Amazon has long had a big footprint in games. Starting as a major retailer of boxed games, it became a huge player in the server business for online titles. It doubled down in the gaming space by buying Twitch in 2014. And launched its own engine, Lumberyard based on CryEngine, in 2016 to compliment its other offerings.
So it’s fair to say that Amazon has a lot of insight and data pertaining to the industry. So getting involved in games development, with Amazon Games Studios, made a lot of sense. And Crucible, launching tomorrow, is it’s first big strategically aligned title.
Crucible isn’t actually Amazon Game Studios’ first game, that honour went to last year’s The Grand Tour Game (which came with an seriously ambitious weekly release schedule for content), but that title was more closely linked to Amazon’s TV offerings and online retailing clout.
While it’s Crucible that looks to fulfills the company’s varied potential, with the team-based shooter representing a combined salvo from its development, server and streaming arms. And as a free-to-play title being launched through Steam, with big support on Twitch, it has both massive potential and serious competition.
And Amazon found quite the veteran developer to head up the game’s development at the wholly -owned Relentless Studios in Seattle. Louis Castle was a co-founder of Westwood Studios, worked across the Command and Conquer franchise and masterminded the classic Blade Runner. We catch up with him just before Crucible’s release.
“The size of the teams, length of matches, unique visual effects… are all deliberately designed to make Crucible a great spectator experience.”
You’ve a huge, storied, career in games. What attracted you to Amazon and this title?
I was attracted by Amazon’s focus on customer obsession, AWS features and the financial resources to support a game when it becomes a hit. Crucible was attractive to me because of the things the alpha community of players were saying about the game even as far back as Feb 2017.
How did the concept/pillars/ideas for Crucible come about?
Crucible’s core pillars of being built for competitive play, fun to watch and never pay-to-win really resonated with me as the right guiding lights for a character-based shooter. From there, Crucible evolved into the game modes we have today, where strategy before and during each match, teamwork, and tactics are just as important as shooting. I love the fact that I can help my team by hunting for objectives, levelling our whole team through non-combat actions, and sharing how to adapt our strategy based on how the enemy has levelled up.
How does Crucible’s design play to the strengths of Amazon’s gaming segment, namely with Twitch integration?
Crucible was designed to be streamed. The size of the teams, length of matches, unique visual effects for levelled up abilities and more are all deliberately designed to make Crucible a great spectator experience. Even the choice to keep the game screen uncluttered allows for streamers to place a picture-in-picture that does not detract from the action.
… And with AWS?
AWS powers the back end of Crucible so customers can have a great experience. AWS allows us to distribute game servers all over the world to reduce latency and offer a better experience for players. Hosting all the servers also helps with security so players can be confident they are in a fair match.
Does the game run on Lumberyard? How have you found it and what are its strengths?
Yes, Crucible was built with Lumberyard, augmented with lots of game specific code, just like most games made with other game engines. Lumberyard has some great features like slices and offers full source which allowed us to customize around the things that mattered most to Crucible.
How big was the team and how long has the game been in development?
We don’t share the size of our teams, but suffice it to say our team is relatively small compared to some of our competitors. We have been developing Crucible in one form or another for about five years, and the game in its current form began about three years ago.
How is the game monetised?
Crucible offers custom character skins, emotes, drop pod stickers and many more cosmetic features which are unlocked through game play and can be accelerated with battle passes, a paid system that helps you earn things faster. Crucible does not sell anything that gives another player an advantage. We never want to be pay to win. It is worth mentioning that we strive to keep our cosmetics affordably priced, and to make the quality better than typical. This is part of our customer obsession. We always want players to feel good about investing their money and time into our game.
The initial release is PC-only through Steam – but the design should work well on console too?
Crucible supports game controllers on PC for those who prefer that input scheme. We focused on the PC version first to make sure we did not get distracted from building the best possible PC game we could, but we will be listening closely to our customers and will consider console versions if we see demand.
“Our strategy is to be true to our unique vision for Crucible. We have resisted the urge to copy other games as they released and became phenomena”
Crucible has its points of difference, but as a hero shooter it still has a lot of competition, what’s the strategy to find an audience big enough to support the game?
Our strategy is to be true to our unique vision for Crucible. We have resisted the urge to copy other games as they released and became phenomena, because we believe so strongly in Crucible’s mix of Character-based team shooting and melee with in-match levelling, and a suite of features proven to be compelling in other game genres. Every time you play a match in Crucible it becomes more evident that this game has a unique voice and soul. Most importantly, as you learn the world and the abilities of the hunters you continue to see the vast depth of the game design that makes every match unique.
Coming back to your career, what lessons have learned across the decades when it comes to making games that you think are as applicable today as they were in the C&C era?
Treat everyone as a volunteer. Great teams make great games and I’m very proud to be a member of the Crucible team. Colin and I share the conviction that the job of anybody trusted with the responsibility of leadership should be to do everything in their power to help their team be successful. Even the best ideas can’t succeed without a virtual army of talented people pouring their hearts into their work. I’m deeply respectful of the efforts of my team and I do my best to make sure their efforts are leveraged as much as possible.