We all know that killer robots are coming. In World War Machine, they're already here.
Set after a mass extinction has wiped out the entirely of humanity, the game takes place in a world where sentient robots now rule. They roam the ruins of Earth's crumbling cities, waging an endless war against one another. Given the crazy machines in development by the likes of DARPA, it's a scenario many of us have thought about, and it's one WWM will let you experience firsthand when it eventually launches. "I've always had this kind of sick fantasy to live in a busted world," says creative director Jeff Hattem.
The game itself is a bit like Diablo, an action role-playing experience where you're fighting off waves of foes and constantly upgrading your abilities. But unlike Blizzard's demonic epic, where story takes a backseat to furious clicking, a convincing world is at the heart of World War Machine. To ensure that was the case, the developers at Tuque Games — a new studio made up of veteran developers who previously worked on games like Splinter Cell and Far Cry — enlisted the help of Robopocalypse author Daniel H. Wilson.
In addition to writing the best-selling novel about a world that has been taken over by machines, he also has a PhD in robotics. And with Wilson penning the story, the goal is to root World War Machine's dystopic future firmly in reality, whether it's the design of the robots themselves or the advanced artificial intelligence they run on. Some of the robots take their inspiration from nature, for instance, just like machines being designed today. It won't happen tomorrow, but it's important that WWM could happen someday. "Everything is grounded in plausible science," says Hattem.
"Everything is grounded in plausible science."
In addition to Wilson, Tuque is also getting help from nanotechnology expert Kevin Neibert, who will be consulting on the scientific aspects of the game for an added layer of authenticity. The game is set in the far future, but inspired by developments from today — these are the robots that BigDog and the Cheetah could eventually become. "How can you not be freaked out by the real, tangible progress in robotics from DARPA and Boston Dynamics?" Hattem asks. "Imagine all the crazy behind-closed-doors stuff that doesn't make it onto YouTube."
One of the people entrusted with designing those futuristic machines is Aaron Beck, a concept artist who has worked on films like District 9 and Elysium, crafting iconic robot police officers and cyborg gang members. His style lends the game a uniquely organic vibe, with mechanical creatures that almost look like wildlife — wildlife packing quite a bit of firepower. His creations include everything from an ape-like monstrosity with huge cannons jutting out of its chest to an insectoid creature with deadly accuracy. There's even a massive, dual-headed dinosaur robot the size of two city blocks.
This focus on plausible technology extends beyond just the story, also influencing the way the game plays. World War Machine is a much more action-heavy experience than games like Diablo or Torchlight — "It's really about blowing up robots," says Hattem — with a strong emphasis on customization. You can gather materials to craft new weapons, ranging from machine guns to energy bursts, and learn new "functions," special abilities that let you hack enemies or give you an extra burst of speed. There's plenty of combinations to utilize, each suited to different play-styles, and you're not always locked into decisions — if you don't like your new tank-like machine, you can redistribute skill points to make it faster and more nimble. The point is to encourage you to try different techniques.
"We're just around the corner for a lot of these cool features."
"WWM is a game about experimentation and I want players to discover who they are as players by naturally using the scientific method," Hattem explains. "They'll encounter gameplay situations where they develop hypotheses on how to solve the problems and prove or disprove them." And those situations will constantly be changing. Not only will you have to contend with different enemy types, each requiring a different strategy, but also a procedurally generated world that's different each time you play. You can prepare as much as you like, but you never really know what's down that decrepit street.
Unfortunately, just when you'll be able to explore this crumbling world remains to be seen. World War Machine doesn't have a release date just yet. The developers recently ran an unsuccessful crowdfunding campaign to cover some of the expenses, but Hattem says that development is still on track despite that setback. When it does eventually launch, World War Machine will include drop-in co-op so that you can experience to robo-apocalypse with a friend, as well as get the chance to play with some tech that might not even exist in your lifetime.
"You'd think that the things we can do in the game are pure fiction," explains Hattem, "but we're just around the corner for a lot of these cool features." The game is coming soon — but the dark future it depicts might not be much further off.