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Michael Tsarouhas
Lead Game Designer on Insurgency: Sandstorm

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posted in Insurgency: Sandstorm read more

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Hey everyone, this is Michael Tsarouhas, I am the lead game designer on Insurgency: Sandstorm. I wanted to take some time to give you all an update on Sandstorm’s development, share some juicy new content, and announce our release dates. If you’d like to get up to speed on our last announcement earlier this year, please see here.

We’ll get right to it. Insurgency: Sandstorm will officially launch for Windows PC in September 2018 on Steam for $29.99. Pre-ordering will get you a 10% discount, and for those who already own Insurgency there will be an additional loyalty discount of 10%, adding up to a total of 20% off. We aren’t sharing a specific release date just yet, but will announce it in due time.

We’ll be accepting pre-orders for Insurgency: Sandstorm on Steam very soon. In addition to the discounts being offered, pre-ordering will get you access to a beta version before release. This beta will be the full game, but will likely still have some bugs and issues to be resolved. We look forward to getting our community’s help in reporting and addressing these remaining issues, as well as receiving any general feedback, as we approach release. This community feedback has always been a big part of the development process in any of our games, so we’re excited at the opportunity to have a beta like this. Details on when the beta will start will be available at a later date.

Sandstorm’s release for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One has unfortunately needed to be pushed back. We’re currently planning for a console launch sometime in the first half of 2019. Our original goal was to release both console and Windows PC versions side by side in 2018, but we feel we need more time to polish the console experience. It’s important that we ensure we deliver an overall solid experience that is as bug free and stable as possible regardless of platform. Rest assured we still have every intention to expand our community to console, it’s just going to need to take a little more time. We know this may be disappointing news to some of you. We’ve been shown a lot of love (especially recently) from console players who are hankering for a kind of hardcore gameplay like the one we provide. We want our new console audience to have a great first impression, and feel strongly that the extra time will better allow us to accomplish this.

Let’s talk a little bit about our content and what’s new. We’ll be releasing in September with the following game modes: Push, Firefight, and Capture the Base for Versus, as well as Checkpoint for Coop. Operation and Outpost were mentioned in our last blog post; Outpost being a legacy mode of Insurgency and Operation being something more experimental. These won’t be included for release and will be considered for post-release content instead. We’ve found they’ll need some more attention than we originally planned, and we still need to determine if they have a place in our experience. As we mentioned in the last community update, we want to make sure every game mode is tight, unique, and fun, and that we don’t split our playerbase too much with too many. Checkpoint mode is shaping up really nicely, and has some pretty sweet improvements since Insurgency. We can’t give specifics just yet, but you’ll be seeing them soon enough.

Similar to Insurgency, we plan to support Insurgency: Sandstorm with free content updates post-release. We will continually expand the game with new weapons, upgrades, maps, and other content. Modding support is something we are committed to providing. We want to work with our modding community to give them the tools they need to create exciting new content beyond what the official experience offers. This includes Steam Workshop integration, custom map tools, game rule adjustments (similar to Insurgency’s theater system), and things of that nature.

We’ve added a ton of content since our last update in January. Release will have roughly 40 weapons and about 40 upgrades available for many of those weapons. While some of these weapons will be familiar for fans of Insurgency, many are new. Fire support has been further fleshed out and runs the gamut from jet airstrikes (BRRRT), explosive artillery, chemical mortars, explosive suicide drones, and helicopters who will swoop in and attack with rockets, miniguns, and autocannons. When coordinated effectively by a team’s Commander and Observer player classes, one of these fire support options can spark a pretty wicked comeback or solidify the strength of a push. We’re also working on our character customization system which will include hundreds of different cosmetic items as well as several voice options. We have included over 6500 lines of unique character dialogue including local Arab fighters (for both Security and Insurgent teams), American special operations soldiers, fire support coordinators, and air support pilots. We currently have no plans to include Steam Marketplace support, item trading, or a loot crate system. All these items, in addition to not affecting gameplay, will be a totally optional secondary aspect to the game. They will be unlocked by progressing through ranks and by using an ingame currency system with a direct buy option for most items.

Alright, let’s show off some screenshots. Unreal Engine 4 has just been awesome to work with. Epic have been great partners and we’ve been able to bring Sandstorm’s maps up to a level of visual quality and overall size unprecedented to what we could achieve before.

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We’ve certainly come a long way in engine technology, huh? Unreal’s 20th birthday was just last week, and we are happy to be working with the tools that follow in its legacy.

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Oh yeah, and we’re working on dismemberment too. This is still a pretty heavy work in progress.

Be sure to follow our social media for more info as things develop. We’re going to be at E3 in Los Angeles letting people play the game in the West Hall #4512 at the Focus Home Interactive booth. Please feel free to come find us and say hi. All of us on our team and at Focus are still very excited to show all of you Insurgency: Sandstorm, and we can’t wait to put it in your hands. Stay tuned and stick with us. It’s really not much longer now.

Best,
Mikee

posted in Insurgency: Sandstorm read more

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Hey everyone, my name is Michael Tsarouhas. I am the lead game designer on Insurgency: Sandstorm, and I want to give you all an update on what we’re up to here at New World. We’ve been quiet for a while about Sandstorm, I know. We’ve been chugging away and working on things in relative secrecy. But now it’s time to get a little more talkative.

We’ll need to start with some sobering news. Our creative director Andrew Spearin has left New World to pursue other opportunities. Andrew has been with us since the very beginning, co-concepting Insurgency: Modern Infantry Combat with our CEO Jeremy Blum. Released in 2007, the mod won ModDB’s Mod of the Year award. It was the inception of our signature gameplay and style of FPS that our team continues to develop. A love for this kind of multiplayer experience led to the commercial release of a full standalone Insurgency game in 2014, our WWII FPS Day of Infamy in 2017, and our current project Insurgency: Sandstorm. Andrew has been a mentor and a friend to me personally, providing guidance when I began full time with the team as community manager. The whole team deeply appreciates his time and contributions to our projects, and we wish him only the best.

Let’s talk a little bit about Sandstorm, and why I’m writing this announcement. Some of you might know me as Mikee ingame or by one of my former roles. On Insurgency I wrote and voiced just about all the game’s voice over, worked as the team’s community manager, and also hosted our weekly official livestreams. On our next title Day of Infamy I maintained some of those community duties, but primarily took on a new role of casting, directing, and writing for the many talented actors we brought onto the project. I have the great pleasure now to be the lead game designer on Insurgency: Sandstorm. This means that I will be working with the team to direct and oversee the design process as well as keep the development process cohesive. I still do writing, voice over, and community relations stuff (I love doing them) but now focus primarily on design.

On a personal note I’d just like to say this new role is an extremely exciting opportunity for me. I’ve been passionate about the FPS genre for as long as I have played video games. I’ve always had the kind of taste in adversarial multiplayer games that hardcore ones like Insurgency and Day of Infamy satisfy. Before that, it was Rogue Spear, Delta Force, Ghost Recon 1, Day of Defeat, Counter-Strike, a ton of other Half-Life 1 mods (Firearms? Frontline Force? Desert Crisis? Global Warfare? Ringing anyone’s bells?) and countless others. I never thought recording for Insurgency, screaming into a microphone “RPG HEADS DOWN!” at the top of my lungs in the closet where the Christmas tree used to be, would ever bring me to this point. But it has. I’m excited to take this on with one of the best groups of people I’ve ever worked with, and one of the best communities I’ve ever played with too. We have hope deep in our hearts that what we create will be an experience that you all enjoy, and be one that you stay up too late into the night playing. I mean it.

As a team we have decided to make some shifts in the direction of Insurgency: Sandstorm. To start, the single player and cooperative story has been canceled for release, and will be considered again at a later date. This is due to its high production requirements and our commitment to deliver to our fans in 2018. The story was a very exciting and new opportunity for us as a team, but we felt we had to make a choice. At this moment it’s more important to us that we deliver a full multiplayer and coop experience that improves on Insurgency; one that is true to our style and what we feel we do best. We know to some of you this decision may be unexpected, and we’re sad to share this news, but this was a shift our team felt we needed to make.

The setting of Insurgency: Sandstorm has been developed further. Though we initially wanted to portray particular contemporary real world conflicts, we actually found this approach restrictive of our design and, admittedly, sensitive. Instead, our conflict is fictionalized, but draws inspiration from various modern real world insurgencies. This is in regards to environment, gameplay, characters, vehicles, equipment, weapons, etc. It’s inspiration that is mostly aesthetic and not tied down by any one region. Having this approach allows us to focus our resources on creating a fun and atmospheric hardcore multiplayer experience. It also provides robust options for character customization, post-release level content, community modding, and other aspects.

At this point we can confirm a little more content and what you can expect in Sandstorm. The planned game modes for release are as follows: Push, Firefight, and Capture the Base for Versus, plus Checkpoint, Operation, and Outpost for Coop. Push and Firefight are very similar to as they were in Insurgency. Both of these modes will not have drivable vehicles, as we hope to preserve the gameplay of our legacy game modes. Capture the Base however is a more open map mode, one which is built from the start with drivable vehicles in mind. It’s got a bit more of a “Capture the Flag” feel to it (though with very different goals and conditions) and so far has been a lot of fun to play internally. Firefight will also feature a separate 5v5 competitive ruleset with its own matchmaking and ranking system. Checkpoint and Outpost are similar to Insurgency as well (Outpost has seen some tweaks) but Operation will offer a new kind of experience. We’ll be sharing more about that in due time.

Adding game modes post-release is something we are considering. However it is important to us that we do not fragment or separate our player base with too many modes, and that each of our modes offers a very fun and distinct experience. Game mode excess is something we were a bit guilty of in Insurgency and Day of Infamy. Some of the modes felt a little weak or just weren’t played much. This time around, we are more focused, and in the future we can always expand into new game modes if we feel they’re appropriate. As far as platforms go, we’ve decided to delay Mac and Linux support for post-release. We’re finding our time will be best spent on developing for Windows, Xbox One, and PS4. Our priority is to make those three platforms fully functional first, then expand after release.

Fire Support, as many of you know it from Day of Infamy, will be making a return in Insurgency: Sandstorm with some improvements. It was too damn cool to not do it. For those unfamiliar, this was the ability for two special player classes to come together and call for air or artillery support at a specific location on the map. It is not a killstreak-driven or point-driven ability; it is a teamwork-driven ability. Fire Support will be balanced appropriately for different modes, so don’t worry about seeing it in things like competitive Firefight (this is for you one-guy-on-Twitter). Expect to see some terrifyingly destructive hardware such as military helicopters, gas attacks, and even nefariously repurposed commercial drones. We’ll also be working on making Fire Support options smoother to select and use than they were in Day of Infamy.

The Closed Alpha for Windows PC is coming soon and sign ups are now available HERE. We can’t say exactly when it’s coming, but we really do mean soon, so fill out the form and keep your eyes peeled. We said our goal was to have it by the end of 2017, but we felt we’d do well with a little extra time to make sure everything is ready. We have already, however, been doing limited Pre-Alpha testing with some members of our community to good effect. The Closed Alpha will be a stage of development where we select a higher volume of players who can get their hands on the game and help us further with playtesting and feedback. You can sign up now at the link above to be considered for participating. Be aware we’ll only be taking in a select amount of people, likely in multiple waves. But don’t fret if you aren’t accepted. We plan on eventually doing a beta, and will announce more details on that when the time comes. We view the Sandstorm Closed Alpha as we viewed our Early Access stages of Insurgency and Day of Infamy: the game is definitely not finished, but it’s in a state where we’re ready for feedback from players. There will be a heavy and steady amount of iteration based on this feedback and our own plans as we work to improve the game for release in 2018.

Alright but enough foreplay, let’s get to some content:

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Here we can see Security team members leaving their spawn area during one of our playtests on the current Pre-Alpha build. The characters you see are just the first implementation. Ultimately, characters will be more diverse and fleshed out. We are currently working on a system of character customization more granular than Day of Infamy which allows both Security and Insurgent teams to change out different clothing and gear items by slot on the body. The picture above would be just one combination of cosmetic choices. We also intend to have ammunition amount and armor type be physically represented as was in Insurgency.

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Here’s a Fire Support option in action during a playtest. Helicopter gunships are pretty OP in real life, but don’t worry, we’ll be balancing appropriately with things like being able to shoot them down and cooldowns. You can also see our levels are a bit larger this time around, but they still maintain the core Insurgency gameplay.

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Here’s an exterior shot of a night map. Pretty, right? Source has always been great for us on our previous projects, but Unreal 4 is really badass and allows us to do some awesome visual things.

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This is an ingame screenshot taken during a recent Coop night map test on the Pre-Alpha build. Keep in mind everything is a heavy work in progress, including that “Bravo Blocking” message which might be too large. We are planning to feature night maps again in Sandstorm, although with more of a focus on Coop play. In addition to some sweet visual effects we can achieve with Unreal 4, you can see in this screenshot a demonstration of our “Ammo Information” system in the bottom right-hand corner.

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This UI element only appears when relevant. It shows a number of your total magazine count, including the one in the weapon. Beside this are visual representations of three of those magazines in a queue. Each magazine box is filled with grey and depletes as you shoot with it, but will never show the exact round count. The magazine with the horizontal white line above it is the magazine in your weapon. To its left is the next one from the queue to be loaded into the weapon, which is always the one with the highest amount of rounds in it as was in Insurgency. For those who haven’t seen it yet, we go into the specifics of the actual reloading process here, including a new Speed Reload ability. And don’t worry, we’re aware of the improper slide action after expending that one round in the chamber while magless.

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Expect some new weapons. Our game is still a modern one, which means you’ll see a lot of familiar firearms from Insurgency that befit the theater. But there will still be some juicy new ones to shoot.

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Vehicles have been a lot of fun so far in Capture the Base. When used correctly, they’re great both for getting places quickly and as a mobile weapon platform. We have the ability for both drivers and passengers to fire and use the sights of small weapons (pistols, SMG’s, short barreled assault rifles) while seated within the cabin of the vehicle. They can also lean out the window to shoot if they want to get a better view or use larger weapons. In addition to expanding on our gameplay, we’re excited to see what modders might eventually do with these vehicles we’re implementing.

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Video game quality assurance and playtesting is not without amusement. If you test with us, you’re probably going to see some silly stuff. Be sure to screenshot it and share it with us on the appropriate channels. It’s all a part of the process, and it’s how things get fixed.

The Insurgency experience is one that is teamwork-oriented, kinetic, and lethal. Insurgency: Sandstorm is no exception. With the recent production decisions we’ve made, we hope to both ensure and improve upon our vision for this kind of experience. There have been many moments, even in our earliest testing, where we smile and shout to each other “That really felt like Insurgency” when someone gets blown away, pulls off a sick hero cap, or whatever. Some of our community Pre-Alpha testers have said the same. We are very driven to deliver an excellent FPS experience to all of you and to ourselves. One that stands unique from what the other studios are doing, especially the big ones. And we work literally every day in some capacity to achieve this. Literally. Not figuratively as that word is so often misconstrued. So imagine our excitement then, if you will, for one fateful release day where we finally get to share it with all of you. Stick around, and we’ll see you ingame.

Best,
Mikee


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