Even though The Other 99 was met with fairly disappointing reviews upon its launch on Steam Early Access last month, it’s worth bearing in mind that the game is still in the early stages of development and won’t be officially released until Summer 2017. But aside from this, what really intrigues me about Burning Arrow’s first title is its Battle Royale inspired premise that pits 100 players (99 of which are controlled by AI) against each other in a kill-or-be-killed scenario. Add to this, the creepily atmospheric art aesthetic offers the impression that the game could be something really unique if the developers can overcome some of The Other 99‘s design and technical challenges.
I spoke to Alex Barnes, Design Director of The Other 99, and quizzed him on what inspired him to create the game, as well as how Burning Arrow intends to address some of the game’s criticisms – such as making sure that the AI is handled correctly.
What was the inspiration for The Other 99?
A lot of the inspiration came from the Battle Royale series – the fight for survival, the idea of putting people in this situation… how would they react to what would happen? How would they get on? That’s really where the core of the game grew. And we wanted to push that a little bit further with the game, with the design, and with the art style as well. There’s desperation and there’s sadness.
How long has the game been in development for?
This iteration of the game, before we prototyped it to gain publishing, has been in development for 12 months.
When is the game out?
Summer 2017. So next year for PS4, XBox One, and a full PC release.
Even though you are the Design Director on The Other 99, what’s your overall status within your Burning Arrow studio?
I’m one of the co-founders. There are four co-founders who are all directors of the company.
How many people are part of the team when it comes to The Other 99?
Currently we have four main people. But then we also have five additional contractors, taking the current team up to nine people.
You’re releasing the game on PS4 and XBox One. What sort of difficulties have you had in ensuring that your game gets a release on consoles, especially as they’re slightly harder to get on to as opposed to, say, your average open-ended PC?
We’re going through Steam Early Access which is allowing us to get more feedback from players so that we can get the game performing better and be better optimised, so that when people are playing the game, they have a good experience with it. And we work with Deck13, our publisher, and we are part of the ID@XBox program. And we work with them to get development kits and have the game running on the current-generation consoles.
In the game, even though you’re part of the 100 people where you’re all in this Battle Royale inspired “kill-or-be-killed” last-man-standing scenario, the other 99 players are controlled by AI as opposed to being controlled by other players. What was the overriding decision as to why you decided to go with 99 AI-controlled players as opposed to have them be controlled by humans? At the same time, what difficulties have you had in ensuring that the AI is convincing enough, especially when you look at games like Resident Evil 5 where the AI controlled Sheva wasn’t very convincing?
Yes… The decision came about basically because we were looking at all of the other survival games. So they basically started to form a trope where a lot of focus is placed on mindless enemies with a multiplayer aspect on supporting characters. So every person’s gameplay experience would be wildly different. You don’t know if you wake up and you get attacked by a person who has better equipment and things like that. And for a lot of people, those games are fun. And a lot of people really, really enjoy them. And we have no problem with that. We’re just trying to push that in a different direction. Take survival where it’s not been so far, with a focus on AI systems and intelligent combatants. And we’ve had difficulties throughout the development process to get the AI aspect right. But we’re getting very, very close now. And through Early Access, we can work with players to make sure that the AI characters respond well, they react properly, so that we can get the public actually coming in and going, “Hey, every time I play the game, the AI are doing this, and I don’t feel that that’s natural.” We can get players’ feedback directly on those features to make sure that, together with the public and the developer, we can make a much better game.