On the second floor of a non-descript church in Roswell, Georgia, the small team at Tripwire Interactive have been quietly creating Steam's next big co-op survival horror game, Killing Floor.
I actually passed by their building twice before pulling in, thinking that the white brick church building couldn't possibly house a game development company, but there we go. Once scattered across the globe, the Tripwire team looked for a central location to coalesce, and Roswell wound up winning, mainly due to the fact that one of the team members' wives had family here. At least they have their priorities straight.
The church leases out the second floor in order to fund the holier first floor. Let's just savor the irony in the fact that the screenshot at the top of this article was taken in a house of God.
Tripwire was formed by members of the team that created the award-winning Unreal Tournament 2004 mod Red Orchestra: Combined Arms. Taking the $10,000 prize for best FPS mod in NVIDIA's Make Something Unreal contest, Tripwire turned around and created a full product based on the modification, Red Orchestra: Ostfront 41-45. Their dedication to the game and continued updates earned them a fiercely loyal fan base that has been eagerly awaiting the release of Killing Floor.
After taking the tour of the relatively small office space, I sat down and talked a bit with Tripwire's Vice President Alan Wilson and President John Gibson.
John is definitely the spokesman of the two, answering my questions regarding the game's progression from Unreal mod to full game at great length. He explained to me that the rise of digital distribution has opened up amazing opportunities for the independent developer. "If it weren't for the digital distribution platform and particularly Steam, we never would have been able to make the jump."
I asked the both of them whether it was easier for a mod team to make the jump to full game development now than it was during the early days of game modding. John's reply took around fifteen minutes, but can be neatly summed up in one sentence. "Essentially, you either have to be lucky enough to find a publisher who is willing to take the risk, or you have to have the determination and the money to do it yourself."
Compare that to Alan's answer: "No."
Despite the different ways they have of expressing themselves, both agree that they'll continue to support and add to Killing Floor as long as their fans keep playing. As John puts it, "When you buy a game from Tripwire you're getting something very cool from the start, but you're also signing on for the long term. You'll be getting new maps, new characters, new weapons...the game is gonna grow."
So without further ado, let's take a look at the starting point for Tripwire's Killing Floor.
What Is It?
Killing Floor started life as a mod for Unreal Tournament 2004, being given the full retail treatment by Tripwire Interactive, the developers behind another famed Unreal Tournament 2004 mod turned full game, Red Orchestra. Set in a version of London overrun by failed experimental clones, players must band together in order to survive successive waves of attackers before facing off against a level boss.
Many people will compare this game to Valve's Left 4 Dead, but there are several key differences. Maps are cyclic instead of linear, meaning instead of moving from point a to b to c, players move between certain points on the map, driven by the location of the upgrade store at the end of each round. Players collect cash as they defeat mutant clones which is then used to purchase equipment from a vendor between enemy waves.
Most significantly, Killing Floor has a perk system in which players level up depending on certain conditions, granting benefits to various skills. Players can swap which perk is active between each enemy wave, making the perk system function almost like a class system does in other shooters. Perks are cumulative and carry over no matter what server the player connects to.
What We Saw
I spent about an hour and a half playing through three different maps with members of the team from Tripwire at their studio.
How Far Along Is It?
It's due out tomorrow, so yeah - pretty far along.
What Should Change?
The Store Interface: Between waves, players have a limited amount of time to purchase upgrades and equipment from a store that spawns in random areas of each map. The interface for the store was a bit confusing, and some of the requirements to wield various weapons were a bit unclear. It's passable, but with the strict time limits imposed I would have liked something a bit more intuitive.
What Should Stay The Same?
The Level Variety: Each of the three maps I experienced during my preview had its own look and character. The first level was standard shooter fare, with tight tunnels and an industrial vibe. The second map took place in a wide-open field in the dark, with our team rushing from the glare of truck headlights to a pile of burning horse carcasses, desperate to stay in the light. The final level took place on the streets of London, with enemies swarming down over high brick walls. Three different maps, with three completely different atmospheres.
The Perk System: The persistent leveling system is the main feature of Killing Floor that separates it from other titles in the co-operative survival horror genre. Players can focus on the skills they prefer, creating an experience tailored to the way they wish to play.
The Crossbow: What more needs to be said?
Some would say that Killing Floor plays like Left 4 Dead lite, but that's not quite a fair comparison. In some ways Killing Floor is simpler than Valve's title, but it many ways it is more complex. Can the two peacefully co-exist? We'll find out tomorrow.