Monaco seemed to linger in development limbo forever because it received attention from the IGF early in its production process. In reality, it took 3.5 years to come out. Schatz's new project, codenamed Armada, is a vague concept at this point: He has a clear vision for the design, but the theme, style and development team – not to mention the name – are all still up in the air. He announced it anyway.
"I don't care this time because, fuck it," Schatz tells me at GDC.
He's not going to release a game until "it's worth buying," but this time around he plans to throw Armada up on Steam Early Access and get player feedback. Monaco launched on XBLA, so Early Access was out of the question.
Schatz isn't shooting completely in the dark with Armada – he knows what type of game it's going to be, and he has an idea for the theme. He wants to build an RTS with MOBA elements, something accessible yet still complex. In the way Monaco twisted the stealth genre, he wants Armada to feel familiar to RTS players, but with layers that smooth out the learning curve. He throws around the name StarCraft, and elements such as "champions" and "decks."
Schatz makes it clear that while he has a concept for setting and theme in his mind, it isn't final and he doesn't want to box himself into something before speaking with a final team. For now, Armada's concept is as follows:
"Valhalla is real. If Valhalla is real and it's been real for all time, the concept of Valhalla is that it's heaven, where warriors go when they die in battle, right? So it's a real-time strategy game with autonomous units .... The buildings that you create are portals to the times throughout history where these warriors are dying, and then they're popping out into Valhalla and going with you onto the field of battle. It's all of history: Spartans fighting with vikings, fighting with medieval warriors fighting with Marines, fighting with Nazi storm troopers fighting with dinosaurs, fighting with sharks fighting with robots. If a warrior dies in battle throughout all past history and future history, they end up in Valhalla, and during the day the fight and during the night they drink. The next day, they wake up and do it all again."
Again, that's just for now. As for the genre meld, Schatz sees the game as an RTS first, with MOBA and Netrunner or Magic: The Gathering elements.
"As the player, you play a champion, and you can walk around the world, similar to a MOBA, and there's autonomous units that are helping you out," Schatz says. "They're on your team, but you don't control them; you don't give them orders. Because it's an RTS, and not a MOBA, we're taking some of that MOBA stuff – you've got a champion, you've got autonomous units – and we're sticking all of the cool RTS stuff back into it. So we're allowing you to build a base, we're allowing you to be creative in how you build a base."
StarCraft, Schatz notes, takes a good six months of training to make gameplay feel instinctual. He wants to remove that training.
"I want to do the thing with RTS that we did with Monaco, with the stealth genre, and that's constrain the control set in order to make the actual, physical interaction easy to pick up without limiting the complexity of the game itself," Schatz says. "Monaco's a pretty complex game, right? But there's one button and two analog sticks. It's accessible – not accessible in a way that's for casuals. It's something you can just jump into and instantly start addressing the game design, rather than the physical interaction."
He continued, "Of the 100 percent of people who want to play a real-time strategy game, 90 percent don't because they don't have Korean-level APM."
Schatz has pitched this idea to roughly 40 people at GDC, and all of them – every single person – has connected with that angle and said, "Yeah, that's me."
Schatz isn't putting a timeline on Armada, but he plans to stream development on Twitch. As for Monaco, he'll continue to support the community, but work on that game is largely done after the next free patch launches in about two weeks. "It's time to move forward," he says.