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Talking Dauntless with Phoenix Labs – Choosing Epic Games Store, Adding Crossplay and Lots More

Feb 4, 2019
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Monster Hunter World may sit on the throne of cooperative monster hunting games, but that doesn’t mean it should rest on the proverbial laurels.

More competition is coming in that genre. God Eater 3 is due on PlayStation 4 and PC this week, and Dauntless by Phoenix Labs will expand on many more platforms later this year, starting with PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Epic Games Store in April and finishing with Nintendo Switch, iOS and Android devices in the latter part of 2019.

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Today we’re interviewing Phoenix Labs to get an update on their ambitious roadmap, initially revealed at The Game Awards 2018 event, which includes the introduction of full-blown cross-platform play between all of the aforementioned platforms.

Fair warning: it’s a long read, as this is the transcript of well over half an hour of a Skype chat with CEO and Co-Founder Jesse Houston, Game Director Chris Cleroux and PR manager Andy Burt. It does, however, cover pretty much any aspect of Dauntless, both present and future. Enjoy!

I wanted to begin with the feedback you got from the community after Season One ended. 

Chris: Sure. Season One was, we viewed it as a very successful first foray into the Hunt Pass and giving more content and more goals to players. Generally, the community feedback we were looking at was focused on the length of the Hunt Pass as well as the balance of how players can progress. We’re taking that feedback into Season Two; we’re making some adjustments in Season Two that focus on how players can progress. And we’re going to be adjusting the length; the types and style of content, we felt that the players were pretty happy with. So we’re going to see more of the same types of content being presented for the next season.

Besides the console release which I want to go deeper into later, what kind of content and/or new features do you have planned for Dauntless throughout this year, starting with the next couple of updates?

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Jesse: We’re not only going to continue to push new Behemoths events as well as event based content where the game world will change. We’re also looking at new forms of content, new ways of experiencing Dauntless, exploring islands and that kind of stuff. Chris can give some more details there. But at a high level, as we continue to progress and understand what our players like, we’re continuing to build more kind of specific content for them.

A good example of this is our Scorchstone Hellion. The Hellion was one of the fan favorite behemoths. Folks were kind of asking for another kind of harder iteration of him, so a few months ago we got started on that effort and then just delivered it. So, you know, we look to the community for inspiration fairly regularly. And then look at where we feel like there’s gonna be lots of impact and then build towards that.

Yeah, that makes sense of course. Are you considering any more challenging content for a larger group of players, like raids?

Jesse: Yeah, you know, we’ve definitely talked about it. In the immediate short term, we are not looking at raid style content. I’m keen to get more folks working and kind of have the party content have more meaning before we start getting into the raid level stuff. Chris, I don’t know if you want to add to that at all?

Chris: Sure. One of our goals for the first part of this year is providing more strategic and tactical combat choices to players and we’re looking at a couple different features which I’m not gonna explicitly spoil right now, but we’re also going to be updating our roadmap to talk about that. One of the goals there is to build systems and enhance our current systems to provide our design team more opportunities to take existing content, make a more challenging version of that and provide rewards that are commeasured with that challenge. We’re also going to be looking at, as I said, some combat revamps and I know one of the questions in the community was around weapon customization and what would we be looking at next. We’re actually looking at all weapons right now in terms of providing players with more combat options. That is things that I would want to take into the battle but also my moment to moment choices that I’m making during combat. I went a little bit wider with my answer there, but we definitely want to provide more challenging content paired with more cool and interesting ways and things for players to do during combat.

What about a brand new weapon or weapons. Is that something that might happen later this year?

Chris: We have a couple really cool ideas but we have not put anything formally on the plan. Part of the work we’re doing right now as we refactor some of the combat, we want to make sure we deliver that to the players, get a lot of feedback and kind of let it settle. And then when we have all the changes rolled out kind of figure out what the next best opportunity is for the next weapon. We could put one of our new ideas forward right away. But it would not match up with that other changes that we’re making. So we kind of want to push out new changes to existing weapons. Take a moment to engage the community, get their feedback, reflect on it and then figure out what the next opportunity is.

Andy: I feel like some of the changes we are making to existing weapons are such a stark contrast to how they were first introduced that if people who are maybe familiar with certain weapons they will find new and interesting ways to utilize them.

Jesse: We want to add a lot more interactivity to the weapons, the ones that are currently out. While there is a lot of good ideas and we’ve got some stuff cooking, you know, we want to make sure that we’re balancing that against adding depth to the weapons that we have and that’s kind of where the combat team is focused right now.

Okay. We’ve talked about combat related activities which are the main goal in the game, but what about social activities, maybe even player housing? It’s something that other MMO-like games have implemented over time.

Chris: We haven’t talked explicitly about housing. What’s interesting about that idea though is it’s rooted in a desire for players to want to get together and have a space that they can get. And the thing that we are looking forward to this year at some point is revamping the guild system and how we handle that and how players can work together for common goals. That’s about all the detail that I can share right now. But we definitely want to double down on the interactivity between players and kind of the groups that form themselves.

You touched upon the guild system now briefly, but is there any debate inside the team about the opportunity of introducing some competitive elements to Dauntless at some point or do you want to keep it strictly cooperative for the time being.

Chris: When I break this question down,  the most important thing I pull out of a desire for competition is that players have some way of measuring their success, not only against their own historical performance but against the performance of others. And that’s something that we want to continue to explore is how players can reflect on their success and then also be rewarded for that. Competition, when you say that or competitive, often people think PVP. We don’t have any current plans of player versus player directly, like no Slayer cannot fight another slayer.

But we have been talking about how to best show to a player their own performance and that of the people that are on their team. We can extend it to guilds and kind of other social groups.

Thanks. And of course, the big announcement you made recently was about the upcoming console and mobile release. I wanted to ask you first if you are doing all of these ports in-house, internally, or are you relying on some partners.

Jesse: Yeah, right now we’re focused internally on the ports. We have a fairly sizable staff. A good portion of the team is working on that stuff.

And you have two studios right now, one in Vancouver and another in San Mateo.

Jesse: Yeah. We don’t really think of them that way. I mean technically we have two physical locations and then we have a bunch of folks who work remotely as well. We’re all focused directly on Dauntless.

So I’m looking at them from Vancouver and we kind of consider the San Mateo office just down the hall. It’s a three-hour flight down the hall but it’s just down the hall.

Chris: We have sort of an always-on camera we have an always-on camera. So whenever we want to pop in it’s just like looking through a window to chat with our brethren in the North.

It is pretty common these days among the development teams. I wanted to ask though, can you give us a ballpark of how many developers you have between both offices right now?

Jesse: So, Phoenix Labs totally is about 95 five folks today that work directly for us. I think the best way to think about it is there are about a hundred and fifty folks contributing to Dauntless every day between outsourcing and internally. About 60 folks work in Vancouver.

Okay. Do you plan to expand on that or just keep it around this size?

Jesse: Yeah. From an expansion perspective, we’re still growing. We think about growth in terms of do we have the best folks to solve the problems that we see. It’s a bit more of a complicated answer than I think we probably have time for. But yes, we are absolutely expanding still.

You know we’ve got I think seven or eight open positions on the website right now, as an example.

Chris: We’re not expanding just for expansion’s sake.

Jesse: Exactly.

Well that’s that’s good to hear. And of course in Vancouver there is a vibrant community of developers, right?

Absolutely.

What can you tell us about the state of these PlayStation 4 and Xbox One ports of Dauntless? How are they coming together so far?

Jesse: I mean they are fucking great. I mean, I’ve always been a big controller fan and so, you know, sitting on my desk is a build that plays like a PC. It’s great. It’s really cool.

So you’re still planning to hit April as a release date.

Jesse: That is the current plan.

Andy: And in addition to that obviously a big part of our news announcement in December was coming with Dauntless to the Epic Game Store so that’ll be happening in April as well.

I wanted to ask you about that as well because when Dauntless first came out I noticed it wasn’t on Steam. And of course, now you are going to be on the Epic Games Store. Are you excited about this opportunity?

Jesse: Oh, absolutely. We’ve been working with Epic for more than six months now on their Games Store. We were actually the first group to sign up with them at all. We have you know we have a few more complexities than like say Hades or Ashen given that we’re an always-on free play massively multiplayer game versus a more traditional product.

And with that in mind, Epic has been a phenomenal partner they really believe in. They share our vision for bringing great games to gamers in a way that is incredibly consumer focused.

You know, they were the first platform partner that we talked to that really shared the vision that we had and actually have the same high standards of excellence in terms of things like customer service and how they thought about players you know I don’t want to say anything negative about anyone else but you know we had a really high bar. It’s what we worked on we were not on Steam largely because we had a significant bar standard of excellence that we felt that only we could achieve it with our own platform and Epic has proven over and over again that they’ve been able to achieve that same standard of excellence.

So you think they could make a significant impact on the PC digital market.

Yeah, I believe so. You know there was some data that was released recently from 200 different game companies that were surveyed over the last three years and more than half of them believe that Epic is kind of one of the next great leap in where platforms are going to go. I’m very confident. I’m obviously very confident, we’re coming to their platform, we’re choosing with our feet, right?

And you also mentioned the One Dauntless cross-platform system. How is that going to work? Are you testing it already? What can you tell us?

We’re still working with first parties, Microsoft and Sony and Nintendo, to kind of get through all of the technical ramifications of it but ideally how this plays out is that wherever you are and wherever I am on whatever console we happen to have, we’re able to play together and have a great time whether I’m on PC or x box or yes for initially and then Switch and mobile later.

Right. So you could join the same party.

Yeah, absolutely. If you play Dauntless today, we currently have six regions like North America, South America, Western Europe, Australia, Southeast Asia et cetera. And that stuff is all completely invisible to the player and One Dauntless like the next phase of the 1.0 was evolution is adding tools to that same mix. So it goes from wherever you are you can play together seamlessly to wherever you are and whatever console you’re on.

But will it be possible to disable crossplay, you know, as an option? Some games are doing it like Rocket League, Fortnite and soon Sea of Thieves.

Matchmaking with players on other platforms should be a seamless experience. Having a larger pool of players will improve the chances of finding a good match quickly. Having said that, there may be circumstances where we allow a user to opt out of that experience.

You’ve also said that Dauntless is coming to mobile devices and Nintendo Switch, albeit a bit later. Is it going to be tough to downsize the game a bit perhaps given the technical specs of these platforms? Are you confident it will be the same experience?

The most important component of this is that the experience is shared across where like you feel like you’re playing the same game and we’ve really built the game with this vision in mind since the beginning, so we’re really confident that it’s going to be great. That is not to say that it is not going to be a hard as hell thing for us to do. You know, the technical challenges are high but I’m really confident that the team is going to be able to achieve this great goal.

Of course, the primary challenge with mobile is that it has its own control method, so you’re going to have to create a new interface as well I think.

Well in many cases you know for example like most of the UI is we’ve made sure that they’ve been fairly touch compliant, to begin with. Obviously, there’s going to be changes and you’ve actually probably been seeing changes over the last three or four months getting rolled out both in graphical style and user experience but also just making sure that everything is future proofed for when we want to start getting in the touch interface.

And then the big opportunity for us is combat. And I think that that’s going to be a really interesting challenge for the team.

The big question I think is whether those mobile users who don’t use a paired controller, who choose the default touch controls, can be at the same level of gamepad users.

You know our vision is that the degree of complexity and skill continues to remain high and we’ve seen some great examples like PUBG mobile and Fortnite. They are real deal, triple-A experiences with a bunch of mobile players who are exceptional.

And so, you know, if they managed to kind of figure it out without having that compromise, I’m really confident that we are going to be able to do the same.

Dauntless is going to be on the Epic Games Store on PC, but Epic also said they want to be on Android eventually. Are you going to use your own client or Google Play or Epic Games Store when it comes to the Android platform?

The current thinking is Google Play but, you know, we’re still a good distance away from being a reality and so it’s probably too early to say for sure.

So it’s fair to expect to have to wait for the second half of 2019 for mobile and Switch.

It’s a second half of the year thing, we are very much focused on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now. And I think the thought process is as that gets into certification and live you know we want to move our focus over to mobile and Switch.

In the previous Dauntless interview we published here we also discussed your adoption of the NVIDIA DLSS technology. I wanted to check and see how it’s coming together and if you have any ETA on when we can expect it to be live.

We’ve been working with NVIDIA on this for a while, they have been working with us to get the AI to learn how to do it. Basically part of it is they have to release a driver version at the same time that we release a patch. And I think we’re trying to figure out the schedule and all that stuff is possible.

It’s coming though, it’s almost on the map. Our graphics programmer has been working with NVIDIA and we’re like super close.

That’s cool. Are you still thinking about potential implementation for ray tracing or is that something you’re not looking to do?

We’re not looking at it right now. Our lighting model does the job that we want it to right now, while deep learning supersampling has given us a lot of extra performance. That is our biggest focus given that Dauntless is an action combat game and of course you want all the FPS so you can get. And with all the console work that we’re doing right now, while we are a bunch of folks, we’re not an infinite number of folks. Part of the job is keeping focused on the things that are going to see the most value for the most number of folks.

Indeed. You just mentioned the frame rate, so I have to ask: is Dauntless going to be running at 30 or 60 FPS on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One?

I don’t know. I mean the goal has always been 60, especially the newer stuff. I don’t know where what the frame rate numbers are coming up these days but we’ll probably have an update as far as specifics on performance closer to launch.

Okay. Any chance of Dauntless getting support for HDR displays?

HDR is something we are investigating, but we do not currently have any plans for implementation.

For existing Dauntless players, what can they expect from the next update?

Chris: Beyond Season Two, we’re also trying to get some new features up for April so that we can make sure that they’re into the game and tested by the community before we launch on console. So it’s going to be quite a busy first quarter for us in terms of new systems, new content and expect the new season in the upcoming weeks.

All right. And is the game on consoles going to be the same at launch – is there content parity?

Jesse: Oh yeah yeah yeah. I mean in order for cross-play to work there has to be parity.

Right. So you’re still planning to have crossplay on day one in April when Dauntless launches on consoles.

That is the goal.

Thank you for your time.

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