Batch 17 is exactly the kind of game that I like hearing about: an ambitious passion project that is going well. The online third-person shooter has come a long way since it first showed up on Greenlight and is set for release later this year. With that in mind, I recently sat down with Lead Developer Benjamin McCallister of Baffled Media to take a tour of the game’s first level and discuss it in some detail.
I’ve spoken to McCallister in the past, back when I was at MMOs.com. At the time, the game had a very small budget. Since then, he has taken out a loan which has allowed him to pour $100,000 into the game’s development, funds that have been used to hire on several additional developers and significantly improve the entire game.
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In short, Batch 17 is a third-person shooter that makes use of cover mechanics. Players play through a set of levels, called “asteroids,” in whichever order that they would like, shooting enemies and completing various objectives. Each of these levels can be played cooperatively with other players and a player’s personal instance can even be invaded by hostile players in a similar manner to that of Dark Souls. McCallister has said that he would love for the game to take off as a PvP game and that he thinks that he and his team are doing some interesting things that would work towards that goal.
In addition to co-op and PvP multiplayer, there are plans for world events. One type of world event, server-wide world boss spawns called “regional spawns,” was explained to me in some detail. These would be events that occur once every week or so, with a boss spawning in a particular player’s personal instance. The event would then be broadcasted for everyone to see and players would be able to join by simply clicking on the message. Once they arrive, players will be thrust into a PvPvE scenario, fighting both the world boss and other players that are attempting to take down the world boss and obtain its loot. It is not yet known how many people will be able to take part in these events, but McCallister provided an estimate of around 50 to 100 players.
McCallister noted that the team has even thought of how they’re planning to handle who gets to join, should there be a hard limit that is quickly reached. He described a “lottery system” where players will have three minutes to register their interest in joining. Once the three minutes are up, the game will randomly select X amount of players to join. “Even big guilds that might have 20 people might only get three of their guys chosen,” he said.
The moment that you get in game, you will be met with a screen that is almost completely free of a UI. Players’ armor and health statuses are represented by lights on the back of their armor, a design that is modeled after Dead Space. McCallister also wants to eventually be able to have ammo represented by something on your character’s person, but, as the game is third-person, he has yet to find a suitable way to do so.
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In addition to their own weapons, players will be able to use various deployables. The two that I was shown were shield and turret deployables. The shield works like deployable shields in many other cover shooters; you place the shield anywhere on the map and then can use it as cover. Turrets can also be placed anywhere on the map, only they automatically shoot the nearest enemy and can even take aggro off of players.
One of the core features of each level is interactivity. There is an assortment of destructible objects on each level, as well as various other environmental factors that can be used to the player’s advantage. For example, if there is a puddle of oil spilled on the ground, the player can launch a flare at it, lighting the oil on fire. Oil that has been lit on fire can even destroy wooden doors and other objects.
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Enemy encounters take place in specific areas with set spawn locations, but the game handles enemy spawns in a fairly unique way. Say that you have ten spawn locations and the player has to fight off two waves of four enemies. The game will randomly select four spawn locations and spawn enemies there, each of which is removed from the pool of locations that enemies can spawn at until each of the other spawn points has been used. The game then randomly chooses four more locations from the remaining six for the second wave of enemies to spawn at. It’s an interesting way to keep players on their toes, even if they’ve fought those specific enemies before.
Objectives are made fairly easy to follow by due to various visual cues. When you use a panel that opens a door, a glowing orb will appear and subsequently move in a straight line towards the door that it opens. This is intended to keep people from wandering around aimlessly, wondering what exactly the panel did or which door it opened.
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Levels that I was shown include a space station, a Blade Runner-inspired clone refinery that’s full of neon lights, the obligatory desert world, and a jungle level. An emphasis was placed on making sure that each level feels fairly natural. For example, the space station features both a bar and a fully-featured view of outer space, should you look out of one of its many windows. Many of the levels also have a rich backstory, but I won’t spoil that here.
Despite having previously considered Early Access, McCallister stated that the company no longer plans to. “We are releasing what we consider to be a full game with full functionality,” he said, “but we’re really adopting more like an MMORPG style where you release the game and then you continue to add features.” Features like guilds and base building are planned, the beginnings of which are in the game’s code, but will likely not be in the first release.
McCallister has also stated that the team wants to put an emphasis on the community’s opinions. “I’m really looking for what I call ‘community-led development,’” he said, “we want to do stuff that the people who play the game want to do.” For example, when discussing world events, he stated: “We want for the community to decide how to handle world events. Based on how the community likes or dislikes those world events, we will implement features on top of that to make it better.”
On the topic of price, McCallister stated that the team has “always planned on a $9.99 MSRP.” Whether additional content will be paid or not will be dependent upon several factors. While the team wants to add more asteroids, more side quests, and just more content in general, if the game doesn’t sell particularly well, but maintains an active userbase, the team might, for example, give the community the option of choosing between paid DLC or paid cosmetics. However, McCallister also stated that, if the game does sell exceptionally well, it is likely that all additional content from now until the end of time will be free.
Batch 17 is set to be released on Steam later this year. PlayStation 4 and Xbox One releases are also planned; in both cases, the team intends to push for cross-platform play.