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Gamescom Interview: Hi-Rez Studios talks Smite

Default Prime: Would you mind introducing yourself to our readers?

Bart Koenigsberg: Of course! I am Bart Koenigsberg, I am the e-sports and competitive manager for Hi-Rez Studios, also known as Hi-Rez Bart in our community.

Default Prime: What can you tell us about Smite? What is Smite?

Bart Koenigsberg: Smite is a third-person MOBA game, which stands for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena. Also sometimes called ARTS – Action RTS. Everyone knows it as League of Legends, DOTA, Heroes of Newerth. Those are kinda the big ones on the scene. Smite is a bit different than those games, however. It tends to go a bit shorter, and it also features a third-person perspective instead of an overhead isometric perspective. So you have a little bit of a different style of gameplay. It is a bit more focused towards the League of Legends style of progression versus DOTA. By that I mean that your mages scale and their abilities do get stronger as the game progresses, as opposed to DOTA where the items do not affect your abilities. But beyond that it is a very traditional MOBA, just with a little bit of a twist.

Default Prime: What can you tell us about the setting and the aesthetic? What unifies the whole game in terms of flavor?

Bart Koenigsberg: The game is a battleground of the gods. You have many different pantheons. Currently it’s Chinese, Hindu, Greek, Roman as well as Norse. So you have all these gods from these different pantheons, that are all fighting in this mythical arena. The map that they currently play in is themed like Vesuvius. So you have the big mountain in the background with the volcano and you have Roman-esque marble statues, those kind of things. But more or less it’s just that – a multiplayer online battleground of gods instead of champions or heroes.

Default Prime: So you play as the actual gods, avatars of them, or servants?

Bart Koenigsberg: You play as the avatars. Zeus from Greek mythology, or Odin from Norse. Those are the gods and there are currently 21 of them in the game.

Default Prime: How do you intend distribute the game to people? Is it going to be completely free-to-play? Or is it going to be heavy on microtransactions?

Bart Koenigsberg: As a studio, Hi-Rez Studios are an independant developer from Atlanta, Georgia in the United States. We are about a sixty-person company and we are entirely private, so we are actually able to self-publish. We have our own patcher and the game is delivered basically for free. It is a free to play game. You have microtransactions in Smite: you are able to buy skins that are purchasable through EXP as well. You are able to buy gods with both real-world currency and experience. So basically in our titles, including Tribes which was our previous game, our microtransaction system is setup so that you can never buy anything that affects gameplay. You can only buy cosmetics or convenience. So if you want to try something new and you don’t want to spend the time to unlock it, you can buy it right away and it’s accessible to you. But in general, the game is 100% F2P and just like in Tribes, the way that we kind of give you some of the stronger stuff as free stuff is to help you get into the game. In Tribes you can still see that the weapons that people use in high-level competition are often the starting weapons. In Smite, the gods you start with also tend to be some of the very strong ones.

Default Prime: Are we looking at a roster in which you have to learn every single character like in some MOBA games, or is it more in the style of fighting games where you can say “Oh, I like this character and I’m gonna stick with him”?

Bart Koenigsberg: I think that that’s a pretty complex question, because when people talk about fighting games, let’s say “Sure, I play Ken in Street Fighter and I’m just gonna play Ken every time, doesn’t matter what you pick”. And then you start talking about high-level play, where it’s all about the matchups. Is Ken good against Chun-Li? It’s the same thing in Smite. Sure, you could hop in and you could be Odin because you like the All Father. You could play Odin every single game. However, there will be lanes that are very difficult to play as Odin against. You have kind of team composition issues as well if you keep playing the same character. For example, I tend to favor Hel and Arachne from the Greek mythology. I like to play them, I find them lots of fun. I don’t play them every game, because sometimes I get in there and four players in my team instant-lock gods and I have to play something that helps my team get better.

So I think it could go either way. The fighting game analogy is pretty solid: yeah, you could play one guy and get really good and trounce people with that guy, but eventually you’re gonna find a matchup or someone who knows how to exploit your character’s weaknesses in a way that makes it very difficult to counter.

Default Prime: How difficult will it be to hop in? Let’s say I’ve been sticking to four characters and none of those characters happen to be viable or optimal in a certain lane or map and I have to pick something I’ve never touched before. How much will my general skill in Smite help, despite not being familiar with the character?

Bart Koenigsberg: I think that actually in Smite, you guys have a far better shot at that than in League of Legends or DOTA, specifically because Smite is entirely skillshots. So there is no tab targetting, no “click on the guy”. While the skills can be complex and they require some understanding on how to use them, in general you’re gonna be focusing on landing them, rather than the after-effects. Whereas perhaps in DOTA you need to debuff them, then cast a buff on yourself, and then slow them, and then attackattackattack. And it’s all based who you click, whereas in Smite, it’s more about landing your skills first. You can go and take a mage-type character and hit them with all your spells and be ok, just because everything is more skillshot-based. That’s kind of the problem with DOTA, right? You play an auto-attack character and then someone says “You need to play Priestess of the Moon this game”. And you got to figure out how to land that arrow, the javelin. It’s not very easy to do, because you’re not used to skillshots. Or vice-versa. “Oh, this guy is Earthshaker, right?” You may not be used to blink in, initiation, ultimate and then stunning. Where in Smite, you have the ability to always use the same skill set, which is the aiming aspect of the game, but in different orders, different builds. We also have the recommended items and skill selection, which will auto-buy and auto-skill. If you are completely unfamiliar with a god, you can just turn those on, let it buy everything for you and just focus on learning what the skills do and trying to be better by the end of the game
than you were at the beginning.

Default Prime: So you’re not going to be as detrimental to your team if you pick a completely new character?

Bart Koenigsberg: Not as bad. I think it would certainly be easier to pick a tanky or melee-styled hero that you don’t understand at all, than maybe just a mage, because they’re squishy and die quite often. But you could make a good case for it not being so hard to pick up newer gods.

Default Prime: Another big problem with MOBA-styled games is the community. We’ve all heard the horror stories. Are you gonna try and make a friendlier environment? Are there any solutions on how to handle the common issues?

Bart Koenigsberg: One of the most obvious and concrete one is that you can’t all-chat. You can’t talk to the other team, it’s only with your team. You have the chat command system, which is actually borrowed from Tribes. So, you can issue commands, so to say, like “Defend the left lane” by a series of button presses. There is no VOIP so you can’t yell at people, you have to communicate with that chat system, which doesn’t end with explicits. Community outreach is, I think, a big piece of it and also really difficult. The reason I believe MOBA communities get so volatile is because the games last so long that you can know, immediately, that you are going to lose because of this one player.

And HE feels bad, because he knows he’s making the team lose. Everyone’s stuck with everyone for an hour. Whereas in Smite, games are about 20 to 30 minutes, so maybe a little bit of that stress is taken off. Personally, as part of the community team, it’s our job to do a lot of outreach to the streamers. We have a great partner in Twitch and have great streamers for Smite and try to reach out to them and help them promote a better scene. And we really try and stay active on the reddit and all the community sites around the web to say “Hey, this game can be Starcraft and not Heroes of Newerth”. And it can have a manner-based game mode, where you can enjoy the game just not being a nasty person to everyone else. I don’t want to see it get to the point of Counter-Strike where you have tools where you can’t speak during the game. I think it’s more fun if you do interact with other players, but I think promoting a culture of manner-play is something we’re very interested in as well.


Default Prime: What would you say is the “main thing” of Smite? What I mean is, people who play LoL know why they want to play LoL, people who play DOTA know why they want to play DOTA. What about Smite? Who do I recommend Smite to?

Bart Koenigsberg: It’s actually pretty interesting. Everything’s a skillshot, it’s WASD movement and the camera position is kind of over the head. You have this community, of course, of MOBA players who would be interested. You also have kind of your casual to semi-competitive FPS players that can be interested because of the aiming aspect of the game and the skillshots and familiar movement. And I think there’s a lot of other gamers that are interested in “What is this MOBA thing?” They know what League of Legends is, what DOTA is, but they’ve never really played it or got into it and Smite is very accessible with that kind of crowd. Also something we’ve seen and that we were quite excited to see was the MMO arena and PvP players. So it would be very familiar to the World of Warcraft Arena players as well, because it is again that WASD movement and the kind of whack-a-mole that they like with their skills. It can also be very action-based as a MOBA, rather than strategy-based. Whereas even in the low-levels of play in League of Legends or Heroes of Newerth, quite a bit of strategy has to be involved and you kind of have to know  what the other heroes or champions do, so you can interact with them properly in a strategic setting. While in Smite, it tends to be a little more action-based, where you can just duke it out with the other guy.

And Smite is also more about kills than it is necessarily about staying in the lane and farming out one carry to get them bigger than the enemy carry. Because of the way last-hitting works, it gives you 30% more gold than a creep just dying in your lane. So, last-hitting, while being important certainly in the early laning phase, you don’t gain as much by sitting in the lane and just farming it up. With all those things combined, it kind of gives you a different sort of feel. Especially with that lower game time, you don’t feel like you’re making this huge investment to learn how to play this guy. It’s not “I’m gonna learn to play this guy and it’s gonna take me 10 hours”. It’s more of a “Oh yea, I’ll pick this guy” and twenty minutes later, you’ll pick another guy. And for me specifically, being in the development industry is very, very busy and I want to get a chance to play our games. I can knock out Smite and just play for 20 minutes to half an hour. And I really enjoy it for that aspect as well.

Default Prime: Will there be any cross-game interaction between Tribes and Smite. If you play Smite, will there be any benefits in Tribes or vice-versa?

Bart Koenigsberg: Yea, I think that’s something we’ll be looking at and evaluating more strongly, as Smite gets closer to its release date. But, for instance, for Tribes and our previous title, Global Agenda, we did have flair you could get in Global Agenda if you played Tribes. So, I would imagine we could continue that trend and get you some cool goodies. Maybe you’d get to play a Diamond Sword as a god in Smite or something like that.

Default Prime: What kind of pantheons can we expect? Is what you mentioned it, or are you going to be looking into more obscure mythologies?

Bart Koenigsberg: Here at Gamescom exclusively we have a preview of our next god, which is Cupid, who is a Roman god. So, that kind of goes to show you that it’s more of a role. The way new gods are added is “OK, we need THIS type of god.” For Cupid, it was “We need a ranged physical damage carry. And he needs to be cute.” “OK, it should be Cupid.” “Oh, well, he’s Roman. So we have another pantheon.” In general, that’s how it goes. It’s not out of the question that we’d have some of the more obscure religions or some archaic things. South American or similar are always a potential for the game. Especially since we’re trying to shoot for thirty gods for the release of the game. And after that as well. Obviously, MOBA games are kept alive by continued release of content. I imagine that as we need more, we’ll have to go wider with our reach of pantheons.

Default Prime: Anything else you would like to share with our readers?

Bart Koenigsberg: Be sure to definitely stay tuned to www.smitegame.com. You can get all kinds of goodies there and enter to get into the Beta. Currently, all the thirty gods that will be released can be purchased for $30, so $1 per god is pretty good value. And if you are currently playing and have already spent money on the game, that price is discounted based on the amount of money you’ve spent. It’s a really good deal that’s kind of given back to the Beta community, so be sure to get in on that before they go back in price. Also, feel free to get in touch with me. You can find me on Twitter @HiRezBart. I’m pretty much on reddit, IRC, anywhere you want to find me, I’ll be HiRezBart and I’d be happy to help you out!

Default Prime: Thank you for your time.

Miodrag hails from the land of Serbia. He is currently a college student trying to learn Japanese and speaks English, German and Serbian (as well as all the jabber similar enough to Serbian). He is primarily a PC gamer, but knows his way around various consoles, old and new.

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