We first had the pleasure of meeting Ole Toubro back at Rezzed 2018, when he was part of the team at Danish developer Mighty Moth, working on the aviation exploration title Above. He’s since moved on to form an even smaller team, with his new studio Not-Disclosed Games. We caught up with him to discuss games, the industry, lockdowns, Pilsners, the connotations of the word "tolerate" and last, but by no means least, hot tubs.
So, tell us about your new company, Not-Disclosed Games.
We are currently two people working with coding and design. We have been working together for quite a while and we do some contract work together as well. We also have half a guy doing sound and we are actually looking for an artist with the right finesse and skillset.
Your first game is twin-stick horror/sci-fi shooter Universe Apart. Can you tell us about the game, and what led you to combining these genres?
We both really like twin-stick shooters and my buddy had made a tiny playable one so we just built from that - adding everything around it. Trying out different art, ways to make it tile-based and random, have long-term gameplay etc. etc. After we got the shadows working we knew we had to make some horror elements - that gameplay and implementation is ahead of us: So if people have suggestions they should hit us up on Discord :)
What impact has COVID-19 had on the development stage?
Well I guess indie game developers have a pretty clear advantage in this - most of us were already used to working from home. I actually think this might have been a benefit for indie games, I mean just look at this February Steam Festival - the line-up is pretty fucking awesome.
What is it like to be such a small team in such a humongous ocean of development companies? How big a risk is it to release a game in the current climate?
Yeah the talent out there is quite amazing isn't it. I actually don't mind being a tiny fish swimming among all these different companies. Be they huge or small, multicoloured or grey, quirky or mainstream, hypers or truthers. I think the medium has far from matured - perhaps it never will - and it is just quite wonderful to be a part of. Our game is still in an early stage, but we like what we are creating - so we are pretty sure others will too.
We discussed the process of creating, and releasing, games/music/art last night; how strongly we both feel about actually getting stuff out there and provoking a reaction - good or bad. Could you elaborate on that?
Yeah that was quite a good chat wasn't it :) I mean to really piss people off you can't be charging them as well, can you? Or is that exactly what the giants excel at with various broken products, stupid release schedules, in-game purchases or advertisements. I don't know. I just think many people outside games see every little hiccup as a catastrophe, they take it personally and some even want the drama. And the marketing teams behind the large games fuel this: There is no such thing as bad press! Fact is very few people know how stupidly hard it is to make a good game - and to make art, as we were discussing last night, you have to infuse that tremendously hard process with message and meaning, dare I even say soul. Some teams are at the right place and time to do that, and some even get hyped and reach a broad audience - to the benefit of everybody involved. Let me sail on my own tiny little hype train or boat or whatever: Universe Apart will have existential dilemmas and abusive elements - they are just not in the demo yet - or are they? :)
"Don't be too hard on yourself, trust your feelings and reach your deadlines."
Where do you see the future of gaming? Is it VR? Streaming services? Traditional consoles/PCs?
All of those… and implants and AR and huge simulations and tiny interfaces and stuff that game us. I actually think game theory integrated with everyday stuff is the next big thing - you already see it to some degree in software like TikTok, Instagram etc. Whole processes we interact with are currently being designed for our conscious and unconscious selves to interact with - and that is pretty much games.
Coronavirus has put the pause button on life, allowing many people to assess where they are, and what they actually want to do with their time/for work. With that in mind, what advice would you give to someone looking to get started in the gaming industry?
Ha yeah - I don't know if I am the right person to ask that - but here goes: Don't be too hard on yourself, trust your feelings and reach your deadlines. Listen to old songs you liked, games you played and loved, movies you adored - none of them are perfect. If caught in the right sardonic mood you could tear each one of them apart and paint them in the worst light possible... So: Do your best, believe in yourself and release!
What game(s) have had the biggest impact on your life?
I am quite fond of simple ones from my childhood that set a mood and let you live there for a while: Lotus, Wolfenstein, Lemmings or Commander Keen - and I could go on :)
In terms of real impact there was this aesthetic little game where you can only move right and you get older as you move, find a dog and another person to love and take with you, then the hair greys and the dog and other person are left behind as tombstones and you also end as a tombstone - that game made me cry. I can't remember it's name, or find it online, it might have been a flash game - that we the human race moved right and left behind…
I also thought quite a lot about the profound idea in Iain M. Banks’ Surface Detail where this guy hosts simmed VR hells for several other races. Consider that: Hell or gods does not exist, but if you violate certain religious laws your sentence is to be uploaded to a virtual hell! WTF? I love how that sets one's mind going about mortality, souls and life itself.
Final question... You're stranded on an island that happens to be blessed with power. Which console/gaming machine do you take and why?
Being stranded on an island sounds like a lot of hard work. I think I would bring a switch so I could play a twin-stick shooter, while being busy on the latrine :)
Thanks to Ole for taking the time to chat to us. Click here for more information on Universe Apart.
We recently had the chance to chat with Bruno and Ricardo Cesteiro, the founders of independent development studio Camel 101, about their latest release. Set in an eerie town with dark secrets, Those Who Remain is a psychological horror title focused on the interplay between light and shadow.
Edward Turner is not a hero, in fact, he travelled to Dormont in order to end an illicit love affair. Was it a challenge to create such a flawed character and still have players invested in his story?
It was very interesting to create Edward. I personally think it’s more interesting to play with a character with whom we can relate too, instead of a golden hero that does everything right and never hurts anyone.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that illicit love affairs are a regular thing. What I mean is that we’re all flawed, we’ve all done things we regret. And sometimes we’re trying to do the right thing, and we end up hurting someone we love. That’s because life is not black and white, reality deals in shades of grey.
I think Edward being flawed and feeling human is one of the things that draws players in when they first start the game. They want to know what’s going on, why he’s meeting his lover in a motel and why he feels so bad about it.
We've seen a host of demons in trailers and gameplay videos. Is light our only weapon or will we have other tools at our disposal?
The shadow people that stand in the dark will disappear by using any kind of light source. That’s the only way to fight them. There are creatures that can walk in the dark and in the light. In these cases, the only options are running and hiding.
You've mentioned in interviews that choice and consequence are big themes; can we expect multiple endings which encourage repeat playthroughs?
The main premise of the game is choices and consequences. Not just the things that Edward’s done, but the things that he will do. And so, we want players to feel the weight of their actions too, meaning that there are three different endings based on the player’s choices. So yes, there’s always room for more playthroughs.
The Sims 4: Island Living is the seventh major expansion for Maxis’ popular life-simulator, taking players (and their Sims) to the tropical paradise of Sulani for a slice of laid-back island living. Following a successful launch earlier in the summer, we chatted with Jill Johnson, Associate Producer on the The Sims 4, about escaping the rat race, island upkeep and the danger of mermaids.
The amount of colour offered by a change of scenery is one of the first things you notice, and players have a responsibility for looking after the island to keep it that way. How easy was is to balance the aesthetic elements with making the experience compelling for players?
From a visual standpoint, we had a few discussions early on concerning the starting stage for Island Conservation. We universally knew we didn’t want the starting point to look like a bleak wasteland, but we also needed to have that wow moment in contrast for the final stage of conservation.
Especially in the earliest phase, boosting up your Island’s conservation takes a bit of commitment. We did this intentionally so that when you’ve finally picked up that magic last piece of trash or spread the word to enough people, you get a very satisfying sense of investment when you get a vibrant notification telling you that your island is thriving.
Our Art and Design teams got pretty creative by pulling a handful of different levers to keep a noticeably visual progression without roughing up the starting point too much. The palm trees and the coral gets a little bit brighter. Instead of nets and piles of litter, eventually you start to see more fish and turtles and butterflies. Bright and colorful flowers start to show up. And my personal favorite is the striking bioluminescence you can spot glowing at night.
There seems to be a disaster movie element here, with your active volcano in particular stopping Island Living from being a total paradise. What sort of unexpected events will players be dealing with this time?
Oh yes, the volcano. It’s true, one of the pillars of Island Living is a peaceful, relaxing lifestyle. But this is still The Sims! And we definitely have some people on the team who love to grief their Sims. Other than possibly getting pummelled by lava bombs and catching on fire - if the Volcanic Activity Lot Trait is on your lot, of course - your Sims can find themselves in some other compromising situations around Sulani.
My personal favorite danger is the shark. If you swim out into the deeper, darker parts of the ocean there is a very real threat that you may encounter a shark. Pro tip: If you don’t get your Sim out of the water right away, you might just get pulled under and die.
If you displease the Island Spirits from the Island Spirits Lot Trait or the Island Elementals that are tied to the Child of the Island Personality Trait, they will make your luck turn sometimes disastrously bad.
And last but not least: not all Mermaids are sweet and friendly. Mermaids can use Summon Ocean Threat or use their Siren’s call on other unsuspecting swimmers that leaves them in a very bad state.
Dolphins also inhabit Sulani's waters, though encounters with them are markedly less threatening to your health
With The Sims being loosely based on our own exciting lives, how do you make things like dealing with insurance claims and the more serious business of child protection fun and interesting? Is it difficult to find the right balance between real life and Sim life?
We try to keep most things in The Sims generally light-hearted & entertaining, even when dealing with the less glamorous parts of life. We also don’t want our Sims universe to be this pristine perfect utopia, because what’s the fun in that? Sims can fart, Sims can die, and sometimes Sims can milk a Cowplant.
Many of our players love being able to play a realistic life, homework and all. Like any of our features, when dealing with something mundane or dark, we play the feature and feel it out. Our development team has gotten a very fine sense of what feels appropriate and what might need a little more silly.
If something’s feeling too boring, maybe we’ll adjust the tuning to make it less of a grind or add some extra funny chance to fail. If something’s feeling too serious we might liven it up a bit with some goofy animations. We try to keep a balance.
For those who might have been away from the series for a while, or players who haven't tried The Sims before at all, do you feel like this is a good point to jump into the delightful world of Simlish and unprompted kitchen fires?
Of course! It’s never too late to jump in and pick up The Sims. One of the coolest things I think The Sims has to offer is that, similar to most of the game pieces, even the packs you chose to play help make your experience modular. So if Island Living is the only expansion pack you own, you won’t be worse for the wear. Your Sims just might be a little more chill than others. Tee hee.
We found ourselves quite taken with puzzle-platformer Etherborn after our hands-on preview back in March, so naturally jumped at the chance to interview Creative Director and Altered Matter Co-Founder, Samuel Cohen, about the project on the eve of its launch.
"I’d even build my ideas in Lego first so I could easily see and manipulate the structures before we spent time and effort putting them in-game."
Early on I realized that when creating a game, you have to think about where you put the limits. In a platforming game, the first limit can even be the direction of gravity. But if you multiply that by six (one per axis), you’re probably going to have a couple of headaches. You can solve that limitation by creating others, like making linear levels, or basing your movements on a stamina bar, or even not making a platformer at all. But with Etherborn, the point was precisely to create ambiguous and explorable stages that would act as navigational puzzles, which means the stages could very easily fall apart due to the tiniest of things. One wall a bit too high, and you may be able to reach it jumping horizontally from the other side of the world. One too short, and you might be able to fall into an unintended platform. So yeah, in the end, many, many hours were spent on each corner of the game because in our case they’d make a vast difference on the end result.
We find the game to be a very meditative experience; did you build it with specific intent towards encouraging mindfulness?
I wouldn’t say there was an intention of going towards the specific concept of mindfulness, but I get where this question comes from, because in a way, it intersects with our objectives. We did build the game with the intention of stimulating the players' sensibility, with a kind of design and art that would encourage a less focused play style. If you try to be too stubborn finding the correct paths and the solutions, the game can actually become harder. Since we’ve been watching literally hundreds of players since we started showing the first prototypes at events, we’ve seen an entire spectrum of behaviour and reactions at this point.
And what seems to always get the best results is when players just try to flow with the levels, explore a bit here and there, visualize the landscape in their mind, and try alternatives if their first ideas were not getting a result. Then it’s going to feel far more comfortable and the game should click in terms of “what do I have to do now”. But as humans, we usually don’t operate like this, myself included. We are very stubborn creatures and need answers right away. For this reason, we wanted to use all of the artistic elements of the game to express that you can just take your time, experiment, and figure out everything at a slower pace. The story also talks about the necessity of putting yourself and your world into question, although told in a relatively abstract way, so I think that helps add to the meditative tone.
Meet the Altered Matter team, who you can learn more about here.
How did you come to work with FoxNext? Have they been involved in the game’s development at all, or only its promotion?
FoxNext were planning on starting their Indie Fund and at the onset were looking around for potential games that they believed matched their vision - games that are innovative and a little different, but already have a bit of a track record. We’d been successful on FIG, won a few awards at events and even had a decent announcement so we had some traction already. But we were constantly in fear of not being able to deliver the finished game to all major consoles and PC at the same time. Their help ensured us more breathing room to finalize the game across all platforms and also time to polish and launch at a better time. They have also helped us with the production and planning for the final steps of development and the release, but full creative control of the game and it’s promotion was with us.
With your first project now in the bag, what’s next for Altered Matter?
It’s still a little hard to believe the game is actually out so we’re still stuck in a bit of haze and looking at what the world thinks of our first creation. Depending on how the game does in the next few months will pretty much determine our own future. We have ideas of what we could try next of course, but these are just tiny sparks of light in the back of our minds.
A huge thank you to Samuel for taking the time to extensively answer our questions during what we're sure is an incredibly busy launch period!
We called Etherborn "outstandingly clever and effortlessly spellbinding" in our review.
Almost three years ago, Chinese developer Surgical Scalpels announced that they were partnering with PlayStation to bring the ambitious Project Boundary to PS4 and PS VR. Now the tactical, zero-gravity online FPS is back simply as Boundary and focused on a standard (non-VR) launch. We recently spoke to Surgical Scalpels Co-Founder, CEO, and Technical Director, Frank Mingbo Li, about these changes and much more.
There's an incredible level of detail on display in Boundary's new trailer.
You’ve changed the game's title from Project Boundary to just Boundary since the original announcement - can you offer any insights as to why you made the switch?
Project Boundary internally [refers to] a [development] project and was more focused towards the game as [an] actual project we were working on, rather than anything related to a back story or some sort of secret initiative or organisation within the game itself. Changing it to just Boundary made more sense for the full release and kept it simple yet intriguing at the same time.
What new ideas are you bringing to the tactical FPS genre? Is there anything in particular that PS4 players can look forward to that they can’t experience in other shooters on console?
Well, there’s the Gyro assist aiming system. According to some gamers who tried it [at] PSX in 2017 . . . it was one of the standout features, [since] console gamers can finally play an FPS without fearing PC gamers' mouse advantage.
We also [have] a very cool feature which lets you customize the ammunition in your weapon clips between armor piercing, high explosive and EMP rounds. I haven't really seen that level of customization in a tactical FPS so that is something else we're bringing to the table.
Will we ever see Boundary on non-PlayStation platforms?
Yes, we have a vision to deliver Boundary to PC and other platforms if all goes well. We’d love to see Boundary on more than one platform if we’re able to, but right now we want to make sure we are delivering a solid player experience on PS4.
Can we still just expect to see Boundary launch sometime in 2019, or do you have a more specific release window to share?
The whole team is working very hard in targeting a 2019 street date. We know its a pretty big year in gaming this year and [there's] lots of work for us to do in the meantime, but we’re pleased with the progress so far.
Thanks to Surgical Scalpels' Frank Mingbo Li for taking the time to talk to us.
If Boundary sounds like your thing, keep an eye out for its releases on PlayStation 4 later this year. In the meantime, get every details on the game fresh from its (re)reveal.
VR rhythm game Synth Riders sees players enter a neon-chrome playspace inspired by the '80s and move their bodies to hit notes in time to the synthwave soundtrack, all in a way that's conducive to dance. This has seen the game garner a cult following and allowed the team to support its community with significant post-launch content free of charge. We spoke to Synth Riders' Abraham Aguero about all this and more.
Having just expanded the soundtrack from 16 to 21 songs and introduced a suite of new modes, all via a free update, what are your plans for continued support moving forwards?
We have more music packs lined up as we move forward. We are big believers in giving our fans great value for money, so our plan for the moment is to bring more content to the game, while keeping with our current pricing. However, we also intentionally wanted to help foster a community both in terms of beatmap editors and game modders. We get a lot of great feed from both of these communities who love the ease with which they can create their own tracks or modify the game. This in turn helps us get greater awareness and greatly helps expand the experience of the game.
Courtesy of the same free update, Synth Riders is now the first game to feature native integration of the YUR.fit software - how does it feel to help keep people in good health whilst they enjoy playing the game?
I think this is a huge evolution for Synth Riders. We were approached by Cix Liv, who not only co-founded YUR.fit, but also the in-game video streaming technology, LIV. Cix noticed the number of Streamers who played Synth Riders and recognized the synergy between playing the game and losing weight. We have always been interested in exploring this VR fitness niche, but Cix is building a whole business around it.
He has a great clip on Facebook that summarizes his vision for VR fitness, which he believes is a game changer because it combines fitness and fun. Players who enjoy active games like Synth Riders or Beat Saber are actually improving their health while they play. YUR.fit now helps these enthusiasts understand the degree to which they are burning calories. Synth Riders is stoked to be working so closely with Cix and his co-founder Dilan who have really helped us on a number of strategic and marketing levels.
Was the fitness element a consideration when development started, or more a happy side effect of the game’s involved motion controls?
Well music and dance was always a central component of our game. From our perspective we wanted our fans to have fun and get fit. YUR.fit wants fans to get fit and [have] fun. There is a subtle difference but the two are very closely linked.
Does the success of Beat Saber - a game with which yours shares many similarities - mostly excite or concern you? Is there something which really sets Synth Riders apart from the competition?
This is a question that we get asked a lot. Many people who had not heard about Synth Riders immediately think we are just jumping on the Beat Saber bandwagon. The reality is that we were both developing our games at the same time. Beat Saber came to market about two months before us and it wasn’t until they emerged that we realized the game existed. Personally, I think Beat Saber is a great game. At this stage whatever helps enhance the industry is great for everyone, so to be compared with Beat Saber is a compliment.
When it comes to the differences between our games I think it boils down to fighting a foe or dancing with a partner. The fundamental difference can be found in the titles of the game. Beat Saber plays off the word beat, which references the rhythm element of the game, but also the boxing component. You [literally] have to beat the game with your saber. With Synth Riders you are drawn into a dance. Because your hands are transformed into orbs [(instead of sabers with some range to them)] it forces you to move more of your body. Once you begin to master our game you really have to be dancing, you are playing with the game, as if it is a dance partner, you are not opposing it.
You’re currently working on an Oculus Quest release; how’s that coming along? Also, do you have any plans to bring the game to PlayStation VR in the future?
We have done a lot of work getting the game ready for Oculus Quest and if you ask our team it’s pretty much ready to go. We are just waiting for the greenlight from Oculus. When it comes to demoing the game, working with Quest is a breeze because the set up is so simple. Because our game is so active the fact that Quest doesn’t have any wires or cords frees up the player and helps them really get lost in the game, which is huge.
In regards to PlayStation VR, we have been approved as VR game developers and are hoping to have the game on PlayStation by mid to late fall.
As previously mentioned, you’re currently in Early Access - when can we expect to see the full release?
Our plan is to come out with a full release by this summer, when we will have more songs to offer and some other exciting developments, which are currently under wraps. But stay tuned. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Thanks to Abraham Aguero for taking the time to answer our Synth Riders questions!
Check the game out on Steam, the Oculus Store, and Viveport if you're looking to have some fun whilst working on your fitness. Oculus Quest and PlayStation VR fans should also keep their eyes peeled for Synth Riders' impending release on both platforms.
For a chance to win 1 of 5 Synth Riders Steam keys, enter our giveaway.
Telefrag VR is a no-nonsense 1v1 arena shooter boldly said to deliver "what other studios are afraid to touch". Set in a world where futuristic gladiators fight for the glory of a Roman Empire which never fell, inspired by greats like Quake III Arena and Unreal Tournament, Polish developer Anshar Studios are aiming to bring a frenetic and competitive FPS experience to virtual reality whilst preserving player comfort.
Do you worry that the fast pace and gravity-defying movement might cause motion sickness in some players? Have you found that basing movement on dashes and teleportation, rather than smooth locomotion, helps to prevent that?
Thanks to Detached, we understand the motion sickness problem very well. On the basis of these experiences, we decided to implement in Telefrag VR the so-called dash movement, which aims to reduce the problem, while maintaining the dynamics of the game, which is our priority. However, during the open beta on Steam, players clearly indicated that they expect us to add smooth mobility as an alternative. The request for smooth mobility came from a group of hardcore players. So to keep the . . . accessibility, but also give space to be better and more open for involved players, we've added a second mode of movement!
I think the fact that players from the beginning have an alternative to the movement and that the game itself is built (maps, gadgets) to eliminate the effects of motion sickness is the best form of counteraction and we feel that we have done everything we could to make players feel comfortable.
Telefrag VR revolves around 1v1 deathmatch duels, but would you ever consider upping the player count and/or introducing additional modes like capture the flag?
The most legendary and exciting ([due to] the high stakes) duels in Quake 3 Arena were 1 vs 1. We decided that we would like to submit a tribute to this form of rivalry through our game. In addition, there are design considerations related to VR itself. We do not want the player to feel overwhelmed by the number of stimuli in Telefrag VR, our goal is to make the game fun from the beginning. At the moment we do not have plans for adding new modes, we are completely focused on the essence of our game: intense 1 vs 1 arena shooting.
Big, elaborate weaponry is central to any classic arena shooter, and so far you’ve showcased three guns which meet that expectation, but will there be additional weapons in the final game?
As you rightly noticed, the rich, interesting arsenal is one of the basics of FPS games. It will be the same in our game.
There are two more weapons ahead of us. The first of these is the Laser Pistol, which is the perfect weapon for all those who value precision. So if you loved Rail Gun duels in Quake 3, then this is definitely a weapon for you. The last weapon from our arsenal is [the] Particle Cannon – this weapon shoots a straight, continuous lightning bolt punishing anyone foolish enough to stand out in the open. Come in too close, and the alternative mode will snap and follow you. You can thank Quake 3's lightning gun for that treatment
To sum up, in Telefrag VR, players will have five weapons at their disposal, each with two shot modes. And another one… you can use [two] weapons (one per hand) at the same time. This allows for more variety of attack during moment-to-moment gameplay. Just imagine it, shooting at the opponent with one weapon and firing the teleport with the other to change position.
We’ve only seen one map so far; can you share any information on any of the three as-yet-unseen maps you’ve teased on the Steam page?
[An upcoming] teaser which we have prepared reveals a bit behind the curtain [on] the remaining battlefields. In order not to reveal everything, but also [further tease] the secret, I will mention that the next maps after Fallen Champion, which you could see in the Announcement Trailer, will be: Mobius Villa and Lazarus Grotto.
Mobius Villa is the perfect reproduction of the ancient architecture of Rome. The traditional Roman domus contains specific elements like peristyle, atrium and beautiful sculptures on every corner. It's slightly different from Fallen Champion, [where] construction was focused on wide-open spaces. Here, we are dealing with a completely different picture of the futuristic Roman Empire - Calmness and prosperity can be seen at first glance.
Lazarus Grotto: Do you remember Dagobah from the most popular movie saga? . . . This comparison perfectly reflects what can be found on this swampy planet. Dirty wetlands arouse anxiety, so you better [not] leave the playing field. Nobody knows what can be hidden in the nearby wetlands. The arena winds around a rock formation, which allows you to fight on several levels.
But these are not all galactic battlefields. Closer to [Telefrag VR's] premiere we will reveal more.
In what ways has your previous VR game, Detached, helped in shaping Telefrag VR?
From the design side, thanks to our previous game, we have understood the problem of motion sickness and how to reduce it, as well as how to create maps to maintain the proper, but also clear dynamic gameplay.
With Detached, we've been at the biggest gaming events, thanks to which we've learned to better observe how players play and how to ask them about feedback so that they do not give us only compliments, but accurate information. The fact that our previous game for some time was in Early Access taught us how to work with the community.
Finally, thanks to Detached, we knew what we did well in the game, but also the areas in which it required better quality. In a nutshell: without Detached, Telefrag was never there!
Telefrag VR is launching simultaneously on HTC VIVE, Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR with cross-platform multiplayer - does that extend to the PS VR version, or is it just between the PC headsets?
We decided on full cross-play. We really want all VR enthusiasts to be able to play with each other regardless of the platform. There is no denying that the simultaneous premiere with the cross-play function from the beginning is a huge challenge for our company, but also an exciting learning experience. Keep your fingers crossed for us, especially for the QA team!
Are there any plans for an Oculus Quest release?
I must admit that at the moment we do not have such plans. If something changes, of course, we will inform you!
Are you able to narrow the release window yet, or can we still just expect to see Telefrag VR launch at some point in 2019?
The premiere is very, very close! Telefrag VR will be released this summer, as you've noted on several platforms at the same time - this is our goal and we are totally focused on it.
Thanks to Szymon and Jakub from Anshar Studios for taking the time to answer our Telefrag VR questions.
If you're interested in their virtual reality arena shooter, be sure to wishlist it on Steam and keep an eye out for it on the Oculus and PlayStation stores.
We talk to Gary Carr, Creative Director and co-founder of Two Point Studios about the team's debut title, Two Point Hospital, and the inevitable comparison to the classic that inspired it.
With such fondness for the original Theme Hospital, how do you decide what to change and what to keep? Do you feel like you're anticipating how people's nostalgia might play tricks on them?
Ben was initially the yard stick to test this on. We realise obvious comparisons to Theme Hospital were inevitable...it’s impossible not to have some similar approaches when those concepts came from us in the first place. It’s just the way we think...it’s our style I suppose. Saying that, we were always intending to make a game that stood on its own two feet.
Theme Hospital always felt very British in its humour and style, is that something you've tried to hold onto in this iteration?
Funnily enough we were talking about this today. It’s inevitable that the humour reflects the makeup of the team but it isn't intentionally meant to be overtly British. We were definitely more aware this time that references needed to be more internationally understood but a British slant wouldn’t be a bad thing and easier to land for us and the writing team.
There's more than one hospital to take care of this time, how does that mix up the gameplay?
Yes it’s really made a big difference. I love jumping around my foundation. Taking all the features I unlock back to the earlier Hospitals I played.
Hospitals are famous for a lot of paperwork and process, how do you balance the elements of the game which are more simulation with the times you make a decision in the name of fun?
Classic trick… suck the player in with a charming world with visuals that are easy on the eye. Lots of fun and varied animations driven by our AI systems. Initially keep the game-play simple and well paced… then gradually layer on more challenges and abilities to tweak the simulation. Before you know it you are a hardcore hospital administrator farming illness for vast profits!
Without giving too much away, the personality traits the characters have in the game sound like they have the potential to create some really memorable combinations. How have you managed to balance all of those minute details to ensure everyone doesn't just become a raving lunatic?
It’s still an ongoing challenge! Getting the character interactions right is so tied into the traits systems, I’m amazed Mark Webley and Ben Huskins haven't lost the plot!
Other than TH, are there games you have revisited from the past that you still enjoy just as much today?
To be honest most games of a certain age are difficult to truly enjoy like I did when they came out… and include all the ones I worked on!
Is there something in the game you've just managed to sneak in, that you're particularly proud of, and players will have to keep a sharp eye out for?
Chris Knott, our lead animator is busy working on loads of animation alternatives for all the peeps interactions. He’s not supposed to, we are in bug fixing mode now, so don’t tell a soul!
Two Point Hospital releases on PC, Mac and Linux 30 August. Will you be readying your prescription pad and throwing on your lab coat? Let us know in the comments.
Raiders of the Broken Planet's outlandish design has had us enthralled since the episodic adventure began late last year, so naturally we jumped at the opportunity to interview the team behind it. Game Director and MercurySteam co-owner, Enric Álvarez (@Enric_Alvarez), answered the call and joined us to discuss the game's inspirations, community, future and much more!
With a successful track record for handling legendary third-party properties (Castlevania, Metroid), what prompted MercurySteam to strike out on an independent project?
We are immensely proud of the games we have created for both Konami and Nintendo (you could say MercurySteam is the only true Metroidvania studio!), but Raiders of the Broken Planet is a passion project, and those kinds of projects demand nothing less than total creative freedom in order to keep their essence intact. Working with publishers in the past has made us better game developers, and we are now putting that expertise to use in Raiders of the Broken Planet.
"We are immensely proud of the games we have created for both Konami and Nintendo, but Raiders of the Broken Planet is a passion project, and those kinds of projects demand nothing less than total creative freedom..."
This is the team’s first independent venture - one with a large budget (relatively speaking) and plenty of eccentricities - do you feel like you're taking a bit of a risk?
Risk is like fear: Most people in the industry want to move away from it and that is a perfectly reasonable action to take. However, can you imagine, Indiana Jones running from danger instead of facing it? What a boring movie Raiders [of the Lost Ark] would have been! Maybe the first - and right - question to answer is how confident are you in your own ideas and how capable do you think you are in making those ideas happen. Depending on your honest answer to those questions, then you can properly judge the real risk you are entering into… We felt confident that we could make something exceptional that people would be interested in, despite the risks.
Whilst the team have been active in optimising the game for storefronts (rebranding the free starter campaign, releasing bundles), they’ve been even more committed to in-game updates. How important is it for Raiders to keep evolving over time?
It’s not only important - it’s essential. Raiders of the Broken Planet is an ongoing game, an evolving project. In order to keep the community engaged, you need to update the game regularly. That not only involves launching new campaigns, characters, weapons and skins on a regular basis, but also adjusting the game to your community’s tastes, constantly tweaking and rebalancing characters and missions as they get affected by the new content we add to Raiders of the Broken Planet.
As Raiders’ continued support has illustrated, you take feedback from the community very seriously. Just how important are players and critics in shaping a game under continued development?
Community feedback is the base of the game’s evolution. The best part of the radical redesign that accompanied the third campaign’s launch was a direct answer to the fans’ feedback, potentiating what they liked and getting rid of what they didn’t. We are in contact with players every day, interacting with them on Twitter, Facebook, the official forums or in Discord, and the advice they offer is absolutely brilliant. We can say that Raiders of the Broken Planet is a better game now thanks to them.
Enric discusses the changes implemented in Raiders of the Broken Planet's recent redesign, which you can read our thoughts on here.
Microtransactions are currently a hot-button issue within the industry; from an independent developer’s perspective, just how much has their implementation impacted the project? For example, could the ticket system (which allows players to join friends on premium missions they haven’t purchased) exist in their absence?
Microtransactions are part of most videogames nowadays. We have included them mainly to acquire cosmetic character skins that don’t affect the player’s performance in the game. But our business model is based on offering premium content for a very reasonable price – 9.99€/£/$ per campaign. We also gave away a sizeable part of the game for free, with the Eternal Soldier campaign, as well as introducing the ticket system and the Mission of the Week to allow them to invite friends to give those free to play gamers more freedom and options to explore the Raiders of the Broken Planet world and decide if they want to invest more on it.
With recent changes to the game’s ecosystem, namely halving the cost of every character, has that changed at all?
The introduction of the new progression system has been incredibly well received by the community. Characters are now unlocked as part of said progression, depending on the player’s level. That sets goals for the player to plan their advance through the game, always having something new to achieve. Halving the in-game currency cost of every character was also something our community demanded, and we happily obliged.
How do you feel the audience response towards Raiders has changed over the nearly seven months since it first launched?
Raiders of the Broken Planet has a really strong, committed and proactive core of fans who have been involved with the game since the early beta process. They have seen the game evolve since we launched in September 2017 and kept on playing even if they didn’t agree with all the design decisions that we took. Now, with Hades Betrayal’s launch and the new redesign, they feel that their opinions are being heard, and that we take these very seriously when deciding our next moves and how we’ll take the game forward. Raiders of the Broken Planet is now their game as much as it is ours.
"[Fans] feel that their opinions are being heard, and that we take these very seriously when deciding our next moves... Raiders of the Broken Planet is now their game as much as it is ours."
Can you give us a taster of what to expect from Council Apocalypse, the fourth and final premium campaign in the current Raiders season?
Council Apocalypse will be the final campaign of Raiders of the Broken Planet's first season. Harec and his band of Raiders will be pitted against the Fifth Council, the most calculating and technologically advanced of all the factions fighting for the control of the Broken Planet. As it happened with the previous campaigns, there will be a new Raider to recruit from that faction, Valeria. She will be vital to put an end to the Council’s insidious plans.
Similarly, can you offer any kind of hint as to what to expect after Council Apocalypse? Post-campaign cutscenes have offered some tantalising glimpses into the Broken Planet’s past - could we be in for a prequel season?
Once the players complete Council Apocalypse, the whole picture of the post-credits sequence will be revealed. Is it just an echo of the distant past, or does it have something to do with the future of the Broken Planet? Only time will tell!
Are there more Antagonists or Raiders on the dev team, and who’s the most popular character for each role?
There are an alarmingly high number of Antagonists in the studio. I guess we all like to vent off steam by playing the bad guys and ruining each other’s games! Until recently, Lycus was the character of choice for playing the Antagonist, but Doldren seems to be very popular these days - his special ability to sneak behind his enemies’ backs is just perfect for that role!
Thanks to MercurySteam's José Herráez, and, of course, Enric Álvarez for taking the time to answer our questions!
Keep an eye out for our upcoming Hades Betrayal let's play, and be sure to enter our giveaway for a chance to win one of five Raiders of the Broken Planet - Ultimate Edition PS4 keys by clicking the banner below. The Ultimate Edition bundles all of the episodic shooter’s standalone campaigns alongside five exclusive skins, with now being the perfect opportunity to get involved, as the package is set to exit digital storefronts stage left next week.
Welcome down to another of our indie dev chinwags, this time with the fine folks at aPriori Digital. Based in Bristol, the team have just released their first game, an old-school shmup called Aperion Cyberstorm.
What inspired you and your team during the development stage?
The initial inspiration was the resurgence of couch co-op games like Towerfall. What we’ve found interesting is during development that style of games fell away for more online-based games, yet having recently showcased Aperion at EGX Rezzed, it seems they’re making a comeback!
"You have to be a little mad to work in the games industry, but I think it’s fair to say most games devs are a little mad anyway."
Can you tell us about your team at Apriori Digital?
The team are all graduates of the Game Technology degree at the University of the West of England, and it was through that course that we all met and decided to form a company. We’re all in the South West of England, with an office in Bristol. Aperion Cyberstorm is our first major title.
How difficult is it for indie developers in this current market? Can you take artistic risks and still make a profit? Are shows like Rezzed beneficial in helping you find an audience?
I would say it’s as difficult as it might be for indies in the music or book industries, in the sense that a lot of the time the thing you’ve poured your soul into isn’t going to bring in the big bucks. Sometimes you may find it won’t make anything. For a lot of indies, it’s a question of whether they would still make games if it wasn’t going to earn them enough to recoup costs. You have to be a little mad to work in the games industry, but I think it’s fair to say most games devs are a little mad anyway.
What advice would you give to someone looking to work in the video gaming industry?
Network. Go to events, socials, anything where other game developers might be. But here’s the key part: stay in touch. Don’t go expecting to land a job or a contract straight away. A one-and-done email is more likely to end deleted than responded to. Follow up on the people you meet. We’ve contracted people for work that matches their skillset two years after we met them at events like Develop. We remember them because they would keep in touch every once in a while.
Understand that instant success isn’t a reality for 99% of developers. We spend a lot of our time working on contracts, and that’s the same for other devs. You’ll tend to find that the success stories are littered with a string of previous works that didn’t do as well. As an example, I’d recommend this talk by Jake Birkett about a decade of game making without a ‘hit’.
Where do you think the industry is heading - is VR the future in your opinion?
I wouldn’t say it’s the future, in the same way I wouldn’t say a particular platform or genre is the future. It’s another flavour of gaming, like augmented reality. VR’s working wonders for training in the engineering and medical fields, but I feel like it is still trying to find its legs in the gaming space. I hope it’s a success.
What game(s) have had the biggest effect on your life, and why?
Metal Gear Solid 2 – Holy bejebus, the back half of this game! I went in knowing nothing about it, so when the ‘Colonel’ went loopy it scared the crap out of me. I hadn't played the first MGS at the time, so the fourth wall breaks (like being told to turn the console off) left a massive mark on me. The game's almost prophetic at this point with its focus on the control of information context. Also, because Sons of Liberty in the UK came with a documentary on the making of the game, it was the first time I got to see how the sausage is made, as it were. At that point I knew what I wanted to make my career.
Eternal Darkness – Much like MGS2, Eternal Darkness’ biggest draw for me what the fourth wall breaks, using the game against the player by ‘deleting’ save data, loading the map upside down and dropping the volume on the TV. I loved traditional gameplay – I’m a sucker for the FPS genre – but challenging player expectation in the way that MGS2 and Eternal Darkness did is something I would love to explore.
Bloodborne - It was on sale, and people raved about it, so hey why not, right? Holy crap, this is one of the greatest games ever. The risk/reward gameplay and sheer speed of it is something I never knew I wanted. I wasn’t into the Souls games as much, but I’ve spent over 100 hours in Bloodborne, and I have no intention of stopping. Time will tell what kind of mark it has left.
What does the future hold for Aperion Cyberstorm & Apriori Digital?
Right now it’s coming to Steam and Wii U. As for other platforms, well, we’ll see. We have plans for our next title which is a bit of a departure in several ways from Aperion Cyberstorm, and we’d love the chance to bring it to its fullest potential. As a studio, we also work with other companies on their projects, whether games or other kinds of software, so if you’re looking for help on a project hit us up!
If you were on a desert island (it has power) and could only take one console, what would you take, and why?
PlayStation 2. I mean, *that* library. I could spend most of my life playing through its back catalogue, then work my way through the PS1 library!
Thanks to aPriori Digital for taking the time to talk to us. Aperion Cyberstorm is available now on Steam, Nintendo Switch and Wii U. If you'd like to learn more about the game, check out our review.