WipEout Interview: singleplayer and multiplayer campaigns explained
Back in November, at a PlayStation Access event in London, I sat down to discuss the high-velocity anti-gravity racer WipEout 2048 with its lead designer Karl Jones. Over a loud backdrop of New Order and Primal Scream, he took me through the singleplayer and multiplayer campaigns, showing me the exciting things Studio Liverpool has been working on for this Vita title.
The first thing he wanted to draw my attention to was the huge singleplayer canvas. The familiar event nodes are still present, but gone are the event menus. They are replaced by an open canvas with thousands of blanks nodes, with a single branch running from left to right. That branch is WipEout 2048’s main campaign, and this save file is halfway through the game, so many of the nodes are already unlocked.
A new game begins with a single node over to the left of the screen, back in 2048 — the year anti-gravity racing began. After progressing someway through the campaign, you move into 2049, where “new tracks, campaigns and teams are introduced”. Then you get into 2050, which is the final year of the singleplayer campaign.
Jones is keen to stress the possibilities that the new canvas offers:
“You can see the size of the play canvas. There is lots of stuff to unlock with stuff sitting outside of the canvas itself… There are the branches that come off, which you can see are very faint there. The branches get longer with each season. At the end of those branches you can get PSN trophies…. and unlock new ships.”
The campaign, like everything these days, is built on XP. “Everything you do in the game, whether it is ad-hoc, crossplay, multiplayer or singleplayer, you are constantly earning XP”, says Jones. He adds:
“You unlock games as well based on your rank. What’s cool is we have put in hidden events in there too. You have to actually go find that. You might see a shimmer over there and as soon as you pop it out from the back [using the rear trackpad] it will come out. We have about 15 secret events in there. “
Jones couldn’t give me an exact figure, but he says there are between 150-200 singleplayer events spread across the three seasons, which makes this possibly the biggest WipEout yet. However, making each event unique is more important than numbers:
“What’s cool about this one is that if you look at the events, they are all really bespoke. That’s what these icons are for [he points to an event]. This one, it’s a C class with three laps, but there are no weapons in this one. Basically what we’ve done is mixed it up… we’ve got more branches to play with, so you’ll get some events where there are only rockets in there, or you may be forced to use a ship that is more suited to combat. There are a lot of variables.”
Jones also points to another event. It’s a B-class event with 3 laps, cannon and leach beam only. It doesn’t have mines or bombs. They are hoping players will take this into consideration as they plan for their race: “we want players to look at that, look at the event and each track and look at what the objective is, and then go to their ship selection and work out which ship is best to take to that. Because the ships themselves have different kind of attributes. ”
The number of teams has dropped to five, with each team having four ships. Previous WipEouts had lots of teams and ships, but the actual differences between them were barely noticeable. It was confusing.
“There were really gradual differences. This time it is very specific. So there are a row of speed ships and a row of fighters. These ones [fighters] are more robust; they hit harder and they’re more defensive, [but] the trade-off is that they’re a bit slower and a bit heavier. Agility ships: these have twice the amount of airbrakes and stuff, [which is] very useful for things like Zone Mode. Bottom row: Prototype ships. Each team has its own Prototype ship and it has a really bespoke type of setup. For example, the Feisar one, it charges from the speed pads. It starts off slower than the rest of the pack but by hitting the speed pads you can end up at the top.”
WipEout 2048 will also boast an extensive multiplayer campaign, which is the first of its kind in a WipEout game. It’s something that team wasn’t expecting to do:
“We’re really excited about the multiplayer campaign. We’ve never done one before. It came about because our boss [Graham Ankers] came in and said, “I promised everyone a multiplayer campaign. What the fuck is a multiplayer campaign? You have to go and build me a multiplayer campaign…”
The task was then on the team to (a) discover what a multiplayer campaign is, and (b) figure out how the hell it’d work in WipEout.
“We came up with a good idea, and we prototyped it and turned it into a board game. It worked and it was really fun as a board game, where we just rolled a dice for finishing positions and then played a metagame. So it was fun as a board game so we knew it was going to be even more fun once we started racing. So we put it in and tweaked it a little and it worked.
So basically, as to how it works, so you hit that first node and it will say regardless of what your rank is and what you’re up against, your objective is to just play. We wanted to remove some of the intimidation from online for first time players, because WipEout is traditionally for hardcore players.
So, now when you go into your first race, it says ‘just play’. It will then allow you to move on to the next level. A few nodes down the line, it will say ‘you’re not allowed to finish last any more’. A little later on it will say, ‘OK, come in the middle of the pack.’ Then it is come in the top three and then first. When you start to come in first quite regularly, we’ll start to lay stuff on top, like finish first and wreck two ships [or] come first and destroy this player. There is no end to the kind of layers we can go on top. It makes it even more difficult for the hardcore players.”
Previous WipEouts threw you into a tough race and basically left you to figure it out. The new system tries to change that. Jones says, “The system is designed so that everyone can play together regardless of ability and experience. As it is objective based, regardless if you are rank one or 20, you can be successful.”
Rather than splitting everyone up depending on abilities, it focuses on objectives. “Everyone would have to be at the same point. And how is this going to work? What we’ve done here is: I might be on node one, but you might be on level 20, node five; someone else might be in the middle of their campaign; they could be anywhere, but we can all play.” He adds, “Potentially a full lobby of eight players could all get ticks because their objectives don’t necessarily conflict. They will conflict, some will, but that’s so better players can fight it out. ”
“What’s cool about it is: if I get to a bit here, one of the harder levels, and it [says] wreck two ships and [hit] this guy with a missile, it’s just hard. I have to try that a few times. I’m not playing the same events over and over again.”
In multiplayer, most of the tracks will be available from the start, and deciding the track will be done on a quick lobby-voting system based on what you’ve seen and what you’re good at.
The old gold, silver and bronze system has been dropped. In its place is a simple pass and unpass system, which works in both singleplayer and multiplayer. But there is an additional elite pass level for hardcore players. This is visible after you complete the pass objective; however, if you nail it in your first go you will get it anyway.
“The goal is to go through and get it all yellow. The same is for the online campaign. That very first node might be just play, but the elite pass finish might be finishing mid-table. So players can even go back and re-play the multiplayer campaign in order to get that all yellow.”
Jones also talks about a new par system:
“Another safety net that we’ve got is what we call the “par system”. So after three or four attempts of any single or multiplayer objective, it will say do you want to move on to the next one anyway. Real people will say, ‘No, I’ll play it and make sure I get the targets and get the elite targets and move on that way.’ But the option is there for someone who just wants to mosey on through the game.”
Players won’t get as much XP for taking the easy route, and that means they’ll take longer to unlock new ships. Jones jumped in early to preempt any questions I may have about dumbing the game down:
“At the start of the game , both in singleplayer and multiplayer, we don’t ask that much of the player; the AI is not super-hardcore and the game is not too fast, so people can be forgiven for thinking that we’ve dumbed it down a little. We haven’t, because later on once you start unlocking the proper old-school WipEout events it is still going to kick you in the arse and smack you in the face.”
WipEout 2048 will also support Near, which allows you to share your Ghost laps with nearby players to try to beat. New challenges will appear in the news feed. Other features include Ad-Hoc play (against other Vita and PS3 players) and an Augmented Reality museum, in which you see your ships looking, well, splendidly real.
Studio Liverpool is also keen to support the game after launch. “We did WipEout Pure [on the PSP] and we supported that really heavily with new tracks and stuff like that”, says Jones. The new canvas and the menu layout are designed in a way that makes it easy to drop in new modes and events.
Nevertheless, the game is already packed full of content, and it is shaping up to be the biggest and best WipEout yet. We turned it round pretty quick”, says Jones. “We’ve only actively been working on this version of WipEout for maybe 18 months. I’ve had no moans or gripes from the coders or anything like that. It’s an awesome kit. It just does what we really want it to do.”