At our extended play session of Anthem, Bioware’s new shared-world looter-shooter set to release next month, I got to chat with Mike Gamble, the game’s lead producer. Instead of simply comparing the title to Destiny, which I rest assured has been done enough already, I focused on finding out what plans await Anthem post-launch – as well as getting a more general sense of the game’s world and inspirations.
Read on to hear what Mike had to say and enjoy!
As you’ve been developing Anthem, watching games like Destiny, like the Division, the mistakes they’ve made, the things that have really brought them closer to their community, what kind of lessons do you think you’ve learned for this kind of a game going forward?
Mike Gamble: Good question … One thing that I think, maybe we didn’t learn directly from any particular game, but we learned from the internet, is that players value transparency more than anything. They value a direct connection with the developers to be able to talk and air grievances, and I think players would rather know that something is a certain way ahead of time, even if it makes them upset, rather than holding that back … It’s a big thing to form a relationship with the people who are gonna play the game for a while, we think
So kind of a silly question here: my favorite thing in these kinds of games is seasonal events–Halloween events, Christmas events–are you planning on having those kinds of things in Anthem?
MG: Definitely. I love that stuff too, that’s one of the reasons I’m still playing Overwatch so many years out is because of the events and the effort that they put into those.
What inspired Anthem’s world? It feels futuristic and ancient. What kind of cultures or ideas inspired this kind of aesthetic?
MG: We call it “science fantasy.” Because we have Dragon Age, which is a straight high-fantasy game, we have Mass Effect which is a high science-fiction game. I think the term is used in other places as well. Science fantasy is essentially, the spectacular can happen, and you don’t have to have an explanation for everything, whereas, in science-fiction, the spectacular can happen but it’s always grounded in science, and you can explain it. We don’t have to explain it, it can just be magic. And so that’s kinda the basis for it. And then we wanted to create a world which has a constant world conflict.
Not something that you finish as a player and it’s done forever and you move on … So, in this world, it’s the chaotic nature of the Shapers, and how the world is ever-changing. And the other thing is that we wanted to create a world that is not high technology. Everything is handcrafted. Everything in this world that is of value is seriously of value. People maintain them themselves, they put things together by hand. There’s no mass production. And that kinda all ties into the whole world survival thing that we have going on, which is that everything is dangerous and everything is deadly.
The loot and everything seems more inspired by Diablo [than Destiny]. So, will there be that similar loop of finding pieces of gear that form a ‘set’ that kind of mesh and create synergies? Will there be combinations that would create a “class” within a class for your javelin?
MG: So, we’re hoping that you min-max each piece. We’re not going for set-based stuff yet. We wanted the launch product to give players the ability to min-max based on unique combinations of things that they’ve already found out, so you’ll have something which gives a buff to certain things, something which gives a debuff to other things, like on enemies. We don’t want to create synergistic things yet. Because, I realize that there’s a “gotta catch ‘em all” kind of mentality of you want to get each piece of something so that you can then sum to the greater of the whole, and then it feels better overall.
So you would say that you’re focusing more on individual piece growth within the components?
MG: Absolutely. So, the components, all pieces of gear, and the weapons–the individual progression of each is primary.
I heard today story DLC in the future will be free, is that correct?
MG: Yeah, so I wouldn’t call it “DLC”, because DLC has a typical like–there’s a big thing that’s downloaded and you play through that and it’s done. It’s more that we’re going to be updating the story in live service every so often, adding new things here and there for players to see. That will be free, yes.
So then I guess the question is–in a game like this, you [usually] have to monetize it usually to keep it sustainable. What’s the plan there, is it cosmetics only…?
MG: It’s still cosmetics, yes. We feel that if people are interested in playing the game, that they’ll want to express themselves through cosmetics, and that there’s enough there in the cosmetic system, and enough customization for them to really dig into it.
So, knowing that, the goals for post-game release. Updating story content, any other big plans? I know PvP is not in the game right now, is that something that’s being considered for the future?
MG: So PvP is on our mind. To do PvP, we’d have to do a pretty big game re-balance and change, you’d have to do it as a separate mode. So it’s definitely on our minds but we haven’t really finalized any plans around that. But we want to be able to add new story content, we want to be able to add new javelin stuff, we want to be able to add new weapons, gear.
And then also, the way that the world works, the ever-changing chaotic world. We have some plans for some pretty big releases post-launch regarding how the world changes and how the world evolves. Can’t get too far into details on it yet because we kinda want to start to prime the pump for that over the next couple weeks. We’re gonna do a little bit more information on specifically what those things are.
So something that might be a little more transformative than just additive?
Exactly, yes. Change the context for how you play the game a little bit. And then start to really get some commitments for when players can expect to see that stuff after launch.
One of the biggest things people have been talking about with Anthem is the narrative. People are used to these BioWare experiences, these big narratives with player choice. I know that that’s probably harder to put into a game where everybody’s got a shared world. So how do you balance that feeling of player choice and narrative with the open shared world nature of Anthem?
MG: That’s essentially the reason that we split the whole world into “our world, my story.” That’s kinda why we put that dividing line between Fort Tarsis and the shared world. Because the shared world we–BioWare–want to be able to tell ongoing stories, and we want to control that world state for everyone so that we can say “Okay, now things are changing in this way for everyone.” We want players to have agency in their individual game using the choices that they make, so that’s why that’s only limited to Tarsis.
This is why we’re basically going really deep into Tarsis for that. You might have seen a couple of the characters in Tarsis, you can talk to them, and you can make some choices, and, in many situations, those choices do come home to roost. You can actually affect things and affect the outcomes of characters as you get further and further into the game. You can also change the way Tarsis looks based on doing faction challenges.
So, the way it works is that, in the game there’s these things called challenges, and they’re separate from the normal objectives that you’d do for a mission. They’re the kind of things that in any other games it would be like: “do ten headshots on this kind of thing” and you get a medal.
So we introduced one for how Tarsis can change, and then, depending on the faction that you decide to do stuff for you get points. When you get those points, they unlock certain things in Tarsis which change your version of Tarsis. So if you do a lot of missions for the Arcanists, then Tarsis will change in an Arcanist area. And if you don’t do that stuff, well that’s fine, you can do the Freelancer stuff instead. So there’s some self-expression there, but it’s also: talk to characters the way that you want, make decisions the way that you want, or don’t talk to characters. So that’s kinda why we had to separate those.
So everyone’s got their own little pocket dimensions for their experience?
MG: Yeah. Pocket dimensions, I like that. Exactly.
That concludes our interview, but we’re looking forward to Anthem’s new demo content this weekend ahead of its full release February 22nd.
This interview was conducted at a preview event at EA Redwood Shores. Electronic Arts provided lodging and transportation for this press event.