When Rainbow Six Siege was announced to be a multiplayer-only experience, quite a few of us were very disappointed. The series had always included a single player campaign, and Vegas 1 & 2 actually had pretty decent stories in their games. Luckily, Siege turned out to be one hell of a multiplayer experience, but one of the main complaints was that the game didn’t include a single player campaign.
Item_42 is looking to provide you with an alternative option to Rainbow Six Siege’s mutliplayer offering with their first game called, BLISTER.
BLISTER is a single player only tactical first person shooter which puts you in the boots of a fictional police force during Item_42’s retelling of the English Civil Wars. The game features destructible environments, pre-mission planning and quite a bit more. We hope you enjoy the interview with Item_42’s, Bret Ware!
ONLYSP: So to start off can you tell me a little bit about your history as a game developer and the formation of Item_42?
Bret Ware: We’re a bit of an odd one, but then what indie developers aren’t? Our history is pretty short, Item_42 consists of myself and my brother Regan Ware, he’s a computer science undergraduate and I am a graduate of philosophy, plus Chris Browne, a frontend dev. We’re all from England (two thirds from the south coast) and in some way or another we all wanted to tell stories through games. I started fooling around in UDK a long while ago and now we find ourselves in the middle of developing a shooter that is actually starting to take the form of a ‘proper game’.
We’ve done a few private commission projects but nothing on the scale of BLISTER before.
ONLYSP: Blister seems quite ambitious for a two-person team. Has the development process been pretty challenging for you? How does Unreal Engine 4 help you make this type of game with such a small team?
Ware: UE4 is the most powerful tool I have ever had the pleasure of using. It just makes sense. If you want to make something you can fool around in it for a couple of hours and there it is, it may be rough, but it’s there.
I recommend anyone who wants to try making a game, even a little fun project to play with friends, to try out UE4–you’d be surprised what you can make. This is, in fact, how BLISTER started. My brother was fooling around with a bunch of code while we were developing a different game and we thought, hold on, this could be our ticket, this is really fun to play. It was a very different kind of game a year ago but that’s how it started.
Our game is very ambitious but we’ve stripped it back to make it as achievable as possible for our small team. It looks daunting but it has three elements that make it easier for us to work out: the mechanics of the game are replicable for every level and every scenario in the entire game, level design in UE4 is an absolute blast and the format of the game itself is, for the moment, single player only.
ONLYSP: A lot of first person shooters have been divulging away from the single player side of things to focus on multiplayer. Aside from what you said above, why did you make the decision to make Blister a single player only experience?
Ware: It’s pretty controversial these days to make a single player-only shooter, and we haven’t ruled out multiplayer entirely just yet–we just want to make sure the single player is as polished, fun and replayable as possible first. When you’re a team as small as us, you have to be frank about what is achievable in a reasonable amount of time.
It’s not just a pragmatic decision, though–in some ways the single player element is inherently tied to the gameplay itself. We predicted that BLISTER would be compared to Rainbow Six: Siege a lot, and sure enough it has been. It makes sense but the comparison is prima facie. Siege is a triple-A, competitive multiplayer FPS by an international studio. You have no control over your team mates because they’re real people against (mostly) real people. For me, personally, this is rewarding when it goes well, but incredibly frustrating when your teammates suck.
BLISTER’s single player campaign is the answer to that frustration. Our game is a single-player tactical shooter by an indie studio where the player has absolute control over their teammates, because they’re not real. They are NPCs, they will do everything you tell them to do. They live and die by the plans that you coordinate.
So really, Siege and BLISTER are very different beasts. The crucial difference is that BLISTER offers a proper campaign experience with a story and teammates that are only as good as your plan is. That’s where we are trying to break the mold in shooters. We’re also big fans of Door Kickers, I’m sure that’s clear by now!
No hate towards Siege, by the way–I am a Rainbow Six aficionado, I’ve been playing every single one since the first one came out in 1998.
Rainbow Six nerd is an understatement.
ONLYSP: I’ve recently gotten back into Siege and play it just about every night with friends back home. There’s really not another multiplayer-FPS like it out there.
Ware: There really isn’t another game like Siege, the atmosphere is absolutely incredible. The funny thing is I’m actually terrible at Siege. My buddy and I back home play couch co-op Vegas 1 and 2 every few months and I’m always the first to die.
ONLYSP: That, and the community, for the most part is one of the most mature and friendly I’ve played with, ever.
But, as you’d probably imagine the lack of a single player campaign in Rainbow Six Siege was one of the biggest complaints about the game so I’m sure people will be happy to see a tactical first person shooter include an actual campaign mode.
And, speaking of the campaign can you tell me a little bit about Blister’s storyline?
Ware: I understand the complaint that Siege had no campaign, I personally think it suits the direction Rainbow Six has gone in but I definitely lament the lack of a decent campaign mode just because I am such a big fan of the Vegas games.
With BLISTER we are trying to achieve a 1:1 ratio of tactical gameplay and action movie awesomeness, and part of that action element is the unique story and setting that it presents to players.
So, onto the story.
Because we’re from the UK we wanted to make a shooter game that had a setting that you don’t often see, and the UK has such a rich history when it comes to police-work, firearms units and suppressive technology. We are the home of Scotland Yard, Cheltenham houses one of the world’s biggest spy agencies, GCHQ, and Porton Down is the top secret facility where CS gas was first invented. To this day, Porton Down still works to test new armours and gadgets for militaries and police forces around the world. What better place to set a tactical shooter than the home of the original police force?
The storyline for BLISTER itself is mired in a dark and absurd retelling of the original English Civil Wars.
We have always been a warring nation, a nation often at war with itself. Sometimes the story feels a bit uncanny given recent events (Brexit leaves a very bad taste in my mouth). In our timeline, Parliament has been disbanded by the monarchy, propped up by the aristocracy and the military. In the UK the aristocracy and the military still have a huge presence in public and political life, and so we have imagined the worst possible scenario erupting from a country that is constantly trying to define itself and is tearing at the seams because of it.
As a result of the resurgence of the monarchy, Scotland and Wales have walled themselves off from England. Insurgent cells propped up by defectors from the military are popping up throughout England, deploying a mix of IRA-style guerilla tactics with some more long-term military tactics, taking over strategic resources in an effort to destabilise the weak grip the monarchy now has on the security of England.
The BLISTER Unit is part of the monarchy’s new regime, a band of elite firearms officers who operate somewhere between a police force and a paramilitary organisation. They have a warrant to arrest, but also a mandate to kill. Now this is important, because BLISTER features both lethal and non-lethal weaponry. History happens fast in the universe of BLISTER and your decision to go either lethal or non-lethal during your playthrough of the campaign will have significant consequences on the ending of the game.
To summarize that incredible wall of text for which I apologize, players assume command of an elite firearms team called the BLISTER Unit, responding to national security incidents in a bid to secure the monarchy’s grip on England.
ONLYSP: Sounds like a pretty complex narrative. So just to make sure I read that correctly, there’s multiple endings in the game if you decide to go non-lethal or lethal? What happens if you mix the two?
Ware: If you’ve played Abe’s Oddysee you might recognise the situation–a certain amount of lethality throughout the campaign will lead you to a different ending, with different rewards. Both endings are fun and each one will present you with a different end-game gift that you can use in a new playthrough of any campaign mission.
ONLYSP: Your Greenlight page for the games says the game will have a total of 10 missions. Will these missions take place mostly in Britain or all around the UK?
Ware: Oh yeah, this is where it gets confusing with our country, haha–Britain refers to the whole island, England refers to our portion and UK is the whole ‘united’ mess itself.
So most of the levels will be set in England, with at least one in Scotland and at least one in Wales.
ONLYSP: Interesting and yea, I’m sure Brexit just made your lives a bit more difficult. How varied will the environments be then, are they mostly in urban settings or will there be some outdoorsy missions as well?
Ware: The missions are varied, mostly occurring indoors as you’d expect with a tactical SWAT-style game, but with a couple of outdoors scenarios too. We have a farm and slaughterhouse being used as a headquarters in Somerset where the objective is to hunt down buried arms caches in the woods and clear the slaughterhouse of insurgents.
Other scenarios include a North Sea oil rig, a captured freighter ship off the coast of Harwich, a London council estate, an overrun train depot and a hostage scenario at a Royal estate. We’re currently working on a nuclear power plant level set in the Midlands, we can’t wait to show it off. The environment is incredibly interactive–pipes burst, valves redirect pressure, machines can be used as movable cover, nuclear waste systems can be played with. It’ll be a blast.
ONLYSP: The game includes destructible environments (probably where most of the Siege comparisons are coming in, which certainly isn’t a bad thing), how much do the destructible environments come into play during firefights?
Ware: The destructible environments in Siege are great because they’re also controlled and tightly woven into the gameplay. There are only certain situations where the destructible environments can be taken advantage of in Siege but when you can it really changes the pace of the game.
In a similar way, destructible walls, ceilings and doors can be taken advantage of to avoid chokepoints or take insurgents by surprise. If you shoot at a wall and throw a flash grenade through it, there’s no need to risk your life by opening a door and exposing yourself.
Most of the themed ambitious levels contain a limited amount of destructible wall physics due to the unconventional shapes and materials that we have to deal with, so BLISTER also has a couple of office levels that are entirely dedicated to destructible fun. In these office levels, if it looks breakable, it’s worth a go.
ONLYSP: Will you be including any type of cover mechanics in the final game? Such as leaning or blind-firing over cover.
Ware: There are two types of cover mechanics in BLISTER, the player’s own cover controls and NPC teammate cover. The player can lean left and right and position the gun in a pretty freeform way, so blindfiring and causing bulletspray havoc is a fun way to play. Blindfiring and bullet-spraying also feeds into the Intimidation system. If you do enough aggressive stuff your enemies have a chance of surrendering their weapons, so a bit of indiscriminate blind-firing can sometimes work in your favour. Ammo is a serious consideration though, and you can run out, so it’s a trade-off.
The NPC teammate cover is important. If you place a waypoint for your teammate in the middle of a room full of enemies he or she is going to be in serious trouble. It’s best to place down a waypoint at a Cover Node. These are placed all around the level at objects and wall edges that provide sufficient cover.
ONLYSP: From the trailer you released there also seems to be a mode in the game where players can make-up their own missions?
Ware: Indeed, there are two modes: Police and Assault. Police is the campaign mode with a limited ‘realistic’ selection of weaponry and armour to outfit your unit with. Assault mode lets you play with the parameters of the level, changing objectives, hostages, enemy types, what kinds of weapons they use, how many enemies there are, what the gravity in the level is and more. As many sandbox options as possible to let you craft your own mission after completing the campaign mode. It’s just a way of letting people have a bit of fun in these levels, and you can even go in solo in Assault mode, DOOM-style.
ONLYSP: You can mess with the gravity? That’s awesome haha.
Ware: At its heart BLISTER is a very tactical game and constructing a plan before breaching a series of rooms is essential to complete a level in Police mode, so we also wanted to offer a mode where you can let your hair down a bit.
ONLYSP: Sure. How many hours of gameplay are you anticipating there will be in the final release for the campaign mode? The Assault mode obviously adds pretty much infinite replayability and based on how you described it, it sounds pretty robust too.
Ware: Yep, Assault mode is its own self-contained mode with a whole bunch of ridiculous weapons, it’s almost a completely different game. Yin and yang is the most appropriate way of describing Police and Assault mode.
It’s hard to say what we’re anticipating for the campaign but we’re hoping at least 10 hours of straight gameplay in Police mode. It really depends how good you get at the tactical planning system. If you recall the Greenlight trailer, before you breach any series of rooms you have to push a drone through a vent and use it to construct a robust plan for your NPC teammates. They do not act by themselves; they require you to set down waypoints, objectives and conditions that they then carry out alongside you. The length of the campaign really depends on how much of a perfectionist you are–the perfect plan will be very hard to pull off. If you’re OK with a few injuries here and there and a few dead hostages, hopefully you’re looking at 10 hours of campaign gameplay. If you’re really good, you could probably whittle it down to 4 hours.
ONLYSP: The trailer said you can set the difficulty level in Assault Mode, but is there a predefined difficulty for the main campaign?
Ware: At the moment the difficulty is predefined and it’s pretty hard, but as we develop and start opening it up for testers to play we might end up requiring different difficulty levels.
Earning new weaponry and armour is based on how well you did in a level and whether you went in lethal or non-lethal, so if it ends up just being too hard for some people we might consider difficulty levels. For now though, it’s a preset level of difficulty and most of that comes not through the AI but the challenges of making a robust tactical plan, just like Door Kickers.
ONLYSP: Are you planning to bring Blister to Kickstarter or Steam Early Access once you’re Greenlighted?
Ware: We’re currently looking at more private funded options rather than a Kickstarter because to us, it often seems that inexperienced developers make big promises in Kickstarters that they then cannot go on to fulfil when the game is released. We are considering Early Access but only when the game is at a state of polish that we think is acceptable. We want to keep adding to BLISTER throughout its lifetime including new levels and so on after it is released, but we also want to make sure that it’s as fun and bug-free as possible so that it doesn’t suffer what some Greenlight games have where they stay in perpetual Early Access for years without much progress.
ONLYSP: Based on the success of the game, do you have plans to bring it to the Xbox One and PS4 in the future?
Bret Ware: BLISTER is being fully mapped to Xbox One, PS4 and Steam controllers already for people who prefer playing with controllers. If the demand and the satisfaction is good on PC we’d love to develop BLISTER for Xbox One and PS4. We have already had a few talks with some relevant people about this possibility. The focus right now, though, is on the initial PC release.
ONLYSP: Well alright, I think we’ve covered just about everything I can think of regarding the game. Do you have anything else you’d like to let our readers know about Blister before I let you go?
Ware: Sure, I’d just like to let people know that we have a video coming out soon that will explain how the tactical planning system works–it’s quite a difficult system to put into words without showing how it works, so this big element of our game will be explained better soon. I’d also like to say, go download UE4 right now and play with it! It’s amazing!
ONLYSP: Great! Thanks for taking the time to speak with us about Blister, we’re looking forward to seeing more!
Ware: Cheers, mate – I enjoyed telling you about our game.