Something interesting is brewing right here in Malaysia. Made by the small but dedicated team at Ammobox Studios, an RTS-FPS hybrid called Eximius: Seize the Frontline is being prepared for its upcoming closed beta before being unleashed on Steam Early Access in September. Many games have combined shooting with strategy before in various ways, but Eximius stresses a larger emphasis on AI units that can be built to assist players on the ground. To learn more about the game, we decided to ask Ammobox Studios CEO Jeremy Choo for more information.
First off, tell us more about Ammobox Studios
Ammobox Studios is an indie team located in Malaysia but with members around the world. We’re a small team with ambitious goal. We started off with 3 members but are at about 10 people at the moment.
How did the idea for Eximius come about?
Eximius is inspired by the original Battlezone franchise. Although they’re not technically FPS, the idea of an FPS/RTS is really intriguing.
What unique elements does it have?
First, multiplayer, multi-role experience: One player plays the game as an RTS, the other as FPS; one player supports the rest. The assymetrical team roles provide the FPS side with a unique twist where you’re not just useful as a point-and-shoot person. You can play as many roles, including commander, support role, and special roles that fulfil tactical needs. For example, you’re not a very good shooter, but you can take instructions well - maybe you could then play as an anti-vehicle specialist or even special ops that disrupts enemy economy. For once, playing FPS isn’t just about how fast you can frag enemy. We believe this creates an opportunity for more players to engage with each other on different skill levels and still be impactful in the game.
Second, tactical AI: Squad AI that follows you and fights together with you as a squad. You can give commands to your squad such as capture, retreat, and repair. Very little multiplayer games have AI that makes sense in the big picture.
Third, squad-based combat: Our FPS experience isn’t just players shooting players. It’s players with squads shooting other players with their own squads. The winning factor isn’t just in how well you shoot, but in your tactical positioning, choice of weapons and how well you work with your team to push where your forces are.
Finally, epic abilities: Call in air-strikes, artillery bombardment , or quick-reaction forces to the battlefield. Command armoured vehicles and roll at the right timing to save your officers on the ground.
What was the motivation for making an FPS-RTS hybrid?
While there have been a lot of sub-genres within the FPS genre itself, we still believe the majority of FPS falls under similar design mechanics. Essentially, they fall under the category of spawn, shoot, die, repeat. We wanted to create a more strategic experience where there is an active push for holding ground, manoeuvring for tactical advantage and use of different strategies to impact your game.
What games did you look at for inspiration?
Definitely Battlezone in the initial stages. But since Battlezone is not a shooter game, Crysis was another big inspiration for us. One of the big reasons was the fact that you are a hero officer in the battlefield. Imagine yourself being a nanosuit officer while the commander assigns regular infantry units to follow you as a squad member.
In some narrative-based FPS games, there are missions where you are supposed to lead NPC infantry to secure an objective. For example, one of the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare missions where you are pushing the front lines with AI infantry and tanks. We find those experiences to be really interesting and thought how nice it would be to bring that into the multiplayer experience where the backup forces are actually influenced by what the commander send.
Tell us about the factions in your game.
The factions in Eximius revolve around two main defence contractors that are tasked to secure the borders of superpower nations and to assist them in recapturing territories. After the great war between humans and evolved mutants, civilization was plunged into an apocalypse. The surviving nations formed alliances to protect their fragile borders against the mutant threat and other opportunistic warlords. In the near future, the human civilization agrees to redraw the border based on finder’s keeper’s principle, allowing resources and land to be allocated to those who can secure the ground away from the mutant kind.
The Global Security Force (GSF) is an international peace keeping and security force. After the Great War, GSF was the first organisation to be formed by remaining world super powers to protect their borders. The organisation operates by the principle of Secure (defend the border), Save (evacuate survivors), and Strategize (pre-emptive strikes against external threats). GSF relies on their great numbers, near limitless budget and brute force shock and awe tactics. The GSF’s defence council consists of several divisions that will form future factions in future releases.
The Axeron Corporation is a merger of a billion dollar research organisation and several smaller organisations forming a competition against GSF in the defence contracting.
Due to their smaller numbers, they rely heavily on advanced drones and high efficient machines to fight their battles. Axeron is a highly elusive faction that only appears when the opportunity is right and believes in the principle of focused effort in combating their enemies.
Can players enjoy one aspect of Eximius (FPS or RTS) without bothering about the other?
Yes, definitely. In a typical scenario, you only play FPS or RTS, never both usually. In a 5v5 team, only one player will play as the commander while the rest helps the team to push the frontline to gain better economy. In turn, better economy means better firepower and more reinforcements.
How much will APM matter as a Commander in Eximius?
Coming from a Starcraft background myself, I wouldn’t think that APM matters too much - units do not respond rapidly under commanders like StarCraft. There’s more deliberate decision making and a higher inertia in your strategic direction in general. While the commander handles all aspects of base building and unit training, the combat portion of it is mostly supplying your ground officers with enough support. There is some form of micromanagement needed in coordinating vehicles, but it’s nowhere close to what it’s needed in StarCraft. The level of decision making is likely close to a game like Company of Heroes.
What is the gameplay relationship between Officers and AI units like?
The perfect example is a Warcraft 3 hero and an ordinary unit. Officers have higher stats (regenerative shields), larger inventory (2 primary , secondary and an equipment ), and the capability to use BattleSuits. You would always want your battle to take place around where the officers are
What are BattleSuits?
BattleSuits essentially turn players into ability-casting heroes. Each class of BattleSuit will give unique abilities that turn the tide of the battlefield. They’re an exciting part of the game where the choice of BattleSuit provides another layer of strategic choice.
Are there any esports plans for Eximius?
Yes, definitely. Eximius will eventually operate in a season-based ladder. The final weeks of the season are dedicated to higher ranking players slugging it out for top ranks. Top rankers in the final season will be included in live broadcasted tournaments. We’re looking at how we can include some real world prizes in the top ranked players in the season finale. At the very least they will receive in-game cosmetic rewards.
We have also prepared a lot of esports-centric features such as replay recording , spectating and detailed match stats for the highly competitive experience.
What can players expect in terms of single-player and co-op content?
Although singleplayer isn’t an experience we’re focusing on, we will have typical skirmish modes (similar to RTS). This mode will have AI playing commander and officer. It’s mostly used to test out player styles and strategy.
Co-op missions are considered a secondary focus of our design. We will launch in Early Access with our first co-op mission. It’s a 5 player PvE experience.
Why Unreal Engine 4?
Two main reasons: first, nothing else makes sense. You’re a small indie team making a multiplayer game - no other engine exists that provides better networking support and tools that are geared for large scale network game deployment. Additionally, we’re going for realistic high-end graphics targeting premium PC-first players. The other engines don’t come close in terms of pipeline and graphic fidelity in our opinion.
Secondly, our team is very used to Unreal Engine. I’ve personally touched Unreal Engine on a hobbyist basis since Unreal Engine 1, and most of our members have some academic experience and some even worked on AAA titles before with it.
How do you plan to grow and sustain a healthy playerbase?
I think there’s not much demand we can make as a developer for having a lot of players, other than trying to get the best player experience and marketing it to the best you can.
On the design side, we realized the importance of co-op because it helps to ease the competitive fatigue that happens when you play too many PvP games, and you just want to sit back and chill and play a little less competitively. The co-op is also an important tool for you to introduce the game to a new player. This helps to give a good balance of choice in terms of pacing and depth for all players.
Lastly, will there be a beta prior to the Early Access release of the game?
A huge resounding yes! It should be announced and open for registration by the end of July.
Eximius: Seize the Frontline is due for an Early Access release in September 2018, with a closed beta expected this month.