Hi-Rez Studios’ Todd Harris talks about SMITE

[Originally posted to my PC gaming column at Examiner.com]

At PAX Prime 2013 Todd Harris, Chief Operating Officer and Co-Found of Hi-Rez Studios, sat down for a talk about what’s coming next to SMITE, Hi-Rez Studios’ divinely inspired MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) that brings a whole new perspective to a genre.

For the uninitiated, SMITE is a free-to-play MOBA game in much the same vein as League of Legends and Dota 2. “Champions” are all gods, demigods, or heroes of myth and legend, currently drawn from a number of pantheons: Greek, Roman, Hindu, Norse, Mayan, Chinese, and Egyptian.

What sets SMITE apart from its better-known brethren, however, is its perspective and controls. Instead of using an overhead camera and click-to-move controls common to RTS (real time strategy) games, SMITE puts you closer to the action—the camera is over-the-shoulder style and movement is handled through the W-A-S-D keys.

This gives SMITE more of an ‘action game’ feel, even though its gameplay and mechanics are otherwise fundamentally the same as other games of its ilk.

SMITE is currently in open beta, and Todd Harris sat down with me at PAX Prime 2013 for a chat about what’s next. (And in the interest of full disclosure, I have become a huge SMITE fan in recent months.)

SMITE was initially slated to release around the end of summer. Is that still the case?

We had a number of initial goals we wanted to reach before we considered shipping. First it was 30 gods. Then it was 40 gods. But now we’re largely thinking “when it’s ready”. Realistically, it won’t be ready before the end of this year.

What can you reveal about your player base? How big is it?

We currently have more than two million registered users. Recently we were also one of the most watched shows on Twitch TV, with more than a million views. I think we managed to be among the top 12-15 games on Steam as well at one point, even though SMITE isn’t actually a Steam game.

You’ve got a sizable roster of gods now, but do you have plans for introducing any new pantheons?

Right now, no. At this point we’re working on re-visiting some of the older characters and giving them improved looks, better textures, effects, and other improvements. Once we get everything to where we want it, then we’ll look at adding new pantheons later.

Just out of curiosity, why did you split the Greek and Roman pantheon? They are virtually identical.

The Greek and Roman pantheons are indeed virtually the same gods with different names; but they are also the gods many North Americans and Europeans are familiar with and want to play. We wanted to include a large number from that collective family of gods and this way we can use the name more players are familiar with. For example more people recognize name Cupid, the Roman name, than Eros, which is his Greek name.

So what’s coming next to the pantheons, aside from the much awaited Sun Wukong revamp?

Odin is going to get some love and a new model in our next update, which should be coming out before September 6th. We’re trying to fit in a new god re-work roughly every two weeks, along with whatever balance tweaks, new gods, and other things. Generally we’re trying to roll out a ‘makeover’ along with every new god we introduce.

[UPDATE: The "Odin Patch" is now live -- The new Odin looks 792% more badass than he did before, and Loki gets a Tribes "Infiltrator" skin. Video below.]

Will older characters like Bastet get some love too? She looks pretty lame compared to the new gods…

At some point. Actually, Hel is one of the most community-requested re-works at the moment.

What other things are you considering or can we expect to see?

We’re currently experimenting with a possible 10 versus 10 arena style game mode. This would probably just be a match-of-the-day type thing, but we’ve been playing with it in the office and it’s turning out to be ridiculous, crazy fun. It’s complete mayhem.

We’re also thinking about introducing more in-between mastery levels for the gods. Right now you can get a Golden Skin at god rank 1 and Legendary skin at god rank 10, so we’re thinking about adding more incremental levels before god rank 1, and maybe something between 1 and 10. It takes a lot of play time just to earn god rank 1 as it is.

We may look at adding dance emotes or other fun things down the road, but if we do anything like that it will come much later.

Will you be introducing or adding more the SMITE ‘metagame’ as the player levels?

Our current thinking is to avoid out of match advancement that affects game balance. So nothing like Runes system. We more envision leveling that only affects prestige/status/cosmetics such as current God Mastery system.

Before you have to go…is anything going to happen for Tribes any time soon?

Tribes development will basically be on hold until SMITE is released, though we were thinking about releasing a map editor or something in the meantime.

Recap

SMITE is still a ways from an official “launch”, but the community is relatively strong and the game is a somewhat refreshing take on the MOBA—even if it’s mostly based upon just the camera view and a control scheme shift.

The lack of a ‘Rune’ system may remove some depth from the game compared to League of Legends, but in the long run it seems like a good thing because it completely removes even the slightest ‘pay to win’ element from the game.

(And if you decide to try out the game, you’ve got plenty of time to hit player level 30 during the beta, which grants you the exclusive “Cacodemon” skin for Ymir.)

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