Immortals of Aveum: Bret Robbins Interview

Author
Ned Jordan
Date
7/25/2023
In Short
We caught up with Bret Robbins, Game Director and CEO of Ascendant Studios, at San Diego Comic-Con to talk Immortals of Aveum and what gamers can expect from the game.

GT: Immortals of Aveum is described as a first-person magic shooter, so is it basically guns replaced by magic or is there more to it than that?

BR: There's quite a bit more to it than that. We do have spells that mimic sort of how guns work, like a straight shot or a wide shot or an auto-fire sort of spell. And that's sort of your, what we call the strikes, like your main attack spells.

But then we have the Furies, and the Furies are quite a bit different. They are bigger, more explosive, more tactical spells, and the game really requires you to start to learn how to use those effectively. If you just try to spam your way through the game using a single shot, eventually you're going to fail. You're going to need to know how to use these other spells, and they're really, really effective and impressive.

And then there's also the control spells, which help to manipulate the battlefield, like your lash where you can pull someone into you close, or the limpid spell that allows you to slow people down.

So there's a real arsenal of different spells available, lots of different types of enemies and situations that are, you know, you want to use the best spell for the best moment. You're constantly thinking on your feet that way.

So yeah, it's quite a bit more than just swapping guns for magic.


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GT: The different spell aspects you're talking about, control versus attack, that kind of correlates to the three colors of magic?

BR: In a way, for every category of spell there are three colors. So you've got your three colors of strikes, three colors of control.

You've actually got six colors of Furies. I mean, you've got three colors, but two of each, blue, red, and green. So, you know, the characteristics of the magic color carry over, depending on what type of spell category you're using.

GT: And does the player choose to specialize in one particular color or type of magic, or do you kind just take the whole breadth of spells with you as you move through the game?

BR: You'll need to know a little bit about each color, because for example, you might fight an enemy that has an affinity towards red magic or weakness towards red magic. You want to be able to use your red against them. But that's really, you know, at a very base level.

Once you start exploring the gear system and the talent system and the whole progression of the character, you really do create your own build. So you'll find a couple of spells you really like. You can start to really invest in those. You might find a play style you really like.

I want to be really fast, a fast teleporter who can get in close and do high damage and bounce away. There are talents in gear that will make that better.

Or I want to be a tank, use my shield, glass guys from afar. You can buff up all those things.

And you have to make choices. You can't do everything, so you're going to have to kind of create your own build over time.

GT: Ascendant Studios has people who have had Call of Duty experience and Dead Space experience. You can see where Call of Duty fits into a shooter game, but what did the Dead Space team bring to Immortals of Aveum in terms of gameplay aspects?

BR: So I had been the creative director on the original Dead Space. I think the main thing that taught me was, you know, in Dead Space, we really had a few pillars that we focused on to the exclusion of everything else. And we had a very strong vision of what we wanted to do very early on. And we stuck to our guns. We didn't really change it that much.

And it was things like the single unbroken camera, you know, no cutscenes, no 2D HUD. Everything had to be immersive in the world. Had to be really scary.

And you have to make thousands of choices about what you're going to do as you're developing a game. And those pillars became filters to cut out everything that didn't apply. And with Immortals, and that was very successful for us - I took that same philosophy. I think it's just a very important philosophy.

We had four or five pillars. Be the battle mage, the spell combo system, the strange and beautiful world, the epic cinematic story. They were to the exclusion of everything else. I knew I had to get those things right, especially for a new IP. Dead Space was really the last new IP I had worked on. It would have been one of only two new IPs I ever worked on in my career and I've made, start to finish ten different games. I looked at that creative process and remembered that creative process very acutely and wanted to apply it as much as possible to Immortals. So that to me was the main take, focus, focus, focus.

GT: You talked a little bit about using magic combos. Are there specific combos that you unlock or do you just kind of discover ways that you use spells together?

BR: It's more a kind of emergent synergy of how the spells should work together.

I'm going to use my Vortex spell, which is going to grab a bunch of enemies and shove them all close together. I could then use my Shatter spell to blow them all up. And I'm just coming up with that on the fly as you're playing. Oh, wait a minute, I could use this and this. When that enemy always does that one thing, I'm going to prevent them from doing that by using these two spells in combination with each other. So it's really, when I say spell comboing, it's really taking your full toolkit.

Like I said, there's a lot of spells between strikes, controls, theories, and finding the best mix and match for the situation.


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GT: You also mentioned that some enemies might have a susceptibility to a particular color of magic. Is there some type of rock-paper-scissors system in the game? And if you specialize in one color, do you make yourself vulnerable to particular enemies?

BR: That's right. So especially the higher-level enemies will have defenses that are color coordinated. Blue shields, red armor, green regeneration. When I see those things, when I see them pop those on, there's a concept we have called Shred. And Shred allows you to quickly take down that defense if you use a matching color. So I see a green regeneration, I switch to green, I can knock that out very quickly. So in that sense, yeah, you can buff and have gear and talons that buff Shred, that buff a certain color, that make it much easier to take out certain defenses.

But yeah, it's at the cost of, well, maybe those blue enemies are going to be harder now because I'm investing so much in red. And those are the trade-offs you're making.

And you can also try to spread yourself out, be a balanced character, be more of what we call a triarch build, because a triarch can use all three colors. But then you're going to sacrifice some of the higher levels of power down any of the different trees.

GT: So is the magic used entirely for combat, or are there some kind of puzzle, environmental aspects to it as well?

BR: There are puzzles in the game. I really wanted to mix up the experience, not just be shooting constantly throughout the entire game. So there's a lot of exploration.

There are puzzles, there's traversal, there's platforming. You have certain spells you find, like the grapple spell or the animate spell or the refract spell that allow you to solve puzzles in the world.

There's a lot of what we call metroidvania style backtracking. I can play a level, I can see a couple things I can't interact with yet. I remember them, I'm like, oh, I got a new ability, I'm going to go back, I'm going to check that out, unlock a new area.

So there's a lot of back and forth, as my kit grows, I can open up the world in a bigger way. So that was really important.

There's lots of cool puzzles. A lot of them are optional. If you're not that into puzzles, they're off the beaten path and they have some great rewards behind them. But if you just want to plow through and enjoy the story, you can do that too.


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GT: So working in Unreal 5, have you seen the artists surprise you with spell effects and some of the things they could do with it? Were you ever like, “whoa, I had no idea I'd see something like that?”

BR: Unreal 5's been awesome. I think the main thing that Unreal 5 gave us was really the ability to punch above our weight as a new team, a new studio. When I used to work on Call of Duty, I was on Call of Duty number 11. And there had been years of development, technology, assets, all this stuff was created. And you get all that from day one.

Well, I started day one with nothing. I was myself. I didn't have a team. I didn't have tech. I didn't have anything.

So to be a modest, for a AAA, because we're a big AAA game, to create something that's as competitive as any game out there with a modestly sized team is really the accomplishment, is what Unreal 5 gave us. We could be competitive and be efficient in a really strong way without having this huge legacy of having been the third, fourth, tenth iteration of a game.

GT: So you've built an entire new world for this game. When you started, did you have the concept of story and the kind of games style you wanted, or did they kind of evolve together?

BR: I started with the idea of doing a magic shooter. It was definitely going to be first person. It was definitely the kind of setting a few basic ideas of what I wanted the world to be like. I had decided on very early.

After I left Sledgehammer, after I'd been working on Call of Duty, I had about four months where it was just me. I was sitting in a cafe every day with my laptop just writing, thinking about the world, thinking about the characters, the story, the game mechanics, the spells, the convalescing system, the enemies, all that stuff. I laid out a large design document, wrote up a story treatment. That really formed the core vision of what we'd end up doing. If you read those documents today and you played the game, you'd go, yeah, that's pretty much what they made.

Now, it got way better as more people came on and some half-baked ideas became much more full-baked or got cut. That vision of how the world should be and how the magic should be and the three colors of magic and all that, that was early, early months of the project.

GT: What about the gear in the game? Would you say the game leans towards looter shooter or more towards crafting and you just have this core set of things you use for most of the game?

BR: Yeah, it's not what I would call a looter shooter because it's not randomly generated loot. There's a set amount of items that are actually unique. Each have their own things about them that are important.

I would say that the gear structure is close to something like God of War where you can find different rarities of gear and you can upgrade them a certain amount. You can find ones that really help your play style. Each piece of gear is unique and has a purpose. A lot of them are hidden throughout the world.

We have a forge which is kind of like the store where you can craft new gear. Some of the gear shows up there as well. It's a really important part of the system. It's very cool.

All the sigils, which are your main magical armament, are very interesting. I love the designs of them. There's a lot of cool stuff there.

GT: How many hours in general of gameplay are you going for? As far as replay goes, are there branching stories or do you want to try out a different build, a different experience that way?

BR: If you're just powering through and you just want to enjoy the story and get through it, I would say it's well over 20 hours.

If you're going to explore, we have these things called the shroud fangs, which are these little mini levels hidden throughout the world. They're entirely optional.

If you wanted to go and check those out, they have unique challenges, they have special bosses in them. Some of the hardest parts of the game are hidden there.

If you want to do all that and really explore, a game could be 30, 40 hours and chase all that stuff.


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GT: As far as the replay motivation, is there a difference in the story or different experiences for builds?

BR: If you want to replay, it's mostly about the builds and trying out different spells. I never focused on touring. I want to really check out how that feels and things like that. There may be a secret ending as well for those who really want to explore everything.

GT: Usually there's something that developers are really happy about, but no one really asks them about. Is there some aspect of the game that you would like different players to know about?

BR: I'm proud of a lot of things. I'm proud of the combat system, I'm proud of the story.

One thing I really hope, because I really like them, is that people really fall in love with the characters. We've done a fantastic job of writing some really interesting characters. Not just the main characters, but some of the side characters as well.

I think the team of the Immortals is really compelling, really interesting. I'm hoping people really enjoy the writing, really enjoy the story, and really enjoy these characters.


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Transmitted: 4/22/2024 7:59:48 PM