Angels Fall First is an interesting experiment: an independently made FPS that is doing its best to beat Battlefield and other such AAA titans at their own game as a massive multiplayer shooter.
I reached out to Strangely Interactive for an interview, resulting in a discussion that delves deep into just about everything related to the title and its history, as the team transitioned from modders into professional developers. Read on to find out more.
TechRaptor: Can you introduce yourself and your team for everyone?
Josh Grafton: I am Josh Grafton, and I am the art director – everybody else is ball-deep in game development at the moment.
TR: What exactly is Angels Fall First? Give us your one-sentence elevator pitch.
JG: Angels Fall First is a vast-scale match-based sci-fi combined-arms FPS. It features tank fights, dogfights, fire fights, knife fights and firing the main lazor on your battleship, all in first person. It’s also got full bot support, so it plays identically both online against humans and offline against AI. Going up?
TR: Angels Fall First originally started as a mod. Can you elaborate on its history and what inspired you and your team to make this game?
JG: Everybody else stopped just short of making this game. it was the time of Battlefield 2, Quake Wars: Enemy Territory, Battlefront, and it was all very exciting to speculate on how much more complex and immersive these games would get. Fans of the complete Sci-Fi experience had to play multiple games to experience gunfights, dogfights and fleet maneuvers.
But they never went in that direction. The major league FPS games sort of crystallized, and expanding their scope became a taboo. There were technical reasons for this – doing as much as we do is fiendishly complicated, but I rather suspect that the main reasons were financial, and lately severely limited by players’ expectations for high framerate on poor hardware.
I joined in on the Homeworld mod team many years ago, and the guys had a very rich universe of fiction. it set my mind abuzz with visions of starships, so I started building them for the mod. We had wild noob dreams of escaping the RTS genre and building an FPS environment featuring traditional scale gameplay, but also including our huge armada of mile-long spaceships. We drew up grand plans to build an engine of our own at one point, but we eventually figured out some ways it could be achieved on the unreal engine (UT2004)
At that time there was a lot of Unreal Engine 3 hype, so we started building assets and kicking design around in anticipation of getting hold of the new engine. We had the UT3 editor for about a year before they announced the second MakeSomethingUnreal contest. We entered that, got a lot of hype and a lot of interest from Epic, and eventually won third place overall.
Epic started giving unreal away as the Unreal Development Kit. They asked us to port a demo over for the UDK’s launch which still hangs on their site somewhere. After the massive hype of the MSU contest, we knew we couldn’t keep up with managing a community, so we left the unreal mod behind and just went dark for a few years, working on the game. Sometimes we thought we wouldn’t finish, we had to learn everything from scratch. Everybody had several jobs, the level designer became an AI coder, the VFX guy became a core programmer, the art director had to learn how to program UI etc etc. It has been a real exercise in bloody mindedness.
TR: Why Early Access? How reliant is the title’s success on Early Access?
JG: We aren’t in it for the money, because we all work on AFF part time. It’s important to us that our player have a good experience, so we’ll be promoting and patching and trying to grow the player base, but we wanted to develop AFF free from financial influence. We feel that we have a very specific vision for the game which would erode if commercial concerns were allowed to prevail too early on. We had a good reception to the Early Access launch. In any future deals, we can point at that as a reason to trust in our vision and do things our way.
TR: During the tutorial there are hints of an overarching storyline. Will this be elaborated upon?
JG: Very probably. We want to incorporate more lore, but story is often incompatible with flexible gameplay, which is something we also value. One of our ideas is to link up like 3 multiplayer maps, so you can push forwards and backwards between them with different starting forces and positions depending whether you won or lost in the previous map. Campaigns. Mini Stories. These could link up land and space more immersive.
TR: Angels Fall First has recently been released on Early Access. What are you and your team planning to address during this time frame?
JG: We’ve only had access to full Unreal Engine for a year – a legacy of working with the UDK is that most of AFF is written in much slower Unreal script. Our code guys will be moving as much as possible to native code to make things a LOT leaner. there’s also plenty that can be done to make the graphics run smoother. In big studios, this stuff has all the money thrown at it. We need a slave army.
But we also want to expand things as much as possible. we have a lot of maps lying around after 7 years of development, and pretty soon we’ll be adding some more that are still in testing. New weapons and mods will of course make an appearance. They’re cool, they’re like the development equivalent of a light refreshing nap. Someone has a cool idea, I make a little gun mod model in a couple of days, the code guys plumb it in and we all shoot each other with it for a while.
TR: What was the biggest influences on Angels Fall First besides Battlefield and Tie Fighter?
JG: ETQW, ARMA, Operation Flashpoint, and further back, Psygnosis’ Armorgeddon. All games which made you feel like part of a larger war, certainly for me. Some of the guys are fast-shooter fans from the quake days, some of them play a lot of counterstrike. All serious gentlemen of war.
Lately, for space flight, we liked the simplicity of war thunder, which can be played with one hand. we played a lot of Planetside 2 for a while, but we always ended up in *that valley* being meatground. AFF was built to bridge the gap where you and your friends get bored with being infantry grunts and you want to go play with spaceships for a while instead.
TR: What do you think makes Angels Fall First stand out as an Early Access title and the rapidly expanding indie marketplace?
JG: The AI, the insanity-wolf scope of it all, and the amount of content. AFF is good value as an offline single-player game, and we hope that it will stick around a while in people’s collections as we add and improve stuff. It’s likely we’ll have quiet spells, but we’ll be back on the promo trail when we have more stuff to shout about.
TR: What is your plan for releasing Angels Fall First, and how do you plan to support it post-release?
JG: Fix, expand, improve, promote. And for post 1.0 release support, I don’t know, maybe we’ll support it by building AFF 2!
TR: And now for the real questions: where did the Angels fall to? Who fell second? Was it Charlie? Did Bill Murray push the Angels?
JG: It has been said that in a war on heaven, angels fall first.
TR: Thanks for your time.