Hands on with the latest version of Shootmania: Storm


Shootmania: Storm developers Nadeo want to bring the first-person shooter back to esports, not just by giving gamers something that will awaken long dead memories of the classic deathmatch of old, but also by putting tools in their hands that will allow them to create the sort of games that they want to play. Shootmania is more than just a return to the time-honoured, Quake-style deathmatch that was all about leaping and laser guns, it’s also a level editor and modding tool, backed up by an infrastructure developed to support sharing, tournament play and streaming. Nadeo firmly believe that if you build it, they will come.

While there’s a small collection of Quakers still out there, many of us won’t have played a game like ShootMania in some time and I even wonder if some of the youngest players out there will have at all. There is no cover system, there are no iron sights, there is no reloading or recoil. There are arenas and there are sci-fi weapons and you win by moving faster and shooting sharper than anybody else. Your weapons are things like rocket launchers or railguns, while your route to success is in honing your aim and getting intimately acquainted with the layout of the level.

That said, there is quite a bit more to it than just vanilla deathmatch, as Nadeo have a few of their own ideas about how to reinvigorate old-school deathmatch and they’ve been tweaking things since we last had a look. Let me start with the death-dealing.

A typical arena in ShootMania has a few surprises in store, with the aim of rewarding creative thinkers. Wall jumping, for example, allows players to reach greater heights or take unexpected shortcuts just as long as they can propel themselves off a nearby surface, while hook-like devices on high can be snared with a grapple, allowing for great sweeping swings across open spaces. One well-timed hook after another could have you arcing through the air, Spiderman style, just as long as your aim is up to scratch.

Most interesting of all are the quite stark differences brought about by the very ground that you’re standing on, as many of the game’s surfaces give you different powers or even change your weapon. Step onto a metal grating and you’ll find you’re able to run much faster; walk onto a platform you’re suddenly holding a railgun, complete with zoom function. At the moment, ShootMania is far less concerned with players collecting ammunition and weapons, but instead wants to keep them moving through their environments, constantly giving them new things to do.

The simplicity of the game’s stats underscores this. The ammo gauge is nothing more than a stamina bar, slowly replenishing between shots so that players can’t spam with whatever weapon they’re using at that moment. Hit points are nothing more than a few layers of armour, each representing a single strike that a player can take. Your eyes are kept on the action, not on any numbers at the bottom of the screen, and that action is deadly quick, with players eliminated in moments. It looks like life is going to be very cheap here.

Of course, all this gunplay is only half the package. Nadeo provide a relatively straightforward toolset that can have you creating custom levels with little fuss, building your arenas from pre-textured blocks as if they were Duplo (another thirty of which they’ve just added to the game). This isn’t a powerful modding tool that gives you mastery over heaven and earth, but it is quick and easy and, if you fancy diving into the game’s scripting language, it does offer you the chance to edit a few lines of code and change game variables. Do you want those who fight to have extra armour or use random weapons? You can make it so.

The idea is that, after you make your map, you’ll be able to share it with other players online, through Nadeo’s ManiaPlanet, a Steam-like content delivery system and gaming platform. Design your own banner and box-art and your map will appear for selection amongst everyone else’s in a searchable database. Do you fancy playing ShootMania’s new King of the Hill-style Royal map, where a deadly energy barrier gradually closes in around the level, or maybe a 1vs1 Joust game? Not only do Nadeo want you to have an array of servers and games to choose from, they want these to be teeming with player-created content, with the best gradually becoming more visible. The more a map is played, the more it will be promoted, while the less impressive creations are, deservedly, condemned to obscurity.

Similarly, players will also be able to create their own tournaments, determining winning conditions, dividing them into rounds as they see fit and even scheduling these games at set times and dates. Again, the idea is that, with time, particular tournaments will gain prestige and attract more players and more interest. As well as tools for sharing their creation, Nadeo want to give players the chance to share the experience of spectating, something that they’re adamant is key to the growth and long-term success of any esport. “We will even have the option to follow a team,” explains designer Florent Castelnerac. “If you do this, then you’ll know when they’re playing.” Castelnerac wants viewers as well as players, not least because it brings sponsors.

It’s an intriguing concept, giving players both a shooter and the tools
they can use to rebuild and redesign it, and Nadeo seem cautiously
optimistic about its success, though when I speak to Castelnerac he
appreciates that the future is an undiscovered country. “I think we’ll
succeed in bringing people in,” he says. “We made TrackMania, which now
has twelve million people playing. We’ll provide support. We have Nadeo
Online to provide tools and we’ll provide libraries that are more and
more powerful. We’ll be helping players all around the world to be more
efficient and this efficiency brings more and more creations that are
more and more impressive.”

The idea is to gradually open up ShootMania’s toolset and its features over time, finding that sweet spot between giving players a greater level of control without compromising the core mechanics of the game or making it too complex for new arrivals to get involved with. “Do we enable people to collect items? Do we enable them to bind keys to special powers?” asks Castelnerac. “Of course, the number of experiences will grow exponentially, but I want to make it easy to code.”

Accessibility is important to the team in terms of both ease of use, but also hardware requirements. The game is designed to run comfortably low-end systems, and Nadeo don’t want a first-person shooter that’s about quick reactions and quick thinking to be ruined by modest hardware.

At present, ShootMania: Storm’s full release is set for January 23 next year, though a pre-order will get you access to the beta in the meantime. The game will also feature as part of IPL 5 in Las Vegas on November 29, where players will be competing for a $100,000 prize pot, the first of what Castelnerac says will be many more.