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Uber Entertainment explains Super Monday Night Combat's lessened lethality

Later this year or early next year, Uber Entertainment's going to try and thread a fairly dangerous needle. The studio, which saw success with its very first product, the XBLA and PC shooter Monday Night Combat, is trying to branch the franchise out into the increasingly populated free-to-play space. To do so successfully, it'll need to maintain its community's good will with some substantial -- but not too substantial -- changes.

"Super Monday Night Combat is going to be the same basic world," Uber Entertainment creative director John Comes explained to us at PAX last week. "We still have the same kind of lightheartedness, with the announcer and the mascot -- that same happy, fast, punchy game." The development team won't leave the formula entirely untouched, however. "Some of the balance has changed," Comes added. "Mainly, the lethality has been lowered a bit, which we've found makes for more frantic fights."

Gallery: Super Monday Night Combat (8/20/11) | 16 Photos

Executive producer Chandana Ekanayake explained how much of a different this life-elongation made to the original recipe, saying, "The first was a small snack of a game, so to add more depth and more strategy, we lowered the lethality. There's no instant deaths, aside from ringouts. There's no one-hit assassinations or headshots. You'll last longer, and what we saw in playtests is that when we did that, it promoted more team play. You naturally team up with someone else to take down an opponent."

"The issue with low lethality games," Ekanayake added, "is people don't feel powerful, but you've still got the bots there, so you can still feel good blowing stuff up."

You'll be doing wreaking that havoc in the competitive "Crossfire" mode from the original game, which has had its number of maximum players brought down from six-on-six to five-on-five. For those unfamiliar with the original, the game follows a DotA-esque formula, tasking you with bringing down the enemy's Moneyball with spawned AI bots while protecting your own 'ball and turret defenses from your foes' troops (and your foes themselves).

You'll be able to play as one of the nine playable "Pros" which have been announced thus far: The six characters from MNC Classic (Assault, Tank, Sniper, Support, Gunner and Assassin) and three entirely new brawlers. Comes explained that additional characters over the original six will have their own gear and abilities, but will fit into archetypes carved out by the core cast.

"The Gunslinger's kind of a Sniper class; she's all about her guns, and getting headshots and that sort of thing," Comes explained. "We have the Veteran; he's kind of big and is focused on doing grapples, and has this grappling hook he can use to yank people towards him. And then there's the Combat Girl, who's a clone of Pit Girl, who's more of a Support class. She has Kitty Turrets she can throw out and they stick on walls and stuff, and has this Heal Gun that can heal multiple targets with one beam."

The expanding roster of character will be part-and-parcel with the game's free-to-play business model, Comes explained. "Because we want everyone to experience all of Super Monday Night Combat without having to pay," he added, "we're going to be rotating the characters. Different characters will be free every week, or whatever time frame we decide. If you want to play Combat Girl but she's not available this week, there's a good chance she'll be available next week or the week after, so you will get to play her. If you go ahead and purchase her, you'll be allowed to play as her any time, obviously."

Once you've selected your preferred Pro, SMNC will give you the opportunity to customize them a bit more thoroughly than its predecessor. Comes explained that players can mix-and-match components from different skins and equip up to 25 Endorsements per Pro, further fine-tuning the way you play the game. There will also be new "Products" for you to equip, which adds another passive modifier to your brawler-of-choice. In each game, your character can gain experience to reach a Level 15 cap, unlocking and enhancing four special skills (that's one more than the last game allowed).

The impetus for expanding the franchise was twofold, Comes explained. "Working on the Steam version of Monday Night Combat Classic, we really like the opportunity to update it frequently. That's how we like to work internally – it was good that we could put it out there, and if we wanted to try something new, we could put it out there and see how the fans would react, tweak it and tweak it, and we liked working that way."

"When we looked at what to do next," Comes added, "we always wanted to make Monday Night Combat free-to-play, and when we decided to do Super Monday Night Combat, it was a no-brainer. Free-to-play is what we wanted to do in the first place, and we get to update it very often, which is great."

The real question is whether the game's community -- which has thrived a bit more on PC thanks to its frequent update schedule -- will migrate to the new title. With an extensive beta process planned in the months preceding the game's launch, as well as a beefy incentive program which rewards Monday Night Combat purchasers with bonuses in SMNC, Uber Entertainment's already on the right track.

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