A number of times during our interview on Friday, Chris Taylor asked me if what he was saying made sense, if I “got” Wildman, his newly announced, Kickstarter-funded RTS / MOBA. Taylor talks a mile a minute and there’s always the sense that his words are trying to catch up to his brain, but more than that, Wildman is something different and harder to explain than he’s used to pitching.
Wildman is something of a capstone project for his career thus far. You can identify traces of all his earlier games in Wildman, and yet it’s profoundly different from any of them. It’s partly an RTS, since you build units and buildings and decide what to deploy to the battlefield using resources you’ve gathered. It’s also a MOBA, but most of your character progression and and item selection happens in the single-player campaign. It’s also an RPG, because in between battles in the campaign, you take your prehistoric hero on adventures that have more in common with Dungeon Siege or Diablo than League of Legends or Total Annihilation.
Wildman takes its name from the homo sapiens you play at the start, and presents the rise of humankind as a bare-knuckled battle into prehistoric supremacy. Taylor says, “Our story is, 200,000 years ago the Wildman picks up a bone out of a firepit and goes out into the world to conquer. When he meets another group, another culture, another civ, another tribe, he’s got to go to war against them with his own and taking their technologies with them that they’ve found.
The Wildman (or Wildwoman, if you prefer, since the name changes depending on which gender you select and you will get a new title screen that reflects your choice) will encounter Neanderthals, hyper-intelligent animals who aren’t quite ready to be knocked down the food-chain, and, of course, the odd bit of magic.
“The story is a fun retelling of human history with a bunch of what ifs,” Taylor explained. “What if we connected with animals more? What if the insects and wildlife and some other creatures in the world evolved to sentience? Because if you look at human history, man had to fight against a few others but the animals didn't really put up an intellectual fight. They weren't building weapons too. So what if they did? That's kind of a question we want to pose.”
The battles against other tribes and races will be a combination of MOBA gameplay, where you steer your hero around the battlefield killing creeps and acquiring resource, and RTS mechanics as you spend those resources on buildings and advanced units. While your spawn buildings will naturally create cannon fodder at whatever is the baseline tech level of your tribe, you can also spend gold to churn out advanced units like catapults or powerful longbowmen instead of the basic archers. These forces will spawn for as long as your gold holds out, so you can basically control where and when to start launching more powerful creep waves.
“When you defeat [the enemy], your quest reward is to pluck one of their technologies from them,” Taylor said. “So it’s got kind of a Civilization vibe. It can be passive technology, where it applies to everyone, and as soon as you get it you’ve got it across the board. Or it could be active technology where it could be... complex catapults. They’re expensive, so we can’t just turn them out by the hundreds.”
Taylor wants the war zone combat to be intense. He wants players to be turning off the ringer on their phones and sitting on the edge of their seat. But he also wants players to be able to relax after the battle with an adventure.
“Think Dungeon Siege or Diablo. But this is more of an overland adventure. You're travelling, expanding out into the world. The battles are not as frequent, it doesn't feel like you're just going from whacking skull after skull, like some sort of zombie apocalypse where they're just standing around waiting for you to come along and pop ‘em on the head. That's almost arcade. We want a little less arcade, we want a little more sense that you really are adventuring.”
Gas Powered are asking for $1.1 million, though obviously they hope for more. Taylor says that GPG have already spent close over a million dollars just laying the groundwork for Wildman, and there are a number of features they would love to include if they achieve greater funding, like PvP multiplayer. But at its heart, Wildman is a single-player game with co-op focused multiplayer.
This is lesson Taylor and company have taken from years of experience in the RTS genre, where Taylor says the participation rate in multiplayer remains shockingly low, and a somewhat traumatic experience with the multiplayer-focused Demigod.
“We drank so much Kool-Aid on the idea that people that just wanted the multiplayer experience,” Taylor admitted. “We were so wrong. We got the hard beatdown. So Wildman is redemption for us because we’re saying, yes, we hear you. We didn’t just handcuff ourselves to single player. We said there’s a path that goes through a PvE all the way to a PvP. The doors are open all the way, but we need to start with a foundation of solid single-player gameplay.”
But Taylor is open to expanding Wildman in any number of ways. That’s one reason why he’s not ready to talk about stretch goals and what else he has planned for the Kickstarter. As part of their preparation for this Kickstarter, Taylor and Gas Powered Games talked to a number of other developers who have run successful Kickstarters and learned a few lessons from them. One of those lessons is that by the end of the first day or so of fundraising, you’re awash in new ideas as the community makes its wishes heard. Taylor wants to be flexible enough to respond to that passion.
“We have learned through talking to others that in the first day you are swimming in essentially suggestions as to what those stretch goals should be. It’s almost like a first-day referendum that you don’t have to hold. We’re actually excited about that!” he said.
What Taylor likes the most, however, might be the certainties that Kickstarter will provide if it wraps up successfully. They will come out of this with a budget and a clear set of goals on how to spend it. “We’re not in a position where we have to second-guess. Now arguing and deliberating and discussing feverishly are completely in, but second-guessing is completely out.”
All of this assumes Wildman will have a successful Kickstarter, something Taylor isn’t taking for granted. A month from now, they’ll either be free of the publisher system or Taylor says he’ll be hiding out in the mountains somewhere.
“You ever see the movie the Great Escape? Where the guy is climbing the barbed wire fence and the tower just shot him down on the wall. That could be us on Monday. If we’re Steve McQueen and jump over the fence - it was always terribly disappointing that he got caught. It was like, shit, you jump the fence on a motorcycle, you’ve earned that. But if we get over that fence, we won’t go back. ...That model is done for me. It’s up to the fans to come forward and to help us out. Their vote is final, and it’s done, and that’s the end of it.”