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Savage Preview
game: Savage
posted by: Aaron Stanton
date posted: 09:10 AM Thu May 22nd, 2003
last revision: 07:13 AM Fri Sep 23rd, 2005

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Holding our breath while waiting for the release of World of Warcraft, it\'s easy to let the lack of oxygen blur our vision a little; Blizzard isn\'t the only one doing cool things with animal skin clothing and magic spells. Savage, a multiplayer game coming to the PC as early as July, is set to scrub a little at the line dividing Real Time Strategy games and First Person Shooters. This sixty-four player RTS/FPS title combines the best aspects of both genres, allowing one player on each side to control the action in classic RTS style, coordinating troops from above, while the other 62 players meet each other head-to-head in first person perspective. Tired of computer AI? Savage is set to show us the power of the human brain as troops follow orders, hack at buildings, and snipe enemies from the hilltops; actual humans inhabit almost every aspect of the title, and it lends itself to an entirely new world of organized warfare.

\"Look at that, you leveled up,\" says the fellow showing me the game, pointing to the screen as I lay waste to yet another unfortunate victim with my crossbow. \"That makes you stronger.\" Gleefully, I lay into another unsuspecting victim just as he crests the hill, relentlessly filling the helpless soul with arrows. \"He\'s on your team,\" my guide points out. \"You can\'t hurt him.\" After only a few minutes of gameplay, both as the commander dictating orders to my soldiers, and as one of the soldiers receiving orders, it quickly becomes evident that a great deal of planning has gone into both aspects of Savage, making each, in its own way, an independently entertaining game. When you put them together as one, you find you have a different breed of game entirely.

\"Take that!\" I cackle, doing my best to instill fear in my enemy as I empty yet another quill into a pathetic victim.

\"You\'re shooting a peon,\" my benefactor points out.

\"Die, peon!\" I cry.

\"And he\'s still on your own team.\" What an observant fellow this man is, I think to myself, having taken to referring to every male PR person I encounter as \"fellow\". It also explains my target\'s blatant refusal to die. A red marker appears on my screen, a pillar of light extending from the ground to the sky. \"See that?\" he asks, obviously awed by my superior intellect and fighting prowess. \"Someone is attacking your base. Your commander is ordering you over to defend it.\"

I turn around to find myself facing an enemy much larger than I, a type of unit my team can\'t build yet. \"What\'s that?\" I ask as I die under the barrel of a flamethrower like weapon.

\"That was a medium unit,\" he says. \"Your commander hasn\'t researched them yet.\"

The role that exists between the first person players and the commanding officer is complex and important. Since it wouldn\'t be fun for players to be forced to wait in limbo, there is little-to-no build time for the units. Death, from the FPS perspective, involves being returned to a selection screen where you can chose one of 5 basic units (three infantry types, two catapult types), and then equip him/her with one of the 30 weapons and items (depending on your race) that are available. The setting pits a magical animal kingdom against a primitive form of man rediscovering technology, and so allows for a wide mix of weapons, from sniper crossbows to flamethrowers and rail guns. All the weapons in the game are free, and can be exchanged for another weapon with a quick skip to your main base to re-supply, but you can\'t access them until they\'ve been researched by your commander.

Other items ? such as ammo packs, smoke grenades, mines, and med kits ? cost money, which you collect from fallen enemies as you work your way through their ranks. When collecting spoils, 80% of the finances go to the first person player, and 20% to the commander for use in different aspects of the game, including redistributing it to players they feel deserve an extra bonus, or who need to be better equipped for an assault.

Aside from money, a player also earns experience points with each kill. As the players level up, they become stronger, able to withstand more damage, and earn other basic perks. Since death only marginally effects experience points, players progress from a generic level at the start of each game to massive damage dealing units by the end.

The RTS perspective is equally interesting. The computer plays the basic peon units, used for collecting the two resources in the game, gold and stone, and so saves the human players from the tedious task of collecting minerals (though FPS players can mine if they want, as well as assist in building and repairs). In many respects, the RTS side of Savage looks much like any other; units can be selected and given orders, buildings must be constructed and maintained, and ultimately, defended. The entire map is shrouded with a \"fog of war\" feature, which limits the commander\'s field of view to that which his units can see. As the commander constructs buildings and researches arms, new unit types and weapons become available to the FPS players when they re-spawn or return to the base to re-equip (players can pitch in some money and upgrade their unit, if they like).

Whenever a commander issues an order, a visual queue appears on the FPS\'s screen. If the order is to attack a unit, the visual is red, and highlights the unit to be attacked. Neutral orders, such as \"move\", appear in green.

\"If you select a unit,\" my graceful host informs me, indicating one of my troops making his way across the expanse to the enemy base, \"you\'ll see what the unit is carrying.\" In this way, you can assign squads and plan attacks based on what your players are equipped with. Though it wasn\'t integrated into the demo at E3, communication between the players and the commanders will become more streamlined, allowing players to request that the commander research certain unit types, and allowing commanders to ask certain players to equip certain weapons to more appropriately prepare them for a mission.

\"We also hope to have the ability to vote off bad commanders,\" the PR fellow says, gently taking the mouse from me as I attempt to order three of my units to execute an insubordinate peon. I\'m crushed.

\"But...\" I say, trying vainly to reach the mouse as he ushers me out the door.

\"July,\" he repeats, and puts a soda in my outstretched hand. After he\'s gone, I press my face against the window of their booth. There\'s something truly extraordinary about seeing the world from above on one screen, and seeing the same scene beautifully rendered in 3D on another. From the way the light shines, or the grass waves, Savage looks like it\'s going to be a beautiful game. I sulk away as the development team starts making shooing motions at me from behind the glass. Then I brighten up. July isn\'t all that far away. It\'ll be out before World of Warcraft, at least.