Frost Giant Studios invited Neuro to their Irvine, California headquarters to take part in an internal playtest of the Stormgate pre-alpha build. They were kind enough to connect StormgateNexus with Neuro so that we could ask him (many) questions about what it felt like to play the game.
Neither Neuro nor StormgateNexus received any compensation for this interview. Neuro had lunch and went rock climbing with members of the team during his visit - he received no payment for playing the game and is not a paid spokesperson. Frost Giant Studios was allowed to review the interview prior to release to confirm that no information protected by non-disclosure agreement was leaked, but no content was edited and all opinions wholly belong to Neuro and StormgateNexus.
Welcome Neuro! Before we get too deep, lets start with the basics -Who are you? What do you do? How did you get this opportunity?
Neuro: Hello, everyone. My name is Neuro. I'm kind of known as the mindset guy in the Starcraft scene. I got into streaming Starcraft full time with an emphasis of mindset and tilt management and just taking notes of how I made mistakes. Because I noticed there are a lot of raging gamers out there who make excuses rather than work on just incrementally improving their game. So that was kind of how I built my channel and things like this. I went to TwitchCon last year kind of leading into how I got this opportunity, and the Frost Giant team was hosting a dinner with some content creators who were just at the event and in town at the time, went to a really nice sushi restaurant and that kind of thing.
Trisha, my partner, came with me, and Day was also there. I was saying that I'll be back in California to visit Trisha again and they said, “Well, maybe you could come by Irvine and you could see the studio and we could go climbing.” I was like, okay, sure. So I just kept in touch. And when I was about to visit Trisha again, I said, “Hey, we're going to be in town through these days, when would be a good day?” They told us to come by the studio on Wednesday – we could get a tour and then go climbing. None of the process during this they said that we would get to test anything. But when we arrived, it was like, “and we're going to have you play the game.” And we're like, “What? No way!” So they just set us up at a couple of PCs in the office and we got to see what they had so far. And I will say I am not disappointed. Everything that I was hoping for is there. There's definitely a lot of work to be done when it comes to building a game. But it was incredible and I'm really excited to talk about it.
So you're telling me you got to climb with Monk? So you got to do that and then you got to play Stormgate.
Neuro: Yeah that's one of the reasons that I have a lot of faith in the Frost Giant team is that's how they like cross train. It's like, “all right, we're doing game development, very kind of computer nerdy, and then we're going to go climb some shit after that.” That's really awesome for kind of camaraderie and just seeing people meet different challenges and build that work ethic together. It reminds me of the new Top Gun movie, which I just recently saw, where there's a scene where they're all just playing football on the beach together, all the different pilots and one of the admirals is like, “What the heck are you guys doing on the beach here?” And Tom Cruise's like, “We're building a team.” And that's kind of what the Frost Giant team does with their rock climbing.
It's just another way to build up each other and build that confidence. And, yeah, Monk is insane. He's very good at climbing. There are a lot of things about climbing that I didn't know. Like conservation of your momentum is one thing. The placement of your body kind of against the wall and how you're interacting with the wall, and then also extending your arms fully when you're going for grabs instead of just muscling through everything.
But yeah, Frost Giant, good game developers, great climbers as well.
Now onto the goods: One of the things that Frost Giant has been making a big, big waves about over the last month or so is how good their engine is. You got your hands on it -tell us about what it felt like to just play the game, how did the game respond?
Neuro: So the analogy that I've been kind of processing in my head for how the games handle is kind of like trying to build a race car for the race track and how every game engine is kind of like the frame in the body of a vehicle that has some speed to it, it has some grip, some weight distribution and handling that can be more clunky or more smooth, snappier or looser.
What they've built, from what I've heard they had, the Unreal Engine is the base, and then they basically just cut out a massive chunk of it and just threw it out the window and said, “This is not for RTS,” and we're just going to rebuild this whole section of our castle ourselves. And they have the same person [James Anhalt] who worked on the mechanics and the integration of how all the unit responsiveness works from the Starcraft 2 team. He's now on the Frost Giant team, so they basically have the same guy, the architect who has a really fundamental grasp of how these engines work and how to make many units on the battlefield all handle really crisply and well.
Their vehicle so far is an F1 racecar. It is that fast, it is that crisp and that responsive. I just took several minutes just to like click the units around and watch them move and then also move or attack move stuff. And then just spammed the hold position button to see how fast and snappy everything was. And it handles like a dream that is basically the same as Starcraft.
It's hard to tell if it was faster, per se, because I would need to like do a side by side comparison of the two of them. But boy, howdy, is it fast. There are different games, I would say in various genre categories. You've got first person shooter games, some of them when you kind of turn your character and your gun feels kind of loosey goosey, kind of gross - I don't like playing those games. If it feels slow and sloppy, I don't want to play it. Doom: Eternal - crisp, fast, responsive. CounterStrike - crisp, fast, responsive. The stuff does what you intend for it to do, and if you miss that was on you just not being accurate. This is definitely on par with Starcraft 2 in terms of how I felt about the units moving around, they still have a ton of work to do, fleshing everything out, but the performance of the game at the base level, like the base structure of it, is insane.
Did you get a chance to play around with how the rollback netcode feels? Or was it all local servers?
Neuro: I think they had the server was just there. So it was very low latency, but it felt like playing with two ping or something just extremely fast. Yeah.
They’ve also been talking about how many units they’ve had on the test maps (1300), which is a lot for a 1v1 game. How big were the armies you made – how big did the game feel?
Neuro: We didn't make massive armies per say. We didn't go into this expecting to test the game. It was like a gift when we arrived of, “Hey, by the way, just try out these couple of 1v1 maps that we have.” We played two separate maps and the armies that we built - I'll just tell the story of the two matches because they're pretty cute.
The first one, there's a unit that I made that's like, It's a cute little unit. I'm not going to spoil stuff. I'm not sure what I am supposed to are not supposed to say, but a little a unit scouting unit. And I sent one at Tricia and it can fight. So it's like an attacking unit and she was like, “Oh, well, this is how it is kind of a thing.”
So she ends up building quite a big army. And I'm over here on my side of the map now like, oh man, the mechanics are so poppy. Like, oh, look at those trees. Those trees look awesome. Oh, man, this this unit is really cool. I'm just having fun, like, not really thinking about, Oh, we're in a 1v1. And Tricia made, like, a big chunk of army and then just moved it at my base and I was like, “Oh shit. Okay, well, I'm actually dead now, so can we regame?”
So that was our first match is just kind of getting a sense of how the mechanics and stuff are working and she definitely can crank out some stuff. I will say one of the really big credits to their design overall is everything is obvious, like how to take your base, how to tech up - obvious. It's very obvious. You can mouse over stuff; it'll tell you what to do next. And they didn't copy stuff from Starcraft, so I didn't see like units and structures that I really already knew per se. It didn't feel like a copy of it, but it felt like things moved in a similar pattern of like the tech tree and building up to higher quality units.
So in that sense it was really intuitive and really straightforward to play. In the second game, we kind of focused more on taking bases and macroing - it wasn't quite as aggressive early on. We ended up kind of expanding and our bases were touching. It was really romantic and cute, but that time I tried to just tech up and get to some of the higher tier units and things like that.
And the models they have for some of them are so heckin’ sweet. I probably shouldn't share what each of them are, but the design of the faction that we got to try was gorgeous. It felt fresh and different from other things, which is really important, I think, because they come from the Starcraft 2 background and they don't want to just make Starcraft 3, per se.
It should be fresh, it should be different, and it definitely is. The units that were in it, they felt, I would say like they all brought something fairly unique to the table. Nothing seemed super overpowered, but I would expect that as they're fleshing out everything, there will be the phase where they release enough that everyone can kind of play the races and the factions and stuff is going to be OP in the short term, but that's all fixable in the long term.
But yeah, the maps, I think one of the main things that I really enjoyed was the aesthetic of the maps compared with the units. They talked about this in some of their interviews so far where they wanted everything to be really visually distinct and they nailed that big time. Like it's really easy to see the units against the ground and it's easy to see the different units and how they are discrete from each other. With some of the big Starcraft 2 armies, you can run into a big blob of stuff where you're like, I'm not really sure what's in this, how dangerous it is, how many units are in this.
It's easy to lose stuff in the mix, but they've made everything really visually distinct and sharp, which I enjoy.
You played the Human Resistance, which is to my knowledge the only faction that has been built out at all? Can you give us any insight into how the faction plays? Does it play like Protoss, with some powerful tech units and then support units? Is it very swarmy? Can you compare it to any other archetypes or RTS factions?
Neuro: It has some elements of multiple of them. Like I can remember a distinct feature that felt more Protoss-like. And then there are a couple of features that are more Terran like and even a couple of features that were like Warcraft 3 Human like and the another like broad stroke thing that I believe they've already talked about is the lethality of units and just like what the damage output of armies is like. And I think they're trying to split the difference between Starcraft 2 and Warcraft 3.
In Warcraft 3, you've got like really slow, low impact kind of damage for fights where you have lots of micro potential over a very [prolonged] engagement. And then Starcraft 2 you can just have some widow mine shots and the army is gone and it's that fast. So this felt somewhere in between where you're not watching an hour long video of a footman and a grunt fight each other. But you're also not watching stuff like get insta blap by a widow mine. It felt right in the middle, which is a nice spot. I think a lot of people have complained through Starcraft 2 about some of the really jagged battles and how you can just lose everything in a couple of seconds and it doesn't really give you as much time for counterplay.
So that was a really cool aspect. But yeah, for that the faction that I tried, it didn't feel exactly like Terran. It definitely had elements of other races that I’ve played in RTS.
Did they have any spell casters built into the game? Did you play around with that a little bit? Any sense kind of where the units that do more than just attack are going in their design?
Neuro: Yes, there was spell casting in the game. I think they're planning to add more, but they were talking about how it's really cool when you can make a unit distinct without needing to add abilities because adding abilities to units increases the complexity of the army and managing multiple spell casters is really, really hard because you want to have different control groups and it involves a lot of tabbing around and stuff and microing everything.
So some of the units they had some really cool behaviors to the unit that didn't involve an activated ability. It was more of like how you set up the unit and how it starts to fire and that kind of thing. So I was kind of comparing that to how in Starcraft you have the different micro ability of Roaches compared to Hydra's.
They're both just basic projectile attacking units, but because their attack speed is different, their move speed is different and their range is different, you're going to be controlling them differently. So the army's that I messed around with and in the units that I messed around with kind of similar, they were like low on the spell caster number relative to overall units, which I think is a good thing.
But there were quite a few units that had a really interesting behavior for how you deploy them, even though they just do a simple attack.
You talked about how easy or difficult it is to control armies – Frost Giant has put a lot of thought about the different onboarding approaches and skill-floor-lowering approaches to Stormgate. How did those feel?
Neuro: There was a really nice change to the like, I guess you could say command card area where it gives you just a general menu making units and then you can just make the units that you've unlocked. That's kind of like how Protoss can select all warp gates and then warp in any of their warpgate units.
They kind of just expanded upon that idea, which does make things quite a bit easier. They were saying that that's the kind of feature where it may still be faster to select the structures individually and choose which structure makes what depending on what you're doing, so it didn't feel like something that would be too disruptive to the pro scene.
I know that's the tightrope that they're trying to walk, which is they want to make a competitive esports game that also is welcoming to new players at the same time. And that's one of the things that Starcraft 2 ended up kind of missing on in some sense, where it's just so fast and so hardcore and getting started with 1v1 ladder is really hard.
So by just making sure the UI is really intuitive and crisp, they've definitely made big improvements on that compared to Starcraft 2.
You also said that it felt like in terms of where you had to expand how your tech path was going to increase, that also just kind of dragged you along the rough bones of how a game should be played, right?
Neuro: Yeah, it's a very straightforward, like what the resources are, where they are, how to set up a base next to it, how to mine from the base. Very intuitive, very straightforward. There wasn't really anything that confused me in terms of macro, and it also didn't automate too much. That's one thing that I definitely got upset by in the Legacy of the Void Beta when they tried to do auto mule, auto inject, and auto chrono boost. God, that was the very worst.
It felt like almost half of my skill as a player of base management. Inject timings, all this kind of stuff just out the window and now you just watch your bases macro. It didn't feel like that, so there wasn't like too many training wheels and hand holding. It still felt like I'm doing the work here. There are a couple like convenience shortcuts to get some things done faster, but it didn't feel like auto macro.
You talk about splitting the difference between Warcraft, Starcraft, maybe some other games. One of the things that Frost Giant has talked about is that they're interested in exploring this idea of heroes. Did the 1v1 game you played have hero units in any way, or did you get any insight on where they're head is about hero units?
Neuro: No, there weren't hero units in what I played. They did talk about potentially having creeps on the map, but they didn't go into stuff about hero units. They did say that they want to be careful not to go full Warcraft 3 with it because the more you pile on the power of a hero unit, the more the whole game is centered around the fate of the hero unit. So yeah, they're trying to take again, maybe splitting the difference where they have some more key units that you can't make as many of. But I didn't really see too many of those. It felt more like Starcraft 2 at this point.
Interesting – at the start, they talked about having heroes in 1v1, but more recent interviews have alluded that that might be something constraint to team games.
They talked a little bit about the team mode, which we didn't try that at all. They might have maps, I don't know, didn't have that information, but they did say that they wanted some role differentiation when it comes to teamwork, which is pretty interesting, where you can have someone who's like more of the defender, someone who's more of the healer or support, and then someone who's like more managing attack units and stuff like that.
I don't know exactly how that would come into play, but it's very possible that they have a hero like units that can do that. And then different power ups and things on the map is something they were considering where you still have like neutral creeps that you could potentially fight and they can improve your situation. But they said that they weren't going to be going for items in inventory, kind of like how you have in Dota.
Having TriciaxPain with you, it’s a shame you didn’t get to try out and of the team game modes, considering her insight into that scene.
Neuro: Yeah, that's another thing that is really cool about Stormgate, which is they're making 3v3 one of their main modes. For Starcraft 2, the 2v2, 3v3, 4v4 are kind of like an add on where they weren't balancing the game around those modes. The map support for them was really low and it's kind of like if you want to do this, you can, and a lot of people really enjoy it. But it wasn't really something that they poured a lot of resources into, whereas with 3v3 they want to have a ladder, they want to make a lot of maps for it and they want to make it more of a key part of the game. Because one of the downsides of Starcraft 2 is it's not a very social game in a lot of ways.
1v1 ladder is the main mode. You do have co-op, but it's not really as social and fun when it comes to wanting to play with lots of players. So, for them to place a lot of emphasis on 3v3 is really cool. For the people who honestly liked the team games and Starcraft 2 more than 1v1, which is fair.
Going back to the game play for a moment, Frost Giant has talked about how air units in Starcraft are incredibly dominant because they can transcend the map. They've talked about how they think there is still a place for air units, but hopefully not going to be nearly as dominant as it is in Starcraft. Did the Resistance faction have air units? Did you get any sense or feeling about how that's going?
Neuro: Yeah, it's kind of a work in progress for those I think they were talking about. They wanted to make more collision issues for air when it comes to the map so they don't have just free reign over everything. They do have more just map obstacles to contend with. So they're a little bit more limited. And I think they wanted to narrow the scope of the power a little bit in some sense.
But one of the, I think big picture things they were talking about was having some like super units compared to Starcraft 2, where when you get into the late, late game, you can make much more powerful stuff than in the early game. I think to kind of resolve matches a little bit sooner. Like if someone gets really ahead, one of the things that I was talking about being frustrating for players is if someone just sits on four bases and they turtle really hard - it can be really hard to break that. And it's a pretty unfun situation for the player who has map freedom and map control. They were talking about how you could potentially go and tech up a lot higher in this game and get some stuff that's super strong, like tier 3 units in Starcraft, but maybe tier 4 type of units.
I don't know if I made any of those. I don't think I did, but that was another thing that they were talking about expanding upon the existing feeling of how Starcraft armies grow and develop into the late game .
I do like the idea of giving the person who has map control more ways to create edges and in the game, that's good.
I know it's early, but did you get any sense of how the the resource expansion rate was supposed to work? In in the first two expansions of Starcraft, three bases was kind of all you needed for quite a while and in Legacy minerals started to mine out faster - you had to take more bases at a much faster clip. Did you get any sense on like how it how quickly you felt that you had to expand in that macro game you played?
Neuro: It felt like maybe it was a little bit slower to expand than Starcraft 2, comparing it to a Zerg hatch first. And again, like the factions will probably expand at a slightly different rate. But yeah, for the faction that I played, it felt closer to maybe Terran in the timings that I actually took my town hall structures at various bases and that felt pretty good in terms of the workers that I was making.
Obviously it was like the second match that I ever played, so my build was scuffed for sure.
One of the things when we talk about Starcraft being bursty, part of it is widow mines and spell casters just do too much damage. But another one is because Starcraft units clump together so much. Did you get any sense that how Frost Giant, or at least the Resistance faction, is dealing with a) unit clumping and b) big powerful AOE type stuff?
Neuro: One of the things that's coming to mind with kind of imagining what the army looked like on the field, the units looked like they took up a little bit more space than I'm thinking the small units in Starcraft 2 like the marine and the zergling, because I think that's one of the ways that AOE can be really strong, is you have a bunch of tiny units clumped and then it can kill all of them.
The units didn't feel quite that tiny, even the smaller ones. So, in that sense it felt less vulnerable to AOE and there weren't really huge AOE damage output things at least that I was able to make at the time. It didn't really feel like there was just delete the enemy's army with some magic erase ability like rapid fire snipe ghost or something.
I think that's something that they want to try to avoid is just having armies be “insta blap” with no counter play. There wasn’t insane AOE that I saw.
Going off that, do you have any insight on how they are approaching map vision? I know you talked about having that cool, very low attack, ghosty scout type unit, but one of the things that Starcraft in past has used to balance big, powerful AOE units is the fact that their range is great than their vision so you need support units and get this fun interplay. Any thoughts on how you're able to establish map vision and start to get it, as well as map control?
Neuro: Yeah. For this faction, it didn't have like a Terran scan or anything, but it did have the scouting units that were pretty cheap and quick to make that you could run around with. In that sense, map vision was more zerg like in how you would get it. I guess they weren't overlords for it, but the fog of war is the same as Starcraft 2 where you have to go get vision for various places.
The maps that I played on were on the smaller side. They did say that they were going to be making bigger maps as well, so your opponent wasn't super far away. They are just pretty similar like most RTS - Fog of War or go scout. You can see the like kind of darkened outline of the map, even if you haven't found vision of it yet.
I don't know if Age of Empires is like this or maybe it's like full black and you can't see anything until you go there. But it did make it pretty easy to see where you wanted to go scout. They did a much better job in this game, I think, of showing on the mini map where your opponent is.
That's something that some Starcraft people have complained about is, okay, I spawned here and then if you don't see it on this loading screen, you might not know which base your opponent spawned in and just be kind of confused about where's my enemy. But for this one, it's like really easy to see all that.
Were there any there any map doodads, something like a Xel’Naga tower or a watchtower or some or other ways to interact with the map?
Neuro: They had different types of terrain to navigate through that they didn't have in Starcraft. There were some like forests that you can navigate through that force units to kind of be squished through narrow paths so you probably can't move giant units through those. There was a Starcraft map called Neon Violet Square, I think, that had a bunch of squares and you had to go through the lines between the squares. There's terrain like that that's forest. I think they want to find different ways where small armies have certain advantage over bigger armies to avoid stuff getting into the, like just mass clumps of stuff running into each other.
Any quicksand type is like slow zone speed zone type elements?
Neuro: I didn't see any of those.
Moving on from your strict experience with the game, you only played against Tricia, right, not any of the devs?
Neuro: Yeah, we just played against each other.
Did you get a chance to talk to their esports team at all - Trevor Housten (Frost Giant Esports Lead) or anyone like that?
Neuro: I don't think we talked to Trevor. We did talk with Kevin a good bit, just about kind of the direction they wanted to go. And then we got to talk with Tim for a while about their sort of vision and what they want to work on. It's a really hard to make a game and it's really interesting how you have very seasoned RTS game creator veterans who are now on a smaller ship and they're trying to sail this sea of building their game out, but they don't have that like huge support of a massive company like Blizzard over them that can just like throw a bunch of resources here and there at them.
They know basically the vision of what direction they want to go in. And that's a really cool storyline for them. I know it's a big challenge to try to live up to the hype and the expectations when a lot of people are expecting like a Starcraft 2 level of polish for a game. But the people on the team definitely know how everything works.
The thing that's really awesome is that you have so many people who were on the Legacy of the Void team. They know the things that the Starcraft community wanted, but they never got to deliver because they stopped working on the game and adding like big stuff to it by dissolving the team. So that's really cool. I mentioned a lot of the things that we had talked about at previous Community Summits and those are all in their mind, which is super cool.
It makes us feel heard and I think that's one of the strongest points of this team - its their ability to just talk to people and see what they're happy about, what they want, what they're unhappy about. They're very open in that sense, which was really awesome. And another thing that we talked about to a decent length was the culture of the game and how to try to cultivate a respectful community that's more uplifting of each other rather than degrading, kind of comparing the Starcraft level of manner to whenever I play Dota and it's super BM, how do you get people to be good to each other in these games? What kind of report systems or behavior scores or things like that? We got to do some kind of theory crafting of their vision for that, which was really fun.
Here's a question you probably won’t be able to answer. The community has latched onto the worker unit from the Infernals as something that is ridiculously cute and exciting. Did you get to see that one in game? I know, I know. The Infernals in general are not ready, but did you get to see any exciting stuff about just specifically that cute little worker unit.
Neuro: Just played the one faction. I did tell them that anyone who's a Zerg main, based on how the Internals look, it's going to be really hard to not be an Infernal main. But we'll see what the third faction is, I don't know. And we'll also see how the Inferno faction plays, because a big part of why like Zerg is how the macro works. But I agree the worker unit for the Infernal is very cute.
I have no doubt in my mind that if that unit goes in, there will be plushies of that, like there's the Zergling plushie and that kind of thing. But yeah, we'll see what the Infernals have in store for us.
One final question for you before we're done here. We've talked about a lot of stuff -If there's one big takeaway, one thing that I haven't asked about yet that you wanted to talk about or that we've kind of talked about, you want to hammer down again, what would it be?
Neuro: I would say the main take home for me is seeing that they have the good engine working because that I think is the most important fundamental step in making this whole game really playable and really fun. Like I said at the start of this conversation, I'm really picky about the games I play and how I need crisp mechanics.
If the mechanics are not crisp, it feels gross and clunky, and I won't stick with the game and the units that they can flesh out. All the art can be added. The factions and all the different balance stuff, all that can be sorted out that can be patched later, but you can't really redo an engine later, at least to my knowledge - that's really hard to do. For them to prioritize that first and to really hammer that out to the point where I'm honestly super pumped, like that's the most important thing for building a really good RTS. Even though they have like a smaller team, they're not part of this whole Blizzard organization. They're out on their own just kind of trying to navigate these seas.
They have an insane motor vehicle of a video game. It's like an F1 racer that I feel like has a chance to be the champion kind of a thing. Like they have that ground level of a really good skeleton of a game. The people who are on the team, they know how to do all the other steps already.
It's still a lot of work and they're obviously going to be unexpected challenges along the way. But the people on the team are real and they're good and they listen to us, which is insane, and they know what the fuck they're doing because they've done it before. I have a lot of faith in the game. I went into it with high hopes and I was not disappointed at all.
I was really hyped up actually. Just the moment that really got me was whenever I was move commanding and spamming the hold position and just seeing how fast they registered the hold command from the move command, it just felt instant. It's so snappy and so good. So big take home for me is the foundation of the game is strong.
Everything else can be added on, be patient. And they said I was asking them, what's the one thing that we as streamers, content creators, community people, even players of RTS can do to help them succeed? Wish list the game on Steam. That's the number one thing. Doesn't cost any money. You just go to Steam and search Stormgate. You can see it there, a free to play RTS. Wish list it - that's going to put them up in the listings. I was not paid to say that, but if I was paid... Yeah, I'm very impressed. I'm very happy with how the game is coming along. Hats off to everyone at Stormgate. May you kick more and more ass as time goes on.
Neuro is a DnD player, Zerg streamer, published author, and all around nice guy. You can find his live play DnD Campaigns at twitch.tv/Neuro and (coming soon) on twitch.tv/Apoptosis808. The rest of his content is on twitch (zerg laddering, world discussions, World of Warcraft Classic tanking) and on youtube at youtube.com/@NeuroZerg. You can follow his Twitter @NeuroZerg.
As always, if you want to engage with the Frost Giant developers and get information from them as they post it, you should sign up for their newsletter, head on over to /r/Stormgate on reddit, and sign up for the beta and wishlist the game on steam!
Frost Giant is also asking for names for our favorite little infernal worker - you can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org