John Gibson: Given the way we got our start as a mod team we've got very deep ties to the mod community, and believe some of the best innovation comes from the mod community. Over the past few years we've also developed a really symbiotic relationship with the mod community for our games. We've held several mapping competitions where we've put up prizes to reward the best community mappers. We've even taken some of the best maps and mods and included them as official content for our games. This is good for us as it keeps our games in peoples minds and keeps them selling, it is good for the modders as they get to hone their game development skills and possibly get jobs in the industry (we recently hired two developers out of our mod community), and most importantly the fans win because they get a lot of additional free content. The modders for our games have created some really great stuff with a lot of it being professional quality. Right now for instance 30 percent of all the players playing the original Red Orchestra are playing one of the mods called Darkest Hour. That says a lot for the quality of work coming out of the community.
As we were developing Heroes of Stalingrad we came up with some ideas on how we could take these concepts even further. So we came up with the idea for a crazy experiment we called the "All Star Mod Team." We would reach out to the mod community for Red Orchestra and the modding community at large and try and assemble a team of the best modders in the industry. We would then offer them the opportunity to work on a project under the guidance of Tripwire Interactive with an opportunity to actually earn some real money for their work. These guys would get early access to the modding SDK and actually be developing the expansion in parallel with Heroes of Stalingrad. One problem that often plagues mods is that it takes so long to make a quality total conversion mod that they often don't get released until a couple of years after the original game is released. This means a lot of a game's player base has moved on to other games by the time the best mods get released, and a lot of really great mods get overlooked (Mare Nostrum, NeoTokyo, Insurgency, Carpathian Crosses just to name a few). So we wanted to engage a mod team early on so that they can get something out the door while Heroes of Stalingrad is still fresh.
Alan Wilson: We wanted to be able to expand on the original theater for RO. We also wanted to get behind the modders who have done so much work on RO over the last few years. This way, a bunch of them get a great opportunity both to show what they can do AND earn money – and we get extra material for Heroes at a reasonably early stage. Most good mods for games take a year or two to make and we wanted this material available a lot sooner than that.
Why set the expansion in the Pacific Theater of WWII?
John Gibson: We have been itching for a while to branch out into a different area of WWII. While I won't say we won't ever do it, the whole Normandy setting is well trodden. The Pacific Theater has been done a little bit, but we think it is still fresh enough that it is a good setting to do a Pacific Theater game the Red Orchestra way. And for me it is also a bit personal as both of my grandfathers fought in the Pacific, one in the Navy and the other in the Army.
Alan Wilson: Because it is another theater that hasn't been explored from both sides. It makes a change from the European theaters – and it was, like the Russian Front, very brutal, in-your-face combat – which suits the RO style of game.
What can mod makers who want to join the Rising Storm team expect in terms of compensation?
John Gibson: As I mentioned earlier this is all new territory for the games industry and a big experiment for us. We really wanted to give a mod team an unprecedented opportunity. So this is what we are offering the mod team. If at the end of development Rising Storm is just a pretty good mod, we'll release it as an official mod for Heroes of Stalingrad the same way we've done for a couple of the mods for Red Orchestra: Ostfront 41-45. With an official mod we distribute it through Steam as essentially free DLC that anyone that owns the base game can get for free. We did this in the past for the Darkest Hour and Mare Nostrum mods for Red Orchestra: Ostfront and Defense Alliance 2 for Killing Floor.
Now here is where the real opportunity comes in for the mod team. If Rising Storm turns out to be really great then we'll actually turn it into a full paid add-on for Heroes of Stalingrad. This could very well involve us bringing the expansion in-house to give it additional QA and professional polish. The kicker is if we release Rising Storm as paid DLC we'll be sharing a percentage of the royalties with the mod team. This means that if Rising Storm does really well each member of the mod team could pocket a significant amount of money. And to ensure that the mod team gets something out of it, we're going to pay the mod team a completion bonus whether it becomes DLC or not. As the lines between the fans and the developers blur we think projects like this could be an all new way of making games. Of course it is an experiment, so we'll find out in the end how it all turns out.
John Gibson: Heroes of Stalingrad is deep in production and on schedule for a 2011 release. We'll be doing some semi-public beta testing later this year so fans should keep an eye out for announcements about that. Rising Storm is just getting started with a really solid core team shaping up. Tony Gillham (formerly of the Darkest Hour and Carpathian Crosses mod teams) is heading up the project, with Mark Dittman of After-Hourz/Minion Workz fame heading up the level design team. The team is still taking applications, so if you think you have what it takes, head on over to their website and apply.
Finally we have to ask about Killing Floor. Are there any plans to add new content to the game and are there any plans for a sequel?
John Gibson: We're cranking away on a new free content pack for Killing Floor right now. The content pack will feature some more of the best custom maps from the Grindhouse Mapping Competition polished up for official release. The content pack will also feature something new for the Firebug (although probably not something people will expect). We've also been listening to the community, and have a whole batch of balance changes we're working on for the release. Regarding plans for a Killing Floor sequel, well I would say something but there is a Fleshpound with a glowing red chest and spinning arm blades behind me threatening to grind me up if I say anything.