Last week Bengaluru-based Ncore Games announced FAU:G. Short for Fearless and United: Guards, it’s billed as a “multiplayer action game” in development under the mentorship of Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar. Usually a reveal of a game is no great shakes but with the Indian government banning 118 apps from Chinese companies including PUBG Mobile in the same week and Prime Minister Modi declaring that Indian game companies should be making games in India for India, the timing of this announcement could not have been more opportunistic.
What followed was a wave of fake news suggesting the game’s development was riddled with murder, theft, and underworld funding, none of which are true and Ncore has pursued legal options to prevent further harassment.
Though conspiracy theories would make for a saucier tale, our concerns lie with the actual game and what we’ve seen of it so far – just a single press release and poster – none of which are wildly informative of what to expect from the game when it’s out next month.
Is there really a game here or is this an announcement simply made to drum up attention and interest, something which some Indian studios have been guilty of in the past. The Mako Reactor spoke to Vishal Gondal, Founder and Chairman at Ncore Games and Ganesh Hande, Co-Founder and COO at Ncore Games to set the record straight on FAU:G.
— nCORE Games (@nCore_games) September 7, 2020
Who is Ncore Games?
While Vishal Gondal is a known figure in the Indian game development scene, Hande’s resume includes stints at Digital Chocolate (a mobile game studio founded by EA’s Trip Hawkins), working Millionaire City and Army Attack, what he claims were “the initial flag bearers of free-to-play” games. When Digital Chocolate was bought out by US-based Rockyou Games Hande and his team worked on the live operations for over 30 games as Rockyou’s business model involved acquiring existing IP from the likes of Gree, Kabam, and Disney and taking these games over.
“We got a chance to interact and work with global games companies. We understood their processes and gradually improved on it along with our own creative base,” says Hande. “At that time I was heading the product division for Rockyou. Two years back we came out of Rockyou because it wanted to focus on the media side of the business and we started Ncore games.”
Along the way Gondal invested in Ncore and the team bagged deals with Super Evil Megacorp and Rovio.
“Initially we started working with Rovio,” says Hande. “We got a chance to work with Rovio’s flagship game Angry Birds Classic and we managed the complete end to end live ops. That happened out of Ncore. Recently, we worked on Super Evil Megacorp’s Vainglory. Vainglory’s entire resource pool, the talent, the brain of Vainglory was sitting out of Ncore. We developed the content, the art, the animations, the programming, the live ops, the QA [quality assurance] happened out of Ncore.”
FAU:G will not have a battle royale mode at launch
With this in mind we wondered what we could expect from FAU:G. The comparisons to PUBG are obvious simply because of how similar the name sounds to PUBG Corp’s smash hit. What genre does FAU:G fall into? Is it a third-person action title or does it have battle royale ambitions?
“So, the simple answer is that the game will have both modes,” says Gondal. But we are going to not launch everything together. Much like other games, we will first launch and update, we will see the feedback, we will see how the monetisation is working, how the customers are reacting. Live ops is not about launching and deciding to launch all the 500 features on one day. There will be something launched on day one. But then our plan is to iterate but if you ask me, what will the game be like in six to 12 months after launch? It will certainly be both modes.”
With a battle royale mode out of the picture at launch what kind of game would FAU:G be when it launches?
“So at launch, the Galwan Valley level is there,” says Gondal. “And in the Galwan Valley mode, it’s a single player as well as a cooperative multiplayer because I believe nobody would want to take the side of the enemies here. So the concept is really about you experiencing what happened in Galwan Valley.”
FAU:G is not a PUBG clone
Due to a bilateral agreement between India and China in 1996, no guns are allowed in combat in that region. In order to stick true to that, FAU:G will launch as a third-person brawler.
“It’s a brawler right now for Galwan Valley,” says Hande “We want to be true to the subject so that is what we are trying. To start with we’re going with third-person because with that we can give a really immersive experience, first-person doesn’t really work with brawler gameplay.”
Hande broke down what we could expect from FAU:G’s core gameplay loop.
“The core gameplay loop revolves around how you experience the brawler mechanics with the melee weapons,” he says. “There is a bit of an exploration element to it. At the same time you will go through guided maps where you will be facing enemy camps and you’re expected to go through them with the skills and melee weapons provided for you.”
According to Hande, inspirations for the team at Ncore include the hand-to-hand combat from the Batman Arkham series as well as The Last of Us’ gory take on melee. The goal, Hande tells us, is to deliver a gameplay experience “closer to simulation” at launch, meaning the focus is on realism in how combat would work. Don’t expect any cues from PUBG.
“PUBG is not the reference to build anything,” adds Gondal, stating that FAU:G at launch is focussed on “the recent Galwan Valley” incident, which makes researching the setting less of a challenge.
“We don’t have any official affiliation with the army outside of the Bharat Ke Veer foundation [to which Ncore has committed 20 percent of the game’s net revenues],” says Gondal. “Of course we are consulting various experts on the source material and a lot of that is well-documented given that the wars are happening in real-time and there’s a lot of reference material including some of the unique weapons that were used.”
When pressed on what weapons we can expect when FAU:G launches aside from bare knuckle fisticuffs, the team played coy.
“That’s a surprise,” says Gondal. There will be some very surprising weapons that the Indian army used.”
The FAU:G trailer you’re watching is fake
Aside from the ongoing pandemic forcing Ncore to work remotely, Hande revealed the issues faced with bringing a game based on an ongoing conflict to life.
“Our whole aim is to recreate the experience of a soldier during that time when the attack happened, when this happened in Galwan,” he says. “For us to create that experience, I will say it was a big challenge, mostly because there is a sentiment attached to it. But at the same time we have to see it in the form of entertainment as well. It cannot take the route of a documentary. It has to look more like a Bollywood movie like Uri. Finding the right balance is one of the challenges.
While setting the tone is crucial for a game like FAU:G, the tech is just as important particularly with smartphone audiences with attention being paid to details like its frame rate and resolution.
“The game is running on Unity,” Hande says. “We’re looking at performance of 50 to 60fps at standard settings. There have been some discussions internally about having graphic settings where people can choose the graphic settings which they want based on their device capacity. We’re developing the game to run on the best profiles and tone it down from that.”
When asked about the choice of Unity as FAU:G’s engine over Unreal, Gondal stated that Unreal was also evaluated as a potential option. But it boiled down to the fact that it would allow Ncore to target low-end Android handsets.
“The numbers as far as we know, is almost 1:10 or 1:20 in terms of downloads we should expect between iOS and Android,” says Hande. He also divulged that Indian game developers are more comfortable with Unity right now as well.
“In India, the Unity talent is easily available in comparison to Unreal,” Hande says.
And while the talent for Unity may be in abundance, the gameplay trailers for it look to have borrowed a lot from Battlefield and Call of Duty – titles running on bespoke, custom tech. Turns out, those trailers are fake.
“We don’t have a trailer up,” says Gondal. “There are a lot of fake trailers out there. We have not put anything out. You can expect stuff in October. Nothing in September. There are some 15 fake Instagram accounts too. We never expected the kind of response we’ve got.”
One of the many fake FAU:G trailers doing the rounds on YouTube right now.
The future of FAU:G and esports
Being a cooperative experience at launch, the potential to monetise FAU:G with pay-to-win monetisation is immense. However Ncore is sticking to cosmetic monetisation only with plans for a battle pass as well. The reason? Various modes down the line that would be good fit for esports.
“We do not really want the game to be pay-to-win because we start with that mindset because for a lot of other modes we want to introduce, it will become pay to win there too,” says Hande. “In the long-term we want to be in the esports arena as well. If it is pay to win we won’t be there.”
“If you look at PUBG, it didn’t start with esports,” adds Gondal. “That only came 12 to 14 months later. We will be getting into esports but after we get the core gameplay and all the other mechanics built out. So there is going to be a big esports play for us for sure.”
While esports and tournaments as well as FAU:G’s update plans play right into Ncore’s strengths, creating a new IP from the ground up usually requires different skills and talents from the team working on it. Gondal dismissed these concerns stating that FAU:G isn’t Ncore’s first game. There’s a hyper-casual rhythm game in development which is “almost ready” he claims as well as a cricket game “in the works”.
“There isn’t just one game, but three titles on the way,” he says.
Is FAU:G taking advantage of India’s PUBG ban?
Needless to say, all eyes will be on how Ncore executes on these games. The added attention on FAU:G due to the media circus surrounding its reveal appears to be a self-inflicted hindrance more so with its comparisons to PUBG.
“Original plan was to launch this game on August 15,” he says. “Because of the complex nature of game development, we could not do it by August 15. We’re not waiting for this ban or anything to happen. These games are developed much earlier. The partnership with Bharat Ke Veer can’t happen in 24 hours. All these things take time. Clearly, we’re not trying to compete because if PUBG comes back it doesn’t make any difference to our plans. We are different from PUBG.”
The conversation shifts to how Ncore plans to fund FAU:G. Live service games need to be sustained over a long period of time and aren’t cheap to develop due to the sheer amount of content required. How does Ncore plan to sustain this game over the long term?
“We have not yet raised a venture round but we plan to launch that next year,” he says. “The idea is to launch these games because typical investors don’t understand IP. If we had gone to raise money to say we’re going to make three games, it would have been a very different status because. Investors don’t understand or appreciate this model, which is why there have not been too many IP based games out of India.
Most of the IPs are large… like Ludo King right? It’s completely self-funded. Currently, I would say that it is self-funded by us and a few other friends, friends and family more or less. It’s not like we are about to raise a round or announce a round that is something that will happen next year maybe. We’re in no hurry to raise money. The bottom line is the game should make money. That’s what it should be right? If it’s a good game, people will play and people who make spend into micro-transactions.”
While Ncore may not have intended to create the splash it did with FAU:G’s announcement, all eyes will be on what to expect when it lands on iOS and Android in October. Although we have our concerns, what with nothing in way of actual gameplay footage that usually accompanies a game reveal at the moment, it will be interesting to see how this game is received in a market that’s now accustomed to polished mobile experiences from international studios. Perhaps the team’s pedigree will shine through.
Updated on September 18 at 12:10am: link to John Doe order added.