One of the surprise hits of 2010, Monday Night Combat is getting a sequel that its creators don't exactly call a sequel. They call it Super Monday Night Combat, an evolution of the third-person shooter they launched on Xbox Live Arcade in 2010.
The game has changed. It is intended, this time around, to be a PC gamer's delight. Look out, League of Legends or DotA 2. This is supposed to be free DotA that packs heat.
Launching in the next several months or so, Super Monday Night Combat will be a free-to-play shooter with more elements of the Defense of the Ancients-inspired gameplay that popularized the 2010 vision of a futuristic sport, a DotA-with-guns that powered a sort of NFL of tomorrow.
"Looking back at Monday Night Combat, for Super Monday Night Combat, we thought, 'Where can we evolve the game?'" John Comes, creative director at Super MNC studio Uber Entertainment told Kotaku in a phone interview. "We decided to add more MOBA to it." That is… they decided to bring their shooter closer to the roots of DotA, MOBA or whatever label you want to use for an increasingly popular genre of multiplayer team combat games that involves shepherding parades of minions through a battlefield to destroy an opponent's base.
Super MNC will retain the third-person shooter perspective of Uber's first game but will switch to a five on five format, from its predecessor's six on six. Announced only for Windows PC so far, it is being tailored to encourage the more complex and thoughtful gameplay that is stereotypically the domain of the computer game as opposed to the blockbusters on consoles. (For the record, we liked the first game.)
The essence of the game will remain the same. Players will work in teams to escort a parade of computer-controlled robots toward their opponent's Moneyball, the ultimate prize in this futuristic team sport for each group of "pros". Players will pick a class to play as, say assassin or support, and attack each other's team pros, while also building turrets, protecting their own Moneyball or racing into the enemy base to capture theirs. Through all of this, the most important actions are to keep the team's parade of bots marching forward, un-destroyed while stopping the enemy stream of bots.
The conceit is still that the game is based on some unreal game show, though, visually a new rendering engine and new, more organic arenas (all of them new), should make players feel like they've stepped out of the fairly sterile stages of the original Monday Night Combat and into more lush playing fields. (Watch the trailer up top to see the new look for yourself.)
Trigger fingers won't be enough this time. Bring your brains. The new game will play differently than the original, running longer, more strategic matches. "We've changed the balance and lowered the lethality," Comes explained. "People tend to live a little bit longer [in the new game.] There are a lot more tactical battles, so the gameplay is a little bit more intense." Uber is cutting the previous game's overtime mode, altering how turrets and bots function (more on that later) and designing a game that will encourage and require players to work together.
While Uber is refraining to call their game a sequel, it looks and sounds like a significant overhaul and, on the PC at least, a full-fledged replacement that will make the original MNC obsolete.
The developers are adding a leveling system that empowers players from game to game, as they gain experience. Players will start at level one and aspire to top off at level 15. "In the original Monday Night Combat you could only level up your skills, and the power difference from early game to late game was marginally better," Comes said. "Now, it's greatly better."
Characters from the original game are returning, but with modified abilities. Unpopular special moves will be cut. One-hit kill moves will be diminished in potency. "The frustration players felt of an assassin showing up out of nowhere and stabbing you in the back won't be as prominent," Comes said. The only instant kills in Super will be ring-outs.
There will be three new characters at launch, with more added over time. For starters players will discover Combat-Girl, a playable version of the first game's Pit-Girl (a clone, according to the new game's story), who fills a support role and has her own turrets.
Another new character, The Veteran, is a former champion wrestler whose abilities are based on a grappling. He's even got a grappling hook to pull his foes toward him.
A third new character, the Gunslinger, is a new sniper who isn't as powerful as the original MNC sniper—who returns in the new game. Her advantage is that she can shoot quickly. She wields two pistols, a love gun and a hate gun, which are tied to special abilities that kneecap people to slow them down, shoot waves of bullets and more.
"You literally could spend zero dollars and be entertained for a long time. That's really important to us."
Each of the new characters will fit into one of the six roles defined by the returning cast from the original game. The new trio and subsequent characters will assume assault, support, tank, assassin, sniper and gunner roles. All will, the Uber team promises, have a completely new sew set of abilities. Some of the new characters, Uber's art director, Chandana Ekanayake, told Kotaku will be inspired by ideas pitched by people you may have heard of. "The idea is that we have other developers or friends of Uber develop characters," he said. Seven or eight developers are already on board, as are the Penny Arcade guys. Uber won't describe what kind of character they concocted. Not yet.
Most of what's been described so far about Super MNC will be free. The game is free-to-play, as they say. Many hit games in 2011 are. See: the DotA-inspired League of Legends or so many Facebook games and a rising crop of PC shooters. The free-to-play games cost nothing for gamers to start playing but make their money from piecemeal sales of extra items and other new content.
"We're big believers in allowing people to play the game for free if they want to," Comes said, trying to limit any fears that "free" = price gouge. "If people want to accelerate their power curve—if they want, they can pay to do that. If they really want to get a brand new skin that just came out, they can pay money to do that, but, overall, we're believers in not doing [things] the evil monetization way… We are allowing the player to play the game and we are not holding them back, but if they want to do things faster or more, that's how we'll make our money."
Gamers will be able to pay for character taunts, skins, effects on their weapons and endorsements (presumably from the game's wacky in-world sponsors). They'll also be able to pay to access some new characters whenever they want, though again, the Uber team stresses, non-paying gamers will see a lot of stuff. "Over time [non-paying players would] have access to the full game experience through a rotation of free characters that rotate every couple of weeks or so," Uber president Bob Berry said. "You literally could spend zero dollars and be entertained for a long time. That's really important to us. Free-to-play should mean free to play and not, like, nickel-and-dime the customer to have a good experience. It should be a fun game experience out of the box with no money spent. And if they want to give us money, we're happy to take it."
Uber brass decided to bring the MNC series in this direction while the team worked on the Steam PC version of the game. "We really liked having a game up there and being able to update it as quickly as we wanted to," Comes said. "Fans really reacted to that well. So we decided, let's turn this game into a service so we can constantly update and give new stuff to our fans." The team is aiming to add new content to their game weekly.
(The original MNC sold or $15 on Steam and Xbox Live Arcade, making the free new game a rare sequel that is cheaper than the game it follows.)
Über will be talking about the game at this weekend's Penny Arcade Expo but they felt it was not quite ready to show it to the public. Nevertheless they say the game is coming together well. They plan to launch a friends and family beta after the show and slowly open it up, aiming for a full release of the game on PC late this year or early next.
As people play it in the beta, they'll notice some tweaks to the MNC format that the Uber guys say make the game play differently. As mentioned, the lethality of attacks has been diminished. All characters will have slow-down abilities that can decelerate the enemy advance while giving a time to converge for a group assault. Turrets that players build in the arena will now start with level-three shields, helping them last longer. And the grand prize that each competing team has their eyes on—the Moneyball—will be more valuable than ever because dropping its shields will be the action that spawns the mighty Jackbots into the Moneyball-attacker's parade of bots. In the previous game, those Jackbots simply showed up every five minutes. The new approach, Comes said, "helps push the end game. It helps amp up the action."
There will be new bots in the bot lanes of Super MNC, including a mighty Fujibot who leads the lane, shielding the weaker ones behind him (he is described as "a giant metal meat shield"). There is also a Shady bot who is small, like the Slim, but takes more hits before being destroyed. (Get it?)
Comes believes that all of these changes which toughen the lane of bots and keep the players on the battlefield longer, encourage more strategic play. "There are more tactics," he said, "less pray-and-spray."
The game won't have much of a single-player component. There won't be any in the beta when it starts, though the team is working on tutorials and training modes. There also won't be a Mac version, though Berry said that it is "on the radar." As for consoles, neither the Xbox 360 nor the PlayStation 3 support free-to-play games (yet). When asked of console plans, Berry demurred, saying, "None that we can discuss."
Super MNC is designed to rope in more fans than the first game did. It'll be free, so how could it not? And hopefully MNC fans will convert to the new game. "We will incentivize them to come over," Berry said. "You'll get exclusive content that nobody else can get."
Super Monday Night Combat encapsulates current PC gaming quite well. Shooters are always the rage, but right now, so too are DotA games and free-to-play. (Proof: the PC thought-leader Valve Software is doing these things, in their own ways, too.) This combo of PC gaming ideas and trends is the right one one, Uber says. Just don't call their manifestation of it Monday Night Combat 2. "It's different enough from the first game," Ekanayake said, trying to explain. "Super made it better."