Nimble Giant Entertainment Talks About Their Latest Time-Bending Shooter, Quantum League

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If you’re looking for a new shooter to sink your teeth into, there’s Nimble Giant Entertainment’s Quantum League, a “time parado shooter that puts a new twist on things. We sit down with the Lead Game Designer over at Nimble Giants Entertainment and discuss the development behind their latest title. 

Before continuing, be sure to read up on our early preview of Quantum League, which left a very positive impression: Quantum League Preview – Breaking the Timeline Has Never Been So Fun

Interview conducted with Balthazar Auger, Lead Game Designer of Quantum League, Nimble Giant Entertainment

Q:There are countless films, as much as there are video games that touch upon the concept of time-traveling. Some do it well, others not so much, but one thing is clear and that is many have felt recently that it is a cheap way to explain (or not) plot points or fixes. Quantum League doesn’t really have that issue since it’s an online focus title. However, because it is focused on competitive online gaming, the idea of working with time must have been difficult due to it mostly being related to narrative-driven mediums. Why go the multiplayer route?

Well, the very first draft of the concept sort of emerged from a very different place. Initially, I was looking for a way to make an X-COM style turn-based tactical game, but as a real-time FPS. What I was trying to reconcile is the “progressive reveal of battlefield information” mechanic in tactical games with the obvious problem that there’s no “sight range” in an FPS. 

While mulling over this, it occurred to me that if I couldn’t use space to progressively reveal information, I could use time instead, specifically in the context of a closed time loop. This was actually not new, as by that time single-player games like Super Time Force Ultra or even Cursor*10 had already explored that concept. The main reason we went multiplayer is that we didn’t want to create a game where you kind of solve a puzzle; multiplayer means that both players are fighting to gain control of the timeline, which in our eyes was a much more interesting experience that very few games explored.

Q: Bit of a follow-up to the last question: I love hearing developers talk about the early stages of their games because in most cases, those games are vastly different than what they end up being. What were some of the initial ideas? What worked and what didn’t?

Quantum league started its life as a very basic two-week multiplayer prototype, which we grew organically ever since. It proved very hard to “design ahead” in documentation, since what was planned ended up having unintended side effects when placed within a time loop.

For instance, we took many stabs at finding the sweet spot between depth and complexity, mainly testing the number of clones that you play with and the length of the time-loop. At one point we tested 5 clones per side, but that was impossible to handle.

At some other point, we had a mechanic in which you picked up weapons by walking over them, like in Quake 3 or UT, but found out that there was a too high potential for chaos: what if someone grabbed that weapon before you? then what would you be shooting? Also, it was too constraining in terms of player expression within small maps… If you grabbed the rifle, there were low chances that you would snipe someone from the other side of the map. In the end, we decided to have a setup closer to Counter-Strike, where each clone gets to choose one main weapon for that round.

What we’ve repeatedly found while developing Quantum League is that there’s a razor-thin “goldilocks zone” in which complexity creates emergent gameplay. Too little or too much, and the game falls upon itself. In a way, all our development history has been us dealing with this balance.

Q: Speaking of films, have you guys seen Looper? Fun time-traveling film. I can only imagine some of the early development stages probably included studying various mediums that had the time-traveling theme? 

Oh, totally! You could say I already had many of those films, books, and universes “pre-studied”, since I’ve always been personally interested in time-travel themes. One of my first industry jobs was developing “Raving Rabbids: Travel in Time”, which gave me a chance to bore the entire team to death with all the different ways to solve a Grandfather Paradox.

There have been many films dealing with time loops which we studied while working on the game… In the last decade: Looper, but also Source Code, Edge of Tomorrow… before that, you had Primer, but also Groundhog Day! All of these were a huge help when communicating the concept of the game to people outside the project during the early stages.

Personally, the most direct references I followed were “Clock Blockers”, a Youtube video from Corridor Digital, and a passage from Roger Zelazny’s “Creatures of Light and Darkness”, called “Arms and the Steel Man”. I would even go so far as to argue that they are two versions of the same idea!

Q: Quantum League kind of comes off as a Hero game, mostly due to the visuals. As we know, that is not the case and probably for the best as that style of play could prove to have some major unbalancing. What’s the approach taken to ensure certain weapons don’t become last-minute clutch while also maintaining their uniqueness? 

The way weapons work in the game is similar to CS:GO. You start with a basic sidearm and can select one primary at the start of the round. There is no other restriction to select primary weapons, so we need to be sure that they are all on similar footing, but don’t feel restricted to a single match moment either.

When designing or balancing our weapons, we’re always looking at the situations it is good at first, and then at its overall use in other situations. Quantum League matches evolve quickly: a sniper rifle may be the best choice when you start the loop, but 7 seconds later it may turn from an asset to a liability. This situational balance means that the player is often doing weapon choices based on his plan for the loop, which is something we want to encourage.

Players who stick to their favorite weapon may end up feeling limited outside of that weapon’s ideal scenarios!

This approach has allowed us to reach Early Access with a weapon selection that we consider balanced without any obvious choices, with the only regret of not having been able to offer more varied combinations.

Q: How’s the post-launch support looking? Can we expect new modes and maps, along with characters and other customizable items?

We’re eager to share our plans for future updates to the game once the game enters Early Access! I can’t provide details right now but I would say that players should expect additions to all areas of the experience.

We are constantly working on maps and modes, and will be unveiling our content plans very soon.

Q: Can we expect to see some new time mechanics? Or perhaps crazier level designs with more hazards and other level interactions?

I certainly hope so! But at this point, we need to consider not only what we would love to do, but also if our community thinks that would be a welcome addition to the game.

The truth is that we believe in taking these next steps if community feedback enables it, due to that same “complexity goldilocks zone” I was mentioning earlier. If our players like the game and demand more brain-bending mechanics, we definitely have more in store 😉

Q: We’ve asked other developers this same question, and to give the folks at home an idea, how has COVID-19 impacted the development side of things seeing that most are working from home? What challenges is the team facing as they adapt to this new work style?

The entire studio switched over to working from home in mid-March before our local government ordered the national lockdown, so we’ve been lucky in having time to prepare. Overall, our studio is divided into smaller, self-sufficient teams so the organization overhead wasn’t that bad. Sure, we’ve had a rough first two weeks, but now everyone is back at normal capacity. 

The most difficult thing we’re having to adapt to is missing each other’s physical presence, which it turned out impacted many processes one takes for granted: giving and receiving feedback, keeping tabs on what everyone else is doing or even remembering to just hang out together instead of just working, are things we’ve had to think carefully about.

Also, launching a game and being unable to have a proper launch party where we can hug and (physically) pat ourselves on the back is heart-wrenching!

 Quantum League is now available for early access on Steam