Turtle Rock isn't entirely over its past flirtations with free-to-play for Evolve

Evolve developers Turtle Rock looked at going down the free-to-play path under THQ in its early stages of development, but while its new publisher, 2K, believes it will "shine brightest as a triple A title," senior producer Mike Boccieri told Polygon at a press event in Sydney last week, it "never says never."

"That is not going to change down the track, well, we never say never about almost anything," he said "But that's not anything that we have in the immediate horizon."

"I'm sure you have read about the pre-order bonus, which is a monster, right, so you got a sense of where that can go," Boccieri said when asked if that means new purchasable characters. "The possibilities are endless, and I think the core of what people are really excited about are that there's Hunters and monsters, so we are going to play to our strengths."

Turtle Rock explored the free-to-play option under suggestion by Jason Rubin, the then president of THQ. Its experimentation with the free-to-play model expanded Evolve's initial lineup of just four characters to multiple permutations after looking at titles like League of Legends, which excels at selling individual Champions.

"2K's pedigree is really in the space with Borderlands and BioShock, and we want Evolve to stand out next to those with its head held high," Boccieri said, adding that as free-to-play titles are often nitpicked on for various reasons, it was better to release Evolve as a full polished package to better sell its unique concept.

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Every match in Evolve is a boss battle, but unlike boss fights in other games, the player-controlled monster eliminates the ability to study set moves in order to achieve victory over the beast. The analog brain-driven boss introduces unpredictability and changes the experience for each match, community manager Josh Olin said, adding each playthrough will provide a lot of variety that will appeal to a broad range of gamers.

"You got the one side who loves the fast paced frenetic first-person shooter, certainly if you like co-op games like Left 4 Dead, then you'll like playing as a Hunter," Olin explained. "And if you are like more of the lone wolf, you want to be that one man army, that one man wrecking crew that takes out four of the enemies out all by himself, then you going to have a fun time as a monster, of course."

Evolve is a competitive cooperative experience set on sci-fi frontier world called Shear. Four Hunters of unique classes and unique abilities are pitted against an evolving player-controlled monster.

The four base Hunter classes are the Trapper, whose job is to track and contain the monster in combat; the Assault, which is just "bullet hose" who deals as much damage to the monster as possible; the Medic who heals teammates and can stun the creature; and, the Support class, whose fundamental role is to provide tactical advantage to the Hunters both offensively and defensively.

"It is terribly important to pay to your strengths and play to your role if you want to maximize your strengths against the monster," Olin said. "So for example, just yesterday, our support called in an orbital barrage, and our orbital barrage is an airstrike, and of course our monster doesn't want to stand under that and do damage. And as the Trapper I was able to harpoon the monster and hold it in place underneath the orbital barrage and it took massive amounts of damage."

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After working on L4D 2 DLC, Valve encouraged Turtle Rock to make their own project. Beginning work on the game early 2011, the team's main goal was to tap into the unique and specific features in games they worked on in the past. Specifically, combining the co-op experiences from L4D and the competitive nature of Counter Strike. Being huge fans of Riot and League of Legends, the team looked at design cues from LoL to try to emulate the rubberbanding gameplay featured in good MOBAs.

There is definite group strategy involved with the what we saw with the Hunt mode. As Hunters we were tasked with tracking the beast through thick foliage and taking it down as quickly as possible. Ideally before it could evolve too much, which increases its size and special abilities. Once the beast evolved to its full potential, its objective changed from evolving and surviving to destroying the power generator at the human base.

Its objective change made it relatively easy for us Hunters to track the monster. Coordinating together the Trapper laid mines around the generator, while the rest of the team either tried to coax it towards the generator or lay damage into the creature. The plan only went awry when the player-driven beast drew any one of us away from the generator and finished us off us one by one.

It definitely doesn't pay to be a lone hero in this game and communication is between teammates is key. When one team member falls, the power shift between humans and beast is immediately palatable. And no one class can go up against the monster themselves, each has their special abilities which coordinates with other classes' strengths and strategies.

"As you unlock future hunters you'll see that the mix of the different possibilities really endless," Boccieri explained. "The development team is still figuring out optimal combinations. The way that they go into development is they go into this set they kind of look at a full set of Assault, Medic, Trapper and Support and they do a tuning pass to balance the play with that group. And then over time they look at the other permutations that are possible with other Hunters and other monsters."

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While future monsters will take on various forms and abilities, the creature we had hands-on with was called Goliath. A scale-clad ape-like beast whose abilities to hurl rock slabs, spew fire and do flying leap smashes reflected by its physical nature.

Suffering slight performance anxiety, my tactic was to try and take out the Hunters head-on. This failed drastically. My poor creature was stripped of its flesh with each lighting gun barrage from the Assault class, reducing its movements to a hobbled, slouched lope.

In my second playthrough as the Goliath I learned to take advantage of the stealth mode and used the environment to put it between myself and the Assault class when restricted within a Trapper's dome. I also ate creatures quickly, which disables stealth mode for a time, but allowed me to level up faster. This particular monster also had a smell focus that highlights the editable fauna from the surrounding flora.

"The environment plays a crucial role in gameplay, almost as a third participant in the world of Shear," producer John Bloch said. "We have various things from plants to animals, from social animals to dangerous animals. The creatures primary function for the monster is food. He has to kill them and eat them in order to grow stronger bigger more powerful, but not every meal is easy pickings. Some of the wildlife can be dangerous to both sides and you have to careful to choose to engage the local creatures."

While monsters can level up faster when larger animals are consumed they can also aggravate them to their own advantage. Pissing off a creature and then either making a fast getaway or stealthing creates a dangerous distraction for any Hunters following in your wake.

Startle birds and they will flock up into the air, alerting the Hunters to your location. Yet, this could be used to a monsters advantage; deliberately startle avians, go into stealth mode and double back on the Hunters for a surprise attack, or secret away to evolve.

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2K and Turtle Rock plan to improve and leverage matchmaking to try and keep players who are similar tiers alike together. With trolls, the they will use reputation systems in place on networks such as Xbox Live. The systems will filter out those from the Hunter pool who don't play cooperatively and match them with other hunters who like to troll. Although, Boccieri points out that players who don't want to play cooperatively find it thrilling to play as a monster.

As it is easy for teams to fail if they don't work together, skilled players who help guide teammates can be the key to a match's success. Turtle Rock and 2K are exploring ways of promoting these players who are community leaders.

Evolve features a progression system for both Hunters and Monsters. For the monster, players can pick one of two perks at the beginning of a match — faster eating or better armor, along with two defensive/offensive tools such as rush, fire breath, hurl or rock slam. A player can add another perk to their tool set each time they evolve during a match. As for Hunters, each weapon and tool for each character class progresses after the end of each match, according to how well it was used in gameplay. There is a meta tree that tracks a player's overall progression that provides certain unlocks based on that tree.

While the Hunter mode was the only mode shown on the day, the base of every mode will always be four versus one with different iterations. For instance, where the environment plays as wild card in the Hunt mode, other modes will feature their own distinct wildcards and objectives.

"When we ship, we are going to have multiple monsters, multiple hunters and multiple games," Bloch said. "Hunt it is kind of the core mode, we feel it really embodies the core spirit and concept of Evolve, which is that conflict between man and monster."

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