CQC Interview with lead designers Dan Davies and James Stimpson

In July Close Quarter Combat (CQC) Championships launches players into instant-action PVP combat in the Elite Dangerous galaxy, debuting first for Xbox One. We sat down with Designer Dan Davies and Senior Designer Jim Stimpson to talk about CQC.

So what is Close Quarter Combat (CQC) Championships?

Jim - CQC is arena-based PVP combat in the Elite Dangerous galaxy. It’s a separate option on the menu, and it’s about tighter combat spaces and a focus on dogfighting to find out who is the best pilot. It’s competitive, it’s immediate, and it’s a shortcut to instant action. It’s a place where I don't have to care about the millions of credits I've got – I only have to care about improving my flight skills and combat skills. It’s a new way to play for those who want to play it that way. It’s a risk-free environment where you can be guaranteed a fair fight; you can practice, learn and then take those skills in to the main game.

What were the first things you considered when designing CQC?

Jim – Line of sight is the big thing. In the main game a lot of the fighting is in open space. Unless you’re fighting in an asteroid field most engagements happen in places where there’s not much to hide behind. In CQC we wanted to have buildings and structures in place, so if you are getting attacked you have the chance to escape, recover, turn around and fight back. The structures play a huge part in what makes CQC unique.

Dan – For CQC we reworked the whole sensor system so that breaking line of sight breaks target lock. You can duck behind an asteroid, stop and reverse out and you’ll have lost the person chasing you. You can go into a tunnel and the second there’s something between you and your enemy, they won't be able to see you and they’ll lose their lock. You have to be clever and use that to your advantage.

Did you make any additions to CQC that go beyond the features of the core game?

Jim – Yes. The four ship power-ups are a big one. We have a stealth mode, a speed boost, a damage boost and a shield boost. We think those make for really exciting moments in the battle – a surprise chance to turn the tide.

Dan – Suddenly someone gets a power-up and everyone has to reassess their priorities. It shuffles the deck mid-game. If you've lost your shields you could go through the power-up ring and get your shields back instantly.

Jim – At the same time, we wanted the skills you’ve learned in the main game can be taken to CQC and vice versa. The best pilot will win no matter how much you boost your shields! You can even crash in to the rings, so there’s a little bit of risk/reward there, too.

Dan – And we have a ranking system. We track your progress and award XP, and you’ll unlock new weapons and modules as you play. We have leaderboards where you can compare amount of kills and your stats. It’s a very pure way to fight in the Elite Dangerous galaxy for players who care about their Kill/Death ratio!

What kinds of modules can players install in their custom loadouts?

So you've got your Guns, Modules and Abilities. Modules might add to your shield resistances or boost duration, but your Abilities might dictate what countermeasures you have. Each ship will have its own set of Abilities. The Sidewinder will have Abilities that allow it to take more damage, the Federal Fighter will be able to lose people more quickly and chaff that confuses gimballed weapons.

What can you tell us about the new Federal Fighter?

Jim –  Well we've been playing with it internally for a while, but the F63 Condor Federal Fighter is a brand new ship for players, so we're starting from scratch there. In CQC you can fly an Eagle or Sidewinder – the same huge ships you’ll find in the open galaxy with some modifications – or the new Federal Fighter, which doesn't even have room for cargo or a Frame Shift Drive. It’s much smaller and lighter, very fast and more manoeuvrable, but not as strong as the Eagle or Sidewinder. The Sidewinder feels like a small ship in open galaxy, but in CQC it’s like our tank class!

Dan – The Eagle is our damage-dealer. The Federal Fighter is amazing in those tight spaces you’ll see in the trailer. It can weave and dodge like no other ship in the game, and I can’t wait to see what players do with Flight Assist turned off.

And what about the maps?

Jim – In the Game Preview Program we’ll have two to four maps. They're very different to anything you’ll have encountered in the open galaxy, and they’re each a unique design challenge. With normal level design you have flow channels, choke points and a map you could almost draw in two dimensions, minus some elevation changes. Our arenas are completely three dimensional and you’re almost always moving. We can’t create choke points, and there’s no way to force players through our tunnels. It’s more about the negative space than it is about filling it, but we have to give people places to evade and hide.

You want to make CQC a real competitive environment, so how are you balancing the game?

Dan – We’ve been playing CQC for months and balancing has been ongoing since day one. With this sort of mode it’s been critical to get it playable as soon as possible. We play Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, and Capture The Datasphere, which is our CTF mode.  We want them all to be exciting and competitive, so we need to play it every day all day to figure it out, watch people and get the feedback we need, but of course the real testing will begin with the community. 

Jim – Right now we've got our programmers and QA playing with us, which is really helpful, but I can’t wait to have more players out there with us. Balancing is ongoing, and the feedback we get internally is completely different from the feedback we’ll get from all the players on Xbox Live. I think Xbox One is absolutely the best place to test the game, not necessarily because console players play differently, but because they'll be new to the game. It'll be a fresh perspective.

How do QA play?

Jim – Well, our testers are good, obviously! When we play QA they have a habit of moving around like a pack. They became incredibly dominant. They will bodyguard one ship and have four ships on either side protecting the central player. They’ve thought about the classes to benefit the team like professional eSports players. It’s about having that communication and having that synchronisation between players is absolutely critical for a team game. If someone is just flying off round the corner you’re going to be far less effective as a team.

Would you like the eSports community to embrace the game?

Dan – I have a lot of experience with eSports outside of Elite Dangerous, and it’s something we would love but would never ask for. That community doesn't come for free, and not necessarily something you can control. Very few games come out of nowhere and suddenly become a major eSport – Starcraft 2 had years to build up a following with the success of Starcraft, and League Of Legends took years to get where it is now. They're both great games, and both great examples of how to build a competitive eSports-grade experience.

Jim – You need a solid player base, a watchable game and something that resonates among competitive players. Usually it’s the high skill ceiling. You look at the pros and you say ‘whoa, I want to be as good as them.’ It’s hard to maintain that high skill ceiling and still make it welcoming for new players. It’s something we're aiming for, and if the eSports community wants us, we'll be thrilled to support them.

Anything you'd like to tell the Elite Dangerous community?

Dan – We're excited about seeing what the Xbox One community thinks of CQC, and we’re excited to bring it to all of our PC and Mac players later this year too. We're counting on your feedback.

Jim – We will listen to you. I can promise we listen to the community. We're players too, and the community is essential to making Elite Dangerous the game it is today.

CQC will debut first on Xbox One in July.