Additionally, the game's CEO, Mark Long, and Head of Studio, Don Norbury shared their insights, inspirations, and general thoughts on the blockchain and what makes the technology so important for the next generation of gaming.
Shrapnel's lore is set in a not-too-distant future where a massive exosolar asteroid has collided with the moon, causing Saturn-like rings to form around it. These rings proceed to bombard the Earth along a 500-kilometer-wide band -- which was quickly evacuated and is now known as the "Sacrifice Zone" or just "The Zone" for short.
Inside The Zone, valuable materials were discovered, eventually to be known and named Shrapnel. With the area being too large for any one military force to control, and the value of the materials being so exorbitant -- mercenaries soon populated the area, extracting Shrapnel and killing anyone in their way.
As research of the materials carried on, scientists found that in its refined form (Compound Sigma), the Shrapnel allows behaviors that occur in quantum mechanics to manifest into the realm of classical physics. This means that chance can be manipulated, objects can become physically linked despite being separate, and even the relationship between cause and effect can be flipped.
"The rules are simple. Survive."
Players join what are called Mercenary Extraction Forces and battle in high stake extraction-style multistage events, where you either come out alive with loot or potentially lose what you go in with.
Other aspects of the game include a variety of operator classes to choose from, each with its own skill sets, and the ability to strategically combine and craft different pieces of gear.
Exclusive First Look:
Shrapnel's trailer itself is already a significant feat for blockchain gaming as a whole. Built on Epic Games' Unreal Engine 5, the world's most advanced real-time 3D creation tool, the trailer reflects the blockbuster quality gameplay and graphics that players can expect to see and that they have come to know and love in current Web2 game offerings.
To produce a video of such high quality, a host of industry veterans and experienced studios came together. It was produced in partnership with Sydney-based animation studio Plastic Wax, which has worked on such titles as Fortnite, Tomb Radar, Hitman, and more.
The trailer was written by Shrapnel's CEO Mark Long, and directed by gaming legend Jerry O'Flaherty, behind Gears of War and other significant titles. The music for the trailer was produced by BAFTA award-winning composer Jesper Kyd, with sound supervision by the Oscar-nominated sound producer Alan Rankin.
"Producing this trailer was one of the most awesome creative collaborations I’ve ever had. This was my third time working with Jerry O’Flaherty. Like everyone on the team, Jerry is an expert in the cinematic application of Unreal Engine, and Jerry knew how to get the kind of 'you are there' immediacy of a handheld virtual camera that the script demanded," shared Long, adding "the team at Plastic Wax directed a brilliant pair of stunt actors for MOCAP and the creative director there, Nathan Maddams, brought the script to life in a way I never imagined possible. Alan Rankin has a passion for foley that produced an authentic sound design that really sells the action. And Jesper Kyd knocked the score out of the park on the first try. There’s an easter egg with artwork by a Shrapnel community member on a billboard that was fun to slip in. And you’ll notice that the trailer switches to first-person at the end - inviting players to jump in, symbolically. I love everything about this trailer!"
A portion of Shrapnel's team comes from HBO Interactive, with a massive combined set of skills and experience in transmedia, virtual production, and gaming-as-a-service. The team is also joined by BAFTA and Emmy award-winning game industry veterans from companies like Xbox, Electronic Arts, and LucasFilm.
Together they aim to provide immersive and thrilling competitive gameplay that meets modern standards if not exceeds them -- as well as drive the space into the future through play to own concepts and community-created aspects made possible through blockchain technology.
Barrier to Entry
Long, a 26-year game industry veteran has produced over 32 titles, ranging from platforms like the SEGA Genesis to Oculus Rift. The one area he's highlighted as an obstacle that is yet to be overcome is the various intricacies involved in Web3 participation -- specifically wallets.
"I feel like we’re in the dial-up modem era of blockchain," said Long, adding "really only the most fundamental tools and services are available to build with. Wallets in particular are ridiculously hard to set up and use. AAA players aren't going to put up with any of that friction and complexity. So our challenge is pushing that experience into the background so you’re not even thinking about it and instead are having fun with your friends."
Other challenges, which Don Norbury, the game's Head of Studio shared, included the aspect of team culture -- between those who primarily come from the traditional gaming world and the developers on the Web3 side.
"Our team culture that balances between AAA game dev process and a web3 approach has simultaneously been the most challenging and most rewarding part of our experience thus far, he said, adding that "Most of our game team members have spent decades building successful AAA games – and those experiences build muscle around what’s required for success."
He went on to share that "our web3 team is accustomed to highly visible and high-frequency engagement on all fronts. Our game-dev approach is embracing rapid community involvement, frequent updates, and revealing in-progress designs and assets. As a result, we mitigate 'shipping fatigue' [when a team burns out from not shipping anything for long periods of time] and gain an understanding of our community and their desires. Our web3 team is gaining an appreciation of strong creative process and how long it takes to refine a quality product."
Play to Own
One major aspect that is at the core of Shrapnel is the idea of play to own. Chances are, if you're reading this you're into gaming and you've had a favorite game in the past that may have been shut down, you forgot login info for, or just don't have a console that supports it anymore.
Oftentimes, all gamers will have left are memories of the games they've played and enjoyed over the years -- blockchain technology changes this. Now, users can store data that is immutable and essentially eternal, which they can then look back on in years to come. Not to mention, in-game assets are owned by the user and can be traded, sold, or transferred at their discretion.
Even Vitalik Buterin says that the creation of Ethereum was in part inspired due to his World of Warcraft character being nerfed by game developers, which awakened him to the "horrors centralized services can bring." Something that would never happen in a blockchain-based game like Shrapnel.
"I’m really intrigued by the concept of digital ownership," shared Long.
"Probably like you, I used to take games to Gamestop when I was done with them and trade them in for discounts on new games," he shared, adding "we lost that when discs went away and in-app purchases became dominant. You never really own what you buy now. Blockchain could change that."
"Ownership, interoperability, and transportability – are clever utility expressions of those concepts. These pieces will break down existing barriers that are primarily a result of business practices that are largely zero-sum in the gaming industry," explained Norbury.
A Word of Advice
The Web3 space has seen projects in the hundreds start with a profile picture NFT offering, with grand plans and promises for a "AAA quality game," to be created with the proceeds. The issue is, many don't know the amount of funding, experience, and time this takes.
In regard to projects like these, Shrapnel's Long and Norbury share a few words of advice:
For newcomers, Norbury says, "start small. Now make it smaller. Repeat. Making quality generative art for PFPs isn’t easy – but making something interactive is orders of magnitude more complex," he added that this is the same advice he would give in the traditional gaming development space.
Similarly, Long shared that "making games is really hard. A lot of those teams come from blockchain backgrounds, not gaming. They don’t realize what they’ve signed up for. Not every blockchain game has to be AAA to find an audience. My advice is to start smaller. The audience for indie games is more forgiving and has a broader sense of what a game can be."
Community and Interoperability
Hypemoon asked how the game has been able to shorten time horizons for release and if the community-centric aspect had any impact on the process.
"Fortunately Shrapnel is multiplayer only, so we don’t have to design and develop 40 hours of the single-player experience. We’ll be sharing early access versions to get feedback beginning next spring," said Long.
Norbury added that "we have expedited the process by working closely with development partners to shore up underlying systems and iterate as quickly as possible – which is the critical ingredient to game success."
He went on to share that "the community input and the quality of the community in general, has been phenomenal. They’re ridiculously insightful and have absolutely helped guide development – and will continue to do so as the game progresses."
These principles carry into the gameplay experience itself, with players being encouraged to "Build it, Play it, and Discover it."
Through a unique set of creator tools, users can build various experiences that they want to play, and create vanity items, weapon skins, and maps. This also fuels the game economy through the ability to sell these assets to other players as NFTs.
Voted by the community… ?
The Rabbit’s Foot canister makes an early appearance ?
— SHRAPNEL ? (@playSHRAPNEL) September 27, 2022
Long shares more detail, stating that "besides an extraction FPS, we’re building a UGC (user-generated content) platform with a level editor and other tools that will allow players to turn Shrapnel into a completely different game if they want," which he says is a form of interoperability.
On the same note of interoperability, Norbury shares that "we’re actively working with other projects and teams to ensure Shrapnel items that you own will grant you expressions beyond Shrapnel’s universe and marketplace, and vice-versa."
Choosing the Right Chain
Quite possibly one of the hardest and most important decisions when creating anything on the blockchain, is choosing the right chain to host your creation. In the case of Shrapnel, Avalanche was the chain of choice, primarily because it is carbon neutral.
"Choosing a chain was a big decision," shared Long, explaining that "first and most important to the team, Avalanche is carbon neutral. We are not going to be part of frying the planet with proof-of-work lunacy. Also important was the ability to run our own subnets which eliminates failure and congestion, as well as collision risks. And if our nodes did fail, we can fall back to the AVAX main net."
Long shared that right now, the team is focused on making a solid extraction FPS for PC that is super fun. But that if and when they pull that off "we'll be happy and can think about mobile." Something that is an exciting prospect for adoption, as over 80% of the world's population uses a smartphone.
In terms of alpha, Norbury said "Don't blink," and teased that gameplay footage will be coming sooner than anyone expects.
By Gamers for Gamers
While the statement "by x for x," is seen quite often in various marketing campaigns, it couldn't be more accurate in this case. Both Mark and Don have shown that this is not just a product to them -- rather a lifelong dream of theirs and a culmination of both passion and experience.
"It’s been a dream of mine to make Shrapnel for years, said Long, sharing that "it's really blockchain that has made it possible."
Diving into some of his inspiration, Long shared "I love FPS’s. All the classics. Doom II rocked my world. GoldenEye drove me nuts trying to beat that last level. HalfLife II LAN games in the studio every day at lunch, oh my god. HALO proved me wrong - you can make a console FPS. Call of Duty’s production values stuns me with every new release. And lately, Tarkov is the game that seems to hate me for wanting to play it. It’s so flawed, but I can’t help myself!"
Norbury also shared his love for gaming and some of his greatest inspirations, in comments that he says successfully age himself.
The first 'Wing Commander: Privateer,' Norbury shared that "it absolutely blew my mind as a kid and is still important to me today. Aside from just being a sci-fi space game (which I love), the game had this fantastic emotion of discovery and expansion that few games pull off these days. You start on this backwater asteroid with a rust-bucket ship and then discover over time 'Holy crap… this is just a small corner of a sector, and this sector is just a SMALL CORNER OF THIS HUGE GALAXY MAP'. It really draws out mystery and exploration and these emotions that are entwined better than anything that has proceeded."
Other games included 'Thinkquick' and 'Neverwinter Nights,' both of which included creator aspects and one that he credits for landing him his first job in the industry.
"Thinkquick was the first game I played VERY young – and without realizing it, was my first game-design activity. It is a 2D puzzle game with an editor and I would sit for hours building my own levels," Norbury shared.
"Fantastic game and story aside: 'Neverwinter Nights' was bundled with an amazing toolset. I used this to manipulate and import assets, and build my own campaigns based on the Dragonlance 'green book' (Dragons of Autumn Twilight). Ultimately, that’s what caught the notice of a game studio and landed me my first job in the game industry. I’ll have to throw an honorable mention in here for Rocket League. There are no other games I’m aware of with such emergent physical expression and focused stadium play. It’s one of the games I will always return to for mechanical inspiration and fun."
With both Long and Norbury being such avid gamers and experienced veterans, Shrapnel, as one of the first moddable blockchain-based games is sure to set the tone for those who follow in its footsteps.
Through true ownership, dynamic experiences, and a creator-led economy, the game is positioning itself to be amongst the most enjoyable gaming offerings to hit Web3 yet.
For more on blockchain, cryptocurrency, NFTs, and Web3, visit Hypemoon.com.