Forced: Beta Dwarf / 4th of October 2014
Contained among the indie montage video that showcased Microsoft’s new goal of supporting smaller development teams and self-publishers through its ID@Xbox program, was a project developed by a twelve man strong team from Denmark, who were showing off a highly stylised and graphically pleasing co-operative RPG, that at first glance appears to be in the vein of Blizzard’s Diablo series. It was none other than Forced, a title which, in its first few days of going on sale on Steam, actually managed to outsell Batman: Arkham Origins across the period, but where did this indie success story come from?
Putting the game aside momentarily, the story of Beta Dwarf themselves is an especially interesting one that deserves mentioning. A few years ago when the team was just starting out, and only comprised of eight people, they found an unused classroom within the University of Aalborg (the team was initially comprised of a group of student teachers from there) where they intended to work for two months solid over the summer, but this didn’t pan out. Having moved both their equipment and selves into the building, they stayed on for another five months or so, before they were finally caught and ejected from the premises. Through a Google search, they discovered a cheap house to rent, away from the bustling city of Copenhagen where they could all live and work on Forced, and, after receiving a government grant for funding, purchased eight new computers, one for each member of the team. Facing financial strife, the team took to Kickstarter to raise additional funds for the project, and after a nervy start, Beta Dwarf were able to smash their initial target of $40,000, by raking in $65,000 from around 2,000 unique backers. Once the game was initially thought finished, the team found that they needed more time to polish the end product, and managed to garner a $200,000 bank loan, which the team members combined to take out themselves, placing their very livelihoods on the line, and showcasing their belief in the potential of Beta Dwarf as a development team, and in Forced as a potentially efficacious product. Thankfully for them, the game turned out to be a huge success upon its release, raking in over 100,000 sales on PC alone, which now sees them in a position to bring the Forced experience to Microsoft’s Xbox One.
Speaking about this fraught start to the studio’s life, Alex Salkvist-Beta Dwarf’s 3D Graphics Director-explains to us how this team managed to go from such humble beginnings to playing a key role in the ID@Xbox program:
“Yes, our back story is a bit peculiar, but I think it is also the answer to your question. We have been really focused on our project, hence the moving into the classroom and later a small house in order to get as much time to develop as possible. We weren't just developing the game, we were also developing as individuals and as a team or a company if you will. We had to go through all kinds of loops to keep developing our game, luckily we've had the support of an amazing group of people who helped us through a Kickstarter and gave us the confidence to stay focused.”
From the outset, Beta Dwarf intended Forced to be a fully co-operative affair, and as such, it is set to contain some key features designed to promote co-operation between players, and one of these, is the game’s mark system, a particularly interesting addition that emphasises communication between players. As Alex explains to us:
“Marks are one of our key co-op features. Anyone can place a mark simply by basic attacking an enemy, and anyone can spend a mark by using a skill, and depending on which skill the marks will amplify the effect in various ways. The thing that makes it interesting is that you can use marks that other players have applied, and this is usually the more effective approach. It creates a dynamic combat because, you can help each other out by applying marks so your teammate can deal extra devastation or if you spend the marks at the wrong time it'll leave your teammate cursing at you cause he just launched a skill that did virtually no damage because the target no longer had any marks. The thing we really like about this is that it forces people to communicate and let their teammates know what they intend to do.”
With a sublime mixture of top down hack ‘n’ slash action with brain taxing puzzles, Forced looks set to capture the imagination of an entirely new audience when it launches on Xbox One. Designed to be played by anywhere between one and four players, the team plan on using this as a means of extending the lifespan of the game by having it adapt to the number of players partaking in it. Forced neither has, nor was it ever intended to feature bots, so by its design, a single player session will be a completely different experience from a four player one, as Alex explained it:
“It does require some teamwork to finish the puzzles however we've put a lot of effort into designing the entire game for one, two, three and four players. This means if you play as a team of three players, the levels (and thereby also the puzzles) are designed specifically for three players, and the same goes for solo play. This makes for different experiences, which both adds a bit of replayability to the game and eliminates the need for bots.”
There is a robust combat system housed within the game, and this is set to be supplemented by a roster of four completely unique characters (The Spirit Blades, The Volcanic Hammer, The Frost Shield and The Storm Bow) who are each kitted out with sixteen distinctive skills (eight active and eight passive) that can be unlocked, and this, the team hope, will keep players engrossed in the Forced experience as they strive to improve rather than constantly unlocking a variety of skills that they will likely never use. Beta Dwarf promises that Forced will be a gaming experience stripped of any unnecessary fluff, so that the skills that the player unlock are neither frivolous nor superfluous, but useful abilities that will aid them in battle, and there are other benefits to this streamlined approach to the game’s design too:
“There are four classes, all of which have access to eight unique active skills and eight unique passive skills. They will unlock as you progress in the game in a very traditional sense, however there is one small twist. When you unlock a skill with a character you also unlock the equivalent skills of the three other classes respectively. This means you can easily and cost free swap between characters and experiment a lot with the skills. There are a lot of combos between the skills and we've tried to avoid having useless skills, even in the end game. Much of the progression you feel through the game is mostly through the fact that you as a player are getting better rather than just getting better skills.”
The heroes of Forced are led by a spirit guide, a mentor who will lead them through the trials that they face as part of attending the toughest gladiator school as they seek recognition of their prowess as warriors. This spirit mentor, known as Balfus, is actually the soul of a former gladiator trapped in the form of an orb, he can reach beyond the realm of the living and becomes an integral part of puzzle solving within the game, he also just happens to be a unique tool that the team have created to further enhance the co-operative gameplay of Forced.
“Besides being the character that drives the story the spirit mentor, Balfus, is another of our co-op darlings. It's a really simple concept. All you can do with him is call him to you, and all players can do this. The idea is then to move around placing him and calling him over strategic points, and the better you are at cooperating and doing this as a team the more successful you'll be. Sort of like a reverse football. It is simple enough using Balfus in theory, but when you combine it with the combat and the puzzle solving, and maybe add some time-attack high score in there, that's when things start to get hectic and you'll really have to get on the same page as a team, because one misstep, just one misunderstanding between team mates and there goes your perfect run. We've often heard people talk about how Forced is impossible to play if you can't communicate, and we really take pride in that, because that was really one of our goals with Forced. Sure it kind of takes away from the odd random online multiplayer encounter, as you’re gonna find that playing with a total stranger (especially if you don’t have any means of voice communicating) is nearly impossible, but that’s okay because that is not what we were aiming for. We wanted a different co-op experience than the standard "you make a character I make a character and then we proceed to bash monster heads next to each other and then share loot every half hour or so". We wanted a co-op game where you actually have to cooperate, and we feel like we've achieved that with Forced.”
There are shrines dotted across the twenty-five or so different trials that players must complete in Forced, and these can be activated by Balfus who learns a variety of skills from these or activates the shrine’s power instead. In addition to this, it is also possible for him to assume different forms, including bombs so that he might clear out paths in order to allow the players to progress. At first glance, Forced might just appear to be another Diablo clone, but this really is not the case, hence why the team have dubbed is as a Co-Operative Tactical RPG, it is a game where teamwork is the key to survival, and it is likely to be one that is well received on the Xbox One.
Forced looks as though it is set to bring a brilliant multiplayer gaming experience to Xbox Live, but when exactly is it coming? Unfortunately, Alex couldn’t give us any more information on this.
“We really don't have a release date yet, but we're doing everything we can to make it as soon as possible.”
With its award winning visual panache guaranteed to entice more gamers towards it, Forced looks set to bring its particular brand of co-operative gameplay to the home console, and given the personal investment that each member of the development team has undertaken to ensure its creation, it deserves no less than to be a huge success on the Xbox One platform as well. Though given the level of polish that the PC version already carries, I would personally be surprised if this wasn’t the case.
Forced from Beta Dwarf is available to purchase now on Steam from just £10.99, and it will be launching on Xbox One as part of the ID@Xbox program sometime in the near future, so keep an eye out for this one, you simply won’t regret it.
Special thanks to everyone at Beta Dwarf for taking the time out to chat with us