People are still playing Counter-Strike today, but precious few multiplayer games can achieve that kind of immortality. Dutch indie studio Vogelsap is well aware of that fact, and is actively designing its upcoming game, The Flock, to burn out rather than fade away.
The Flock takes place in the year 3000, a point long after the earth stopped being able to support human life. A race of skeletal monsters known as the Flock now rules the roost, and the creatures are using an item called the Light Artifact to destroy each other.
Each multiplayer match begins with up to five players as members of the Flock, and the first person to pick up the Light Artifact transforms into a humanoid creature, the Carrier. At this point, The Flock turns into a terrifying game of red light, green light: The Carrier can shine light on other players to hurt them, and the only way the Flock can survive the harsh beam is by standing still in the light. The next creature to touch the Carrier becomes the new Carrier, and the game proceeds until the final Carrier is standing.
The Flock will be released on Windows PC via Steam in the third quarter of 2015, Vogelsap announced today. The studio is tying The Flock's release plan to the game's fiction in a clever, unprecedented way.
"We always had this story that the Flock are a tragic race that is doomed to extinction," said Jeroen van Hasselt, creative director at Vogelsap, in an interview with Polygon yesterday. "During development we had several ideas how to convey that story into multiplayer. It was only when we tried to come up with a solution for a multiplayer [game's] often anticlimactic ending that both ideas clicked. That's how the Population idea came to life."
The Flock will launch with a yet-to-be-determined number of lives shared across all of its players. With each in-game death, that "population" number — which will be visible throughout the game and in other venues — will tick down by one. When the population dies off completely and the number hits zero, nobody will be able to buy The Flock anymore.
At that point, only the people who own The Flock on Steam will be able to experience its "climactic finale," said Vogelsap in a press release today. Once that event takes place, The Flock will "go offline permanently and no longer be playable."
Van Hasselt told Polygon he didn't want to provide any additional details about the finale, but said that "it is going to be something worth remembering." He did say that Vogelsap has an outline for the finale based on the story it wants to tell, but that the studio can expand the event's scale and scope depending on how big The Flock gets. Van Hasselt added that Vogelsap will provide "cryptic hints" to the finale during the lifetime of The Flock.
Of course, this isn't the first time a game developer has promised a special ending to a community-based activity. Disappointments such as 22Cans' Curiosity: What's Inside the Cube? come to mind, especially since Vogelsap is building up The Flock's finale as one of its main selling points.
Van Hasselt told Polygon that Vogelsap understands the risks of this strategy, but will keep its cards close to the vest anyway.
"I acknowledge that there's a lot of danger in over-promising a finale's content," said van Hasselt. "With that being said, we feel it's important for the authenticity of the experience to leave most parts clouded in mystery. I can say that we as developers and gamers ourselves are very enthusiastic about the ending we want the players to experience."
Correction: An earlier version of this post said that the game's multiplayer mode supports six players. The Flock supports three to five players, according to the developer.