Gigantic: Go Big, or… Go Bigger

Gigantic is an upcoming free-to-play, five-on-five, third-person game from Motiga. At GDC today, Microsoft and Motiga announced the innovative game is releasing later this year for Windows 10 and Xbox One.

Gigantic takes its inspiration from some of the most popular multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games, but is also heavily influenced by third-person shooters. It features huge “guardian” creatures (from which the title is derived) that two teams must vie to either kill or protect. Like many MOBAs, it’s free to play and rewards proper team building and on-the-fly decision-making. But like a lot of shooters, Gigantic rewards control of three-dimensional space, ebb-and-flow tactics, and knowledge of maps’ various key points.       

Gigantic is team-based – and teams are made up of a range of different characters, who have roles they play in the game’s structure. Many of them were specifically designed with different types of gamers in mind. We have snipers for the shooter fans, brawlers for fighting game fans, support characters for role-playing game fans, and plenty of characters that span multiple roles. Gigantic combines a bright aesthetic with a fast-paced shooter feel, and the customization and leveling of an RPG. There’s something for everyone here, with no barriers to entry. What more could you ask for?

We’ll tell you what more! More details! Good thing we recently got the chance to sit down with Motiga’s Vice President of Product Development and Creative Director James Phinney to chat about Gigantic, and his answers got us pretty psyched to play the game.

Be sure to check out the Motiga blog for additional information and press assets.

Xbox Wire: Tell us a little about the origins and inspiration of Gigantic. What sorts of games – or other media – did you look to for your initial ideas?

James Phinney: Any project that you work on – especially one where the team has real creative freedom – is going to be the product of a lot of different things. Gigantic is a melding of a lot of different influences. Part of it, for me, is building on previous competitive games that I’ve done; trying to take some of the ideas that I had there and translate them into another format. We also wanted to some interesting stuff with the player-vs.-player space: combining the things that intrigued me about melee combat and shooter mechanics, for example. This is going back to the original Team Fortress mods, Quake – I’m very excited about strong class-based play.

Looking back at where we started with this game, which was: “Hey, let’s make a game that has awesome player-versus-player and giant monsters in it,” it’s become a great opportunity to bring the things I’m excited about together. There’s also been a lot of cool developments in RPG combat over the last 10 years, bringing in a good mix of action gameplay, while still having a lot of cool interactions and ability design. And then you’ve got the rise of multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games as well, forcing you to make choices about how you level up your character throughout a battle – that’s something that appeals to us, as well.

Xbox Wire: Tell us a little more about how melee combat and shooter mechanics will work side by side in Gigantic.

James Phinney: Usually, if you have games that mix those two, it feels like one is secondary to the other. We don’t adhere to really strict character roles: you know, the whole RPG “holy trinity” of tank/healer/damage. We looked more at fighting games and the way different characters have areas and ranges that give them a relative advantage, or how certain characters match up well against others. So, we just said: Let’s create characters that are happy doing melee in this sort of engagement or are happy using ranged combat in that sort of engagement.

And a lot of that had to do not just with character design, but also with map design. A big difference between what you have in a shooter, say, and what you have in an RPG is your engagement distances. In shooters, if I can see you (and I don’t have a super short-range weapon), I can shoot you. So it becomes not just a matter of balancing the characters, and their abilities, their speed, and so on, but also: How long are the sight lines on the map? How many directions should be able to get a shot from in any given space? And that’s an evolutionary process for us. We want to have a lot of dynamic movement in the game to allow for use of vertical space in melee and shooting.

Xbox Wire: So, vertical space, jump height, elevation: These are terms you don’t usually associate with MOBAs. How will verticality factor into the game and change the experience from what players might expect?

James Phinney: I understand a lot of people will look at Gigantic through the lens of MOBA, but this is really a completely different experience, at least as far as verticality goes. There are questions about, for example, what are the mechanics that take advantage of different heights? But really, it’s an organic thing for us. You don’t have to build in a whole lot of extra mechanics. If somebody’s up high, the ground is already blocking part of their body; they’re harder to shoot – and they’ve got a great angle to shoot down on you, and it’s harder for you to get cover from him. So, this is really us looking at this more from a shooter perspective than a MOBA perspective. Our philosophy is to get stuff in the game, be aggressive about new ideas, and then try them out.

Xbox Wire: Tell us a little about the characters. How many will there be on release day? A year from then? How will players acquire them? Will they rotate weekly like League of Legends?

James Phinney: We’re not ready to talk about most of that right now, but I will say that at the last showing of the game, we were on 14 characters, and we’re going to be on 16 at the next one. We’ve got a bunch more in the works. Our internal build has something like 24, but some of those are in rough drafts right now. The biggest limiting factor, to be honest, is the balance. Making sure that everyone is balanced is critically important, and it takes a long time.

Xbox Wire: Let’s talk about your monetization model a little bit. Gigantic is free-to-play, but how will you guys be making your money?

James Phinney: Unfortunately, I can’t talk about that a whole lot, yet, either. But I can say this: It is free-to-play, and we’re committed to not being pay-to-win. We’re definitely going to sell skins, and there’s going to be a lot of exploration and discussion internally about how we’ll monetize, but we’re not ready to go into details. We will be releasing more heroes over time, more guardians over time, more maps over time.

Xbox Wire: How will the characters actually play? Will there be specific roles for them, based on maps, similar to the “lanes” in games like League of Legends or Dota 2?

James Phinney: So, one of the things that I really push for in game design is to keep strategies open for players to determine. I don’t want the game to create such a rigid structure to the maps that you can’t, from the start, go for the kill. And so, with Gigantic, we’ve created a situation where it’s important to fight for map control. In the game you can summon creatures, and those creatures will control the point for you, defend the area, and maybe provide a strategic ability such as showing enemies on the minimap. They also provide power to your guardian, and powering up your guardian so that he’ll attack the other guardian is how you win.

As you can imagine, games will feature a front that develops based on who summoned what creatures where. Your opponent will tend to avoid places where you summoned tough creatures, making for choke points. That means teams will often try to push certain areas or certain creatures, but it also provides the opportunity for teams to split someone off to go solo the enemy guardian immediately.

That in turn creates a need for the other team to respond. Do they keep one guy back to deal with that? Do they push harder forward with their greater numbers? That leads to players splitting up and coming back together dynamically. And that leads to different situations growing up out of each gameplay session.

Different heroes are better at exploiting certain situations in different ways, which means building your team to support the strategy you want to employ is critical. Different teams might be better at remaining at long range, and others might be best at trying to force a decisive engagement. Learning to leverage those on a given map with a given team composition is really where character roles come in.

Xbox Wire: Who are you guys targeting as the core audience for Gigantic?

James Phinney: This is kind of a ridiculous answer in some ways, but I want everybody. What that means, practically, is that when we’re designing early on in the project, we have an attitude of: “Well, this design idea may or may not be core to what the game is, but let’s try it.” Let’s really dive in on melee, ranged, healing, support… let’s throw all of that in there, let’s design for what people want.

So some of these characters are specifically designed for shooter players. Other characters that have ranged attacks, though, are actually designed for people who like RPGs. Some of the melee guys are for people who want to focus on skill interactions, some of them are for people who want to focus on the twitch element. Our attitude internally is “find your hero.”

As an example, one of the new heroes we’re showing was designed for people who like fighting games. Not to the extent that we put a Dragon Punch in there, but more “What’s the pace of decision making, what’s the reaction time on the character?” Even the upgrades and abilities we designed for this character were based around chaining moves together, in different orders depending on the situation.

Obviously, going for a wide spread of interests in our heroes is a gamble, but it’s really worked out so far. We really feel like people who’ve played all kinds of different stuff can come in and have a level of familiarity with Gigantic and have fun.

Xbox Wire: Gigantic is coming out for Windows 10 and Xbox One. What kinds of technical challenges has that presented? Will players be able to have a single account for both platforms, if they want? Will there be cross-platform play?

James Phinney: There are definitely technical challenges involved in switching among different platforms. You know, we’ll be building something, and then to get it to work on the other system, we’ll need to switch to a different version of Visual Studio, a different compiler, all that. And then there’s also the stuff we build internally, and the third-party libraries you use for stuff. So you’ll run into stuff like: “Oh, the importer for this physics engine that some third party makes…well, the library for this doesn’t compile with the compiler for this platform or the other.”

Certainly, this is a big initiative for Microsoft – getting the whole Windows 10/Xbox One gaming out there. It’s very new, too. So development for both platforms at the same time isn’t seamless right now, but it’s something Microsoft is working very hard and very actively to fix, and they’ve been great about working with us. I mean, as an example, we’ve been having this compiler issue because we need to switch compilers, and Microsoft literally let us send our lead engineer to go spend the day with the guy who actually designed and makes the compiler and help us track stuff down. Not every company is able to do that. They’ve been fantastic as far as support.

As far as having a single account for both platforms: that will absolutely happen. You will be able to sign in and play on Windows 10 and on Xbox One. You buy something one place, and it will be available in all the places you go, whether you’re playing on your Xbox One, or your friend’s Windows 10 PC.

Now, with regard to cross-platform play, there are more challenges. On the one hand, removing barriers for players is great, but on the other, it’s not clear that cross-platform play is something all the players actually want. Like, if you’re playing on the Xbox One, it might not be great to randomly get matched up against somebody with a mouse and keyboard, if that’s not what you want. So we need to look into that more. At the very least, we want opt-in matching like that. If everyone is saying “OK, I’m good with playing with someone, regardless of platform,” then that would be fine.

Ultimately, we want to make it so that you can play with your friends, when you want to, where you want to. If you want to play on your Xbox One, at your desk, whatever – all that stuff is possible.

Xbox Wire: One last question: when can people get their hands on Gigantic?

James Phinney: We can’t get too specific, but: this year. However, we are in alpha right now, and people can sign up for the alpha at our official site. We’re excited to get people in, so please tell everyone to sign up!