Uncapped Games lead game designer David Kim worked as a designer on all three parts of Starcraft 2. And while he's spent his more recent years at Blizzard working on Diablo 4 and World of Warcraft, he had an itch to return to the real-time strategy genre.
"I've always wanted to take a shot at another RTS game for a very long time now, maybe close to a decade," Kim tells GamesIndustry.biz in a recent conversation. "I had been reached out to by various people and I've talked to various companies, but these ones felt like an opportunity of a lifetime for me... If we were going to take a stab at the next great RTS, I thought we needed the right company, the right people within our development team, and we need clearly aligned beliefs in what we're trying to do."
It turns out the right company was Tencent subsidiary Lightspeed and Quantum Studios, which helped Kim set up Uncapped Games with the right people, including Uncapped lead producer Jason Hughes and Uncapped lead engineer Zhongshan Zhang, both also Blizzard veterans.
As for the alignment of beliefs, Kim says the team was very much on the same page as the head of Lightspeed Jerry Chen when they met.
"One of the things he said was 'Just focus on making a great PC RTS game, and don't worry about other factors," Kim says. "The measurement of success is if we have a great game."
"It's also really nice to be at a company that really believes in the team, believes in the game, believes in what we're doing..."
Hughes calls the combination "a perfect storm" of the right people combined with a very clear vision for what they want to achieve.
"It's also really nice to be at a company that really believes in the team, believes in the game, believes in what we're doing, and exactly like David said, there's a lot of RTS interest, especially from the CEO, and he really just wants us to make a great game," Hughes says.
He adds, "Lightspeed and Quantum very much believe in the genre and really want something like this to succeed. To say, 'Just make a great PC RTS game,' that isn't something one hears a lot, and to me that was a big motivating factor."
Those comments might raise eyebrows considering Uncapped's leaders are all coming from a company where they had access to a seminal RTS franchise.
"I can only speak for myself," Hughes says when asked why they had to form Uncapped for this project. "For me it wasn't so much about what wasn't possible; it was about what really excited me and what is newly possible."
Kim adds that part of the ambition for Uncapped's first title was just better-suited for a fresh start.
"If we're making a sequel to an RTS, there are some things that have to be in that game to make it a sequel. But if we make it a brand new game, it opens up more possibilities on the game design side to be able to execute what we want to execute the best. That's the advantage we have here, I think."
"We wanted to make a real strategy game rather than one where who can click the fastest is the best player"
As for what they want to execute, Kim describes it as "the most action-packed PC RTS that has the lowest barrier to entry that is still impossible to master."
"RTS has been in this place where a lot of the very basic and core fundamental things in the game have not yet been modernized, so it's very difficult to play an RTS," he says. "You need hundreds of actions per minute to play a competitive RTS game.
"So what we want to do is modernize a lot of it, and make it so any gamer can play this game. And to play at a competitive level, you don't need to practice the mechanics of it for a decade; you have to be good at the strategy, or countering what you're seeing on the enemy's side. We wanted to make a real strategy game rather than one where who can click the fastest is the best player."
While Uncapped officially just started last month, Hughes says they believe they've landed on a design that will do just that.
"That doesn't mean dumbed down or simplified," Hughes notes. "That just means lowering the barrier to entry for more people to expose them to what's great about RTS games."
To execute on that design, Uncapped is hoping to get some version of the game in the community's hands as quickly as possible, and to rework it based on the feedback for as long as possible.
"Iteration, iteration, iteration," Hughes stresses as key to the development process. "Get something in the game so we can test it as soon as possible, but eventually when we start bringing players into the game as well, it's going to be about the feedback and about iterating on that design."
Hughes says he wants to keep the scope of the game manageable, and to have the team be as small and agile as possible as well. For now, that means Uncapped is a team of eight based out of the Los Angeles neighborhood of Playa Vista. They have a plan to grow to 20 by the end of this year, but after that, Hughes says the total headcount will be more dependent on milestones and what they need to accomplish and when rather than anything they've set in stone already.
They're a little more concrete when it comes to their goals for the company culture.
"We really want people to be honest with each other," Hughes says. "We want to be open to transparency, and we are putting an emphasis on respect. We don't want a place where egos are driving any kind of decision or discussion.
"We want to be very open... and ultimately arrive at what is good for the game more than anything."