Holding our breath while waiting for the
release of World of Warcraft, its easy to let the lack of oxygen blur
our vision a little; Blizzard isnt the only one doing cool things with
animal skin clothing and magic spells. Savage, a multiplayer game coming
to the PC as early as July, is set to scrub a little at the line
dividing Real Time Strategy games and First Person Shooters. This
sixty-four player RTS/FPS title combines the best aspects of both
genres, allowing one player on each side to control the action in
classic RTS style, coordinating troops from above, while the other 62
players meet each other head-to-head in first person perspective. Tired
of computer AI? Savage is set to show us the power of the human brain as
troops follow orders, hack at buildings, and snipe enemies from the
hilltops; actual humans inhabit almost every aspect of the title, and it
lends itself to an entirely new world of organized warfare.
"Look at that, you leveled up," says the fellow showing me the game,
pointing to the screen as I lay waste to yet another unfortunate victim
with my crossbow. "That makes you stronger." Gleefully, I lay into
another unsuspecting victim just as he crests the hill, relentlessly
filling the helpless soul with arrows. "Hes on your team," my guide
points out. "You cant hurt him." After only a few minutes of gameplay,
both as the commander dictating orders to my soldiers, and as one of the
soldiers receiving orders, it quickly becomes evident that a great deal
of planning has gone into both aspects of Savage, making each, in its
own way, an independently entertaining game. When you put them together
as one, you find you have a different breed of game entirely.
"Take that!" I cackle, doing my best to instill fear in my enemy as I
empty yet another quill into a pathetic victim.
"Youre shooting a peon," my benefactor points out.
"Die, peon!" I cry.
"And hes still on your own team." What an observant fellow this man
is, I think to myself, having taken to referring to every male PR person
I encounter as "fellow". It also explains my targets blatant refusal to
die. A red marker appears on my screen, a pillar of light extending from
the ground to the sky. "See that?" he asks, obviously awed by my
superior intellect and fighting prowess. "Someone is attacking your
base. Your commander is ordering you over to defend it."
I turn around to find myself facing an enemy much larger than I, a
type of unit my team cant build yet. "Whats that?" I ask as I
die under the barrel of a flamethrower like weapon.
"That was a medium unit," he says. "Your commander hasnt researched
The role that exists between the first person players and the
commanding officer is complex and important. Since it wouldnt be fun
for players to be forced to wait in limbo, there is little-to-no build
time for the units. Death, from the FPS perspective, involves being
returned to a selection screen where you can chose one of 5 basic units
(three infantry types, two catapult types), and then equip him/her with
one of the 30 weapons and items (depending on your race) that are
available. The setting pits a magical animal kingdom against a primitive
form of man rediscovering technology, and so allows for a wide mix of
weapons, from sniper crossbows to flamethrowers and rail guns. All the
weapons in the game are free, and can be exchanged for another weapon
with a quick skip to your main base to re-supply, but you cant access
them until theyve been researched by your commander.
Other items such as ammo packs, smoke grenades, mines, and med kits
cost money, which you collect from fallen enemies as you work your way
through their ranks. When collecting spoils, 80% of the finances go to
the first person player, and 20% to the commander for use in different
aspects of the game, including redistributing it to players they feel
deserve an extra bonus, or who need to be better equipped for an
Aside from money, a player also earns experience points with each
kill. As the players level up, they become stronger, able to withstand
more damage, and earn other basic perks. Since death only marginally
effects experience points, players progress from a generic level at the
start of each game to massive damage dealing units by the end.
The RTS perspective is equally interesting. The computer plays the
basic peon units, used for collecting the two resources in the game,
gold and stone, and so saves the human players from the tedious task of
collecting minerals (though FPS players can mine if they want, as well
as assist in building and repairs). In many respects, the RTS side of
Savage looks much like any other; units can be selected and given
orders, buildings must be constructed and maintained, and ultimately,
defended. The entire map is shrouded with a "fog of war" feature, which
limits the commanders field of view to that which his units can see. As
the commander constructs buildings and researches arms, new unit types
and weapons become available to the FPS players when they re-spawn or
return to the base to re-equip (players can pitch in some money and
upgrade their unit, if they like).
Whenever a commander issues an order, a visual queue appears on the
FPSs screen. If the order is to attack a unit, the visual is red, and
highlights the unit to be attacked. Neutral orders, such as "move",
appear in green.
"If you select a unit," my graceful host informs me, indicating one
of my troops making his way across the expanse to the enemy base,
"youll see what the unit is carrying." In this way, you can assign
squads and plan attacks based on what your players are equipped with.
Though it wasnt integrated into the demo at E3, communication between
the players and the commanders will become more streamlined, allowing
players to request that the commander research certain unit types, and
allowing commanders to ask certain players to equip certain weapons to
more appropriately prepare them for a mission.
"We also hope to have the ability to vote off bad commanders," the PR
fellow says, gently taking the mouse from me as I attempt to order three
of my units to execute an insubordinate peon. Im crushed.
" I say, trying vainly to reach the mouse as he ushers me out
"July," he repeats, and puts a soda in my outstretched hand. After
hes gone, I press my face against the window of their booth. Theres
something truly extraordinary about seeing the world from above on one
screen, and seeing the same scene beautifully rendered in 3D on another.
From the way the light shines, or the grass waves, Savage looks like
its going to be a beautiful game. I sulk away as the development team
starts making shooing motions at me from behind the glass. Then I
brighten up. July isnt all that far away. Itll be out before World of
Warcraft, at least.
Aaron Stanton (05/22/2003)