Blacklight: Retribution Senior Producer Talks About Free-to-Play and Co-op in Exclusive Interview

Zombie Studios' Mark Hill talks about Blacklight and the secrets of making a free success

By Andrei Dobra on February 26th, 2013 15:14 GMT

Blacklight: Retribution will receive a brand new content update tomorrow, February 27, in the form of the Onslaught one, and Softpedia got a chance to talk with the game's Senior Producer, Mark Hill, in an exclusive interview.

Read on to learn about the new update, how developer Zombie Studios added a cooperative experience to the free-to-play first-person shooter, and what titles such as Retribution need to do in order to keep fans connected.

Softpedia: Blacklight: Retribution's new Onslaught DLC certainly brings quite a few new things, including the actual Onslaught mode. Was a co-op experience a highly requested feature by players? How much feedback do you incorporate in update plans for the game?

Mark Hill: Yes. The upcoming Onslaught mode and the Search and Destroy mode were both specifically requested by Blacklight players. Both Perfect World and the developers at Zombie Studios definitely take feedback, suggestions and requests from our players seriously.

However, I do want to point out the new content coming up with the Blacklight: Retribution Onslaught expansion will be 100% free. For me, DLC seems to imply paid content. As Blacklight is free-to-play game, it’s important that we continue to regularly provide new features and improvements to the game. The back-and-forth between the Blacklight community and the developers at Zombie Studios is one of the reasons why Blacklight is still one of the 50 most played games on Steam today one year after launch.

Softpedia: Cooperative action can be fun for players with friends but excruciating for those who rely mostly on playing with strangers. Have you added certain mechanics to make playing with people you don't know easier?

Mark Hill: Definitely. While co-op with friends is always the best, we expect that Onslaught will still be a fun and rewarding experience for players joining groups with strangers. Your team is charged with surviving against increasingly difficult waves of enemies and there will be objectives throughout the round that will keep teams moving across the map.

This is where user interface becomes so important in terms of making sure that Onslaught is challenging and fun, but also intuitive. Blacklight’s HRV (Hyper-Reality Visor) system, which lets players identify friendly and hostile units, will help everyone on the team know where enemy hordes are charging from and where key objectives are. So while the kind of close communication and teamwork that’s much more common in groups with close friends will likely yield the best results, we think that players joining matches with strangers will still have tons of fun.

Softpedia: Considering co-op modes are becoming really important for games (Dead Space 3, Borderlands 2, Mass Effect 3), are you planning any other new modes or experiences that strictly emphasize cooperation?

Mark Hill: Blacklight: Retribution has always been primarily, a competitive FPS. So with the new Onslaught mode, this is our first true PvE experience. As we approach Blacklight’s one-year anniversary, it’s truly impressive to look back and see all the new maps, modes, features, weapons, tactical gear, and improvements that Zombie Studios has added to the game. So while I can’t speak about any new modes specifically at the moment, it’s safe to say that we are always thinking about how we can continue to make Blacklight better.

Softpedia: Free-to-play games still bear an annoying stigma that they're essentially pay-to-win, especially competitive experiences like Blacklight. What efforts are you doing to open the eyes of those interested in the game?

Mark Hill: If Blacklight were pay-to-win, the game wouldn’t have succeeded or fit in with Perfect World’s and Zombie Studios’ goals and philosophy. We wanted to launch a high-quality, competitive, and free-to-play FPS, which just wouldn’t have been possible had we made it “pay-to-win.”

So how does Blacklight avoid that trap? First, comes balance and choice. Players have over 12 million options when it comes to configuring their weapons with various scopes, barrels, stocks, etc. But there is no one “auto win” weapon or combination. You might, for example, build a rifle with incredibly high damage, for example, but in doing so, the player will probably find themselves with lower stats in other areas, like accuracy or reload speed for example. It’s the “sidegrade” approach.

Next, comes Blacklight’s GP system, which allows players to earn currency by playing the game. Just about every item that players can buy with real money can be temporarily unlocked with GP just by playing the game. It’s also worth noting that with Blacklight, players can quickly earn enough GP to start trying out and experimenting with tons of new weapons, weapon parts, and gear without having to grind, thus also avoiding the “wait-or-pay” method.

But don’t just take my word for it when I say that Blacklight: Retribution is “free-to-play” not “pay-to-win.” I encourage you and your readers to try it out.

Softpedia: Do you think next-generation consoles will embrace free-to-play titles like Blacklight? Are you planning on embracing them? What features would you like to see in the PlayStation 4 or Xbox 720 that would make your life easier?

Mark Hill: I can’t really speak to Sony’s or Microsoft’s plans about more free-to-play titles on XBLA or PSN, but you can already see the beginnings of more free-to-play titles on consoles with titles like DC Universe Online and Free Realms. What I can say is that the free-to-play model has been very successful for Blacklight: Retribution and that we are interested in discussing the possibility of introducing Blacklight to other platforms as we have already done with Steam.

Blacklight: Retribution will receive its Onslaught content update tomorrow, February 27, via Steam, for free.
Blacklight: Retribution is a free-to-play success
   Blacklight: Retribution is a free-to-play success
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