Following up on the Kickstarter-backed success of the original, The Tower Prophecy is a sequel to 2014, narrative-exploration-adventure, Consortium.
The next in the series aims to ramp up every aspect of the experience, placing players in the futuristic mega-boots of Bishop Six, a high-ranking Consortium enforcer, as they try to foil terrorists’ plan in central London.We met with Interdimensional Games’ Gregory MacMartin, who’s developing The Tower Prophecy, for new details on their latest venture and give us some more context on the team behind the game.
Meet the Developers
An industry veteran, MacMartin has contributed to a variety of high-profile projects.
“I came out of high school in ’94, worked with a bunch of buddies in high school and made my first game called Radix: Beyond the Void,” says MacMartin. “It was one of the early share-ware shooters in three episodes. It was a combination between Descent and Doom. A very intense, powerful, fun shooter. Epic MegaGames published us, and it was cool.
“I then went onto a game called Aftershock, for Quake – it was actually the first expansion pack for the original Quake back in the ‘90s, I did a bunch of texture work and level design. So I basically started off in the industry as a level designer, but I did art and texture art too, so anything except hardcore coding essentially.
“Then I was at a company called Cave Dog Entertainment, working on a game called Amen: The Awakening. It was a big horror, sci-fi, story-driven game. We made waves at E3 and got a lot of press and had advertisements and stuff. The game was about 60% done, then the entire studio, everything collapsed around us. Everything was shut down and the project never got finished. It was still an amazing ride, I learnt a lot.”
He continues: “After everything went down at Cave Dog, I worked at Relic. I was actually involved in the early days of Relic too, I sort of wrote the original design document for HomeWorld. Then after that, came back to Relic and worked on the sequel for a bit, and some prototypes that never saw the light of day.
“Then I went to Radical and worked on The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, shipped that, then worked on Scarface: The World is Yours. A bunch of different AAA games with big licences, that all sold really well. I learnt a lot, but my intention was always to come back and once again make the games I wanted to make, my own games.
“In 2006, I left Radical and formed my own company called Interdimensional Games with the basic goal to try and improve how storytelling is done through interactivity. Any kind of mission or level work that I’d do, I’d always try and find a way for there to be narrative stuff happening in there, and let the player have control over how that happens.”
After leaving Radical, MacMartin decided he wanted to make a different type of game, something with an intriguing narrative and more human feeling interactions – more like the games he wanted to play.
“I’d killed more virtual bad guys making Scarface than in the entire rest of my game playing career,” he explains. “I scripted all of the gang nests in that game, where loads of guys spawn and there’s a lot of combat. So I kind of got sick of killing. I really wanted to found a company making the kind of games I wanted to make – truly story driven, narrative driven experiences, where violence could happen, but only if it made sense from the story’s perspective. Not just violence for the sake of violence like most games.”
Helping make those games a reality are the rest of the Interdimensional Games team. Comprised of old friends, seasoned developers and newer talent, each member of the team brings something different to the equation.
“There’s a magical core six who shipped Consortium,” MacMartin says. “Each one’s a master, a superstar in their own right, in terms of how much work they all took on. Some of them are on stand-by right now, we’re not swimming in tons of cash, I’m working on securing a bunch of deals and going back to Kickstarter. We didn’t exactly make a smash-hit, commercial success with Consortium, yet. It continues to find fans, it continues to sell, but not quite at the rate we’d like. But the core six are on board for the sequel, the moment we’ve greenlit production. In the meantime I’m expanding our team, there’s six or seven people including me cranking away on the game now, so we’re looking to grow to the team significantly over the first one, because we’re making a bigger scope game.
I really wanted to found a company making the kind of games I wanted to make – truly story driven, narrative driven experiences, where violence could happen, but only if it made sense from the story’s perspective. Not just violence for the sake of violence like most games.
“I’m involved with Vancouver Film School, they have a really good video game design program which a lot people have gone through and gotten jobs working on great games. I used to teach analogue game design, but recently I’ve been lucky to mentor students. How the program works is they go through a year-long intensive course, at the end of which, they have to get together in groups and make a video game. I stumbled on some very talented students working on a game in Unreal 4, who, working for the first time in Unreal, made this FPS, sci-fi, horror game, Arc. I had a great time working with them, so they’ve come into the fold, and’ve been working with us now for eight or nine months.”
Incentives from the Canadian government have helped Vancouver become one of the world’s biggest indie hotspots, and it’s a community that MacMartin and the rest of Interdimensional Games are proud to be part of.
“It’s bustling here, it’s huge,” says MacMartin. “There’re local meet-ups here that I’ve gone to a couple of times. Hundreds of people come and there’re definitely a lot more that don’t. The mobile scene is gigantic, and there’re quite a few Steam start-ups as well. As Steam is becoming more open-platform, more people are jumping on, trying to get into that market. At the meet-ups, they encourage you to bring your game on a laptop, set it up, and people come over and check it out. It’s a great way to network and show off to your peers.”
Interdimensional took the original Consortium to Kickstarter, but rather than use the platform to fund a one-off indie passion project, they decided to start a franchise.
“I think a lot of indie developers get these game ideas,” MacMartin says. “They go, ‘I’m going to make that game’, based around some wacky, unique mechanic they came up with. They go, crank out that game, and think, ‘what new game can I make?’ It’s a project-to-project thing. I think we’re different because when I started the company, I thought, ‘I’m going to make a franchise’. My goal is long-term, I want to make a series and build a universe, really push the boundaries of what’s possible with world-building and deep immersive interactive storytelling. I don’t even say that we make video games really, we make interactive narrative experiences, 100%. It’s like curling up on your couch with a book and going off into your imagination for four or five hours.
“For me, it’s all about building long-term. With Consortium, we limited the scope consciously to an aircraft. It acted as a proving ground for all of these new mechanics we invented. We literally invented our own interactive narrative storytelling system with over 4000 lines of recorded dialogue and 20 voice actors contributing to our production. There’s a lot of content crammed into a small space. That enabled us to invent all of these systems and make use of them, test them, in a nice, contained environment. The goal was always to expand out into a much bigger environment.”
Consortium: The Tower Prophecy
Mindful that the first Consortium didn’t reach everyone, Interdimensional are building The Tower Prophecy to be accessible to new players – there’s so much lore here, that the first game only scratched the surface.
“The story is a direct continuation of the last game, but at the same time, it’s also a stand-alone,” MacMartin explains. “The Tower Prophecy is being designed from the ground up to be its own game, you won’t have to play the first game to fully enjoy it.
“It’s the second of a trilogy as well. The second game’s cranking it up in terms of scale, scope, and what can happen, how many endings there can be. Then, if the Tower Prophecy is even a moderate success for us, then we have grand plans for the third game. Each one gets significantly larger in scope and ambition. The key is, that in many ways the first game was the most ambitious because we were inventing everything from scratch. Everything from the first game is being used, just expanded upon, in a much larger environment so there’s more of an emphasis on exploration.”
He continues: “The elevator pitch for Consortium 1 is, ‘murder mystery on a plane, in the future’. But beyond that, we really are making interdimensional games here. My brother Steve and I share the creative vision for the project, he’s the writer, he wrote the interactive screenplay, the first game was over 500 pages. There’s a metafictional element to the narrative, which is based around something called the IDGI-1 satellite. What that is, is a fictional component of Interdimensional Games, that you can dive into and follow, who invented a satellite and put it into orbit in 2006. It manipulates packets of energy that orbit the earth in such a way to open up an interdimentional vortex that can shunt your consciousness into an alternate-future reality. Basically, a parallel universe in the year 2042.
“In this case, you target one particular person, so you jump directly to their brain and have total control over them – you don’t know their past, you simply in control of their body. There’s this whole interesting 4th wall thing we play with, where you’re able to be yourself sitting in front of the computer. We let you say, ‘I’m actually not really here, I’m just at my computer talking to you right now’. And people are like, ‘what are you talking about, what’s wrong with you?’ You can play with that, make them think you’re crazy and take it to fun places.
“In a nutshell, the overall series is about the moral implications of controlling another human being in an alternate-future reality, and the possibilities that lie therein – in terms of the changes you make to timelines. That one of our biggest goals for The Tower Prophecy, to let you feel like you can have a powerful impact on that world based on your choices and decisions.”
Throughout the Consortium series, players take control of Bishop Six, a Consortium enforcer. People respect Bishop Six’s rank, but it’s really up to the player to choose how they interact with NPCs.
“The person you’re jumping into is a futuristic super-policeman,” says MacMartin. “Like an international super-policeman, working for an organisation called The Consortium, that where the game gets its name. The Consortium is a multinational paramilitary policing organisation which is bound by the Consortium Mandate and run by a conscious AI. The Consortium King is actually an AI.
“The Mandate is: ‘Maintain global peace and protect the earth’s environment at all costs.’ If there’s a gang war, or a hostage situation that just needs to be stopped, the Consortium can be brought in, and the Consortium Bishops are their enforcers.
“The Queen is the human counterpart to the King AI, she sits on the global senate and is the only one who can nullify anything that the King does and vice versa – keeping the AI in check. There’re the Consortium Knights, who’re the field leaders, and the Consortium Rooks, who’re the uber-specialists in their field, and their main job is to support the Bishops. Then there’re the Consortium pawns, who’re all really good at their jobs, but they’re there to keep the engines running, so to speak.”
For some, the metafictional element of The Tower Prophecy could seem at odds with Interdimensional’s commitment to narrative immersion. However, they feel like the interesting twist adds to the overall experience.
“It’s not about breaking the immersion,” MacMartin says. “It’s about increasing it, because you can role-play in whatever way you want. Because of the fact that you’re essentially like a Gordon Freeman, in that our storytelling methodology’s very much like Half-Life, that there’re only scripted sequences in the world, you always have control of your camera and we never go into cutscenes. You have tons of conversation options. You can decide how you want to role-play. You can play purely as someone who’s accessing this system, imagine yourself as someone who’s able to jack someone’s brain. That’s really the character you get to role-play, you in that context.
“Some players actually don’t choose that. We’re approaching this differently in The Tower Prophecy, we don’t force any of this stuff on players. In the first game, we don’t force it on you either. It’s all about what you do – you can keep it a secret and effectively just role-play as a Bishop, and really get into that world and organisation that you find yourself a part of. In that sense, you have a lot of choice over how to approach decisions in the world and the same applies to The Tower Prophecy. If you want to forget all of the meta stuff and focus on being a Bishop, you can do that.
A Different Approach
“It’s a different approach to role-playing, I believe it’s more pure than the D&D-inspired stuff that most classic CRPGs use – and use well, mind you. There’s nothing wrong with experience levels and stats and things like that. I, for one, have played plenty of Diablo and Torchlight. I’ve spent countless hours with those games and they’re definitely enjoyable, but there’s not really a lot of role-playing going on. You just sort of smash monsters and get lots of loot and gear, then smash more monsters. Whereas Consortium is truly role-playing, you’re in a situation with a bunch of virtual human beings, each have their own personalities.”
The original Consortium took place aboard a single airplane, but with The Tower Prophecy, Interdimensional are aiming for a much larger space to explore – bringing the environments more in-line with the mass of fiction that contextualises the world.
“It’s huge,” explains MacMartin. “We’re opening it up to be a gigantic sci-fi skyscraper. We’ve put years of work into constructing it. It’s called the Churchill Tower, right in the heart of London, built on top of the River Thames. One of the bridges that is already there now has been expanded on greatly, so now there’s this huge bridge over the Thames, and then as you’re driving over the bridge, there’s a massive tower right above you. At its centre, the tower has a modern power plant that powers the entire building and around it, a transparent titanium safe-zone, which is the world’s strongest substance at that time. It can withstand a nuclear blast, so it doubles as a bomb shelter, if any kind of disaster were to happen, hundreds of thousands of people could escape into that tower and live for weeks.
“Strangely enough, a terrorist situation has arisen in December, right before Christmas, on the 21st. the civilians working in the power plant have been taken hostage by a bunch of old-school terrorists who supposedly haven’t existed in this world for 30 years, Al Qaeda. The Consortium’s been called in and you, as Bishop Six, have to parachute down from Zenlil.
“We’re designing it with an open-world mentality, so it’s kind of like the older first-person shooters that aren’t made anymore, your Dark Forces, Jedi Knights, Hexen even. The old-school games that had big, elaborate mazes that you could get lost in and had a lot of puzzles, which has been pushed aside in favour of set pieces and places for you to duck behind. We want to turn that on its head. Coming from a level-design background, this is the game I’ve always wanted to make since working on Quake levels. The exploration possibilities are endless, we really want the player to feel like they can pick a direction, go explore and get yourself lost, and enjoy every moment of it.”
“If I could tell you the elevator pitch for The Tower Prophecy,” he adds. “It would be: Die Hard, crossed with the original Deus Ex.
“I’m a huge fan of that movie because there’s the tension of it being one guy, there’s all the police around the building and it’s the centre of attention. It’s amazingly parallel. Except that you’re this futuristic badass with all this tech.
“I personally love the idea of this playground that’s kind of limited, rather than building these big worlds like AAA companies are doing, and doing very well I might add. We’re not able to compete with that, so let’s zoom in on one particular place and bring it to life in ways that no other game’s tried to do.
“We’re working with the Unreal 4 Engine, and it does allow streaming. A goal we’re heading towards is to avoid loading altogether, everything to be streamed. It’ll be lots of levels all combined into one, but will be designed to be one gigantic place which you can seamlessly walk around, everything’ll just stream as you make your way through it. There might be a couple of times where we need a loading screen, but I’d like to avoid it if at all possible.”
The amount of story surrounding the Consortium series is truly striking, some of which has been informed by similarly rich, story-driven experiences. However, what The Tower Prophecy tries to set itself apart from is almost as important as what it tries to emulate.
We’re designing it with an open-world mentality, so it’s kind of like the older first-person shooters that aren’t made anymore, your Dark Forces, Jedi Knights, Hexen even. The old-school games that had big, elaborate mazes that you could get lost in and had a lot of puzzles, which has been pushed aside in favour of set pieces and places for you to duck behind. We want to turn that on its head
“In gaming, for sure Dishonoured is my biggest influence,” MacMartin says. “The level design philosophies in that game are, in my opinion, the pinnacle of the art form, I think the levels are brilliant. The way that they combine believable, realistic looking architecture with straight-up, useful tools for the player that has all of these abilities, is bar none the best in the industry. We’re not copying their abilities, but the idea is to similarly have our world be one that really allows you to use your abilities to their fullest potential.
“It’s funny, because I’d say that I have a lot of anti-influences. I’d say that the Consortium games are going against the grain of what’s super popular right now. Our universe is one where space has been commercialised, we live on the Moon, we live on Mars, there’s a colony ship on the way to Titan. We’ve really hit the gas in terms of expanding out into space and progressing as a species. We’ve moved beyond problems like overpopulation, hunger and water – we’ve solved those problems.
“It’s not a utopia though. In our lore there was a huge series of wars called the ‘Resource Wars’, which started right about now, actually, that involved fighting over water and other basic resources. Out of that there formed a new society where money took on a different role, people no longer had to pay for rent and food, they’re provided basically free of charge. Money was for anything that’s considered a luxury. Many people escape into VR, we call them ‘wireheads’, people who navigate cyberspace all of the time and make a living off of virtual stuff. The society that we’re envisioning is so far different from the futures of things like Fallout, Wasteland or even things like Halo. The tone of those universes, so many of them are omnipresently dark and full of despair. It’s that kind of stuff that we’re almost the exact opposite of, the Consortium experience is a brighter, more hopeful, optimistic future. It’s an experience about talking and dealing with human beings and relationships. It’s just different, very, very out there, and I’m proud of that.”
Mechanically, The Tower Prophecy looks to expand on the first Consortium too. This sequel will aim to provide a truly free experience, where players can approach situations in a multitude of different ways.
“Explore, fight, sneak, talk, and any combination thereof,” says MacMartin. “Either all of those predominantly, or if you like combat, you can hunt for all of the bad guys and shoot them. Or you can really, really explore, hunt for all of the nooks and crannies. Or you can go the diplomatic route, don’t approach guys with guns out and immediately try to talk people down. Or you try the stealth route, find stealth shields, go invisible as much as you can and sort of be a ghost and avoid, avoid, avoid. That’s really the make-up of the game.”
Get the Word Out
The Tower Prophecy is ambitious, and built with real passion to reclaim a genre of gaming that many have an appetite for, but which is rarely sated.
“I wish more people knew about our game,” MacMartin says. “I come from the old-school, I come from loving games like Deus Ex and System Shock. Those games are an endangered species, they almost don’t exist anymore. Consortium is right in there with those games. It’s the same approach. I know there are hundreds of thousands gamers out there who’ll love our game, and it makes me sad that so few of them have even heard of it. We really are carrying the torch for the pure single-player mentality. It’s amazing how the market has geared so much multiplayer, social gaming, microtransactions and always online. It’s so far the opposite of putting your headphones on in a dark room and escaping in a world for a period of time.”
A Kickstarter is planned for The Tower Prophecy in the near future to bring the game to the PC and Mac, with the Xbox One and PS4 listed as target platforms.