Independent Chinese developers are slowly beginning to showcase their skill sets with games like Bright Memory Infinite, Lost Soul Aside and RAN: Lost Islands and Boundary.
The latter is a multiplayer tactical first-person shooter set in a zero-G environment and scheduled to hit both PC and PlayStation 4 at some point this year. On top of looking very promising from a gameplay standpoint, as attested by Chris in his Gamescom 2019 preview, the title in development at Surgical Scalpels studio was also prominently featured at the recent GTC China 2019 showcase for its implementation of raytracing through the NVIDIA RTX platform. In fact, Boundary won the DXR Spotlight Contest from NVIDIA for its demo.
To get more information on both the gameplay and technical sides of Boundary, we interviewed the folks at Surgical Scalpels. It turns out that raytracing won't be enabled until a post-launch update, but on the upside, the developers confirmed their plan to support NVIDIA's Deep Learning Super Sampling as well. Keep reading below for a thorough outlook at Boundary.
By the way, the game doesn't have a Steam page yet, but you can check out the official Discord channel instead.
How did COVID-19 affect the development of Boundary and Surgical Scalpels as a whole?
The studio location (Shenzhen) was some distance away from the epicentre of the outbreak but we were among the top 5 cities in China with infections so we had to enforce social distancing within the team. Initially, we had to wait for government instructions on how best to maintain business as usual but that gradually led to remote working and reduction in face to face working practices, meetings and reduced travel so it affected us quite hard. Once we figured out what sort of work we could still maintain remotely we then evaluated that impact on the studio as a whole. Needless to say, it will have some effect on the final launch date but as yet we’re still looking at that. Overall it's an unusual set of circumstances, none of us could anticipate this kind of thing happening and studios big and small have been affected.
The game was planned to come out in early 2020, but I reckon that date isn't feasible anymore. Do you have a new ETA for Boundary?
We were hoping for April/May as a tentative window, the actual game itself is pretty much done, we’re looking at other aspects of the game at the moment like weapons, DLC, additional classes and other elements like that. While we don’t have an ETA we anticipate a 3-month delay as a best-case scenario due to Coronavirus. Our publisher Huya is helping us co-ordinate that effort to narrow down a launch window since the delay affects publishing and distribution and they’re also in close talks with Sony on the platform side as well.
Let's back up a little. How instrumental was the China Hero Project to get the project off the ground? Did Sony request not to release the game on other competing consoles from Nintendo and Microsoft, or is there a possibility that will happen at some point?
The China Hero Project was a huge lifeline for us, this is our first game on the PlayStation 4 platform, without the support of Sony in that aspect we wouldn’t have been able to see it to fruition. I should point out though that Sony didn’t enforce any platform demands on us, hence the fact we are bringing the game out on PC as well. We haven’t made a final decision on Xbox One and Nintendo Switch we haven’t really discussed in any great detail, to be honest. Being a small team of 20 people we only have a finite amount of resources so to bite off more than we can handle across multiple formats is too much for us. We want to focus on PS4 first and foremost with PC running alongside that.
I know that the game is currently multiplayer-only. That said, if Boundary turned out to be successful and there was a request for a story-based single player and/or coop campaign, would you consider doing it?
Very much so, in fact, we’ve already explored that. We’ve been discussing this quite a lot of how we could bring that element in and if so, could that be as an add on DLC. When we attended EGX in London last year the big takeaway we got from players was, this is awesome, it's fresh and different and totally unlike anything I’ve played before in a shooter, is there also a single player campaign mode? One of the reasons we didn’t have one was simply down to our own studio resources, to build a combined single and multiplayer game is a huge undertaking for a studio our size, and at that time we didn’t have publisher support so we had to focus on either building a lone single player game or a multiplayer game. But if Boundary is a hit and people like what we’ve done - beyond that we’d love the opportunity to bring the game to next-gen with a combined single player and multiplayer set up from the outset.
Can you explain how the different ammunition types will affect tactical gameplay?
In Boundary, players can equip their weapons with 3 different types of ammunition: armour piercing, EMP and explosive tipped. You’ll be able to visually identify what an enemy player is firing because of the relative colour of the bullet impacts. Armour piercing for example is good against Support class astronaut operators, their rocket packs are lined with additional layers of armor plating and they soak up a lot of damage so punching through that is important. From a tactical standpoint you can equip your team with varying ammo loadouts working together to eliminate threats, for example your teammate fires a burst of EMP rounds at the enemy support player to temporarily disable him, and you follow up with armour piercing for the kill.
Can you discuss character progression in Boundary?
Progression is a big part of Boundary in that it will allow players to augment their basic skill sets over time. Fireteams can comprise of a 5 player squad all with different abilities and skill sets allowing for a tactical approach to combat. Bringing the right mix of offensive and defensive loadouts to multiplayer matches means that players can experiment with many different configurations and gain vital experience with their respective classes and weapons. The more a player utilizes a particular weapon they’ll progress through XP, ranking up and accessing better equipment through progression.
Are you going to ship multiple maps at launch and if so, how many?
We’ll have about half a dozen maps at launch, or at least that’s the plan, we have ideas for many more and we’ve also discussed things like bringing firefights inside certain structures so that there is a mix of interior and exterior gameplay. For launch, the maps provide a diverse array of exterior structures that they can fight around. The maps vary in layout from an orbital fuel silo, Solar farm, an Oriolus debris field and others.
Is there going to be any sort of post-launch support for Boundary?
Yes, we’ve been looking at player engagement as a core element to the game, this means keeping players entertained with new content, modes, classes and weapons. DLC will factor in new content beyond the launch phase. We know there’s good potential in the game to diversify things like classes so that we have a really good broad mix of skill sets and attributes that players can bring to the matches. Weapons too, since the majority of weapons are a modular based design, add on elements like scopes, stocks and barrels and new weapon formats can be introduced as potential DLC along with new map ideas.
Are you planning cross-platform play between PC and PlayStation 4?
We hope so, it's something that we’re discussing, as a studio we’d like to and we have tested it. We’ve seen how successful it is at bringing players together for games like Modern Warfare so we’re aware that players would like the option if we can make it happen.
I know that you recently won NVIDIA's China DXR Spotlight Contest. Can you discuss the implementation of raytracing in Boundary? Which effects are you going to use and what kind of performance hit can we expect?
Ray tracing is something that we’ll likely bring in post-launch, or at least that’s the current plan, the reaction we got to the DXR Spotlight Contest was very humbling. As a studio, we take pride in the work we do and the amount of detail we’re putting into the game so to have that recognised was not only a nice accolade it really emphasized what we’re striving for in the game. When you develop games you don’t really have a benchmark until you’ve launched so that was a nice thing for the team to motivate them. As you may know, space is a very good environment to have reflective surfaces, dynamic shadow and global illumination features in the game. Our designer has even implemented the advantage of this into gameplay. For example, players can use reflection on certain space structures to observe the battlefield situation without exposing themselves to enemy threats.
Are you also planning to support NVIDIA DLSS technology in Boundary?
Actually what we did to win the DXR award already supports DLSS, so yes, I believe we will support DLSS.
What do you think about the specifications confirmed by Sony and Microsoft for their next-generation consoles? What's the single most impressive new feature in your opinion?
The raw power of CPU, memory bandwidth and SSD are very impressive compared to the current gen consoles. Games are always hungry for power to render more beautiful graphics. For me personally, I’d love to see more physics gameplay from next-gen games. It is very hard to pick one best feature between memory bandwidth and SSD. If I have to pick one, memory bandwidth might be the one.
Is there a chance that you will release a 'PlayStation 5 graphics upgrade patch' for Boundary when the new console is available, perhaps with support for raytracing?
Possibly, I think right now all our focus is on getting this version right for PS4 and supporting that. I think if anything, the new output and power that the next-gen consoles from Sony and Microsoft will deliver as well as the potential success of the current version of the game will inevitably be the deciding factor in bringing an entirely exclusive next-gen version of Boundary to those platforms.
I know the game was originally meant to be compatible with VR. Is that something that could still happen post-launch or not?
We did a technical demo for VR with Boundary which led many to report that it was a PS4 VR game but that wasn’t true. It was more of an idea, a concept if you like where we explored the VR tech and what we could do with it. We love the potential of VR and are very excited by the technology as a whole but we feel it's not quite at a level where we need it to be currently so we’ll wait and see what happens on that front. If VR tech has a technological leap I can see VR being an exciting concept for Boundary but it’s not in our current plans.
Last question: is the game going to be available on Steam or will it be an Epic Games store timed exclusive?
This is the million dollar question we get asked a lot, truth be told we’re still deciding on that and what it means for Boundary, both platforms benefit Boundary in their own ways and our publisher is heading the charge on that front, we’ll be making an announcement soon so that potential players can wishlist the game though.
Thank you for your time.
We've got the chance to discuss the upcoming zero-G tactical multiplayer FPS Boundary with Surgical Scalpels CEO & Co-Founder Frank Mingbo Li