Republique is a unique project in almost every way, from its dystopian setting to the story behind its development — director of Halo 4 left the project to work on his own game that was funded during the last few hours of Kickstarter campaign. There tasks set for Republique are quite rough — it has to shake the mobile games market and introduce a completely new way for player to interact with a character in the PC-version. In his interview with us, Ryan Payton talks about saving unlucky girls from confinement in a totalitarian state, mixing Metal Gear with «Metroidvania» and, of course, Kickstarter.
First of all, Ryan, tell our readers little about your job and position, please.
I’m founder of Camouflaj and work on everything from République’s game design, story, production, and general studio management.
When did you come into the industry?
I started off as a freelance journalist back in the heyday of 1UP.com, XBN, and Electronic Gaming Monthly, reporting from Japan. After a few years of doing that, I landed my dream job as a coordinator at Kojima Productions in Tokyo where I was able to ship a number of fantastic titles including Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence, Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, Metal Gear Acid 2, Lunar Knights, and Metal Gear Solid 4.
You left Halo 4 to work on République. What was behind that decision?
When my job shifted from creative director to narrative director on Halo 4, it was right around the time that I started to get the indie bug and dreamt of doing a game that no big company would ever green-light. After some heavy soul searching, I decided to quit Microsoft and start my own studio, focusing efforts on our first game, République. While I’m convinced that the move to launch Camouflaj was the right one, still I maintain great relationships with many of my past coworkers on Halo.
What can you say about Halo 4?
I’m really impressed with how the game turned out. That was not an easy production, so it’s a testament to the incredible number of talented people who worked on that game.
How did you come to find inspiration from dystopian novels like We and 1984? Are those some of your favorite books, or were you just inspired by other things like current events?
Growing up, George Orwell’s 1984 was one of my favorite books, which is one reason why République is so heavily influenced by it. 1984 also happened to be so prescient that it’s hard for myself and millions of other people not to draw parallels to what we’re seeing the news everyday regarding privacy, government and corporate control, loss of personal freedoms, and so forth…
What are the main differences between République and similar themed games?
There are a number of really unique elements to République including our signature blend of stealth action and survival horror genres. The way players interact with the game is also very different in that players are not the main character on screen and that they control the “stealth survival” action with one touch, not a seventeen button plastic controller. We’ve got a few other surprises that we’re holding close to our chest for the moment…
Can you describe the game mechanics, storytelling techniques and the main idea behind the game?
At its core, République is all about players getting a call from Hope who’s desperately trying to escape from the confines of a totalitarian nation. Through simple touches, players help navigate Hope the world of Metamorphosis, evading enemies as well as engaging them through non-lethal methods in an effort to help her escape to freedom.
How about the enemies in République — do they act alone or in groups? Do they use the environment?
The main enemy in République is the Prizrak, a group of patrolling watchmen who make sure the people of Metamorphosis don’t get out of line. The Prizrak operate in groups, communicate with one another, and are driven by the most advanced AI system ever built for iOS (or so we’re told). We’re actually building a new branch to the AI system this week that allows guards to interact with specific items in the environment to make them seem more alive.
Considering your past work with Hideo Kojima, can we expect any similarities to Metal Gear Solid? Can you reveal République’s key stealth mechanics?
A frequent occurrence during the development has been ideas that have come from either the team or myself that appears in Metal Gear Solid. I’m not sure if that’s a product of my tenure at Kojima Productions, or simply a natural course of creative development for a stealth action game. I’m certain that the teams behind Splinter Cell, Mark of the Ninja, and Dishonored came up with a lot of ideas also found in Metal Gear Solid, and then it’s a question of whether or not they’re too similar, and whether you care if the community is going to draw comparisons or not.
Can you tell more about Metroidvania Structure? How would it be realized without straight control over main character?
I’ve been working diligently on the Metroidvania structure of the game, wondering everyday if République is going to be a «true» Metroidvania game or not. This is still TBD, but one approach I’m considering is making all of the classical unlockable and upgradable player abilities truly tied to the player (behind the camera) and keep Hope as a static character throughout the campaign. It’s not a very popular idea internally, so we’ll see where that takes us…
Dystopia usually show the crisis of historical hope and highlights the indispensability of social evil. The solution to the problem is usually the person who established opposition to society. Don’t you think that all of the above applies to the current realities? What ways do you see for the individual and for the state as a whole with all the big demarcation of modern society and the gradual disappearance of the differences inherent in the people.
Through République, I don't want to distract players with the fantasy of a fictional dystopia, but instead connect what’s going in the game with what’s actually happening in our world. Yes, a strong opposition is key to fighting back against the governmental powers that are trying to regulate our online freedoms. 1984 had its Goldstein character, and République has its own counterrevolutionary, voiced by David Hayter…
About name of the Hope — is it her real name?
You’ll have to play the game to find out!
About iOS and desktop versions: will they be so different that players wish to play one after another? What are the main differences between them?
The scope of the PC and Mac version of République will scale based on how well the iOS version does. The team really hopes that the game does well enough that we can dedicate several months of development time to implement a lot of unique new features that really play to the strengths of the desktop platform. In fact, we just had a meeting today about a feature we cut for iOS that would make perfect sense for the PC version. Even though we’ve been knee deep in République for a while now, we’re still really excited to begin development of the desktop version later this year.
For mobile platforms gameplay promises of République are interesting, but don’t you think that by PC standards it can be shallow, even in view of enhanced edition?
If we’re able to pull off our vision for the desktop version, I think it’s going to be anything but shallow. Sure, the game may be shorter than a lot of PC offerings, but we’ve got a foundation for a really unique play experience that hasn’t ever been delivered on PC and Mac.
Why no Android and PS Vita? Maybe you have plans to release game at Play Market and PSN later?
We’re entering an incredible time in the history of the games industry where there are so many competing platforms including PlayStation Vita, 3DS, Ouya, Steambox, Chrome, Nvidia’s «Shield” handheld, GameStick… I love how all this competition is propelling the marketplace to open up, and in the process taking the power out of the hands of the few — that’s all great stuff. What’s not so great is porting your game, and I’m a firm believer in designing your game to the strengths of each platform. While Android and Vita are cool platforms, we have no plans to release République on them.
How do you think, why there are so little of rich gameplay based games on mobile platforms?
The deluge of rich gameplay experiences on mobile stems from a classic problem: those who can afford to take risks and build something deep, unique, and specifically designed for mobile are few, and they’re too busy green-lighting games based on the flavor of the week on the App Store. Thankfully there are still teams fighting the good fight, like those behind Infinity Blade, Lili, and Sword & Sworcery, to name a few. Also, thankfully there is Kickstarter who can help little guys like us create something a little more epic than your average mobile offering.
To be honest, was crowdfunding above your expectations or beyond them?
Not that I’m ungrateful, but I honestly I thought we’d do a little better on Kickstarter. You don't set your goal for $500,000 hoping that you just barely make it with eight hours to spare (like we did). But with that said, when we crossed the finish line, I was incredibly touched by the experience and also thankful that we stuck to our guns and asked for what we needed, ignoring those who know nothing about game budgets and said that $500,000 is asking way too much for a game like République.
Do you think it will become mainstay for middle-budget games to come to market without publishers?
If crowdfunding continues to grow and involve more and more people, I think it’s possible for middle-range budget games to own a bigger piece of the market. I think a lot of this is dependent on whether consumers will start backing more unique experiences once all the heroes of yesteryear have exhausted the Kickstarter option. I want to be clear: I love how older creators are bringing back games and genres from the past, but I do hope we start to see a shift towards bigger crowdfunding successes for more unique and forward-thinking games.
What’s your most expected games from Kickstarter that will arrive in 2013. Or maybe ones that recently announced.
Good question. We’ve back dozens of projects thus far, but I have to say that Star Command is my most anticipated Kickstarter game of 2013, with Radio The Universe being my most anticipated for 2014. But it’s hard to choose one, let alone two. There are so many exciting things happening in the indie games space and so very few innovations happening on console games that I just hope the Kickstarter revolution not only continues in 2013, but also gets exponentially bigger!