Putting one’s game in beta or early access is an exciting experience for a developer. During such phases they are not keeping their game a secret nor are they shouldering the immense anxiety that can come with officially releasing a final version. Instead, they are letting players in on their project, but with the understanding that it is not final and that the player may offer constructive criticism that effects change.
Quantum League’s lead game designer Balthazar Auger and the team at Nimble Giant are in the midst of this development journey. It directs them towards their future: an official release that may create a new, popular trend for multiplayer FPS games.
Some Useful Information
The crux of Quantum League is a time-loop feature. At the start of each match, you will move towards a central point in an arena to capture it. After 15 seconds, your first time-loop ends. The game rewinds back to the starting point. Now, as a second version of yourself, you proceed into the arena again, with a recording of your first self playing alongside you.
This continues for another loop so that you end up with two sidekicks of your past selves playing alongside you. If you happened to get killed during one of the earlier loops, you can prevent that death from happening in a future loop, making a paradox. Thus why in any given loop you keep playing even after dying—or, desyncing—because what you do could still count if a later self saves you.
It sounds confusing, but when playing you grasp the gist of it. Nonetheless, for any developer to experiment with a new mechanic such as this in an established genre is a risk. That’s why the open beta was key.
Auger and the Nimble Giant team were “surprised” by the quality of feedback they received. Both on Discord and in Steam reviews, they reaped plenty of valuable constructive criticism.
“Players were most appreciative of the game’s overall concept and time loop mechanic, which was a huge relief for us, as it was the first time we tested it at such a large scale,” the developer said.
“The hottest areas we identified after the Open Beta were the game’s gun-feel and tutorials. In the weeks after the Open Beta, we completely refounded the weapon animations and effects to make weapons feel more consistent—as for the tutorials, many players reported that the first actual match they played during the Open Beta was overwhelming in terms of new gameplay mechanics, so we’ve taken steps to ease players into them more progressively.”
Though tweaks such as these were undertaken, major changes were put on hold. “Mechanically, we’ve refrained from modifying any core mechanics from the Open Beta to Early Access, because we want to be able to test new features along with the community. We’re very eager to get everyone’s feedback," Auger said.
The developer has not announced an end to early access at this point. They said the length of early access depends on “the player’s reaction,” but that a roadmap to full release will be shared “soon!”
Since major changes were put on hold prior to the early access, whatever feedback you give after hopping in now could be extremely valuable for the final release.
Time Loopers: More On Quantum League’s Special Ingredient
The most important feature of Quantum League is the previously noted time-looping, so I had to ask Nimble Giant what the inspiration was behind it.
It came, as they said, “almost by accident.” Pondering how to create turned-based mechanics in an FPS, they discovered that the answer lied in the manipulation of time.
“[W]e were initially exploring what a real-time first-person X-COM would be like, and struggling with the idea of turn-based mechanics in a FPS. How would you model the progressive unveiling of information if players don’t have “sight ranges” or fog-of-war mechanics?”
What they are referring to is the limited knowledge players have of their enemies in games like XCOM. You can only see so far and fire weapons so far. Plus, combat is turn-based. It’s a game setup that requires careful selection of actions. This is difficult to replicate in an FPS, but Nimble Giant found a way.
“We came to the realization that those mechanics exist in Space, but not in Time, and by exploring how to translate them to Time, found that the concept of time-loops as seen in movies like Groundhog Day or Edge of Tomorrow could work in an FPS-style game," Auger said.
I got a sense while playing that creative players will devise impressive tactics with time-looping. The developers have seen this play out:
“Players have been teaching us new ways that the time-loop mechanic could be used, and even some other ways in which it could totally break!" Auger said. "We’re happy to be in a sort of conversation with players now, where we’re going very in-depth in both time travel and game balance subjects.”
My mind is aflutter with the additions and tweaks they could add to deepen this tactical experience. New time-based mechanics, new weapons, or the implementation of character classes could really push the boundaries for the time-looping stunts players could pull off. That kind of limitless possibility comes with manipulating time.
Effects of the Present, Plans For the Future
It’s difficult not to ask developers how they have coped with the pandemic that has turned our world upside down these past few months. The Quantum League open beta ended in early March, just before the world changed. Nimble Giant was fortunately not caught off guard.
“We’re lucky to have been able to prepare in advance; our team had transitioned to fully remote one week before our government enacted stay-at-home regulations," Auger said. "Productivity-wise, the team’s output is unchanged, and we managed to maintain high feature and code quality standards even though our QA and code review processes were made more cumbersome.”
They’re feeling the effects of isolation, though: “[A]s we’re heading towards the third month, we’re feeling more and more the need for face-to-face contact, and have bolstered our teambuilding and self-care practices. We’re happy that the release went smoothly, but we’re really eager to be able to move back to the office in the future.”
Beyond COVID-19, the developer anticipates several possibilities in Quantum League’s future. They think the game has “a lot of esports potential” and would love to see an esports community develop around it, saying further, “[W]e’ll do our best to support them and give them tools to make it as much [an] enjoyable esports experience as possible.”
They’re also interested in adding bot support. Though there is a practice mode, the AIs in it are “extremely limited scripted pawns.” More advanced AI would allow players to practice time-looping tactics before diving into a real match.
Announced for the PC and Switch, Nimble Giant wants to bring Quantum League “to as many platforms as possible.”
Conclusion: Refining a Quantum Mechanic
Nimble Giant took on a challenging concept: make a turn-based, tactical experience for an arena FPS. Prior to the open beta, they had no idea whether their idea would click or if it was something only they could appreciate. Now that they’ve experienced the joy any creative would feel if their idea was validated, they are off on the path through early access and to final release.
“It has been a wild ride for sure!” the developer said. “We’re still in a state of disbelief when reading reviews that confirm to us that our crazy idea also resonated with people around the world. We’re more motivated than ever to keep polishing and refining the experience and make it accessible to more players!”
As Quantum League continues in early access, I’m sure that this sense of excitement will become all the more real.