Quantum League’s Lead Game Designer Balthazar Auger on XCOM’s influence and the human brain’s ‘sweet spot’
Quantum League, the mind-bending, time travel paradox shooter from Nimble Giant Entertainment is coming to PC, PS4, Switch and Xbox One in 2020. We got to go hands-on with it during its first closed beta and absolutely loved what we saw so far. After playing it, we had a tonne of questions and so we spoke to Lead Game Designer Balthazar Auger.
Being such a unique experience and one that is difficult to describe, we wanted to understand where the ideas came from and how Nimble Giant Entertainment developed Quantum League.
I had assumed that team-shooters and hero shooters were the inspiration, but I was way off. I also thought it was set in the future, again I was wrong.
Thankfully, Auger set me straight.
PowerUp! – Where did the inspiration and idea for Quantum League come from? It strikes me as riffing on Tracer’s abilities in Overwatch but in a vastly different way.
BA – The initial inspiration came from a very different place: I had been prompted to study the feasibility of an XCOM-like tactical RPG, but as a real-time FPS. It was when I faced the incompatibilities of merging these two genres that I thought about using some kind of Time Loop instead of turns.
Once that idea set in, I started researching for time loop games, but only found single-player experiences, and a YouTube video from 2011 called Clock Blockers. It was this video that we took as the main inspiration for the first prototype. Tracer’s mechanic in Overwatch is different from Quantum League, since players don’t have any control over the time rewinds, which affect everything and everyone on the match.
PowerUp! – Quantum League has the same cartoony, kid-friendly aesthetic that games like Overwatch and Fortnite have.
Are you targeting the same segment of gamers, the same market?
BA – The reason we settled on this aesthetic is based on several factors, the most important one being the realization that our game is very complex and requires that all the action is as clear and understandable as possible.
Just as Chess or Go boards tend to have super simple and clear designs to avoid getting in the way of players understanding what’s going on in the game. So it’s been more of a design-led decision than a marketing-led one.
PowerUp! – Heroes in QL don’t seem to have any special abilities, rather players use weapons and knowledge of the loops to try and win.
Have you been tempted to add hero shooter elements, abilities, supers etc?
BA – We’re evaluating how the gamer community gets used to the game as it is during the Open Beta and if they’re ready or not for an additional layer of depth.
There’s definitely something in the pipeline in that regard but we’re keeping our cards close for now.
PowerUp! – Will there be cross-platform play?
BA – Although we’re starting with PC, down the road, we’re definitely bringing the game to consoles and we have also plans for cross-platform play.
Soon you’ll hear more!
PowerUp! – Is it something we might see with VR support?
BA – Quantum League is styled as an acrobatic, fast-paced twitchy shooter, so I think we’ll wait and see if the VR market evolves to a point where such an experience would be possible, without getting super dizzy that is!
PowerUp! – What is the story of QL and how has the world come to a place where this exists as a form of entertainment? Is it set in the future for example?
BA – It’s a little known fact that the world of Quantum League is not set in the future, but rather in an alternate 2020 timeline in which time travel was invented in the 80’s. Being able to travel in time has solved a good chunk of the world’s problems, but humans will be humans and time travel became commonplace very quickly, like the Internet is in our timeline.
So people around the world started inventing time-travel enabled versions of their favorite sports, which quickly became worldwide phenomenons. The gameplay shown in Quantum League evolved from Airsoft and Paintball for instance, and who knows, down the road you may be able to play time-travel versions of other sports!
PowerUp! – It certainly has a very arcade feel about it, however so many games these days need communities to survive and rely on esports to partially drive those communities.
Are there esports plans for QL?
BA – Our Discord community is really active, especially now with the Open Beta running, and many of the members compete in other esport titles.
We’re actively listening to their feedback and hope to have a competitive game once released, with the potential for sports.
PowerUp! – By the same token, will QL feature Microstransactions, Loot boxes, cosmetics etc?
BA – The game will release as a paid/premium game and currently we have no plans for microtransactions.
We do have an in-game soft currency that allows you to unlock cosmetics.
PowerUp! – I’d like to know more about the development of the loops and the quantum loop mechanic.
What other forms did the time travel take and what else did you attempt before settling on the three loop system we see in the game today?
BA – The goal of development has always been to create a consistent and fun multiplayer gameplay experience within a time loop. We didn’t have any precise design guidelines when we started building the game, so we began not so much testing the technical limits of the time loop, but the cognitive limits of the human brain.
We started with five clones/loop iterations, but found that the brain has a sweet spot at three. We also tested round lengths of up to one minute, but found that it was more fun having shorter rounds in smaller levels for tighter action.
Setting the quantum loop limits was just the start, however. We were quickly faced with many edge cases that we weren’t anticipating, such as what happens when you get killed in one loop but then manage to avoid that in the next one, or what happens if nobody scores at the end of a round, or finally how to best present the sequence of gameplay to players so that they are able to keep tabs on what’s going on in the match!
All aspects of an FPS had to be carefully considered before inclusion due to the deeply transformative nature of placing the gameplay in a time loop.
The dev team prides themselves in developing the most accurate simulation of a time loop to date!
PowerUp! – What else can we expect from QL at launch? Other modes, characters, weapons etc?
BA – Our plans for launch are still kept under wraps for now, but the game we want to launch is definitely bigger in every dimension than what you may have played during the Open Beta.
More maps and game modes are definitely coming before launch; as for weapons and characters, we expect those to come after launch.
PowerUp! – What do you think players will need to understand before playing QL and what is the most difficult lesson to learn?
BA – Oh boy, if there’s a single problem harder than making a time loop game, is actually explaining it to someone else!
The thing with time travel is that it’s not really something our brains are wired to easily understand. All the games, movies and books our players may have encountered before playing our game almost always deal with time travel from an external observer’s point of view. Quantum League puts them in the time traveler’s perspective, and while I guess it’s something only video games can pull off, it’s still counterintuitive to most people.
But Quantum League is an immensely rewarding game that opens up once you get past that hump!
PowerUp! – What are you most proud of and excited by in QL?
BA – Hands down what makes me the most proud of the game is seeing the reactions of some of our streamers whenever they pull off a crazy time travel strategy, or clutch a match at the very last millisecond.
These are just two recent examples. Those moments make all the years working on this crazy concept worth it, and make everyone on the team excited to see those kinds of reactions everywhere once we launch!
Thanks to Balthazar Auger and Nimble Giant Entertainment.
Quantum League will be available for PC, PS4, Switch and Xbox One in 2020.