We Talk Earthfall With Holospark CEO Russell Williams

Recently I spoke with the CEO of Holospark: Russell Williams about their pending game Earthfall. I first played the game last year at PAX West and loved the mix of Four player gaming against hordes of alien invaders.



What is the background and setting for the game?

Fifteen years from now, a meteor strikes Seattle, giving off an EMP that knocks out most electronics in the area. Monsters swarm out of the impact zone, overrunning the defenders and devouring their victims. Now, one year later, a ragtag group of survivors in the Cascade Mountains fight to protect the last remnants of humanity.


What are some of the locales players will encounter and are they divided by levels or chapters?

We have very different types of maps, both in visuals and in gameplay. For example, in one of our levels, players explore a refugee camp in the frosty cold morning with a beautiful sunrise. This map is very focused on objectives, with players moving back and forth to complete the objectives while restocking from a centrally located supply point. In another map, players explore an abandoned data center located deep under the mountains, trying to escape from it before they’re overwhelmed by the aliens.


Levels are organized via campaigns (groups of levels which collectively tell a specific story) and in specific game modes.


What can you tell us about the characters in the game?

We wanted an “everyman” feel to the characters, but to also have a clear structure to their personalities and how they relate to one another. Roy is ex-Coast Guard, and the leader of the group. He’s the oldest, and is the quiet strength of the group. He has to reign in Maya, encourage Danny, and kick Jonas to keep him moving.


Maya was a college athlete, and that same competitive fire has turned her into quite the fighter. She’s also the self-appointed second-in-command to Roy, and is the one who’s going to go in guns blazing.


Danny was a science fiction fan, and he’s the one who’s always trying to figure out what’s going on, whereas the rest are content to just shoot them. He’s also the kid of the group, and just wants everyone to get along.


Jonas is a middle-aged, acerbic ex-dev. He’s traded in his keyboard for an assault rifle, and is none too happy about it. He’s full of doom and despair, but he respects Roy, likes Danny, and is a bit afraid of Maya.


When we played last summer, we had to do tasks such as find a tire, push a truck and so on. Is this something that is constant throughout the game or level specific?

It’s level specific. Different levels have different gameplay, and we have some levels that are focused on objectives, and other levels where the only objective is to get out alive!


The enemies were very interesting in the game and vicious as well. What can you tell us about the enemy units and do you have a favorite?

Our enemies are based around the Drone. They are the most numerous of the enemy types, and it’s scary to watch them swarm in at you, particularly at night, when the only thing you can really see if the tips of their tentacles.


The other enemies require punctuate that flow, and require you to change tactics while still dealing with the drone menace. For example, the Gargoyle creeps along in the battlefield, hidden amongst the drones until it springs at you. The Sapper is devastating close up, requiring you to get away or push it back before you kill it. And the Beast comes at you relentlessly, smashing your fences and turrets along the way, shooting plasma at you as you run. We also have a couple of more enemies coming on line soon, with even cooler effects, so keep your eyes out for them.


My personal favorite is the Heavy Drone, because it was the first full sized statue that we created, and when we unboxed him, he was just terrifying. I’ve killed so many of these things testing the game, but if I saw one in real life, I’d just run screaming.


What type of weapons will players have available to them and will they be able to upgrade as the game unfolds?

We have 18+ weapons currently in the game, and we expect to add more in the future. Some of our weapons come about as part of the progressing story, so when players play levels that take place later in the story, these new weapons are included as part of the mix.


Will DLC be a part of the future for the game?

Yes. Some of our future content will be free, and some will be sold in DLC packs.


Will voice chat be supported?



Is the four player mode the only supported mode in the game?

You can play the game solo, or in groups of up to four. There are always four members of the team in the game, but if you don’t have four players, you’ll get AIs to round out the group.


What have been your biggest challenges and success stories with the game?

The biggest challenge was team cohesion. In our original design, we had more competing objectives that the players could do in any order, and more resource tending to enable the 3D printers. We found that the tension between objectives, re-supplying, and building gave us just the right amount of cohesion, so we removed a bit of the complexity and suddenly everything just worked.


I’d say the three big success stories are how good the weapons feel, how beautiful the art has turned out, and the placeable defenses.


The game has been compared to Left 4 Dead, in what ways would you say they are alike and different?

We’re huge fans of Left 4 Dead and its mods, and they were a big inspiration for us. Left 4 Dead created a genre, and we follow in some of those mechanics, such as being able to pick up a downed player. We do have some big differences:


  1. Placeable defenses – players can set up fences and turrets most anywhere in the level, which creates a of interesting choices. For example, do you want to block off an entrance or set up a zig zag path to slow down the drones? Do you put a turret down near the objective you’re trying to defend, or on top of a roof to give your team mates cover fire?
  2. Progressing story – L4D is a timeless moment in the zombie apocalypse. In Earthfall, each campaign has a reveal or progresses the story. We tell the story at the beginning and the end of each level, and with cool contextual clues to see in the game world as you play. For the player who’s into story, there’s a really interesting world to explore and a mystery to put together.
  3. Setting – While we have a lot of horror elements, we’re ultimately a science fiction story, and intend to explore that. We’re also set in the Pacific Northwest, which brings its own unique look to the game.


The barricades are an interesting feature, what can you tell us about them and how they came to be?

The fences were in from the very beginning. We like giving players more strategic choices, and the decision of what to build and when makes for great gameplay. When we originally started with them, they were only buildable in pre-designated positions, so the primary decision was the time investment (they took longer to build back then). We realized we wanted to give more player choice, so we got rid of the pre-designated positions and let you build them anywhere that the terrain allowed (as well as making them faster to build and less durable).


What do you think the future holds for the series?

There are some obvious things we want to do (more maps, campaigns, gameplay modes, creatures, weapons, buildables) as well as new features we’re really excited about, but we’re 100% focused on getting a great release out first, so we have a strong foundation to build on.