The Man Behind the Monsters: Chatting with Evolve’s Design Director

Turtle Rock Studios Co-Founder and Design Director Chris Ashton knows a thing or two about great multiplayer action. With groundbreaking, multiplayer-centric hits like Left4Dead under his belt, he was the perfect person to drive the creation of the next evolution in shooters, which adeptly combines both cooperative and competitive action. Evolve – which is available today for Xbox One – is one of the most innovative and exciting takes on the first-person shooter genre in years. Ashton had a lot to tell us about why that is.

Xbox Wire: What were some of the things you looked at for inspiration when designing Evolve?

Chris Ashton: Mostly movies, actually. “Predator” was a big one that we kept looking back at. Unlike in Left 4 Dead, where the survivors are caught up in the apocalypse and just trying to survive, our hunters in Evolve are actively pursuing the monster. We looked at “Predator,” because in that movie, Arnold Schwarzenegger and his team are pretty badass – and that’s how we wanted our hunters to be. But, at the same time, the Predator itself feels very powerful, and that’s how we wanted our monster to be.

We wanted to match the tone, too. We thought: “Should the game be scary?” Well, no, “Predator” isn’t scary; it’s an action movie. Certainly there are scary moments – it’s intense, but it’s not a horror movie, and this isn’t a horror game. Then, of course, we started looking at monsters like King Kong and many other iconic ones. It’s just like zombie movies for Left 4 Dead: there’s so much to pull from old and classic monster movies.

Xbox Wire: The game plays really well with an Xbox One controller. How did you get the controls so perfect?

Chris Ashton: Well, the big thing we wanted to do with Evolve, at least on the hunters’ side, was to make the experience more about the decisions you’re making than “twitch.” We wanted it to be more about timing: “When do I use that piece of gear, and whom do I direct it at?” We wanted it to be more of a thinking-man’s game – not like, say, Call of Duty, which is very twitch-oriented. In our game, because the monster doesn’t die in an instant, it’s more of a war of attrition, like a long boss battle. Because of that, I can play on controller, or on mouse and keyboard, and it doesn’t feel like I have a big advantage either way. It’s not like that laser, pinpoint accuracy of a headshot is going to make a difference.

And then, for the monster, the controller works really well, because you don’t have to switch to abilities to use them [unlike the hunters]. If you want to launch an ability, it’s just a button press. It’s really akin to a fighting game. And, as we all know, fighting games work best when you have buttons all within reach.

Xbox Wire: Tell us a little about the solo experience. How will that look and feel?

Chris Ashton: When you start up the game, we immediately break the menu into multiplayer and solo. If you choose solo, all aspects of the game are playable, in any format. You can play an Evacuation campaign as a monster against a bunch of A.I. hunters, or you can play as a hunter with A.I. teammates. When you go into the solo experience, because it’s all bots, you get to configure who your teammates are – and you can choose any enemy, too. You can practice playing against Kraken, for example, if you really enjoy that or want to get better at it.

Then, once you’re in the game, the experience is a little different. You can stay with the character you chose, or you can jump around into the other available A.I. characters. So, if you see that Assault needs to be placing more mines, or you want to set up a trap at a location, you can press the class button and swap over to do what you want, and the bots will take over your old character.

I think the solo mode serves the purpose of a training mode. But at the end of the day, our approach to it is that Evolve is a game that’s a lot of fun, and you shouldn’t have to play with people online if you don’t want to. What we really tried to do was simulate the same multiplayer experience that you’re going to get online, but in single-player.

Xbox Wire: You have a strong history of PC success with games like Counter-Strike: Condition Zero and Left4Dead. Has your development process changed with the move into the new generation?

Chris Ashton: We built the game that we wanted to build, and we weren’t thinking about platforms at all. Evolve was this grandiose idea that we’ve had for many, many years, and we’re happy to say that our vision has been seen on all of the platforms. That’s a huge win for us. With the previous consoles, you know, you’d start with the PC and then kinda pare down to fit the consoles. That’s not the case anymore with the next-gen. We made Evolve so that anyone can enjoy it!