PC Video Games

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Insurgency Designer Andrew Spearin

Ever since Counter-Strike went from being a Half-Life mod to its own stand alone game, it’s been the dream of modders everywhere to have theirs make the same leap. The latest to do so is Insurgency, a tactical first-person shooter from New World Interactive that’s a spin-off of the Half-Life 2 mod Insurgency: Modern Infantry Combat. But in talking to designer Andrew Spearin, it’s obvious that they’re not just trying to make Counter-Strike 2: Electric Boogaloo.

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What kind of game is Insurgency, how do you play it, and what other games do you think it’s similar to?

Within the vein of the tactical first-person-shooter genre, we strike a balance between one-life and respawn gameplay. There is far more suspense during a multiplayer round when you have a chance to bring your team closer to a win or back from a defeat.

Many comparisons have been drawn to Red Orchestra, which is no coincidence. Jeremy Blum, the founder of New World Interactive and game director of Insurgency, was the guy who started Red Orchestra as a mod. He later joined me in co-founding the Insurgency mod. We were both big fans of Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear, which is the game that really inspired us to be dedicated to multiplayer games and learn how to mod them. The AAA shooter franchises became influenced by attracting a mass audience on consoles, and suffer from feature creep and releasing perpetual sequels. Our approach is to distill the genre down to its essence and to a pace that feels less like a game and more how you would approach navigating the environment and interacting with other players as you would in reality. Our development approach is about evolving Insurgency over time, continuing to improve the foundational aspects, and build content on top of that.

The game is based on a popular Half-Life 2 mod called Insurgency: Modern Infantry Combat. In working on this game, what were the things from Combat that you felt you wanted to add to, change, or fix, and why did you want to add, change, or fix them?

Essentially, with the new game, we wanted to finish what we started on the mod, while maintaining fresh eyes to design an experience separate from the mod. We never intended to only create a direct port of the mod’s content, however.

One of the fundamental gameplay changes I wanted to make was with the reinforcement system. A good example is the popular game mode “Push.” In the mod, the defenders had unlimited reinforcements and attackers with a finite amount. As the attacking team captured objectives, they did not gain any more time on the clock, which was set to fifteen minutes. Sometimes the fight for the first objective dragged on for a frustratingly long time, only to be captured at the last minute, then the game would be over. Other game modes also had inconclusive matches, where playing it only seemed like it was for the sake of combat and not the outcome.

In the game now, we’ve designed the “Push” mode to give extra time and reinforcements for each objective captured, while the defending team has a finite reinforcement count. As the attacking team progresses through the map, they actually begin to level the playing field by the final objective in terms of reinforcements. This keeps the defenders on their toes, so they don’t take aggressive risks thinking they have unlimited opportunities to respawn.

Was there anything that, when you started, you declared had to be exactly the same in Insurgency as it was in Insurgency: Modern Infantry Combat?

Primarily, we wanted to maintain the same sensation of intensity and feel that you’re in the thick of a real combat scenario. There are similar features to the mod, such as how weapons are handled and a class-based squad structure.

However, we never felt that anything needed to be exactly the same. We used the mod as a benchmark, and throughout the creative process we challenged each feature to be entirely rethought, but after testing new ideas, we often settled back upon what the core design was because that’s what worked best. We have evolved some of the original game modes to feel more unique from other games and elevate the sense of tension.

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The game is described as a tactical, team-based shooter. What are the different modes that will be included at launch?

One of the challenges is designing the game for two different types of players: those looking for an unforgiving game with only one life to succeed, and those looking for more than one chance so they can take greater risks. We have created a playlist matchmaking system that groups our six game modes into two categories that a server chooses to host: Tactical Operation and Sustained Combat.

Tactical Operation has “Firefight,” “VIP,” and “Search & Destroy.” Though the latter is not the same as in other games. There are two supply cache locations that the attacking team must discover and blow up. Once a cache is destroyed, both teams respawn into the game. For “VIP,” this is our one-life game mode where one team must escort their VIP player to the extraction point. If the defending team kills the VIP player, they win. lastly, “Firefight” has three territorial objectives, with each team starting with one while the center is neutral. Each team begins with one life at the start, and dead players only respawn when an objective is secured.

Sustained Combat has “Push,” “Strike,” and “Skirmish” modes. With “Skirmish,” we expanded upon the concept of “Firefight,” but added reinforcement waves and supply caches to create a more prolonged battle. When a cache is destroyed, that team loses the ability to gain an extra reinforcement on top of the instant respawn when they secure objectives. So if both teams lose their caches, it turns into a round of “Firefight.” For “Strike,” we expanded upon the “Search & Destroy” mode, with reinforcements for both teams and three caches to destroy. For each one that is destroyed, the attacking team gains reinforcement waves and time on the clock.

Finally, we have two co-op modes: “Checkpoint” mode, in which you have a series of objectives and, again, if a player dies during the fight, they only respawn back in once their teammates secure the next objective; and “Outpost,” which is essentially a scenario where your team must defend your location from swarms of AI bots attacking.

Classes in Insurgency have been described as being “unique customizable and asymmetrical.” How does it impact the game?

We actually have several player classes for each team, and each player class has weapon and equipment selection options based upon their role on the team. The squad layout also differs based upon what game mode is being played. For example, in the “Search & Destroy” and “Strike” modes where there are supply caches to be destroyed, the teams have more classes with C4. In other modes such as “VIP,” there are more classes equipped with suppressors.

The asymmetry helps maintain balance, with a certain degree of realism. We have a supply point system, where each equipment and weapon type have a set amount. You can rearrange your attachments or kit accordingly within your supply amount. The asymmetry comes to play where the Security team has armor at a lower supply amount, but to counter that, the Insurgents have armor piercing ammunition at a lower supply amount.

There are a lot of multiplayer-only, team-based, tactical first-person shooters. What do you think makes Insurgency different and what do you think makes it better?

The defining factor between victory and defeat is the amount of teamwork a team exudes. Most team-based shooter are collectively gathering individual performance to tally up who wins, and reward the individual. With Insurgency, the individual rewards the team by playing for the objectives instead of attempting a kill streak, which offers no reward. While the environments are not simulating the expansive real-world sizes, the focus on infantry combat is another defining factor.

Are there any that you’ve played that you would say were a negative influence on Insurgency, in the sense that you saw some aspect of that other game and said, “Let’s not do that”?

We are striving to create an entirely unique experience that you cannot find in any other game. So you’re correct, the main inspiration from other games is looking at what not to do. Our early access period has been great to gain feedback from the community, however many suggestions come directly from what another game does, an example being the “Search & Destroy” mode. People are accustomed to what they are used to doing or seeing elsewhere and think that is a sure way of success for us to do. It has taken a lot of discipline on our part to stick with the core fundamentals and integrity of our game, while we strive to understand exactly what it is people are looking for that they see in other games.

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The granddaddy of multiplayer, team-based, tactical first-person shooters is Counter-Strike. Which also started off a mod, albeit one for Half-Life. What is it about the Half-Life games that make them ripe for this kind of modding?

Valve’s philosophy and products are at the root of how games are created today and the foundation for how games are going to be made in the future. The Half-Life mods were all centered around a community built from the ground up, one that often exhibited its own talent. Most of the New World Interactive has worked together on various Source SDK projects, with our development process and flat team structure inspired by Valve.

Valve established the true next-generation for the medium. It wasn’t necessarily more hardware, better graphics, it’s the accessibility that closes the gap between developer and player. They inspire and enable creative people to fulfill their vision and easily bring it to the world. We are starting to see the AAA publishers fumble the ball with their recent recurring franchise releases. The indies, such as ourselves, are quickly and more efficiently going to fill the void of quality games, and become big players in the next decade.

In Insurgency, the teams are split between Security and Insurgent. Are you at all worried that some people won’t want to play as the Insurgent because the word “insurgent” — at least in the America — is often equated with “terrorist” and “anti-American forces”?

The most popular shooter in the world has a Terrorist team, so the term “insurgent” is setting it in a contemporary sense. For a game that strives to bring out realistic behavior in its players, having a real-world inspired setting is important. We started the project as the Iraq War was in full swing, and foresaw the descent into a prolonged Insurgency during that war and especially Afghanistan. Ten years later and those conflicts are still ongoing, while the entire world is in midst of revolution.

You’ve said there are plans for monthly DLC. Is the plan to release some new guns one month, a map the next month, and so on?

Our plans for DLC are to release when the DLC is ready, so it may not necessarily be on a monthly basis. We want to put together a comprehensive package before sending it to our community. One priority we have is remaking some of the classic mod maps with our new standards for art and gameplay.

Will this be paid DLC, free, or a mix?

Any post-release updates and DLC are included in the retail price.

The game is currently available for PC and Mac, and there’s a Linux version in the works. Are there any differences between the different versions?

There are no differences between versions.

Is there cross-platform play?

Yes, it is cross-compatible play, so someone on Windows can be playing with Mac players in the same game.

Are there any plans to do a version for consoles?

We are very interested in the new SteamOS and being on that hardware. We were just at Valve’s workshop to learn all about it.

As for the other consoles, that is a consideration we are looking at once we have established and grown the experience to a more polished state for that larger audience.

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So given that this game got its start as a mod, will you be making it easy for people to mod this game?

Absolutely. We have built a custom scripting framework so that anyone can create their mods with new content. Insurgency will also have the Steam Workshop support in the coming months, so custom content and maps are available to the entire community. We started out with ideas, then tweaking other games, and eventually created our own from scratch. Therefore, we recognize the importance of enabling others to have that opportunity.


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