Friday, March 06, 2020
"Ninja Theory has always had kind of a heritage with third-person action-combat," mused Rahni Tucker, Creative Director on Bleeding Edge, when we caught up with her during X019 last year. "And that's the thing that I really love to work on personally, and I wanted to carry that forward for the studio, but combine it with something that's a passion of mine to play in my spare time, which is team-based multiplayer games."
Bleeding Edge, Ninja Theory’s first online multiplayer game, and its first multiplayer game since Kung Fu Chaos, comes to Game Pass and Xbox One later this month, but it’s a game that’s been in development, on and off, for quite some time now. So much so that when Tucker first had the idea, there really wasn’t anything like it on the market.
"So, when I first had this idea, I thought there's not really any games like that. I mean, there's lots of competitive multiplayer games, but none that really have that sort of third-person action like I like to make, so it felt like there's something kind of unique in that combo."
Tucker first conceived Bleeding Edge "maybe four years ago, maybe a little bit more."
“I pitched it initially to Nina [Kristensen] one of the co-founders, and she liked the idea, and she gave me a little team, and I did some prototyping first," Tucker explains. "So I started to prove out the concepts, like is this even going to work? And that went quite well, but then, you know, we had a bit of change of direction, we had some other projects come up and I wasn't enable to pursue it at that time."
That wasn’t the end for Bleeding Edge, obviously.
"Later on down the track, they sort of came back to me and they went, 'Remember that game that you working on, do you want to pick it up again? You still want to make it?' And I was like, hell yeah. So yeah, it's super lucky to get the opportunity really."
Originally Bleeding Edge was nothing more than a tiny side project for Ninja Theory with Tucker acknowledging that. "Yeah, tiny team, with an average of 15 people for the last three and a half years. We've got a few more now, but we started with about six, and now we've got about 25." Now, though, approximately "a quarter of the studio now" is working on Bleeding Edge, with the other 75% working, presumably, on Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2.
Looking back at Ninja Theory’s 20-year history, there is one thing that’s apparent: Ninja Theory loves a narrative-driven single-player game, meaning Bleeding Edge is a massive departure for the studio. Selling the Cambridge-based studio on the idea wasn’t that tricky, though, according to Tucker.
"I think it's the thing that they were interested in anyway. Ninja Theory likes to raise their expertise in as many areas as they can. And Tameem (Antoniades, Founder and 'Chief Creative Ninja') is super strong on story games, single-player, character, that's kind of his bag. Me personally, I really like 'gamey games'. I like fun games. So this is kind of a reflection of my personality and my passions as a Creative Director."
When Tucker originally approached Ninja Theory with her idea, games like Overwatch were dropping and beginning to grow in popularity, something that buoyed the team, but Tucker was keen to stress the differences between the two experiences.
"Yeah, that's the thing I really like about it and the thing I think is different. [Bleeding Edge] plays like a third-person action game... You're locking on, you're doing combos, evading attacks, but then that's mixed with this sort of emphasis on teamwork and sticking together, strategising to capture objectives," she tells us. "If you're a tank you're peeling for your support so that he doesn't get killed, your supports trying to heal everyone off. You can synergise your abilities together to get sort of combo chains going. So yeah, it's really fun."
Speaking of Overwatch, the growth in the esports scene since its inception is nothing short of phenomenal, so does Ninja Theory have similar ambitions or are is the studio of the idea that if it happens, it happens? Well, exactly that, Tucker assures.
"Yeah, it's more like that. I think the community decides what becomes an esport and what doesn't, I certainly went out of my way to make sure that the game was competitive because I don't like pay-to-win games or you know, you have to play for a million hours to be able to compete because I don't have tons of free time. I like every game to start from an even footing because that, to me, feels more fair. So, it was definitely an aim to make the game feel competitive but very fair. Where it goes from here, that's up to the player."
Obviously, since the inception of Bleeding Edge, Ninja Theory has become an official Microsoft Studio, something that was announced in June 2018 on the Microsoft stage at E3. Tucker says that Microsoft is finally allowing Ninja Theory to become the studio it has always wanted to be.
"I think it's kind of the studio finally getting to become what it always has wanted to be, a studio which is about original IP, you know, lots of creative freedom, doing stuff that we're passionate about," she states.
"You don't have to worry so much about where your next pay cheque is going to come from or if we can afford to upgrade our computers or whatever," joked Tucker. "It's been really great, and opportunities to do stuff like this and announce it at E3 and that sort of stuff's really hard to do as an indie studio, so I think it's only been kind of beneficial to us."
When asked whether Microsoft had interfered or had any input, Tucker responded: “No, they're just kind of leaving us to it, which is really, really great. They're super supportive."
With Microsoft comes the inevitable day and date launch for Game Pass, something that Tucker both recognises the beauty of, but also acknowledges its challenges.
"The good thing about Game Pass is that people can try a genre of game that they wouldn't normally, but then I think we have to think then a little bit more about: okay, if people are going to buy the game, it's probably cause they like team-based multiplayer games. They probably understand how the game modes work. They're not going to see something that's going to be completely alien to them. But when someone's coming in through Game Pass, they might not have a lot of experience with the genre.
"So that's a challenge where you have to change the way that you ramp plays into the game so that they have a better chance of understanding what's going on, if this is like a new thing for them."
Bleeding Edge is out on 24th March for Xbox One, and will also be available via Xbox Game Pass. Still not sure what to expect from Bleeding Edge? Then check out our gameplay preview (video above) from the back-end of last year or get involved in the closed beta, which kicks off next weekend.