Areal – The “Definitive” STALKER Successor, or Something Else? | Exclusive Interview
EDITORS NOTE: This interview was conducted the day of the Kickstarter. We did not receive our answers back until the AFTER the things about the Kickstarter started popping up that it might be a scam. We also follow a schedule for our interviews and this was the day for the interview to go live. We understand your concerns with the project, and don’t take this interview as our way of saying “go fund it”. We are as confused as you about the project, and this will be our final piece of coverage until they developers show something tangible. We’re sorry for any confusion this may have brought you.
According to comments, the developers have been adding the final piece with their own QA to other interviews, so that should speak volume. While we won’t take the article down due to the response we will get, like people constantly asking where it is and a bunch of broken links, we do advise that you stay away from funding this “concept” for the time being.
West Games’ Areal Kickstarter has been in the spotlight lately due to some people questioning the authenticity of the project. Areal, which is claiming to be a spiritual successor to the beloved STALKER franchise, made by West Games, who claim to be former STALKER developers, has come under fire regarding art, assets, team resumes, the low funding goal, and the right to claim spiritual succession of STALKER. Despite all these floating issues, some of which are settled, some of which are still being resolved, Areal appears to be a fascinating project. We decided to chat with West Games about survival, Metamorphite, and the inevitable comparisons to STALKER.
Areal places you in the Russian taiga – an area suffering the aftermath of an unusual meteor strike. In the wake of the meteorite, a mysterious substance called Metamorphite has begun to spread through the land, warping everything it touches to the point of the collapse of human civilisation. The immediate area surrounding the meteor strike was divided into three areas – the relatively safe green zone, more contaminated yellow zone, and the red zone – a place so toxic that anyone who enters it is irreversibly mutated. You play as the only person in the world who can venture into the Metamorphite-infested woods and return unchanged.
Areal’s world is based on the book of the same name by Sergey Tarmashev, whom West Games says they are collaborating with on their Kickstarter page. While the game’s storyline will “cross over with the storyline of the book”, the game will have its own storyline, distinct from the novel. “The larger world and back-story is very much based on the book though.”
With Areal still in the pre-alpha stage, everything is subject to change, but West Games are aiming to make the main story 20 hours long. Playtime is increased through exploration, discovery, collectibles, customisation, and side missions, although an exact hour figure on that increase is unsure at this point. “The fact that every player’s experience is unique also adds an undoubtable layer of replayability.” West Games told us.
Following STALKER’s example, Areal is a first person shooter with RPG elements. “Areal will have a wide array of options for customization,” we were told, “and we take a lot of elements that people associate more with RPGs to do that.” This eventuates in the customisable features within the game. Guns, armour, vehicles, and character traits can be customised to suit how you play. On top of that, Metamorphite can grant special abilities, which the player can choose to use in different ways.
But Metamorphite is not solely for special abilities. “Metamorphite is integral to everything in the world of Areal.” West Games told us. “Metamorphite is a versatile substance that acts as health, a form of money, and even as a valid means of offensive weaponry.” Exactly how this will play out in the final game we weren’t told, but the system sounds like an interesting expansion of STALKER’s artifacts.
West Games is taking a non-linear approach to gameplay, providing players a number of ways to complete their missions. “For us, non-linearity means that the player can choose his own distinct solution to the situation that he finds himself in.” West Games said. “So for example, a group of bandits steals something from a camp, and that camp asks you to retrieve what those bandits stole. Now normally, you’d just track down and kill said bandits and the mission is over, but in Areal, you can side with the bandits, ignore the situation and hope it resolves by itself, or even try to reason with the bandits.” Even Areal’s side missions will follow this non-linear approach, giving players variety to enjoy.
Interestingly, Areal won’t be solely first person. According to West Games, there will be
“opportunities wherein you can switch from first person to third person, in order to get a more cinematic feel.” These third person occasions will be entirely optional, however, and controlled by the player, meaning those who want to stay immersed can, while those looking for a more dramatic approach can take that too.
The world of Areal will be even harsher than STALKER’s Zone. “In Areal, almost every living organism has been altered or mutated in some way.” we were told. “Some look relatively similar to what they were before, while others look nothing like what they originally were.” The closer to the centre of Areal’s world, the more dangerous the world gets. “So for example,” West Games told us, “if you go into the red zone, then you’ll have a hard time trying to make it out of there alive.” And as you progress, the landscape and creatures only become harsher and more twisted.
“Areal is a strange world that gets even stranger the further you venture into it. It has a wide array of environments that range from colourful to bleak and post-apocalyptic. The green zone is relatively normal, and things can be considered as ‘normal’ there. The yellow zone is very strange, with plenty of mutants, a bleaker atmosphere, and even things that somehow bend the laws of physics. The red zone is a wasteland that is horrible in every way imaginable – the laws of physics have been altered and horrendous things occur there that are unfathomably scary.”
Anomalies play an important role in creating a dangerous world. As you penetrate deeper into Areal, even the environment itself becomes hostile, with anomalies peppering the surrounds. Anomalies are dangerous strangenesses, where death lurks. “For the most part, they will kill you.” West Games told us. “They are havens for all sorts of horrendous things.”
The size of Areal’s world itself is still changing, but West Games promises to “expand it as much as possible” dependant on the team’s capabilities. A discerning eye is being applied to world design, however, with West Games aiming to eliminate filler where possible. “[W]e can say that we do not add to the world needlessly,” they told us, “and every section of the map should have a purpose. So even if you venture a little bit into the world, you’re bound to encounter lots of interesting situations.”
According to West Games, Areal has been talked about with potential publishers and investors, “and it wouldn’t be correct to say that they aren’t interested in [Areal].” However, the team voluntarily decided to take the game to Kickstarter, deciding that the benefits of Kickstarter were what they wanted for Areal. “Kickstarter gives you something that neither publishers nor investors can give you,” they told us, “and that’s a higher degree of creative freedom.”
While the West Games team “can’t really discuss what’s happened internally at GSC” regarding STALKER 2’s development, the team told us that the idea for Areal came “roughly 2 years after the closure of GSC.” With STALKER 2 on ice, the West Games team are using the “clean slate” of Areal to realise some of the ideas that they had in mind for STALKER 2.
West Games will be using a proprietary engine for Areal. The developers, who have previously worked on Unreal, CryEngine, X-Ray, and Unity, are using that experience to develop an engine that will give the team what they need to make Areal. “With that said, we have shown what we are capable of doing previously, and are in the process of creating this framework.” That engine sounds like it is still being worked on, since West Games reminded us that Areal is still in pre-alpha.
Perhaps a strange match for Areal, West Games have expressed interest in bringing the game to Wii U. In fact, it’s precisely because it is a strange combination that West Games wish to bring Areal to the Wii U. “We think that many Wii U owners are interested in having a game like ours on their system.” we were told. “[S]omething like Areal is a rarity on the Wii U.” It brings up obvious questions regarding performance, considering the Wii U’s severe lack of processing oomph, especially compared to this latest generation of Sony and Microsoft consoles, not to mention PC. West Games are optimistic, though – “[w]e want to say that we will not sacrifice quality or graphics because of the variety of platforms that we are releasing on.” they told us. “The Wii U will have all of the features that other versions of the game have.”
Areal is currently being Kickstarted with a $50 000 goal. West Games are aiming for PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, Xbox One, and Wii U releases, although no date has yet been set. Thanks very much to the team at West Games for taking the time to talk about Areal.
In addition to this interview, which was organised before the Kickstarter went live and conducted over email, West Games sent along an official statement to us regarding the recent controversies surrounding the game’s Kickstarter, which was also posted on their Kickstarter page via an update. We’re publishing the entire statement, completely unaltered, right below.
“Some people have accused you of not being real. What do you have to say to those accusations?
They are completely false and were spread originally by vostok games and Misery LTD. We have posted numerous updates, including video updates, that have systemically dis-proven every accusation that has been made against us (Post).
Both Vostok Games and Misery LTD have retracted their accusations against us officially. Unfortunately, some news outlets have taken their word without doing any fact checking, and have posted these allegations against us. There is an unfortunately true saying on the internet, and it’s that if you repeat a lie often enough, it then becomes fact.
Is 50,000 enough to make the game?
This is a question that we get a lot. But before I answer it, I want to ask two other questions. Why do people think that 50,000 is the maximum that we can raise, and not the absolute minimum? And why are professional’s salaries different in different countries?
We have a start up, we already have fans, plus we ourselves are fans of what we’re doing, so we don’t need big salaries. We need an opportunity to do, create , promote and make the world a more exciting place. That’s why we did not force up our salaries and expenses. To further elaborate on our budget though, we have a whole section on our Kickstarter dedicated to why our BASE goal is what it is:
” We’ve pooled all of our savings into making Areal, and don’t have funds to go any further. Unlike most companies, every one of our employees has invested their time and money into making Areal. The budget that we’ve pooled together covers salaries and some aspects of game development. We need the Kickstarter and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. community to support us by helping us cover the rest. Marketing also makes up a huge portion of most budgets, so we will rely on internal marketing as well as word of mouth to lower those costs substantially. ”
NOTE: OnlySP has no stake in the Areal Kickstarter and is just passing along information. You are free to decide to support the Kickstarter or not based on your overall impression.