Dark Vale Games
Forge looks like an MMO, plays like a 3rd person shooter, and feels like a MOBA title
Forge from Dark Vale Games looks like an MMO, plays like a third-person shooter, and is structured like the competitive PvP arena combat of MOBA games. It lists Guild Wars and Team Fortress 2 among its biggest influences, and features a Pyromancer class capable of performing a rocket jump. The closest real world analogy would be a children's ball pit; it's a frantic, colorful mess, but it's one you'll want to dive into. There are five classes to choose from: Pathfinder, Warden, Assassin, Shaman, and Pyromancer. Each class has a set of nine skills, spread across the bottom of the screen like an MMO toolbar, and you can opt out of your chosen class any time you die. Games are structured into team deathmatches, capture the flag, or king of the hill matches, and you'll need to coordinate with your team to be effective. It's every bit Team Fortress 2 as it is World of Warcraft, but somehow it all feels tight and solid in design. Classes feel balanced, game play is smooth and familiar, and the overall visual aesthetic is rich in detail and life. I had a chance to play through a couple matches with Timothy Alvis, co-founder and CTO/COO of Dark Vale Games, who told me why Forge exists, as well as why he and Dark Vale Games want your help.
An MMO PvP game, sans the MM part, and every trope associated with it
Alvis told the Penny Arcade Report that Forge was originally conceived as a way for the friends and family members that make up Dark Vale Games to get together and enjoy MMO PvP combat. “We could never find a chance to play together because we were always like 6 – 12 weeks behind the other person and it just didn't work out.” Alvis said he wanted Forge to be about skill, not about how much time you had to grind for levels, and what abilities you had the other person didn't. He doesn't want players to grow in power as they level up in Forge. “That just gets right back to why we wanted to make the game in the first place,” Alvis said. The team at Dark Vale Games is passionate and experienced, but small. That means limitations and budget constraints. Alvis told the Penny Arcade Report that the overall vision for Forge is grand; much grander than the five classes and single faction they plan to launch with. “A lot of indie studios – or just studios in general – make the mistake of biting off more than they can chew early,” Alvis said. “We wanted to build a little bit more slowly.” That means a rolling launch that follows the model set by Markus “Notch” Persson and Minecraft. Alvis said there are plans for a second and third faction, and possibly more. These factions might add a new class, but you'll only pay for the faction's visuals; everyone gets the class for free. Alvis told the Penny Arcade Report that Dark Vale Games wants each faction to be unique in their look, without treading familiar ground. The next faction, Alvis said, would be a mix of Mayan and clockwork. “Kind of like the assassin in the first Hellboy movie.”
Rocket jumping with a fire spell
I played one of each game type Forge will have at launch, and three of the game's classes. I started as a Pathfinder, who wields a bow as his primary weapon. This class felt the most familiar, almost like a fantasy-injected Halo with special abilities. Combat was fluid, but didn't feel very special. I kept getting whipped by Pyromancers on the other team, who seemed to dominate in kills. I decided I wanted to do to them what they'd been doing to me. What a difference that class change made.There was nothing particularly wrong with playing as a Pathfinder, mind you. It moved fine, fired fine, and overall felt… fine. Drop the Pathfinder into a modern-age MMO with modern-age graphics however, and you might not be able to pick it out from the crowd. The Pyromancer doesn't suffer from this problem. His bright red plate armor glows with heat from his spells, and his abilities were devious and satisfying. In my capture the flag game, I stood to the side of a long bridge, watching enemies flood toward our base. The bridge was narrow however, and I had a spell made for this situation: Molten Bolas. Hurling twin balls of magma connected by a chain of fire, the Molten Bolas whip around an enemy and pin them, preventing retaliation. They also push enemies back, making the enemies on the bridge easy prey. My move didn't kill them, but it was fun to watch, and I was happy knowing I helped out my team. I celebrated with a blast of fire energy, which launches the Pyromancer in the opposite direction of his aiming cursor. Aim down and whoosh! Medieval fantasy rocket jump. The Assassin was next, and that class was ultimately my favorite. I wasn't very good at getting close enough to deal damage since the class is pretty much all melee, but I once again found some cool abilities I could use to mess with my enemies. I didn't earn a single kill as the Assassin, but I was a darn helpful teammate by obfuscating line of sight with smoke clouds and invisibility. That teammate-focused mentality is pivotal in Forge; if you want to succeed, you can't go lone wolf.
How Dark Vale Games is forging Forge
Dark Vale Games isn't the only studio making Forge. Alvis told the Penny Arcade Report that Digital Confectioners handles 75 percent of programming, while SuperGenius creates 99 percent of the art and visual style. Forge isn't being handled by a big-name publisher; they don't have PR or advertising campaigns. Instead, their biggest asset is a Kickstarter campaign. Alvis told the Penny Arcade Report the game is on schedule for a 2012 release. That's regardless of how much money the Kickstarter project makes or doesn't make. Alvis referred to the Kickstarter as more of a “Kickfinisher,” which will help support the game's longevity. Those planned factions and added classes will cost money and development time, and if Forge doesn't find the type of financial support from the community they'd like right away, those projects get jeopardized. “We tried to do everything right and wait until we had game play so we could show everyone footage, and that may have backfired on us a bit,” Alvis told the Penny Arcade Report. He said how the Kickstarter has sat idle for some time now, and he worries it's due in part to the fact that Forge is so close to being completed. People are used to supporting games in the beginning of development; raising money to finish a game may not be as attractive to backers. That may be true: Forge may not need help. But having played the game and felt the wicked joy of lashing out with bolas made of lava, I hope they get it. When I try to describe Forge, it sounds like a chaotic mess. When I play Forge, it feels like a beautiful mess.