Triad Wars: The Origin, Enforcers, and the Future
Interview with Steve Ferreira, Triad Wars Design Director
By Jaime Skelton (MissyS)
There really isn’t anything quite like Triad Wars. It’s part shooter and part strategy-simulation; part single-player and part competitive multiplayer. While you can take features of the game and compare them individually to certain genres or game titles, there’s really no overall experience that Triad Wars mirrors. Far from ambiguous, Triad Wars is one of those rare titles that takes its own distinctive shape not simply to innovate, but in order to be true to the game’s vision.
I admit I’m getting ahead of myself here, so let’s take a step back. Triad Wars is an open-world, multiplayer action game set in the Sleeping Dogs universe, and currently in beta. It’s developed by United Front Games (UFG) and published by Square Enix, both the forces behind Sleeping Dogs. With the recent Enforcer Evolution update and an exciting Halloween event planned, we wanted to touch base with UFG and get a real understanding of the design behind the game. I sat with Steve Ferreira, Triad Wars’ Design Director, to talk about the history of the game, where it now stands, and where Triad Wars sees itself going into the future.
The Past: The Long Road to Success
“You can say it started right when we finished Sleeping Dogs,” Steve says when I ask him when the seed for Triad Wars formed. While Triad Wars isn’t Sleeping Dogs, a bit of history here is required. Design and development for Sleeping Dogs began in 2007-2008, under the umbrella of Activision and its True Crime game franchise. In 2011, Activision cancelled the game, but Square Enix came to the rescue of the title, freeing it from the True Crime IP. It wasn’t until late 2012 – five years after the journey had started – that Sleeping Dogs was released to the public.
“We feel somewhat attached to Sleeping Dogs,” Steve explains. “It had a little bit of extra love in it as a result of everything the project went through. We didn’t want things to end there.” Initially, some of this additional love came in the form of DLC packs for Sleeping Dogs, which added both storyline elements and fun culturally themed features to further flesh out the game world. Eventually, one of these spontaneous creations from the team became the idea for Triad Wars.
While Sleeping Dogs followed the story of Wei Shen, UFG wanted a chance to expand the open world environment of Hong Kong and characters that had been created. Eventually the team decided that it was time to build a game that wasn’t a sequel or prequel, and instead used the universe that had been created to create a new experience focused on the alternate aspects of the game. “It’s a way for us to be playful with all the other cool stuff that Sleeping Dogs had that wasn’t part of Wei Shen’s drama,” Steve said. In a way, Triad Wars is to Sleeping Dogs what Grand Theft Auto V Online is to GTAV: an online, personal experience where the player character becomes the central point of their own story.
Community has been a key part of development for Triad Wars from the beginning. Part of Triad War’s development plan was to involve player feedback at two levels. The first level was to involve players in the conversation as the game was being built. The second level was to have gameplay “leverage what players are doing as well as to help evolve that experience.” The idea, Steve explains, was that rather than spending years in development isolation and then dropping a finished product on players hoping they’d like it, the team could reach the end goal together with the players.
“The plan and trajectory of where the game was going has changed since [we started], based on the fact we’ve been running a beta . . . our goalposts have moved as to what that experience wants to be. Most of the fundamentals are all still there, and the high level goals are all still the same, but it’s how we’re going to get there that has changed.”
The Present: Enforcing the Core Concepts
This continuous involvement with the developers and the Triad Wars community has had a major impact on the game already, part of which has resulted in the game’s most recent major development updates, the Enforcer Evolution.
Initially, Steve tells me, the game was designed to introduce the competitive multiplayer aspect from a metagame standpoint that used action combat elements as support. This first iteration was meant to offer in-depth strategy on the higher level of the game. “One of the things that immediately became apparent was that what players were expecting, naturally, was that it was driven by the action, and not the meta,” he elaborates. While that was always the eventual goal for Triad Wars, this initial build was sending the wrong first impression to players. In fact, some early testers compared the game to a casual Facebook simulation game. But Triad Wars is meant to be “an action game at the end of the day,” and that action is a key strength of Sleeping Dogs.
In order to bring that vision back to the players, several updates were made to shift the current gameplay toward the action. The biggest step was the release of the Enforcer Evolution patch, a direct message to the players that said “This is very much about you and your character that you’re building, what you’re going to turn that character into, and what that character will evolve into.” What the team hopes to achieve is a level of character building that’s determined by player vision and actions, rather than metagame and choices on a UI screen.
Ultimately, what the Enforcer update has done is shift not the end goal of a complete game experience, but rather which part of Triad Wars is currently in focus as the core experience: the action. Before this update, characters followed a rather preset path based on the upgrades players chose, and thus limited both players and developers. The Enforcer Evolution patch changes this, making it so that character gameplay is driven by the items, upgrades, and weapons that each player chooses to equip. It “open[s] up the ceiling for us on where we can take the personalization of the enforcers,” Steve elaborates, adding that the development team is now free to add in more impactful changes. He cites an example of a current upgrade in development that changes out the combat style to be a Muy Thai fighting style. “That was impossible before,” he explains, and boasts about some of the rewards available in the Halloween update that offer “over-the-top” effects, like upgrades that set your hands on fire. There’s a whole new level of customization that takes the game away from a simple and straightforward approach to action to one where there is a much greater freedom of choice. The reaction to the update so far has been positive.
Of course, this level of customization and freedom comes with the cost of constantly monitoring balance in multiplayer situations. It adds a layer of challenge, especially as each interaction must be measured on a case-by-case basis. United Front Games does its best to add in the extra perspective it needs to be thorough, gathering feedback not only from forums, but also from surveys, emails, analytics, and gameplay sessions. It’s that kind of constant communication that helps the team identify issues early and make sure the game remains fun for everyone.
The Future: Turf Wars, Cameos, and More Surprises
All this is well and good, but I’ve seen plenty of games that hope to bank off the success of their founding franchise only to close their doors the moment the virtual sky gets cloudy. So I ask Steve up-front: what’s the long-term future for Triad Wars and its place in the Sleeping Dogs Universe?
“When we make a SD sequel, I 100% want the non-story-driven elements of that to feed back into Triad Wars and expand Triad Wars. To me, Triad Wars will just continue to grow and be basically the amalgamation of everything that the story-driven Sleeping Dogs puts into that universe,” he answers, further elaborating that while Triad Wars will never influence Sleeping Dogs, the Sleeping Dogs franchise will grow and expand Triad Wars, whether it be a new area, new character, or new activity. As long as Sleeping Dogs is alive and people care about its universe, Triad Wars will be its playground.
As for the gameplay itself, Triad Wars will eventually evolve into that meta that UFG envisions, where both action and high-level decisions impact gameplay. The game will still look much like it does today, and players will still be able to build their Triad at their own pace without being severely impacted by the action of other players online. Gameplay will essentially be built into two tiers: a single-player focused experience where novice players can learn the game and establish themselves and their style, and a multi-player experience for veterans who go head to head to battle over control of Hong Kong in Turf Wars. Steve’s explanation of it is succinct: “Get in there, have fun, feel like a badass, and then prove that you are against other people.”
And yes, I did ask about the elephant in the room – karaoke. Steve’s answer, after a short laugh, was an emphatic “no.” The biggest challenge with karaoke is licensing costs, something that UFG just can’t include in their budget right now. While you might be able to bust into a karaoke bar and engage in a brutal battle, don’t count on being able to bust out your Flock of Seagulls impression yet.
One last thing Steve adds is that none of the characters of Wei Shen’s story in Sleeping Dogs have a prominent role in the game today – but that’s about to change. Triad Wars will begin to stand out from the Sleeping Dogs universe in its own story as characters, new and old, are introduced into the game in different ways. “We’ve got some really cool ideas on how to roll those characters back into this world,” he teases. With the passion behind this team, I’m sure that Triad Wars will continue to deliver on this vision.
Ready to join the beta? Learn more about Triad Wars at their site.