My first interview: What makes Hunternet a lifelong game?

Note: This old interview uses the previous place holder art and while it is a bit outdated I think it does a good job at conveying the spirit of the game.

My first interview just went live at MMO Games. I really like the way it turned out. I hope you like it and find it useful. If you have any of your own questions, I'd love to hear from you :)

For our readers who may not have heard about Hunternet before can you tell us a bit about the game?

Hunternet is my unique take on the MMO shooter. Hunternet is not red vs blue, there are no predefined factions, instead there can be up to 700 teams of any size, and it is possible to play and win as a lone wolf, a small squad, or a large swarm. I've been playing shooters all my life and wanted to create something that would leave me feeling like a newbie again. Today's shooters often feel like minor variants of each other. You'll either get a variant of the military style shooter or a throwback that feels like a variant of an arena shooter like Quake or Unreal. My goal has been to re-examine every aspect of the game, and ask myself daily how can this be done differently? Having teams evolve on the battlefield and giving teams of all sizes a real chance at victory is just one example. Another area where this approach has really paid off is in the player's arsenal. Instead of the well worn variations of machine guns, shot guns, and rifles that we have become so used to, you have fifteen unique abilities each with as little overlap as possible. This has led to a lot of emergent behavior and tactics that you would never see in other shooters. It feels great to play a shooter were I have to explore a completely new arsenal with weird abilities such as “frog”, “shrimp”, and “pod” instead of quickly adapting to a games particular spin on the old standards.

What is the reason behind you alone creating something as ambitious as an MMOFPS?

When I quit my job five years ago to make video games full time, I did not set out to make something as ambitious as an MMO shooter. In fact I started with a relatively simple idea of a puzzle-strategy hybrid similar to Dr. Mario. Three years in my original idea had ballooned and gone in all sorts of new directions. When the idea for Hunternet hit me, I had to face a reality check. The idea of making a shooter that really spoke to me as a player was very alluring, but I was afraid to start over. In the end I decided to shelve my project and give making my dream game one last try.

While I shelved all that work from the previous three years, one thing I did not lose was all the experience I had gained. I knew making an MMO would be difficult, but I was not going to make your traditional MMO. By keeping my initial focus on player vs player and designing the game to be fun at any scale from one on one all the way up to MMO scale I felt I could keep iterating towards my dream while always having something that could be released. Today I feel like I made the right choice, it took many server rewrites but I eventually reached MMO scale while having a game from early on that was a lot of fun when playing with just a few close friends.

What can you tell us about the name Hunternet? What is the story behind it? And how is it connected to the game?

It took a long time to decide on a name. In the end it came down to Hunternet and Cazadores. Cazadores is Spanish for Hunter and was suggested by my brother, and I felt it had a nice ring to it, but was a little worried that a non-English name might be more difficult to remember and search for. What I like most about Hunternet is that it is straightforward descriptive, and hopefully easy to remember. The game after all is about hunting and being hunted on a massive network. But in addition to that I liked the idea of using hunter in the name. I feel a large part of the visceral appeal of real time games comes from our hunting instincts. With Hunternet I want to tap into those primal feelings, while avoiding graphical displays of violence or adult only themes.

You have worked on this game for two years now, how have those two years been funded? 

The short answer is that, I am extremely fortunate to be married to a very supporting and loving wife. My wife has been working during most of the five years since I've quit my job but at the same time we have had to invest a significant portion of our savings into the game. My hope is to make Hunternet financially viable before it becomes too great of a financial burden.

Do you have any crowdfunding plans to get this game developed fast and with a bigger team?

I don't have any plans for crowdfunding. I've considered crowdfunding, but for now I've avoided it. I think the idea of crowdfunding is great and it has helped fund some amazing projects. But at the same time I felt uncomfortable asking for money especially early in development were so many things were still in flux. For a less experimental game were you had a clearer idea of where you would end up, maybe I would have done it. But with Hunternet I wanted to be fearless when making design changes, and I felt my obligations to backers would have clouded the picture. To give one example, I prototyped about a dozen variations of mouse view in order to try something different from what you see in every other FPS. I would have felt less free to make these kind of changes, if for example my backers had expected traditional FPS mouse controls.

Have you tried to reach out and get more developers on the game? Or do you want it to be solo project?

In my professional career I've worked on software teams of all sizes. So I understand the value that multiple programmers can bring to a project. But there are a lot of advantages when working alone. There is none of the coordination that is needed when working in teams. I don't have to explain my design decisions to a programmer or my programming decisions to a designer or another programmer. Working alone has made me incredibly efficient and paradoxically is the only reason I've been able to tackle a project of this size while remaining fluid.

On the other hand I am interested in working with others in areas outside of game design and programming. All the art in the game is either licensed placeholders or programmer art. I want to find artists I can work with to give the entire game a visual and audio makeover before it is released. I also wouldn't mind having help in more business oriented areas. But at the end of the day I want to stay small and nimble and in complete control of my vision.

The art we have seen in the screenshots and videos are said to be placeholders, how far are they from the real deal? From what you have imagined them to be for Hunternet?

I want Hunternet's visual and audio design to be as unique as its game play. I want to avoid the traditional aesthetics that we see in most shooters, and want to find a look that is timeless and appeals to a broad audience. Ideally you should be able to recognize Hunternet from a single screenshot or sound. The art style should not make players feel excluded because they were not part of some marketer's imagined demographic. I'd like to find some like minded artists and work with them to develop something special and unique just for Hunternet. Since I want to give them as much freedom as possible I can't say exactly how the game will end up looking, only that it will remain true to my goals.

The game is said to have no teams and that everyone is free to play with whom they want to or don't want to play with, how will solo players not be overrun by bigger groups?

The game does have teams, but everyone starts on their own team all by themselves (ie. 700 players, 700 teams). During the regular course of play you can use your alliance ability to join other teams or bring other players into your team. You can also use the alliance ability to leave a team, to end an alliance, or even to commit some treachery.

Once I got rid of the idea of a fixed set of teams, I wanted to make sure that teams of all sizes from one to several hundred could potentially win the game. In most shooters sheer numbers are such a strong advantage that a lone wolf no matter how good they maybe would never win against a horde of less skilled opponents.

There are many elements in Hunternet that make all team sizes viable. One key element is how resources are handled. In most shooters, you would have health, ammunition, lives, score, and time as separate resources. In Hunternet all of these are rolled into a single resource called energy. When a game starts everyone begins with 10,000 energy. Every time you use an ability it costs a little bit of that energy, it is your ammunition. Every time someone damages you it also costs energy, it is your health. Who ever has the most energy left, is in the lead, it is your score. Every time you destroy a player and pick up their wreckage you gain some of their energy, it is your reward. If after seven minutes more than one player still has positive energy an energy crisis begins and slowly drains all remaining energy, it is your time limit.

Whenever you form a team on the battlefield the team's energy is pooled and shared, and your score is your team's total energy divided by the team size. So at the beginning of the game everyone is tied with 10,000 energy. If you quickly formed a 10 person team you would have an energy pool with 100,000 energy, but your team score would still be 10,000 the same as everyone else regardless of their team size. Now since each teams energy is pooled and shared you have to be careful about how that energy is used. If you bring on board a bunch of inexperienced players and do not support them they may end up using more energy than they bring in, and in order to raise your team score by one you'll have to bring in 10 times more energy than a lone wolf.

In addition to this key element of energy and how it is shared between teammates, there are many other supporting elements. For example, Hunternet has very powerful defensive abilities. Absorb, which is a shield like ability protects you from all damage while it is active and converts any damage you would have taken into energy. Unlike a regular shield it actually works better the more players are attacking you. Hunternet also has powerful stealth abilities so a lone wolf could take advantage of the chaos of large conflicts to climb their way to victory from the shadows.

There is still no information on the objective of the game, are there different modes? And if so, what are the game modes we can expect?

The goal of the game is to be a member of the last team to avoid bankruptcy (negative energy). Given this same goal the game may still play out very differently each time. The world is divided into regions and regions vary widely. For example you may enter a region that is heavily populated by AI monsters that you could use to your advantage or could be used against you. You may enter another region where a soccer like powerball can be used as weapon or a shield to drain your opponents of their energy and then shot into a goal to collect that energy as a reward. Other regions may force you to play a unique variant were you only have access to select abilities or were physics or your view are completely changed (Hunternet is a first person and top-down shooter). The idea is to provide as much variety as possible into a single mode while keeping everything with in that mode connected and relevant to the final goal of winning by avoiding energy bankruptcy.

Now, in the long term I'd like to support many different modes and even mods. But for now the focus is on making this core mode a strong foundation on which to build the future of Hunternet.

How will Hunternet beat the “indie multiplayer curse”?

Multiplayer games are difficult to make and few have healthy communities a year after they launch. This is true for large companies, but I feel it is even more challenging for small independent developers. So going in I knew I had a large challenge ahead of me and that I wanted to do everything possible to ensure Hunternet would have a happy and healthy community for many years to come.

To achieve this, I have set out to remove as many obstacles to play as possible. By supporting 700 players in a single instance you get rid of the fragmentation that match making and small game sizes cause. By having gameplay that scales from one vs one to 700 players, you give the community time to grow organically. By allowing players to join at any time you do not have to wait for the next game to start. You are also never completely eliminated from play, so even if you are a beginner and at the bottom of the rankings you can participate in meaningful play all the way to the end.

Hunternet will not be subscription based and I want to make sure that anyone who wants to play will have an opportunity to do so regardless of their financial situation. I will also be an active participant in the community and play alongside everyone else.

AI mobs in online game have been highly debated the last year after Titanfall used them, how come you have included them in Hunternet? And what part will they be playing?

In Hunternet unlike Titanfall AI mobs were not added to pad a small player count. The AI mobs are not player like in Hunternet. They are there to create a more interesting environment for your strategic use. For example you could grab an AI mob with your bungee and fling them at an opponent as an attack, you could hold them close and use them as a shield, or you could push your enemy into them to aid in your attacks. You are also free to avoid them, or you could set up base near a large number of mobs and use them as an early warning system. I also added AI mobs because in the future I would like to create large 700 player cooperative campaigns against thousands of AI creatures that would put even the largest raids to shame.

Can you explain this “advanced moving system” further What is it that makes it so advanced compared to other games?

I call the movement system advanced because of the flexibility and the breadth of options it provides. In Hunternet, you can run, fly, climb, swing, leap, teleport, rocket jump, double jump, wall jump, wall cling, slide, and bounce your way home. And that is not a complete list. On top of that I have spent a lot of time fine tuning the controls and making them configurable.

What makes Hunternet a “lifelong hobby”? And not just another online game to play and forget about after a while?

I believe that in order for a game to be lifelong hobby it needs to have depth to allow for a lifetime of learning, and a friendly & diverse community that welcomes players of all ages, while allowing players of all skill levels to enjoy themselves. My goal is to make Hunternet my lifelong game. I've had players as young as 6 and 8 enjoy the game, and because I've avoided any adult only themes they could play alongside their older siblings or parents. I feel this kind of life long game, should not be limited to sports. My dream is that long after I am gone, some parent will introduce their kid to Hunternet, and that one day that kid will grow up and introduce their own kid to the game and that they along with their grandparents will have bonded and shared in a lifetime of good memories in the game.

How will the matches be hosted? Are there going to be dedicated servers or will we see players hosting the servers?

The game is designed for dedicated servers. I moved the dedicated server from Texas to New York to get it closer to European players, but I've had players as far away as China and New Zealand play and remain competitive while experiencing some of the best network performance on a US hosted game that they have ever had. I am not against the idea of player hosted servers but it is not immediately in my plans. I could see them being especially useful when I add modding support.

Seeing how many connection issues are one of the biggest deal breaker for online games, how can you make sure a battle with 700 players will run smoothly?

It's not been easy, a lot of work and experience has gone into making Hunternet's dedicated servers perform well with 700 players. Luckily I've been programming for over two decades now and have had many network programming experiences. Even then a lot of the past two years has been spent on rewriting the server several times and it took a lot of work to slowly climb up to 700 players. I still need to find 700 human players to test the game before I'll go from alpha to beta, but using the cloud to run 700 clients and test the server under a realistic load gave me the confidence to say that Hunternet supports larger individual battles than any other MMOFPS.

Any date on when we can expect to see a beta release?

I'm still working towards announcing an official public alpha, so the beta is still to far out for me to estimate a date. I'd like to have found artists to work with and have the final art and sounds in place before beginning a beta. While the public alpha has not been officially announced you can try early builds of the game today by joining the Hunternet community forums.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions.

Thank you, it has been a pleasure!