

TVGBL: Speaking of weapons, how many different weapons are you going to put in?

Christian Allen: I think we’ve got about a dozen core weapons and then we have the customization options for every weapon that you’ve got.  You can take an M4 Carbine and we’ve got variants within that. We’ve got a bunch of different M4’s, MP5’s, 308’s, shotguns. Basically once you choose your weapon, you can choose whether you want to have a suppressor on it, which that effects the length of your weapon.  Based on which weapon you choose, if you run into a wall, you have to pull your weapon down.  With shorter weapons, you can get up tighter, but you can’t take a big ‘ol sniper rifle, stick a suppressor on that, and now you’re three feet out and you’ve got to pull your weapon down.  Then you get to choose which options you want on the weapon.  If an optic will physically fit on a weapon, you can put it on there and then based on the weapon you choose the ammunition type.

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So whether you take a jacket of hollow point, full metal jackets, or armor piercing rounds that’s all effected by the bullet penetration throughout the map.  Every object can be penetrated by certain rounds.  You can shoot through certain objects if you take certain ammunition and then of course that plays into our body armor system as well.  So a 12gauge is great at murdering dudes up close for those that don’t have any body armor, but if someone’s wearing a full kit kevlar 3a vest, you know you’ve got to shoot for their legs or face or else they’re going to kind of laugh at you for the first couple of rounds.  So all the systems work together and again those core game systems along with the non-linearity work together.  We support a few modes, we’ve got single player with A.I., we’ve got coop with multiplayer, multiplayer 6v6, multiple layouts, lots of different content, lots of different modes so we tried to add a lot of replayability for a good budget.

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TVGBL: And this is all going to be out when you guys… you guys have already been Greenlit right? (As of posting this, it’s already available on Steam. Sorry for the delay.)

Christian Allen: Yeh we’re good on Steam. We’ve partnered with 505 and they’ve helped get us setup with Steam.  We’ve also got a previous relationship as well with Microsoft. So we’re going to be releasing September 20th on Steam.  You can pre-order now and there’s a pre-order unlock bonus up there.  And then XBLA digital release for $14.99, I think Xbox is going to be switched over to $14.99 instead points by then.  Or something…

TVGBL: I think they should have been already but…

Christian Allen: Yeh, I don’t know.  I hear it’s like coming everyday so either it’s… I don’t really want to say points so hopefully it’s gone and I can just say $14.99, real money.

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TVGBL: Ok, so $14.99 and there’s no, ok we’ll wait… there’s no progression at all either right?

Christian Allen: Nope!

TVGBL: So you just have all the weapons and the progression is you just get better at it.

Christian Allen: Correct, correct, so you have all the weapons, all the armor.  We actually have a Killhouse, training area you can go in with the different weapons and ammunition to try them out, see how they handle.  And then you learn the game, learn the weapons, learn the levels.  Like I said, the levels are not linear so they’re quite imposing to people because there’s no indicator.

When you go to a scenario you can’t say, for example Biolabs.  We show you a 3D layout of the area, we say, ‘hey we know there’s one bomb in the lobby, there’s one bomb in the generator room’ and we show you where those are at. Then we say, ‘Ok we know there’s one more bomb somewhere in the lab’ and it randomly spawns in various locations in the lab.  ‘Here’s your objective.  Here was your briefing. Go.’  And so a lot of the fun is really kind of learning the maps, learning the scenarios.  The guys get completely randomized in the beginning of the levels so you can’t just learn that there’s a dude always around this corner.  So there’s just a lot of replayability.  I mean I play these missions every single day I’ve been playing them every single day for the last year and I still can’t 100% tell you that I’m going to go beat this.

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We’ve had one team beat them so far, one mission.  So it’s challenging and difficult, but like a lot of those older games and their replayability, you start seeing it as a puzzle that you want to break and not an experience that some designer is handing to you, that’s important to me.  Also a thing I like about the replayability, the non-linearity, is if you choose to go right and someone’s behind you and they kill you, you chose to go right.  I didn’t force you as the designer in a spawn tunnel where I just throwing waves of helicopters or some shit at you.  It’s up to you and so if you die, it’s really on you. It’s not something that I as the designer… at this point I want it to be really hard.  It’s just, here’s the scenario, take it down.

TVGBL: Is there going to be any more increasing the high difficulty if somebody finds your game… I don’t know how, but too easy?

Christian Allen: Well they can always play some of the later levels that are much larger, there’s a lot more angles that you have to cover.  In Facility you get into a lot of verticality were you’re going down a big shaft and so you’re not always looking laterally, you have to look up and down as well.  Cargoship is completely at night, so you’ve got to use your night vision or your flashlight.  Radar Station, the guys have body armor just like you do and that makes it a little difficult.  And then in Tango Hunt, you can choose to play both in coop and single player where you get the guys randomized between what kind of weapon, what kind of body armor and then even more random with their location. Then you can set how many dudes you want from like ten, twenty, or thirty.  You can set a time limit for yourself, how long you want to take.  There’s always an increase in challenge.  I like to give people the systems and have people come up with the the gameplay themselves.

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The other thing we want to support is mods.  So our Killhouse map that I mentioned from the training, that’s actually a modular construction set.  So people will be able to download our editor, they’ll get the Killhouse construction set, they get a big empty warehouse and then all the pieces snap together.  They can build their own kind of Killhouse whether they want to build a coop or multiplayer map.  We’v actually built two mulitplayer maps out of it.  So hopefully the modding community will step up and build content as well.

TVGBL: So that’s also free?

Christian Allen: Oh yeh.

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TVGBL: So if someone just bought the game and all they’ve done is play first person shooters and they’ve never modded… is it kind of a Lego, like you have the pieces and the place and you just kind of put it together?

Christian Allen: Yeh, there’s a little bit of a learning curve.  We’re based on the Unreal Engine 3 and if somebody wanted to go download the Unreal development kit right now and start messing with it and get an idea of what’s included.  Once you learn how to navigate through the editor itself, someone could start by opening up one of our Killhouse levels, which we’ll release as kind of template and then basically see how they’re put together.  We’ll hopefully do some tutorials as well.  Yeh, if they’re just using the pieces that we provide, they can snap everything together and basically all they have to do when they’re done is hit save and hit “lightmap” and let it lightmap for a couple of hours and then give it to their friends.  If they’ve all got it they can edit the map list in the config file to have it in the list or they can use the console command when they’re playing.

TVGBL: So you’re not charging for maps either?

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Christian Allen: Well ok.. so they’re may be additional content that we release after launch that may be paid content.  We’re not going to decide on that until we actually ship the game.  But that mod tool stuff that we’re releasing… that’s free.

TVGBL: So when a person creates a map, they can share it with everyone and that’s fine.

Christian Allen: Oh yeh yeh!  We’re looking at Steam support, I don’t know the details of it of mod support where people submit mods to us and then we give them the thumbs up.  Something like, ‘oh this doesn’t contain a bunch of copyrighted material from everybody else’ and approve mods because that’s always a danger when people go out and start ripping stuff off the internet and you say it’s great and then someone else says ‘oh, now I’m going to sue you’  Yeh, as long as their not selling stuff, they can make and give away whatever they want for the game.

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TVGBL: That’s really cool!  I’m really excited for it.  One more question though, what actually did inspire you to make this game initially?

Christian Allen: Basically the fans did.  Long story short, I left Warner Bros. and I was doing consulting for Hollywood. I was working for movie companies consulting on videogames and I put up a website for my consulting company which was my old Handle and my gamertag ’cause it was like I own the the right to do it on the website and it was just a blank page. Then I started to get emails like ‘Hey, I saw you started a company, are you working on any tactical shooters?  Can you add me to your mailing list?’  And then like, which is like one of the oldest running Ghost Recon fansites ran this article like ‘What’s Christian Allen doing next?’  I was kind of like ‘Hmmm!  Maybe we could do this and I started thinking about it and looking into it and started gathering up a team and right about then is when Kickstarter starting taking off.  So we were kind of right there in the forefront of the cowboy, gunslinging days of Kickstarter and it was a wild ride, but I really saw that Kickstarter was a valuable experiment.

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I always told people for years like “Why can’t we just make a game focused on this audience and most of the publishers were like, ‘Oh those are like flight sim guys.  There’s only like 20,000 of them, they’re not valuable enough to make a game for’.  I thought, ‘Hey, if I can spend 30 days on Kickstarter and convince enough people to give me this amount of money then hopefully that’s proof that I should even be trying to do this. Or otherwise retire to a big publisher to make AAA games for the rest of my life. It’s risky and it’s crazy and it’s insane, but it I got to hire other developers who kind of share the vision and wanted to work on a small team on a game focused on the gameplay and not a bunch of corporate bullshit, so I think kind of been dream come true if not stressful.

TVGBL: The indie games are really starting to shine and I’m really glad for that.

Christian Allen: Definitely, I think on that, whatever you call it, midcore or indie, these games are focused on something where the vision is artistic or gameplay. Thankfully, first party seems to be coming around on that.  The mid-level publishers are definitely coming around on that; if you see 505, and games like with Terreria and uh… whatever the hell that game is over there.

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TVGBL: Tiny something…

Christian Allen: Tiny Brains, I still need to play it, but I have no idea what it is. I think people are starting to learn that, again back to digital distribution and altered markets and you don’t have to sign physical distributors in all these countries and it cuts out a lot of the middle man so you can take that risk on a smaller project. If it does ok, then great, everybody’s happy, and if it does great, then everybody’s ‘HeeeEEEeey!’ and everybody’s really happy and you wear fedoras and throw money around everywhere. I think it is changing, the markets changing, I’m glad to see that the indie scene is embracing core gameplay, whatever kind of core gameplay that is and I think it’s ebbing back from the mobile, free to play, asian market stuff that was all the rage two years ago and getting back to gamers as their core customers.

TVGBL: So what is the one question you’d want somebody to ask if they were interviewing you about your game?

Christian Allen: (Laughs) Uh, Wow! Nobodies ever asked me that before. I’d probably say…

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TVGBL: Like what are you most excited about your game?

Christian Allen: Support an indie team that’s supporting a fan base that has been shit on forever and I guess I’d want them to ask me about the fans and the community because not only financially, but gameplay wise and honestly, you know, some emotional support as well, these guys have been through thick and thin with us.  They’ve been there from day one and they’ve seen the game from when it was a grey box in UDK. They’ve seen the progression and every time I see them go out to an external place and a video hits YouTube and some guy comes on and goes ‘This just looks like a retarded 2006 version of Call of Duty!’ and then I see like four guys that are just like Bam, Bam, Bam, Bam! ‘You don’t understand’, ‘you don’t get it’ and someone’s explaining it out and I even saw a 4chan thred where guys were like… well, I saw a 4chan thread about it and I was like, ‘I shouldn’t go there. I shouldn’t go there. I shouldn’t go there.’ Any time I see someone out there with that passion, that shares the same passion that I have, it’s really uplifting.  They are also our most passionate critics, but that’s ok, because it all comes from a good place.

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This game has come under some heavy criticism as of it’s launch, but I’ve played it personally.  No I didn’t get a free copy, I paid full price for it.  It’s fun, the devs are listening, and patches have been applied to fix some funky issues like eyes popping out of a dead body.  While some may feel it should have been released as a Early Access game on Steam, this is a solid game.  It’s slim, trim and gets what it wants to get down.  This is a hard tactical shooter.  If you’re looking for something like that, this is it.  If you’re looking for something to hold your hand, Takedown: Red Sabre will slap you in the face.  Some people are into that… I think I’m coming around to it as well.

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