Back in August, Realm Royale was struggling. The free alpha game soared then fell, with players and stream coverage both dipping way down. Some players didn’t like the rash of changes as Realm Royale went through early development, and others believed that not having the game on any other platform hurt it. As for the former, devs discussed this very thing and addressed development hurdles at this fall’s Hi-Rez Expo. Brand Director Rory Newbrough, Art Director Chuck Vincent, and Technical Director Mick Larkins hosted a panel to discuss the past, present, and future of this class-based battle royale.
As for the latter, we learned at HRX that what players didn’t realize at the time as that the game was being developed on consoles, it just had to reach full beta state before it could be released due to the console requirements. Heroic Leap Games also announced at the expo that Realm Royale was now available in closed beta on Xbox One. If, however, you prefer to play on the PlayStation, you’ll have to wait a bit; work is also underway and the game will be available on the PS4 January 27th, 2019.
On of the problems Realm Royale ran into according to Newbrough was the very nature of the alpha. He emphasized that the team went with an open alpha instead of a closed one with keys to let people in. Of course, with a battle royale, the more you have, the better you can test it with full matches and popping queues, right? So the game was put out really early to get that testing in.
Newbrough stated that the launch was about where expected, with 2000 to 10000 players offering feedback on the game, which is precisely what they wanted. But then there was a huge upswing in numbers that Newbrough admitted the team wasn’t ready for. The development process was influenced by that huge influx of players when there was still too much of the core game design to iterate on. He stated,
“We weren’t really doing the things that keep people interested, things that engage you (new content, new classes, new weapons, new things coming into the game every day) because we had a different agenda in mind. We wanted to make sure the foundation of the game was right before we moved from alpha to beta.”
Now with so many players coming in right in the midst of the experimentation and testing, there were some definitely unhappy campers. Vincent admitted, “Not all of our tests were received the best, but we want to make sure we test everything thoroughly, and try all the different options.” That is sure to turn some players off who didn’t want to be a part of a game shifting so much. And the changes have been drastic, switching from being a Paladins mode and spin off, changing loot mechanics, and more. Larkins noted that with BR being a fairly new genre still comparatively, devs have to learn about what players want and what unique features can work.
One of the big changes the devs discussed was ensuring all loot is useful to all characters in some way and not class locked. No more digging through 20 different chests to find one thing your class can pick up, or having to pass up all loot from kills because you didn’t happen to kill your own class. Now, everything can be picked up by everyone, and players have more variety. They can use non-class items to do something different and unconventional or dismantle it for use at the forge. It is about getting something useful every time you find a chest and not only when a fickle RNG smiled upon you. That original loot method also made it a very predictable flow — find the one thing you want, go to forge. The current iteration is better. “So it’s more fun and you get a new experience each time,” Larkins explained. “I feel like I get a bonus when I find things that my class likes to use rather than feeling like I’m penalized for using things that I’m not supposed to use.”
As for other changes, Newbrough talked about devs having to always look for what’s going to work well for the long term. He likened this early game development to trick-or-treating:
“You get the big bag of candy, right, and that night you eat all the candy and [think], ‘This is the most amazing thing I have ever had.’ And then a couple hours later you’re like, ‘Oh my god what did I just do to myself!’ Right? So there are things that are going to be in the game that from a developer’s perspective would be very similar to that. At first it will feel very, very good, but then over time it will either be something that grates on your experience, something that may take away from your experience, and it may even make your experience a lot worse.”
The alpha process, he continued, is all about bringing these ideas out — including the much desired ideas from the community — and testing them over time to make sure they will make the experience better and work with the other features and systems. How does the game measure up to that now? Larkins said, “We’ve finally arrived at, I think, a place where the game is at a really great foundational point. I can’t wait to put the next steps on.” And that includes the innovations with objective-based gameplay.
As mentioned above, Realm Royale is more than just BR; it’s adding other aspects to the battle royale scene. That includes objectives. The first example is the newly released loot goblin, a PvE encounter that rewards players for beating it. All the devs expressed that having things to interact with and a mingling of PvE will enhance the game and offer a unique experience to even more players. More PvE monster fights and in-world objectives are all possible expansions for 2019.
The loot goblin isn’t the only AI that players can encounter. Newbrough explained that the game has three pillars involving the AI: to go deeper into the whole NPC features of the game (through creatures, events, etc.), to add into matches in the underpopulated regions, and to helm onboarding by giving new players a way to learn and become familiar with the game and systems before tossing them into a fully human live match. He explained,
“What the AI allows for in a very real sense is the ability to create these different kinds of experiences all across this massive map we have that’s more like an RPG or MMO. We still want to focus on the core of what a shooter is and have that common experience for BR, but we think there are opportunities to have something for the person who — like me — runs toward gunfire when you hear it, and for the person who runs away from it. We think there’s enough for both groups there.”
The loot goblin is just the beginning, and there are other things in the pipeline right now which will be discussed more next year. Newbrough stated he is really excited to bring the game to life over the next year. He said the door is closing on the core foundation of the game, and now Realm Royale is moving forward with the focus to bring it to life and make it fun. That includes new stuff like weapons, content, and different things that could inhabit the world under different conditions. Fun things that will make Realm Royale different and unique from other battle royale games. And more fantasy. It’s a fantasy world with fantasy gameplay, and Vincent is excited to see what other cool fantasy world stuff that can be one, and seeing what will work. He added, “We’re very excited to experiment and development those features.”
The panel took a bit to address the move away from the Paladins connection. Basically, it just didn’t work. There were a ton of Paladins characters already, and many were not well suited to the battle royale mode. That made it unfun. Throughout testing, it was determined that trying to restrict certain heroes didn’t work as well as just having new dedicated heroes that fit the game style. Larkins emphasized that became apparent the game needed to be its own title. However, the team very much wanted to keep it class-based (which turns out to be really tricky from a design standpoint) and fantasy-flavored.
That’s right folks: Consoles were never forgotten, they just weren’t talked about until they were ready. Larkins said Realm Royale has been running on consoles a long time internally. Although the team comes from a PC background, he emphasized, “Console is extremely important to us, and we see the demands for Realm is through the roof, so we want to make sure we get it right.” The team definitely does not want a repeat of expecting a smaller number and having a major influx again. Don’t get them wrong — they’d love to have a large influx, they just want to be better prepared for it this time.
Newbrough explained that besides making optimizations and adjustments for consoles, the games had to be in a full beta release state in order to be accepted by Microsoft and Sony on their respective platforms. That meant the game needed to be further along than it was when released on Steam for the alpha testing. But it wasn’t just work on consoles that was happening behind the scenes. Not only did devs need to make sure that game systems worked on consoles but they had to work for complete cross-platform play as announced for all titles at the opening of HRX. At least Realm Royale gets to do it from practically the ground up!
Want in on the console action and cross-platform action? Newbrough stated that Realm Royale is the first Hi-Rez game ready to go with the cross-platform play. In fact, right now the beta players for Xbox One are playing with some PC players. Players can link their Xbox and Steam accounts now, and the game was available on the HRX show floor with controllers for players to test it all out. The devs did warn that there will be some rough edges that they hope to iron out with player feedback as time progresses and players can get a feel for teh controls.
Will cross platform affect pro play? It might. Devs are keeping an eye on it. But input methods could be more important that platform. Newbrough thinks there’s a shift more from what platform are you playing to to what input do you use. He assured that this will be a part of the conversation, especially as the competitive season starts next year, and devs will be watching carefully. Cross-platform play and cross-platform progression will be ready on all platforms when the game reaches open beta.
Unlike Steam’s alpha, Realm Royale console betas can only be accessed via key. If you didn’t make it to HRX to pick up a code yourself, you still have a chance to win access to the closed beta access for Xbox One (now) or the PS4 (coming soon). Just comment below which platform you would want and three winners will be chosen randomly for each.
We also have a couple of fun chicken skins! Four lucky winners who say CHICKEN in a comment will get the ability to be a jailbird or a fluffy bunny while in chicken mode. All winners will be drawn on November 22nd, 2018, at 10:00 a.m. Be sure you have a valid email connected to your account you comment with. And if you don’t win today, don’t despair; keep an eye out for OPTV streams where you get another chance to win.