GDC 2012: Forty minutes with Derek Smart and Line of Defense

Line of Defense - Fighter banking over Frostbite base

"I didn't want to make another Derek Smart game because usually when you mention 'Derek Smart' and 'game', gamers tend to run in the opposite direction," Smart told us when we asked about Line of Defense.

That's quite a candid intro, and it set the stage for an interesting 40-minute interview that featured plenty of insights into 3000AD's latest offering. Smart, of course, has something of a notorious reputation in the online community, and while we won't go into that here, it is worth noting that he's focusing on the work and letting his game do the talking.

Line of Defense - Frostbite base

3000AD's latest title is a sci-fi MMOFPS (and pure PvP game) set in the same distant future as the company's previous efforts. It features two factions, a large open world, and a free-to-play business model. Smart told us that it basically functions with eight keys -- your standard WASD layout plus a couple of additional binds.

"I have my own niche, my own install base that buy all of my games, but the more the industry changed, and the older I got, the more I realized I needed to be more flexible," he explains. Earlier games like All Aspect Warfare and Universal Combat featured a complex array of keys and commands, and Smart told us that Line of Defense will make large-scale warfare more accessible.

He loads up an early build on his laptop and spawns a solitary soldier avatar. Character customization is pretty basic, he says, and though the world is still huge, it's smaller than many of his previous titles. "By making it smaller," he explains, "we could make it more detailed." He spawns the avatar into a gigantic desert-themed complex. Each Line of Defense base is designed around eight separate capture points, and though the locales feature a lot of space, Smart says he intends most of the fighting to take place in and around the core objectives.

Later on he took us through an arctic base, the interior of a massive space cruiser, and a bombed out city, the last of which features quite a number of building hulks that look pretty inviting if you're a sniper. Each building is fully rendered inside and out, so you can take cover or take the fight up a flight of stairs if you wish.

Line of Defense - zone door above a base

Hovering over each base is a giant Stargate-like contraption that functions as a zone door. Entering it brings up a menu that allows for instant travel to various other bases, space stations and conflict zones. How do you enter it? Via one of the game's numerous aircraft.

There are two fighters nearby, both fairly sleek and with room enough for a pilot and passenger. There's also a big, blocky transport with a big empty cargo bay. Smart says you can drive vehicles into it and transport them to and fro around the game's conflict zones (though we didn't get to see this particular feature). He lifts off in one of the fighters and charts a slow, steady course around the desert base, making sure we notice the scale of the game world, the terrain and building detail, and various choke points.

Smart then jumps out of the cockpit and tucks the avatar's arms into its sides, dropping like a rock. He deploys some sort of wingsuit contraption, and the avatar glides quite nicely; Smart steers with the mouse camera. He aims for a nearby building, and as it looms larger, he pulls a virtual ripcord and deploys a parachute, which seems to give him finer control for the final stage of the descent. He guides the avatar down to a landing platform, and we get a good view of the base as well as another potential sniping perch.

As for the game's business model, Smart reaffirms what we learned in an earlier interview. Line of Defense is completely free-to-play, since you can convert earned XP into the certification points needed to unlock weapons and gear. You'll be able to buy additional weapons and weapon attachments, and probably other items to speed your progress (but no vanity gear -- Smart says it's not that kind of game).

Players can either purchase the client (and get some starter items as well as the ability to choose your starting character) or download the free client and play with a randomly chosen starter avatar. Either way, there's no sub fee.

Smart says Line of Defense is currently in alpha, and the demo's rough textures -- as well as a few unfinished art assets -- confirm as much. He says his 12-member development team is crunching hard, though, and he expects an invite-only beta to happen as May leads into June.

Massively sent four resolute reporters to San Francisco to bring you back the biggest MMO news from this year's GDC, the largest pro-only gaming industry con in the world! From games like The Secret World to PlanetSide 2, we're on the case, so stay tuned for all the highlights from the show!