May 29, 2019
Splitgate: Arena Warfare infuses elements of Halo and Portal to create a new breed of FPS
This creative spark allowed 1047 Games to gradually grow to over 30 people. To see how the developer successfully executed hybridizing genres, we interviewed studio CEO Ian Proulx. The co-founder walks us through how they optimized gunplay to take advantage of portals, elaborates on how they designed levels to facilitate tactical teleportation, and exclaims how they're eager to bring back the glory days of arena shooters with a new modern twist. Thanks for your time. The studio has described Splitgate: Arena Warfare as Halo meets Portal and Unreal Tournament. Can you describe how the concept came about?
CEO and co-founder Ian Proulx: Ever since playing Portal 2, I had always wondered what putting portals in an FPS would be like. I had this vision of spawning a portal behind an enemy and then shooting through the portal to eliminate them. For my senior project at Stanford, I created a prototype of this by putting portals in Shooter Game and it was really fun! A couple years later, I decided to revisit this idea with my cofounder Nicholas [Bagamian], and we started over from scratch with the vision of combining elements of Halo and Unreal Tournament with portals.
Throughout your designing and playtesting, what do you think the addition of portals adds to the shooter experience?
Proulx: It fundamentally changes how an FPS plays. In a traditional shooter, the strategy is generally see an enemy, shoot an enemy. With portals, it totally changes the strategy to be more about outsmarting your enemy to think you are in one place, while you're actually in another. It takes flanking to a whole new level and allows for some insane plays when spawning a portal behind (or under) an enemy, or when using conservation of momentum through portals to catch enemies off guard.
Can you walk us through how 1047 Games designs multiplayer levels that take portals into account?
Proulx: We believe in testing early and often and were doing playtests with friends just 10 weeks into development, which allowed us to really learn what worked and what didn’t. Early on, it was a lot of trial and error. We initially had a lot of assumptions about how maps should be designed and made them much more like Portal maps than FPS maps. The feedback was that this was way too complicated for a fast-paced FPS. As we tested more, we tried to make our maps more traditional for beginners to learn, but with [walls that you could shoot portals through] placed in areas to reward advanced players. We tried to focus on placing portal walls in areas to allow for strategic map control and for a variety of portal interactions within each level.
The guns in Splitgate: Arena Warfare don't have much recoil and feature tight controls that reward precision aiming. Can you talk about how you designed the game's gunplay?
Proulx: As hardcore fans of Halo one to three, we specifically tried to take the best parts of those three games when it came to gunplay. We also felt that this leant itself well to our game specifically, because the weapons are easy to use, as the focus of the game is more on portal outplays than on who has the best aim.
With a wide variety of guns that include pistols, assault rifles, and railguns, how did the studio design and balance weapons?
Proulx: Best guess, try, tweak, repeat. We have been doing closed playtests every month for the past two years. This has allowed us to form a great relationship with our community and to get constant feedback on which weapons are too powerful or never used. More recently, we also have been tracking stats to see which weapons are the most effective statistically.
Considering it doesn't take many bullets to eliminate players, can you speak to designing the game's fast-paced action?
Proulx: We wanted a TTK (time-to-kill) that was long enough that players had time to use portals to strategically flank, but not so long that enemies could escape via portal every time they were getting shot. We ended up with something about halfway between Halo and COD’s TTK, which seems to be the sweet spot.
Performance-wise, was it challenging to incorporate portals with so many players in an arena style setting?
Proulx: Yes, it was a huge technical hurdle and a lot of different methods went into optimizing the portals. Thankfully, UE4 is open source!
Considering the game is well optimized, how did you keep performance in check?
Proulx: We use the Profiler pretty often for CPU performance, and we are persistent about keeping draw calls to a minimum on each map. We also have a team of QA testers who test development builds of the game every update, so we get to test on a variety of hardware and have them alert us if they are ever losing frames.
Splitgate: Arena Warfare features a futuristic neon-filled aesthetic. Can you talk about how you executed on the game's visuals?
Proulx: We wanted to do something unique and sporty for our artstyle. The backstory of the game is that there are futuristic gladiators fighting for sport, so we wanted the artstyle to reflect the sporty arena theme.
The studio has said that it aims to "bring back the glory days of arena shooters." Can you elaborate on your desire to do so and talk about how you hope to achieve that with Splitgate: Arena Warfare?
Proulx: A lot of gamers out there (including me) grew up playing the older Halos and Unreal Tournaments. There is a huge demand for a return of these style games. I think Splitgate scratches that itch while also providing an FPS experience unlike anything else out there.
How do you balance making a shooter that is both fun and accessible while also offering depth for those seeking a more competitive experience?
Proulx: Our philosophy from the get-go has always been “easy to learn, difficult to master.” In a lot of ways, we follow a similar formula to Fortnite. In both Fortnite and Splitgate, the shooting mechanics are fairly forgiving, and the game mechanics are pretty simple to learn, allowing for beginners to pick up the game quickly. However, both games have one core mechanic that takes hundreds of hours to master, and allows for crazy outplay mechanics. On a separate note, we also have skill-based matchmaking to pair players of similar abilities, and custom games with crazy modifiers like low gravity, super speed, and big-head mode to encourage all different types of play styles in a less competitive setting. You can also train against bots of different difficulties.
What made Unreal Engine 4 a good fit for the game?
Proulx: To be honest, we chose to learn UE4 initially because it offered the best graphics, and we stuck with it because it was C++ based and open source. It is very versatile and well-documented, and there’s a reason so many AAA games use it.
Considering Splitgate: Arena Warfare is the studio's first game, what has 1047 Games learned in the process?
Proulx: I think the biggest thing we’ve learned is to engage with and value your community. We’ve been able to grow pretty quickly and get good attention from streamers, and it’s all been a grass-roots approach.
Thanks for your time. Where can people learn more about Splitgate: Arena Warfare?
Proulx: Head to here to wishlist or download the game for free, or visit discord.gg/splitgate to join our community!