Exclusive Interviews

‘Get Even’ Could be the Next Step for Single Player Video Games| Exclusive Interview

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Games that push the boundaries between single player and multiplayer are starting to emerge in the market. Lines are getting blurred between the solo campaign and the interactive experience. The benefits of focused story and the intelligence of human opponents seems like an exciting new potential for games to explore. Get Even is the brand new project from the team at The Farm 51, developers behind Deadfall Adventures and NecroVisioN, and it’s setting out to do just that. We talked to The Farm 51 co-founder Wojtek Pazdur about the upcoming memory-traversing FPS, and the way they intend to make their mark on the hybrid single player/multiplayer game space

Get Even is a game about revenge – the conflict between two guys who both want revenge on the other. At least, that’s the initial setup, as the story evolves and winds in a different direction. “It’s a very dark game about different levels of reality we may live on, about the love, hate, crime and sacrifice.” Pazdur told us. “Think about traveling into your memories and personal drama from ‘The Butterfly Effect’ combined with some crime and science-fiction vibe from the ‘Source Code’ and it will be the closest reference to what Get Even is all about.” Get Even will tell a personal tale about the lives of the two people locked in tragic conflict, rather than epic conflict on a global scale.

“It’s not about the secret organizations, warfare, saving the world or epic journeys. Everything takes place in some locations that can be very close to your neighborhood and focuses on the most emotional questions we may ask ourselves – how far can we go to save somebody we love? How much can we sacrifice to get even with someone who destroyed our life? What justifies the revenge if we’re also guilty of the situation we’re into?”

Get Even is a first person action game, with an emphasis on “exploration, investigation, combat and threat” that mixes single player and multiplayer. Your items, weapons, and skills will impact on how challenging you find the game, along with the types of enemies you are engaging. Get Even is utilising a different form of checkpointing, unlike classic single player campaigns. Since you are travelling through a person’s memories, sometimes moving to a previous point is required – not just due to failure. “It’s totally unlike the time-rewind option in “Prince of Persia” or some racing games,” Pazdur said, “certain aspects of the world will move back, but because of what you’ve changed in your memory, not everything is restored.”

There are two campaigns, each of which tells part of the whole story. Each campaign is totally different from the other, and gameplay varies too. The campaigns are “not symmetrical, but rather complimentary,” Pazdur informed us. Since the game is not multiplayer, there does not have to be that kind of balance. Different parts of the game will be easier or more difficult as the story or gameplay needs dictates.

Since each of the two campaigns contributes to the whole story, Get Even is looking at a combined total story playtime of 7-8 hours. But due to the amount of exploration and non-linear content, Get Even will more likely last longer – especially if a player is keen on revealing all the story’s secrets. Get Even’s story is “packed with a lot of optional content to discover, because [The Farm 51 are] not telling it via cinematics or typical dialogue animations, but mostly by finding some clues and investigating the game world.”

Replayability will be an important factor, although not through a formal New Game + mode. The world changes based on the way you influence your character’s memories, which makes the game different as a result of your play. “Of course,” Pazdur said, “it doesn’t mean we can generate countless variations of gameplay and story events for every game part, but replayability is a core of Get Even because you will be replaying some heavily altered memories this way, or another.”

One of Get Even’s defining features is the hybrid single player/multiplayer approach being taken by The Farm 51. “If you see single player game as an experience focused on telling the story, building personal feelings, game world exploration, discovering the truth, creating empathy toward your game character,” Pazdur said, “then Get Even is purely single player experience.” Get Even was originally designed to be a single player game, but the construction of the story and gameplay opened up the opportunity to do something different.

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Get Even’s overall philosophy is squarely rooted in this single player mindset. “As a gamer, I’m happy like never before that we’ve finally reached the point where we simply can have as many gameplay types as possible.” Pazdur said. “Mainstream or blockbuster games are not forcing or shaping the design of every other title as in previous hardware generation – thanks to opening the digital sales platforms for indie developers, games can be huge, small, artistic, realistic, challenging, non-demanding, expensive, cheap – virtually every kind of idea, if implemented well, may find its niche. It doesn’t make development any easier, actually the competition is growing much stronger and quality demands rise because of this, but now every development team may find some idea that’s well shaped toward the team skills, and if these skills are only good enough, there’s no need to follow the mainstream path.”

“So for future of single player games it’s the same what I expect from multiplayer and any kind of mixes – there will be a lot of varieties and I believe every player gains on this.”

But Get Even plans to integrate single player into multiplayer. This means that other players are capable of invading your game world. It was a deliberate goal of Get Even to “expand the single player experience”, and not emulate existing multiplayer games. These invasions all make sense within the game world too, adhering to the Get Even’s internal narrative logic, and not just to give the game more threats. “Two heroes in opposite campaigns may invade each [other’s] memories to reach some of their goals and by entering these memories they become a part of second player world” – sort of like Agent Smith in The Matrix series, Pazdur elaborated. There will be no leaderboards, no scoring, no kill info. The only way to tell if an enemy is AI or human is to guess based on their behaviour, since the game won’t tell you if you have another player joining your game at all. “It’s just great that [other players] can be both smarter or more stupid than typical computer-controlled [enemies].”

If you’re worried about being invaded, you can always opt out. The “Allow others to explore your memories” option is set to on by default, since it’s a “core gameplay experience.” But manually disabling the setting, or having no internet connection, allows you to play completely offline in a traditional single player setting, with all the enemies as AI. “But the most… fun and tension,” Pazdur said, “comes from the fact that you’ll never know who you are playing against at the first moment if you let others enter your world.”

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You might be thinking this sounds a little familiar, and you’d be right. Games already exist using this form of hybrid gameplay. In fact, it sounds a lot like the way Dark Souls handles world invasions. “Funny thing, but the trigger to the whole thing was Journey on PS3” Pazdur revealed. They’d already had an idea about developing this kind of single player/multiplayer experience, however it wasn’t until playing Journey that he realised the possibilities. “I got shocked when realizing that there are some characters in my story, and they don’t behave like typical AI bots – they got to be humans.” Pazdur recounted. Since he used to not read about specific gameplay features before playing a game, this came as a surprise. “And then I realized that this is a reality-check we need for Get Even – not to just put other players into your games, but to make you question if they’re real humans or AI.”

Aside from Journey, Get Even draws inspiration from many different films. Get Even’s influences include the aforementioned The Butterfly Effect, Source Code, and The Matrix, as well as other famous science fiction thrillers like 12 Monkeys, Inception, Se7en, Oldboy, and The Cell. Game influences include Condemned, The Darkness, Silent Hill, Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy), Sanitarium, and To The Moon. “But our bookmarks list just for movies and games reference scenes has more than 100 points and each one is somehow important to the whole Get Even design.” Pazdur said.

Designing a game around these gameplay parameters isn’t always easy, though, and that’s thrown up a few challenges for The Farm 51 team. While the tech itself is “not very complicated”, considering the team are using the familiar Unreal Engine 3 and aren’t looking to upgrade to UE4, the problems mostly revolve around the single player/multiplayer approach. “Every tiny detail of story plot and gameplay mechanics needs to be filtered by assumption ‘what happens on the other side then’.” Pazdur revealed. “So it’s a lot of work, but I still see for our not so huge team it’s working better than having two separate games (single player and multiplayer) as a material to design and bring to life.”

This need for extensive testing presents another problem – spoilers. The team would like to integrate the community into the testing process at some point, to ensure all the gaps get filled. But since the game is a story driven campaign with no separate multiplayer, it’s very difficult to present that to players in beta form without revealing the story details.

“[W]e could reveal some gameplay mechanics, but they won’t tell you what the game is all about and I’m not sure if it’s proper to make any judgment just basing on how the weapons or gadgets work.”

Get Even’s biggest challenge, however, is its uniqueness. While some games are similar, there is nothing truly like Get Even. “We can’t play any other game to check how this type of combat was balanced or what the developer put as a game response when players start to behave in a certain way.” Pazdur said. “There is no chapter in any design book, article or post-mortem for this kind of project, [which] is very unlikely in these times, where almost all design ideas present on the market are somewhere documented or described.” The work is “extremely refreshing and exciting” though, to develop these unique concepts in the way they are doing. It requires a lot of thought and work to come up with the correct balance on a theoretical level, before actual implementation and testing.

To help the team along, they’re implementing a technology that’s becoming more and more common in the industry – photogrammetry. Scanning real world items and digitally rendering them into the creative process has allowed the team to achieve several goals. Firstly, it expresses Get Even’s narrative themes of questioning “borders of reality and differences between real and virtual worlds.” Scanning lets the art team keep a specific art direction that allows for realism and distinction from mainstream games. And scanning serves a very practical purpose – it cuts down the requirements on the relatively small team, who “simply couldn’t compete with hundreds of artists working on AAA titles”, but still allows for great visual detail. It also has the added bonus of enhancing the experience of Oculus Rift and other VR users.

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Despite these benefits, as well as the “unmatched detail and realism” that 3D scanning delivers, there are some technology traps that the team have had to deal with. “Everything has to be properly planned before we scan any object, because even if data can be grabbed and processed fast, update of any model or texture usually mean restarting its production.” Pazdur told us. This means tweaking models and elements is not a simple process, unlike it is with traditional modelling. Regardless, photogrammetry is an effective tool for the Get Even development process, since all the art in game is based off real-world objects that are readily available. “[W]e use photogrammetry to scan outdoor objects, and we combine them with foliage system to create huge open sceneries required in some of the game locations.” Pazdur said. “At technical level, it’s almost identical; just our art style is very different – we go into more dark and industrial themes as Get Even is supposed to take you to creepy places close to your living area, not into some very mysterious and stylized locations.”

Despite sticking with an ageing Unreal Engine 3, Get Even is using some advanced, next-gen technologies. Get Even uses dynamic lighting, high quality post-processing techniques, particle effects, complex shaders, and physics effects – plus some “atypical visual elements related directly to the game unique elements” that the team want to keep under wraps for now.

Currently, even in this early stage of development, the game is running pretty smoothly. “Right now Get Even works stable over 30 FPS on couple-years-old systems and above 60 FPS on modern machines,” Pazdur told us. But this is before tweaks and optimisation, so that performance could change. “We found that actually without enabling 3D [the] game gives a little bit better experience having framerate locked around 30 FPS – the photorealistic sceneries, considering our not so fast-paced gameplay, looks more natural and realistic with not so huge frame rate.” Pazdur compared it to the difference between cinema and TV, where 24 frames a second suit the nature of film and 60 frames suits TV. Higher framerates work better with 3D and VR, though, and the team still need to work out optimal framerate ranges.

Get Even is still in early development, having “just left pre-production”, but a big part of the game is already playable. The team aren’t quite ready to show the game, since the slower pace of the game isn’t conducive to short slices, so they’re waiting for more progress until it gets demoed. Pazdur will be at E3 to give closed presentations, but has no public reveals planned. He is hoping that they can do a public presentation sometime this year, though, and the team will keep revealing “more and more information and materials in the following months.”

With a proposed release date of 2015 for PC, PS4, and Xbox One, Get Even looks to add to the evolution of single player games. Thanks to Wojtek Pazdur and the team at The Farm 51 for their time. We’ll keep our eyes on Get Even and bring you all the news as it happens.

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