Interview: Camelot Unchained’s Mark Jacobs just announced a new game called Colossus

Here's everything we know so far, straight from the City State Entertainment boss himself


Camelot Unchained studio City State Entertainment has been teasing something big for a while now. This morning, CSE’s Mark Jacobs told backers to tune in for this afternoon’s stream, as the devs aimed to show off “a lot of the cool stuff that [they’ve] been working on since July 2019.” He also promised it wasn’t anything bad, like layoffs, a buy-out, or cancellation.

Well, now the news is official: CSE has been working on a second online game in tandem with Camelot. It’s called Colossus, aka Final Stand: Ragnarok, and it’s a co-op multiplayer PvE title in which player heroes battle impossibly large swarms of enemies, using the same engine built for mass-scale warfare in CU. Launch has been tentatively set for the end of 2020. (If you caught the “you’ll wage colossal battles” and “we hope that you have a colossally fun year” lines in the teaser poem, then good on you.)

As MMO players will recall, Camelot Unchained was Kickstarted in 2013, but since then, it’s missed its anticipated launch date by quite a large margin. When we spoke to Jacobs last year, we rattled off all the stated reasons for the delays: engineer hiring problems, the creation of a second studio, code refactoring, and a built-from-scratch engine custom-tuned for massive RvR. And if we can be blunt, the state of the beta, running behind an NDA since 2018, is such that no one was surprised last fall to see the game delayed until at least 2020 and probably beyond. With today’s news, it seems players finally have an answer as to how some of the dev time in the last half year has been spent – and whether it’ll be worth it for the original MMO, the studio, and the backers in the long-run.

Ahead of the reveal today, Massively OP’s Eliot Lefebvre and I have been picking Jacobs’ brain about these big studio undertakings and their impact on MMO players and backers; given Jacobs’ history (and the fact that Camelot continues to offer [most] refunds, even now), backers will probably want to hear what he has to say, particularly how they’re getting Colossus for free and Camelot will hopefully be improved with its success. Eliot’s even gotten to play the new game, albeit in a very early stage. We pooled together some questions for Jacobs for the interview that follows.

MassivelyOP: So let’s dig in. You folks have been working on two games for the last half year or so: Camelot Unchained and Colossus, your new title using the same engine as the one you’ve custom-built for Camelot Unchained. But this is the first time the world is learning why CU has appeared to slow down even more over 2019. How do you explain this to the CU backers?

City State Entertainment’s Mark Jacobs: Well, in terms of slowing down, Colossus did and also didn’t slow things down, as weird as that sounds. In terms of gameplay, it absolutely slowed some things down. In terms of things like Linuxification, we sped up the CU timetable for that work so we could release Colossus. Since we began work on Colossus in July, we have managed to create both shared CU and Colossus code and assets, as well as some things that are specifically for each game. Additionally, without the push on Colossus, we wouldn’t have gotten the additional investment in CSE from our investors, which was used, in part, to expand the team significantly. That, in turn, resulted in work that will speed up the remainder of CU’s development, as well as add things that weren’t planned for CU at launch. And, even without going into detail about all the things we’ve done for both CU and Colossus, the fact is that Linuxification alone would have slowed down CU’s release, even if we hadn’t had the new engineers on the team.

Are you expecting folks to be angry?

I think that people will react the way people always react to things. Some will be angry, some will be “Whatever, as long as we get CU,” and others will be happy, as they will see all the good stuff that is now part of the engine. And, if something is part of the engine, that means it’s part of CU. Others will be happy because they will get to play an additional game besides CU that they are not being charged for, and they’ll be especially happy if they like PvE games.

What exactly did the delay/secrecy buy the studio – and them?

Again, I believe that the work we’ve done on Colossus will speed up the remainder of CU’s development, because some of the things we needed to get done before launch are almost done now. At some point CSE was going to have to work on moving the Windows-based servers to Linux – we’ve been saying that for years, well before I even had the idea for this game. So, the time we’ve had to spend on that was happening either now or in the future. And unlike a discrete system or mechanic, Linuxification touches on every bit of our server code, and some things that cross both client and server. It’s not something that can be easily done piecemeal, so we made the call to put a lot of resources on it. And that decision has paid off, since as of last week, we’ve been testing a Linux-based game server.

In terms of what the last six months have bought them, here’s a partial list of the things that are now part of the Unchained Engine.

  1. Linux-based server stack – While we are still working on this, as I noted above, our game server is now Linux-based. Other pieces of our server stack are almost ready to deploy as well. Because this is part of the Unchained Engine, we won’t have to redo/refactor this for CU.
  2. Overmind – This is the system that runs the gameplay, makes decisions, etc., for Colossus. It is also the system that will run The Depths, players’ defensive systems, Veilstorms, and more. We might have had a version of this for CU at launch, but it is more likely that we wouldn’t have had as robust of a system.
  3. Skydome/skybowl tech – While still a WIP, this is the system that allows us to do interesting things with the sky and the horizon. We might have had a simplified version of this for CU’s launch, but it wouldn’t have been as interesting as this system will be when complete.
  4. Matchmaking – We’ve always said that scenarios will be used to test out parts of the game (siege/group vs. group testing, battlegrounds for beginners, etc.) and that we were going to build tech for that to make player testing easier. The system we are using for Colossus will be adapted for CU.
  5. Tower defense elements – As you see in Colossus, we already have a number of these elements in the game. These will be greatly expanded over the next six months, and many of them will also be used in CU.
  6. Smarter and tougher NPCs – As I’ve been joking about forever, we needed our NPCs to not be as dumb as rocks (I apologize to all rocks who find that statement offensive, I know some of you are quite sharp!). Now, with a combination of Overmind, better pathfinding, and other stuff, the NPCs we need for CU will be so much easier to do.
  7. More assets for CU – One of the reasons I liked my idea for using Ragnarok so much was that we could reuse a lot of the NPCs for CU, The Depths™, and possibly other dungeons as well.
  8. Lighting/rendering improvements – As you saw from the game, our lighting model has improved from CU. We are also in the process of speeding up our renderer so that our FPS can be a lot higher than it currently is.
  9. Technical improvements/bug fixes across the whole spectrum of the Unchained Engine’s codebase.
  10. Weather systems – While they are not in Colossus right now, they will be added to the game in the coming months. These systems will also be used for CU.

And that list isn’t even all of the things that are currently benefiting CU’s development, and also doesn’t include a lot of the things that will go in over the next six months.

When we last spoke about this in-development title, you laid out an elaborate plan for compensating CU backers. Obviously, some of the backers’ money went into building the engine for Camelot Unchained, and that’s the engine this game will use too. But you also suggested that some backers might make money back if Colossus takes off. Likewise, everyone who backed CU gets Colossus for free. Can you recap that plan for our readers?

Yep, nothing has changed since last we spoke. Here’s the plan in a nutshell:

  1. All current CU Backers will get a free copy of Colossus.
  2. All current CU Backers will get an additional store credit in Colossus equal to a percentage of their CU Reward Tier times the number of months that they have been Backers.
  3. The investors have agreed that a percentage of the profits from Colossus will be spent on CU-only things, including everything from art to coding to design.
  4. If Colossus is exceptionally successful, a percentage of the profits will also be given back to CU Backers as credits to their accounts. These credits can be used for paying the monthly subscription fee, as well as anything that can be bought, such as server moves, extra character slots, etc.

I have always said that I would treat our Backers as part of this development process, and not as walking wallets. Legally, there was nothing stopping us from working on multiple games nor any requirement to give our current Backers any discount on it. Once we made the decision to work on Colossus, the investors (including myself) put in additional money to cover the studio’s cost for both CU and Colossus and left the PayPal money in the PayPal account. Once again, there was no legal requirement that we do that, since we are still working on CU, but I believed it was the right thing to do.

And one last thing to keep in mind about this decision. In order to support our CU players who decide to play Colossus, we will have to spin up servers. This is a not-insignificant expense that we are bearing ourselves. We are not asking our Backers for another penny for this game. We don’t even have a working store for add-ons, expansions, etc. And even when we do have one with store credits, our longest-tenured Backers will have an awful lot of credits, and that even includes people who purchased a reasonably priced tier (comparable to a game at release). Those who bought a more expensive tier will be able to be like Santa Claus. :)

How much outside investment has gone into the game thus far? Can you give us a ballpark figure on how much this is costing? How much of your own funding and studio money?

Unfortunately, at this time I can’t reveal that number, as it’s a different type of placement than the last one. OTOH, I can say that I put a significant amount of my money into this game, as did the investors. In 2019, the money spent on developing Colossus came only from the investors and myself.

What about outside interest from publishers?

We’ve only spoken to a few people, and it’s safe to say that there has been strong interest in the game and the engine.

How will Colossus’ development affect your staffing for CSE and the continuing development of CU?

As per above, we’re hoping that this will allow us to increase the staffing for CU to levels well above what we first planned, which will, of course, speed up CU. That’s one of the reasons it was relatively easy to convince the investors to back Colossus. :)

Will CU’s development pause while Colossus is finished?

Nope. We’ll continue to work on both games, and CU Backers will see things that we have in Colossus added to CU, as well as new assets, code, and design for CU alone.

Are you essentially asking for more patience from the long-suffering backers?

In some ways, of course. In other ways, no, not at all. By completing things like Linuxification now, we’re saving them from having to have patience in CU’s development months from now. As I’ve said to the Backers who have been helping us test, Linuxification had to happen either way, and would it have been better for it to happen when more of the game was developed? I think that most of them would have been more frustrated (I know I would have been) if we were even closer to launch and then had to take a big pause to do the work that is now almost complete. And even without all of that, we’re also giving every one of them another game for free. And not just the game as it is now, the game as it when it goes GOLD/LIVE/OMG It’s Finally Out Of Beta! :)

Will you offer CU refunds for backers who don’t want to wait?

Yep. We’re going to fully own this decision, and if people are unhappy, don’t want to play Colossus, and don’t want to wait for CU any longer, we will of course give them a refund. Now, we hope this doesn’t happen, because we believe that having both CU and Colossus will work to the benefit of both games and communities, but that’s up to our Backers to decide. [Editor’s Note: Per the comment discussion, CSE has clarified that most refunds are indeed being offered, except for those folks who can’t prove they backed the game and those who backed nonrefundable tiers.]

Is Colossus going to launch before CU?

Most likely. Colossus is a much simpler game than CU, so I would be quite surprised if that wasn’t the case.

If Colossus doesn’t do well – or if it does so well it eclipses the sun – how will that affect Camelot Unchained and the backers and studio?

If Colossus totally tanked due to our engine failing, our investors would not be happy with that, and neither would our Backers. If it eclipsed the sun, well, that would be the best possible outcome for CU Backers, as it would result in everything from more money for development of CU to lots of credits paid out to our Backers.

Are there any risks here for players? What about for you?

There’s always been risk associated with Kickstarter-backed games, whether on the lower end of the donation spectrum or the highest end. We are planning on Colossus reducing the risk to CU, as it already has, through our development and field testing of so much of the tech.

In terms of me, lots of risk. I put a LOT of my money where my mouth is (or in this case the game vision) and if Colossus failed, I would certainly be blamed for it.

What do you folks see as your closest competitor or cognate for this type of game? Who exactly is your audience – MMO players, battle royale players, somebody else?

Colossus is a co-op game where players can play in groups of various sizes versus a heck of a lot of challenging NPCs. The fact that we can deliver a true horde type experience for players should cut across a wide range of games. We feel that with the unique setting for the game, the scale that our engine can handle, and other things we are in the process of adding, that we are making a very unique and interesting game.

Can you talk about the game’s business model itself- are we talking B2P or battle pass or both? We’re assuming lootboxes are out. (:D)

Why would you assume that? :) Of course, no lootboxes, no P2W, etc. as is my way. As to the model itself, B2P with Battle Passes, expansions, sequels, etc.

What’s the ETA on Colossus and CU now? What about public testing periods and release windows?

For CU, we’re sticking to what we’ve been saying, because everything right now is well, rather in the hands of gamers. If this game does well, CU gets sped up significantly. If it doesn’t, we continue work on CU. In terms of a tentative release date for Colossus, it’s the end of the year.

What development process led to the lateral application of CU tech to a different sort of game using the same engine?

Well, in a way this game came to be because of the CU Backers. In April of 2019, I was running our Cherry Keep siege test with Backers. And just for fun, at the end of the test I brought in another 1K NPCs to see what happened. Well, the engine/game handled it just fine, so over the next 4 or so weeks I started “the running of the NPCs” where I eventually brought up to 18K NPCs into the engine. Some players were gushing at the performance, saying things like “This is Total War + Camelot” and just having a lot of fun. Now, at that point the 18K NPCs were mostly just standing around doing nothing most of the time – but every so often, they would move/attack.

Through all of that, I got the idea of using the engine to build a game that would take advantage of its ability to network an reasonable amount of players (1K) with multiple thousands of NPCs in the same battle. And then I had the idea for an obvious game type that would fit that mold; a zombie game. But I wanted to do something different with that idea, since there have been a number of truly great zombie games, including the fantastic Left 4 Dead series. Then the idea of using Ragnarok came to me, as did a brand that we could then build around it.

I sat on the idea for a few weeks because I really didn’t want to make another game at the same time we were making Camelot Unchained, and I wasn’t about to stop work on that game. Well, after thinking about it, I took the idea to [CSE co-founder] Andrew [Meggs], who I assumed was going to talk me out of it, but he was super excited and said he wanted to make the game. I then went to [Senior Engineer] George [Davison], and he said the same thing. So, I talked to some other people at the studio, and they all said we should make the game. All of us then talked about it, and we then tasked the producers to come up with a tentative schedule that would allow us to make the game as well as CU at the same time. Now, I knew that the vast majority of work would be useful for both games, but I needed the team to assure me of that. A few weeks later we had a schedule for making Colossus and CU at the same time. I took that to the investors.

When I talked to the investors about the game and the brand behind it, they were 100% behind us, especially since we said we wouldn’t have to stop working on CU, and even more so when we explained that this could also speed up CU’s development. They threw extra money at us so that we could hire additional engineers and artists.

In July, we took the idea to the team and said that if they didn’t want to do this, we wouldn’t. Some of them were concerned about our Backers’ reaction, and I explained what I intended to do about saying thank you to our Backers. At that point, one person didn’t want to do the game (he then left the studio) and another was nervous, but then was fine about it once we explained we’d be getting more reinforcements to help us. Once that was done, we started work on Project Colossus.

So, if it hadn’t been for the Backers reaction to the Running of the NPCs, I doubt Project Colossus would have happened.

Is the game meant to tie into Camelot Unchained in any way beyond the engine connection?

Not at the present, though we will reuse a lot of the assets from Colossus in Camelot Unchained after we tune them specifically to CU. In the future, who knows?

What does the content improvement pipeline look like for Colossus? How fast or easy is it to add patches for support as the game requires it? What sort of content do you envision adding post-launch?

One of the tools that I have been talking about for the last few months is Overmind. With that, Ben and I are able to quickly iterate on the game logic for a scenario, so we are able to make changes and new versions very quickly. We will be limited by the fact that we still are a small team, so getting a lot of new art for both CU and Colossus won’t be easy, but we expect to add more NPCs, Champions, and art assets over the next six months, as fast as we have been. And if we get some additional support, we’ll be able to speed it up even more.

Controller support is obviously working, but is full remapping and/or better keyboard support planned?

OMG yes. This is a perfect example of the kind of tech that we need for both CU and Colossus, so expect it to happen quite quickly.

Will there be any sort of tutorial option for players just getting started?

Not at Marketing Beta/MVP launch. For a full launch, yes.

How much (if any) customization can players expect for avatars or abilities in the finished game?

We plan on having a full progression system, but as of now that hasn’t been designed, just talked about.

What sort of progression systems (if any) are planned for players successfully clearing matches? How will the game avoid becoming just a mind-numbing melee combat sim?

Well, as we add the progression/reward system and even more and smarter NPCs, I would hardly call it mind-numbing. But it is what it is, a co-op game where groups of any reasonable amount (1K+) of players can fight in a match. And with different difficulty settings, new areas, etc., we’ll be throwing a lot of stuff at the players. For those who like that kind of experience, where you are fighting against interesting NPCs (from melee to magic, as we already have), this will be something that they might love. But, as always, time will tell.

Are there plans for more movement abilities for characters in the future?

Yep. What you saw was just the first pass of the core abilities for the players. We’ll be adding combos, new items, and other things to change the way that players move around the map. Please keep in mind that you saw the first version of the game that we allowed people outside of CSE to play. You were literally in the first playable version of the game, which wouldn’t normally be shown to folks outside a studio. We’ve already come a long way since then, and there’s lots more coming after launch.

We’d like to thank CSE’s Mark Jacobs for his candor in answering our endless questions for the backers and for our readers.

The stream is over now, but you can catch the recap with gameplay from the new title.

As mentioned, MOP’s own Eliot Lefebvre got a chance to play the game himself, and he does have some thoughts regarding the – and we stress this part – very early build of Colossus:

In simplest terms, Colossus feels like the sort of co-op game that is tailor-made to delight me, at least.

The version of Colossus I got to test out was still a pretty early build, and I don’t know exactly how much work CSE has done on iteration and improvement since I played, but I assume it is substantial. (Unfortunately I didn’t have the opportunity to see it change over time, but that’s entirely due to my schedule; Jacobs himself was very open about the continued work.) What I played was obviously not a launch version and not intended as such, but that in and of itself doesn’t particularly bother me; years of playing early builds of games means that I’m used to navigating early assets, tutorials, controls, and so forth.

Surprisingly, though, Colossus was already in a good state when I playtested it. There were things to fix in terms of signposting and feedback for combat, but that’s more about late-stage improvement than anything. What was on display in full force was melee combat against hordes of enemies, and that felt simultaneously fluid with little in the way of framerate drops or staggers and dynamic in terms of what was happening.

Enemies came fast and furious, but no individual enemy felt overwhelming to fight beyond some of the more special units, keeping combat freewheeling and encouraging me to use my character’s ability to summon spirits as an added shield and attack. At the same time, it was very possible to get overwhelmed by getting surrounded, or getting rushed, or otherwise not planning enough. The various items designed to let you drop barricades to form makeshift chokepoints combined with the terrain of the match already facilitated some fun and weird dynamic moments.

It strikes me that this is the sort of game that works well in both a random “pick up and try it out” format as well as longer sessions with a decent progression system. As things get more frantic, communication is at a higher premium, but it always felt like it had a crisply responsive engine and just enough going on to feel kinetic without being crowded. I’m really looking forward to seeing where it goes from here, and it also shows just how much heavy lifting the CU engine is capable of at this point.

According to Jacobs, Colossus is not yet up for preorder, but it will be soon. We’ll keep our readers posted as new details emerge.

MOP’s Eliot Lefebvre contributed heavily to this piece and to our understanding of Colossus.

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