Back From The Edge: The Return of Brain Candy’s Fray

There simply cannot be enough tactical squad-based games. Real-time, turn-based, WEGO, whatever. The world, at least the psychotic one I’ve built in my fetid imagination, demands we up the ante and keep shunting little digital warriors across the hexes or grids, direct them around corners and up staircases. There’s a deeply satisfying feeling to managing a group of units at the micro-level, tapping into the rhythms and syncopations of teamwork, even at its most abstracted.

This terrible psychosis of mine has been inflamed by a slew of great tactical games over the last year or so. One in particular was Fray, although its release and reception was not all that rosy. However, the studio responsible for this high-tech multiplayer strategy are soon to release a redux of Fray in their Reloaded Edition. It’s a make or break situation for the small French developer, but with a lot to love already, this inbound update is sounding like everything is in place to retake lost ground and reignite their creative vision for gamers.

Alexandre Avenard, producer and co-founder of Brain Candy, was kind enough to let us have some insight into the rocky release of Fray and their encouraging plans for Fray: Reloaded Edition.

It’s been almost six months since the official release of Fray, Brain Candy’s science-fiction multiplayer TBS. While we’ll get into the intricacies of the game itself later, how do you guys feel post-release? Were expectations met or some hard lessons learned?

As you can probably guess, hard lessons. When we released Fray back in June, we knew that the state of the game was still rough, but we didn’t expect it to be in such a way. We were having financial issues, and although we knew the game would still need a few months of work, we had no choice but to release the game the way we did. In retrospect should we have done this? No, of course not… Release was plagued with technical issues, and although we tried to correct the problems in the best manner and as fast as we could, the damage was done.

We have been correcting our mistakes ever since and working on Fray to make the player experience the best possible. We have been listening to player feedback and implementing our own ideas; we changed the server software completely, changed the UI, added a training map and some small missions for solo play, added new special effects and polished the game as best as we could to deliver a good experience to the players. With Fray: Reloaded Edition coming in the next few weeks, we are trying to make amends with players who bought Fray in June, by offerering them a free Steam game key and the game OST, as well as giving new players a chance to play the game through a demo version that will be out alongside the release.

We hope that players and critics will give us a second chance as it was never our intention to release the game in this state, and all we wanted to create an exciting and original TBS.

I admit that I wanted Frozen Synapse-level success for Fray, which might seem like a tiresome comparison. One thing that really restricted Fray in my experience was the low player count, and given the lack of bots, it was quite tough to find a game. Did you guys ever consider doing what a few studios have done in the last few years and bundle two copies together? Was asynchronous multiplayer ever considered?

When we began development on FrayFrozen Synapse wasn’t out, so we had to come up with our own designs and solutions. The main idea when we started development was “how do we make a fast-paced TBS game?”. We wanted to focus on the multiplayer aspect of the game, as we were huge fans of FPS deathmatch modes, like in Unreal Tournament or Quake 3. Developing an AI for Fray was something we would have loved to do, but unfortunately resources were streched thin, and with the many possibilities our characters have at their disposition, it would have been pretty complicated and we felt we needed to concentrate on other aspects of the game. But we understand that players want some way to play alone, whether to test new equipment, strategies or while waiting for a friend to join, this is why we are adding a training map and a challenge map, with different difficulty settings, that will allow the players to try out new unlocked equipment and weapons and beat a specially designed training course in a set number of turns.

We had bundled two copies of the game for a while during beta and we are going to give away a second game key to all the players who have purchased the game since release. We are also releasing a demo of Fray: Reloaded Edition alongside the update, that will allow players to try the game with a team at a fixed level. We hope that these dispensations will attract old players and new and help Fray gain a healthy community.

I think we’re in a good position and timeframe for Fray to get a second wind commercially and critically, and gamers worth their salt should find a lot to like in the Reloaded Edition. Before we get to the heart of Fray’s mechanics, I’d like to touch on the art style and visual motifs of the game. It’s a damn gorgeous creation, but then again, French developers seem to have this great pride in constructing visually distinct gaming experiences. I look back on Cryo’s adventure library, on Adeline’s sublime Twinsen games, as well as the landmark titles of Infogrames, Ubisoft, Eugen Systems and Quantic Dream. You guys put such a terrific premium on unique, captivating aesthetics. Is this a particularly French trait?

Our art director Maximilien Torti and our technical director Robert Falce wanted Fray to have a unique look and art style, all the while using the resources available with a modern PC. We wanted each Corporation and environment to have their own identity and, even though the game is multiplayer-centric, we wrote a deep background to have a cohesive game. Our Paris environment is based on the actual layout of the Champs Elysées, with a mix of typical Parisian architecture and other more scifi elements and destruction, while our CronaCorp environment is much more clean, with Japanese influences mixed in with technology. Having a rich visual identity was important to us as it enhances the gameplay and allows for a much deeper immersion.

I couldn’t say if this is a French trait, although French developers seem to enjoy creating games with strong identities. Our country has strong film and comic book roots, each with their own style and narrative that is very different from U.S. comics, and this could be the reason why we create products that are different from what comes out of studios in other countries. As far as Brain Candy goes, we have had multiple influences from many different countries and media types, through movies, comics, manga, animation, books or games; I guess we’re a multi-cultural bunch!

Fray is quite visually distinctive, even in a medium where science-fiction design is certainly not underplayed. I love the way the Euro-cyberpunk aesthetic and effects straddle this sumptuous simulation-reality line. Will we see much in the way of expanding visual effects and accoutrements in the Reloaded Edition?Most of the weapon and visual effects have been modified or added in Fray: Reloaded Edition. This was one of the most lacking parts in the game, so our 3D artists designed many different new particle effects and trail shots, so that each weapon has a distinct look and feel. We are really happy with the way we blended reality and virtual, with the pixelated fog of war, the way items appear on the battlefield or even the environment backgrounds.

If we can move onto the core of the game itself; Fray is actually quite an intricate game. What was the design process for developing the main tactical conceits? Outside of pace influences like Unreal Tournament, were there any main inspirations in terms of gameplay? Boardgames? Tabletop miniatures, even?Our main influence for the game design was the original X-COM, which we adore and spent countless hours playing. Our original train of thought was “how do we make X-COM a multiplayer game?” TBS is traditionally slow in multiplayer since you have to wait on your adversary to finish giving his orders, and the more players you add to the game, the longer it takes. This system works fine in a solo game, but in multiplayer, it can quickly become annoying. So we decided to create a simultaneous turn system to speed things up a bit.

Which is why I think you guys are in a great place right now to put out the Reloaded Edition, hot on the heels of Firaxis’ XCOM. Audiences are either rekindling their love for turn-based tactical games or are finding out just what makes this style of game so appealing. Any particular aspects of Fray’s tactical experience that you could see non-genre fans warming to, or would you say this is one primarily for the strategy fans?

At the core of Fray‘s design, we wanted a game that could satisfy all types of players, with the fast-paced nature of simultaneous turns attaracting the more “twitchy” gamers, while remaining a very deep tactical game for squad strategy fans. Increasing the power of your team over time, gaining new weapons and abilities as you play, honing your skills in a multiplayer environment, those are aspects of Fray that we are sure will please many fans of competitive multiplayer games out there.

Finally, just to give the readers some insight into the tactical prowess and predilections of the developers, what are some of the favourite game modes and squad ‘builds’ at Brain Candy?

My playstyle in games has always been the ‘glass cannon’ and most of the time, I play very DPS centric composition. In Fray, this translates to a team composition of an Assault, a Shadow, a Sniper and a Medic. Get the camouflaged Shadow in position, teleport the assault on the target and shoot him with Sniper, the retreat for heals and repeat. I love creating traps and ambushes for the enemy. Lea Rouillard, our lead game designer, she perfers a more brutal, in your face, approach to strategy, with both our heavy classes, the Tank and the Assault, with help from the Support and the Medic. The Assault and Tank have deadly short range AoE weapons that can crush you if you are not careful and with the Support’s many gadgets, that combination is really deadly. Each player can find his own playstyle with the many different class and weapon combinations available.

Thanks very much for taking time out to chat. I’m certainly looking forward to the Reloaded Edition, and hope any gamer with a fondness for turn-based strategy checks out Fray once the update goes live.

You are very welcome, it was our pleasure!

And it shall be my intrigued pleasure to dip back into Fray when the Reloaded Edition hits, with musings no doubt recorded for the fine readership of GamesAreEvil.

The original Fray can be purchased now directly from Brain Candy, Desura, Gamersgate and Steam, with the Reloaded Edition — a free update for prior owners — will be available on November 12.

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