Fast-paced strategy game fans got a big treat today with Dropzone launching on Steam Early Access today. The game is developed by Sparkypants, which is largely comprised of former Big Huge Games employees who made classic real-time strategy (RTS) games such as Rise of Nations. Dropzone is a RTS and MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) hybrid, with a particular focus on 1v1 matches that are limited to 15 minutes each.

There’s a clear scoring mechanism in Dropzone, making it an easy game for newcomers to understand. The fast-paced action should keep players hooked, as they control three heroes in fast-paced competition that feels like a cross between StarCraft and League of Legends. Whoever scores the most points in the allotted time wins. Other modes included in Early access includes 2v2 battles, contracts (daily challenge missions), and Infestation mode, where up to four players work cooperatively to defend a reactor against invading aliens.

Jason Coleman, president and studio manager of Sparkypants
Jason Coleman, president and studio manager of Sparkypants

The president and studio manager of Sparkypants, Jason Coleman, spoke with [a]listdaily about the Early Access launch and how Dropzone’s combination of both classic RTS and MOBA gameplay could make it the next big pro-competition sensation.

In talking about what inspired the creation of Dropzone, Coleman said, “we had a vision for the kind of game we would make that harkens back to our early loves, which were mostly classic RTS games like StarCraft, Age of Empires, and the game we loved developing, Rise of Nations. We loved playing and developing them, but we weren’t really playing them anymore. So, we were trying to figure out a modern version of that kind of game, which is Dropzone. One of the big pieces was coming up with a game that had a brief fix in a short time period but still felt satisfying.”

At first glance, one might think that Dropzone is a new MOBA game that’s struggling against established hits such as League of Legends or Dota 2, but Coleman explained how its gameplay stood out. “Dropzone looks like a MOBA, but when people play it, they tend to think that it feels more like StarCraft,” he said. “First of all, it’s 1v1, so it’s not team play. It’s all you against another player, which is a fairly dramatic difference. Second, everyone is controlling three heroes and map control becomes a really big deal. That’s the part where it starts to feel like an RTS and very different from a MOBA. Another thing is that the theory crafting is quite different. You have to figure out how you’re going to configure your heroes with abilities and how you’re going to play with them.”

When asked why the company decided to focus on small 1v1 matches, Coleman replied: “Primarily because this is the kind of game we like to play, and that’s what we loved about StarCraft, Age of Empires and Rise of Nations back in the day, where 1v1 was the core competitive scene. We do support other ways of playing in Early Access, where you can play casually with your friends, but we felt that this was a missing component and that people had gotten away from it. There’s a lot of virality with team play, but it’s a different experience. It’s a much more intense experience when it’s 1v1.”

As for why matches were limited to 15 minutes each, Coleman said, “a lot of that is because people are starting to move to mobile games–quick games that they can fit into their schedule. This was true for us as well.”

He continued by explaining that “we have families now, but we still love that competitive kind of play. It’s really difficult to start a game and not know whether it’ll last 30 minutes or an hour-and-a-half. We really loved having a game that could be played twenty minutes before dinner. [The time limit] also leads to some really cool stuff like tournaments, which we won’t have at the beginning of Early Access, but we’ll probably turn them on a week or two later. This sort of casualizes the tournament experience, because with a 15-minute time period, we could have a 16-person tournament in an hour or a thousand people in an evening. So, we can have these running regularly with tournaments going every day.”

With tournament support built into the game early on, we asked Coleman if he thought there was a strong chance of Dropzone being adopted as an eSport. “We think that it has all the hallmarks of being a very successful eSport,” he said. “We’ve always said that the community will decide that. But we were surprised by how quickly pros and high-level players took to the game early on. Our goal is to support that community as much as it wants to grow. It’s my personal goal to casualize the tournament play style. There’s this notion that only the most hardcore players will play tournaments, and there’s an opportunity in Dropzone for people to set up one-hour play sessions to see how far they can get in a bracket.”

We asked about whether or not it would be a challenge to maintain long-term engagement with a game that features short 1v1 matches. “In addition to the time limit, one of our goals was to avoid having the gameplay become stale, the way traditional RTS games sort of do–where there are a few styles of play and people tend to adopt them,” said Coleman. “One of the cool things about constantly introducing new abilities and gear is that there’s always experimentation to do. That’s an opportunity for fresh gameplay to emerge, with people experimenting and finding out new ways to play the meta and engage with the game.”

Lastly, Coleman discussed how the team at Sparkypants was getting the word out about Dropzone and its Early Access launch. “A lot of the work we’ve done has been in closed beta. We’ve been in closed beta for quite a while, so we have a small but rabbit pool of players who will be part of the beginning community. We’re also doing a lot of marketing and press, which will be a big push. We think that the game is going to feel very polished for Early Access, but still be something that we can improve, which will help us build a community.”