Running with Rifles
Developer: Modulaatio Games Platforms: PC

I have always been a huge fan of games like Battlefield 1942; they have large environments with a massive war going on. These games throw you into the shoes of a standard soldier; you are not the savior of humanity or the hero of the world, just a grunt with his boots on the ground. I also enjoy games like Company of Heroes, heavy in strategy where play is all about how you use your forces and the environment, and not necessarily about how many soldiers you have fighting for you. When I find a game like either of these that is a great find. But, when I find one that mixes elements of both, it can be easily seen as a gem. Recently, I found a title that uses similar mechanics as Company of Heroes and Battlefield 1942, but changes everything else enough to not make you feel as though you have never played a game quite like this before. Running with Rifles is an amazing third person overhead shooter chalk full of insane battles that can only be won by thinking strategically, and not trying to be a new Rambo.

Running with Rifles (RwR) was made by Modulaatio Games, basically one person, Pasi Kainiemi, which alone must illicit a bit of a “wow” from anyone. But, what may catch most players off-guard is the amount of content packed into this title. RwR has two modes, multiplayer and single player, the former allowing you to have massive battles online against other people playing, and the latter giving you the opportunity to take on an army of both intelligent and difficult bots. Where most third-person shooters may have you acting as the overpowered super-soldier, hefting four or five guns with enough firepower to take down a continent and enough health to absorb a clip of ammo, in RwR you have one gun and can take one round before you die. No powers, no abilities, nothing super about this. This game throws you straight into the battle, gives you a rifle, and tells you “Don’t die”. That is it.

Games like Running with Rifles have to play very well to be fun. They need tight controls that are balanced to allow players to make quick decisions under heavy pressure. RwR never feels clunky; the keyboard controls are smooth but also allow for easy accessibility, they never hinder you during battle. The basic controls are very simple; as a grunt thrust into a fight you are given a rifle and a grenade. Move around, take a few shots, and the bulk of the controls are in your memory. There is a cover system as well, a very simple one that is so useful that it made me smile when I saw it in action. So you see a small wall you can duck behind? Run up to it and crouch. There, now you are in cover, and each time you fire your weapon your character will pop out of cover to do so. Simple and effective. You can go prone anytime; both crouching and prone allow for better control of your weapon, which means better accuracy. Also, with the right mouse button you can order your troops to move to different locations, if you have ranked up enough to have men to order around.

Finally, you start up a game and are given the chance to fight a few other people or maybe a small horde of bots. Each side can have a maximum size of 600 units, this equates to the ticket system in the Battlefield series, after you run out you cannot spawn any other soldiers. Battles will consist of tens of soldiers fighting over small tracks of land, attempting to gain a foothold over their foe. Sometimes you may be in a conflict that has you fighting over a few feet, trying to push back the opposing team long enough to capture this specific area. Encounters will rage in three dimensions, as you are fighting for a street maybe you are taking fire from a rooftop, or getting pelted with mortar strike from above. Nowhere is completely safe, and being on your guard and having battle awareness is not only a suggestion but a necessity.

So, I have given my short explanation of Running with Rifles. Normally, I would continue on summarizing what the developer has mentioned to me in a series of questions. But this time around I thought I would change the formula and just give readers his answers to the questions I gave him. My main reason for doing this was because his answers were extremely detailed and having to cut bits and pieces out probably would only take away from what could be said about this amazing game. Below are my, Kyle Droll, questions and the answers given by Pasi Kainiemi’s, the talented one-man-team behind Running with Rifles.

 When did you start making games? Is Running with Rifles the first game you have ever developed, or have you had other experience in the industry? And if you have, what other games have you helped create?

You could say that I started making games around the age of 10 or so in the early 90s as a hobby. The first game development attempts revolved around ASCII or text based games, later giving shots at game types such as a 2D platformer, top down ice hockey game, 3D hot air balloon fighting game, grappling hook swinging game, and so forth, the list must be endless. Needless to say, more often than not the projects just ended long before getting them complete or even making them public.

On a more professional level, I was one of the team of four in Prodigium Game Studios to make a 3D floorball game (it’s sports similar to ice hockey in many ways) Floorball League (http://www.fbl-game.com) for PC during 2008-2010. In 2009, we were granted a funding from Nordic Game Program, which we decided to spend mostly to make me a full time developer in the project. Best time of my life, being a real game developer in own company shared with friends, gotta say.

Other than that, I’ve worked with graphics area development for various mobile phone platforms in 2007-2009 and 2010-12 as my main job.

What are some of your favorite games/genres of games?

EA Sports NHL series

* I grew up with these games; it’s because of the series that I know anything about NHL or ice hockey in the first place 😛

The old point & click adventure games such as Monkey Island, Indiana Jones, Sam & Max

* Unparalleled 2D graphics and stories in 320×200, simply amazing
Mount & Blade

* Probably the most addictive one I’ve played within last 5 years, I could just devote all my spare time to it

* If only I could play the single player campaign in coop

GTA 3 and 4
Civilization

* You know how it is, one more turn..

Jagged Alliance 2

 So I see Running with Rifles as a very interesting mix of Counter Strike, Battlefield, and Company of Heroes. It has the tension of CS, with the massive landscape engagements of Battlefield, and the strategy and tactics from CoH. When creating this game were any of these ideas apparent? Were you basing RWR off of any of the games I mentioned or were there other influences?

I have to admit I haven’t actually played Company of Heroes or Battlefield at all. Obviously I’m aware that they exist and have a clue what they are, but I never really played them. CS is something we used to play quite a lot in small LAN parties with friends, though.

The games that I used to play and have surely influenced RWR the most, I’d say, are 1) Command & Conquer commando mission where you only have single commando unit in command, 2) Cannon Fodder, 3) Mount & Blade and perhaps 4) Rainbow 6: Rogue Spear with the co-op terrorist hunt mode. While the Mount & Blade reference might not be immediately obvious, I think the persistent world and events that take place with or without player’s intervention is something these games share.

RWR has a unit management mechanic that when used can be an effective tool to turn the tide of battle. Was this implemented early on in RWR’s life or added later into the dev cycle?

The squad control mechanic was not initially designed to be included in the game, just to keep things utmost simple. I had envisioned that the AI squad members would be highly independent and would be there just to help you out in their own way. 

The feature was later added initiated from a discussion with the community after we had jointly figured out what kind of things people would want to achieve with this feature and how to do those things without having menus or anything that would distract too much. After a few iterations it actually started to reach a point where it seemed that you can get 80% of the things done by simply giving the squad a positional hint where to be at. The same thing means to move to the position, guard the position, attack the position or regroup depending on the situation at hand. 

Obviously, the feature brought a lot new possibilities to the leader role. Some slight new additions could be introduced to the mechanic a bit later. Simplicity is the key still here though, better to keep it simple than to bloat it with features no one uses.

 

As a one man team what was your most difficult hurdle when making RWR?

Promotion, hands down, the game can’t just make itself known. As the game has been so far developed on spare time and mostly alone — there are a few awesome dudes in the community who are helping me out with some of the 3D models and textures, and they spread the word as much as they can too which is amazing — it feels that you just can’t devote that much time to promoting the game while you’re also developing it, time just runs out daily. Creating videos and trying to get coverage on the web magazines, that stuff there seems to eat up a lot of time.

Especially lately, I’ve practically stopped to push the game awareness so that I can concentrate in getting a few important new features and content in place for the next “promotion round”. I really hope RWR manages to catch the press’ attention.

Moreover, I’m making a huge shift right now as I’m quitting my main job to start working on RWR full time — 4 days to go still 🙂 I’ve got funds enough to keep going past the end of the year, by which it should be evident whether the game will make enough to sustain the heightened development mode or if I’m forced to look for alternative ways to keep the going on.

RWR is mercilessly difficult and will kill you on a dime. Do you think this aspect adds to the allure of a third person shooter/ war simulator? So many games on the market give players a lot of health, often regenerating as well, but in RWR a couple of rounds will easy put your soldier down.

I definitely think the one-hit health system based on probabilities is a key thing how RWR is seen by players. It’s not just another bullet hell shooter where you know you can take x-amount-of hits and refill energy in a way or another. In RWR, you really need to keep your head down and stay in cover or move in groups to make someone else attract fire and take the bullet for you, as heartless as it may sound 🙂

Funnily enough, as you get killed a lot in the game, getting killed as such isn’t awfully irritating mostly. It’s part of the game, respawning is fast, and nowadays the distance from the spawn point back to the battle isn’t as long as it used to be. All right all right, there are certain locations and times when it can become a bit tedious, but I’m working on it 🙂

 How did you get inspiration for the levels in the game? One goes from a forest, to a city, to a beach, and these changes create the possibility for very dynamic and unique scenarios; was this one of the hopes in mind while creating these levels?

At this point, part of the game’s development history can be seen through the maps actually. Map1 is the first map that was made for the game to test a few basic territory types, trenches, towns, and test how the AI commander and squads handle various things. The map is really a mixture of all things, but it works surprisingly well at that especially for single player and coop. You can still see that there are no ladders in map 1 to get to roof tops, back then the feature just didn’t exist 🙂

[Map 2] is inspired by the week I spent in Greece a year ago, the town layout and the dock did take a lot of reference from the small town I stayed at. This is where the roof top action really gets to shine, with the tight narrow snake-like streets in the town center.

[Map 3] is an experimentation on how the game plays out when the bases are positioned in a diamond formation, with some rivers and bridges cutting the area to specific areas. 

[Map 4], which is still unreleased, is a linear winter map with two army camps at the edges of the map and the warpath in between. This is the time when we start to see greater differences in the map [themeing] too.

Frankly, I’m just designing the maps by a hunch, sometimes taking a look at a random site plan in Google Images to get a fresh idea for a specific territory. As there are no scripted events and you can’t say beforehand where you really encounter the enemy forces, you can pretty much only concentrate on making sure there’s plenty of different types of cover and corners to allow an intense firefight to happen. More often than not, it doesn’t seem to take much more than that + picking a formation for the bases. I’m personally quite surprised how well the maps have been received by the players, when I think how little I actually have to “think & design” when implementing the maps.

 What were some early thoughts that did not make it into the alpha and beta versions of the game?

I always thought that I’d get to implement stuff like attack dogs very early on to bring a larger variety to the kind of enemies the game has, but I haven’t thought about adding them in quite a while now. The game took a significant steer towards being more multiplayer-oriented at some point, which has forced me to drop something out and concentrate on something else.

Another example, currently there’s no falling damage when you jump off a roof which is quite out of place when you think about how the game otherwise plays out, but I never intended the game to be played without the damage. It’s still not there for reasons involving bot behavior mostly, but on the other hand, a lot of people have already gotten used to it. I might still add it as an option, as a part of e.g. hardcore/realistic mode.

Other than that, not a lot of stuff comes to mind. Most of the features that I had really thought of are in the game or are coming in the near months. 

It seems like you are keeping up with the community and consistently updating the game. You also created a forum to hear game suggestions from your audience, how is this community-feedback idea going? Have there been some great ideas given that you have been/will be able to implement?

The forum has been an enormous helper, with multitude of things. A lot of the ideas and feedback received on the forum are getting integrated in the game in a way or another, e.g. the squad control mechanic talked about earlier, exposing modding capabilities for custom map making, bug reports, getting feedback of what’s good in the game already and what’s not. The game would be a very different one if I would’ve just kept the game behind closed doors. Without the community, I probably would’ve taken the game more towards just single player and low-player-count cooperative, whereas now the direction is towards having over 30-player matches. This turned out to be a great thing, as it seems there are not that many war-themed multiplayer top-down shooters around, especially with an indie charm and flavor, but new single player / coop ones seem to be popping up every second month.

 When I first started playing RWR and realized that there was a cover mechanic I was happily surprised, and could not believe the added strategy that came with it. Very few top-down shooters implement this mechanic, and doubling the crouch button as the key to also put you in cover was a very intuitive and simplistic way of doing so. Was cover always a gameplay mechanic you wanted to add in or was it added later in development?

Cover has been an important gameplay mechanic since the days I realized I want to have the one-hit health system, for rather obvious reasons. Also, most of the controls are shamelessly derived from first person shooters, mostly to make the players feel at home as much as possible, so it was pretty natural to add crouching, and it just clicked that it would actually work very well with cover structures too. Prone became first introduced together with M240 as it can be only shot with while on prone in RWR, and it was later complemented with prone steering and movement. I was probably thinking about Jagged Alliance -games when picturing the prone feature in the game — still hoping to see it become more useful once I’m getting the stealth approach experience in the game on the level I want.

 How much longer until the game will be officially released?

The current target for 1.0 is at the end of the year, though I have to say the target has changed at least 3 times already along with changes in the plans what 1.0 actually holds.

 Do you plan on adding more elements to the game? If so; can you mention any at the moment?

Major features to do between 0.71->1.0 are 

* Achievements and persistent stats

* AI driving

* Linux port (Mac port is post-1.0)

* More feeling of progression, some weapons / abilities being unlocked through rank progression

* Engineer features like sandbag wall creation, setting up stationary weapons and mines

* Would be awesome to optimize the net code to support around 60-100 simultaneous players

Major content to do:

* Winter map coming in the next version, I can also see a desert map in the distance. All in all, it would be great to have 8 maps ready in 1.0, to be extended later

* Trucks to transport soldiers, boats, APC with a turret, possibly tanks after 1.0

* Variety of soldier models

* More map details

Features like a zombie mode (or possibility to make it as a mod) will be left post-1.0 as well as having destructible/constructible terrain or buildings other than just walls. Ideally, if the game really catches on now before the end of the year, I don’t have any reason to consider stopping the development in a longer while.

 I noticed the “OFFICIAL MAP CONTEST #1” in the forums; do you plan on holding any more contests for RWR?

New map or voxel model contests might be coming, but the community needs to be awaken[ed] again before that — hoping all the upcoming promotion efforts will help there!

 After RWR is released do you plan on making another game? Are there any ideas in the works?

I have thought about some other game ideas to build on the RWR engine, sure, but nothing too serious at this point, have to keep my focus on the ball or I’ll lose it. 

 

We hope you enjoyed this segment of Indie G.A.M.E.S. and if you know of any exceptional indie titles that should be featured in later articles, leave a suggestion in the comments below.

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