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Metro Exodus Interview | Exploring Russia and the Future of 4A

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During EGX 2018, OnlySP had the opportunity to sit down with Huw Beynon, the head of global brand management at Deep Silver. Along with developer 4A Games, Deep Silver has been working on the Metro series for almost a decade.

Deep Silver was attending the event to showcase the soon to be released Metro Exodus, the latest title in a much-beloved game series spanning the past eight years. The game will be the first in the franchise to exist outside of the original Metro novelisation created by Dmitry Glukhovsky in 2005.

The original Metro 2033 game was based on the novel by Glukhovsky of the same name. The series is set in a post-apocalyptic Russia following a nuclear war that occurred in 2013 where much of society is forced to live in the metro tunnels to avoid the radiation and mutants that lurk above ground. According to Beynon, the team has also drawn inspiration from material such as Stalker, Roadside Picnic, and possibly some other European and Russian literature.

Metro Exodus sees a departure from the novelisation but Glukhovsky remained as a writer and collaborator as the game series continued. Glukhovsky even presented the outline for the second game, Metro: Last Light which takes place following the novel’s original ending despite the multiple choice at the end of the first game. Now, during the events of Metro Exodus, the studio wanted to explore the idea of journeying across Russia. At the same time, Glukhovsky was also writing the book Metro 2035 which led to the two projects interweaving with several parallels between them, so audiences can experience a fresh story from either the book or game but have small nods toward the interlocking elements.

Metro Exodus screenshot

The most drastic change from the series in Metro Exodus is the decision to change to a more open world with a heavier focus on the above-ground world. Beynon explains that the largest challenge of developing such an expansive project was balancing their ambitions of including more player freedom and exploration while still making Exodus feel like a Metro game. To combat the balancing, the team spent a long time in pre-production prototyping, and then iterating those larger open levels that keep the familiar Metro-style but in a sandbox environment. Initial prototypes of these sandbox levels were far too open which proved to be an interesting experience but ultimately strayed too far from the Metro formula. The studio believes it has found a suitable balance that will allow returning fans to feel comfortable initially and then be gradually eased into the more open elements.

With larger locations, more enemies, and a dynamic weather system in the new title, Beynon states that his personal favourite new feature is the environment. He explains that the idea for a journey across Russia actually came from the studio’s art team, who had spent the past seven years designing tunnels underneath Moscow but felt the time was right to branch out and flex their creative muscles. One way in which the art team has branched out is through the changing seasons and various locations available in the new title.

“What we wanted to do is create this level of atmosphere and immersion in Metro, that’s always been the goal,” said Beynon. “These bigger levels where you’re dropped into this wilderness with the challenge to explore.”

Beynon expresses that, although the studio has created a larger map by Metro standards, the team is not claiming that the game is wholly open world. The main game revolves around a series of linear levels with some featuring much larger locations to navigate creating a larger sensation of survival. While the new map sizes will not be insanely greater than before, 4A Games wanted to focus more on the story content within those environments. By sacrificing on size, the studio has been able to put incredible amounts of detail to ensure that no two buildings will feel like cut and pastes of previous assets.

“This is not the biggest open world ever, it’s not even close,” Beynon elaborated. “It’s very small for an open world game but it’s big for a Metro game. What’s more important is the density of the content and the storytelling still shines through.”

With more extensive places to explore, the game will no doubt take players much longer to complete than previous titles. Beynon explains that the current estimates based on the company’s regular playtests vary depending on the type of player; for instance, a completionist will take substantially longer to achieve 100% over those who are simply seeking the core story experience. The developer has generally found that the average playthrough will be double the length of either game. As to not spoil too much of the main game, Beynon would not disclose exact locations that players will get to visit, such as St Petersburg. However, he did confirm that the story will venture beyond Moscow and he would find it “pretty cool” to see another city. In terms of how often the player will be above ground in comparison to the older games, 4A has switched attention to the outside world. Metro 2033 was split roughly 80/20 in terms of under and over ground with the majority set within the metro system underneath Moscow. With Metro Exodus, the ratio between above and below has been switched with roughly 80% of gameplay occurring outside. The shift has put slightly less emphasis on the gas mask mechanic that was a staple of the previous games. While the mask will still be present during several exterior and interior missions, it will have a much smaller presence than before.

Metro Exodus

One thing that Beynon insists will make a return is the inclusion of multiple endings. According to Beynon, the game is quietly judging the player for each action they take in order to reward each gamer with “the ending they deserve.” In order to incorporate the new, fairly hidden system, the team had to throw away what it believed was already a fairly elegant way of handling multiple endings.

Throughout the game, players will encounter numerous people and factions that can range between hostile, neutral, or friendly. How the player chooses to interact with these, however, is up to them; the option to play like an utter psychopath is definitely open as long as players accept the risks of receiving a less than desirable ending.

Deep Silver and 4A Games have clearly put a lot of time and love into Metro Exodus and have tackled the difficult task of re-invigorating the series while keeping it faithful to the originals. Now, alongside the development of Metro Exodus, 4A has been delving more into the VR aspect of gaming with the release of another Russian based title called Artica. Unlike the Metro series, Artica will be a truly original concept for the company and could spark a drastic change in the developer’s future releases.

Metro Exodus will be released on February 22, 2019, for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. To stay up to date with the latest in the world of single-player gaming, be sure to follow OnlySP on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube.

E3 2019

How Final Fantasy XV’s Lead Game Designer is Making a Rhythm Game — An Interview With No Straight Roads Developer Metronomik

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No Straight Roads game art 5

Wan Hazmer’s journey is an interesting one. Having worked at Square Enix on games such as Final Fantasy Type-0 and Final Fantasy XV, Hazmer left the studio in 2017 to start his own development studio, Metronomik. The studio’s first game, No Straight Roads, is a music-based action-adventure game where players must fight the Electronic Dance Music (EDM) empire as an independent rock band.

OnlySP had the opportunity to speak with Hazmer about the game’s inspiration, gameplay, and art design.

OnlySP: What inspired you to make No Straight Roads?

Hazmer: I am a big rhythm gamer. I used to be really good since Beatmania 1 so that’s more than 15 years of experience playing rhythm games. I used to go to the arcades every week and spend like $50 just to play music games. (Laughs) Whenever I invited my friends to play rhythm games with me, they always said “I’ll just watch you play.” It baffles me because everyone loves music; I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love music. I think the problem is the way [music] participates in gameplay. Music is only used in two ways in games: soundtrack or rhythm games. I think everyone has rhythm sense. If I were to give you a guitar, and you didn’t know how to play the guitar, of course you’d admit you’d have no rhythm sense.

I feel like, when you listen to a song maybe five times, then you’ll know when the chorus is supposed to come even before it comes. I want everyone to use that musical instinct to play the game and that’s why we have the enemies follow the music. The input, the participation that you have in the game isn’t a pure action game. Other inspirations also include other rhythm games. Rhythm games’ stories are something I like as well, like Space Channel 5, Guitaroo Man and even games that put a lot of emphasis on music. I think you noticed that the outer stars remind me of Jet Set Radio. The word ‘radio’ is in Jet Set Radio despite it not being a rhythm game. [Jet Set Radio] was such an influence and I still have the soundtrack.

No Straight Roads game art 2

OnlySP: How would you say your experience on other games contributed to No Straight Roads?

Hazmer: Back when I was working on Final Fantasy XV, one of the biggest things about the game was that we had to make sure that Final Fantasy becomes relevant again. [Part of that] falls into how you travel in the world so we thought “What is one of the most current way of travelling romantically?” and we thought “road trip” and it’s the core experience in Final Fantasy XV. We spent a lot of cost and effort into making sure that that core UX does its job. We had to photograph an AI, Prompto, and that was actually very difficult to pull off. Can you imagine an AI taking a photograph of you? He’s a very bad photographer at first, but he gets better and better. The user experience is an emotional connection to the game.

I also wanted to make sure that [No Straight Roads] has a UX that everyone can adhere to and that’s something that is very relevant. With relevance, we talk about rock vs EDM. It’s a classic tale of “my taste is better than yours.” And another is “your music can change the world” is our big core UX. We have the transformation of the props into weapons. We also have three channels of music: backing, melody, and rhythm. We multiply that by that by three genres of music rock, EDM, and a boss specific genre [for the demo, it was disco]. Depending on the situation, depending on the story, depending on how you perform, we actually switch one of the channels to EDM, one channel to bass, and one channel to rock. There’s a lot of music going on in the game and we only do it if we know that it is going to sell something for the UX. That’s something I got from my Final Fantasy XV experience.

OnlySP: How was it like creating the music and implementing it in the game?

Hazmer: I am very lucky to have four composers who are very talented. One of them is Falk [Au Yeong]; he’s the music director. He actually used to work with me on Final Fantasy XV where he was a mixing engineer for the music. When you travel to Hammerhead, for example, a gas station in Final Fantasy XV, when you enter a diner the music starts changing a bit. We were discussing dynamic music for a long time. We also have James Landino who is working on the EDM tracks—he [worked on] Cytus [2], Kingdom Hearts, and Final Fantasy as well. We have Pejman [Roozbeh] who is more of a funk/disco kind of guy, and Andy [Tunstall] who worked on rock.

What I love about working with these four composers is that they know the technicalities involved with implementing music in games. What we do is we come up with the concept for the boss first. We have a DJ who thinks he’s the center of the universe and he’s going to spin some planets. After that, we pass it to the musicians. They compose really great music and they pass it back to us and they understand that there are three channels and the programming involved. There are a lot of times when you make a video game, you outsource the music in the last minute. I really wanted the musicians to be involved from very early on so they are actually involved in the game design process as well.

OnlySP: In the demo, I noticed I got to play as two characters. Are there only going to be those two characters?

Hazmer: Yes. The concept seems like there could fit another person here. (Laughs) You can only control two characters, but there’ll be a bunch of bosses. You can actually play couch co-op as well, so one person can be Mayday and the other Zuke.

OnlySP: About how long would you say the game would be?

Hazmer: 10–15 hours. When you defeat a boss, although there are some RPG elements in it (like giving buffs to your weapons), but I don’t want to go with the New Game Plus route, so I’m [following] more of a Sonic or racing game [style] where once you complete a particular level, you can actually challenge the level again in a different difficulty. So there will be difficulties where you’ll have to parry almost everything in order to survive. For example, when you’re playing the game you only hear rock when you’re almost defeating a boss, you can play an entire boss fight in rock.

No Straight Roads gameplay screenshot 1

OnlySP: How did you go about selecting the genres of music for No Straight Roads?

Hazmer: First of all, we came up with interesting bosses in the game. My co-founder, Daim [Dziauddin], he’s really big into storytelling and he always wonders why people play music. We didn’t want this game to be a game about a bunch of bosses, who are awesome and big and that’s about it. Every single one of these artists has a reason to play music. From there, we see what kind of genre fits them very well. For example, we came up with a DJ who is egocentric and he thinks that he’s the center of the universe and, bam, the sub theme is space. From there, we figured we can do some disco and some Flash Gordon kind of things, and that’s how the genres came about.

OnlySP: Are there any plans to add in some post launch content?

Hazmer: Definitely. This is still all in talks, so it is not confirmed at all. I would love to collaborate with other games or different artists so that we can get their branding into the game [such as a being a boss in the game]. That’s one of the dreams for this game. Once we finish the game, I really want to collaborate, organically, with many different musicians.

OnlySP: Of the genres of music that are not in the game, what would you say would be the first one you’d want to put in post launch?

Hazmer: Oh wow. That’s quite difficult. I kind of like jazz in a way so jazz would be nice. Jazz and EDM would be really cool. (Laughs) I really like jazz, so I think a jazz boss would be really cool.

No Straight Roads game art 3

OnlySP: What influenced the art style for No Straight Roads?

Hazmer: I made a lot of realistic games and wanted to run away from realism. We thought that the characters in the game [don’t] have to be a human skin color. So we were looking at a lot of American cartoons like Steven Universe. The other thing is the funky art style of games that don’t take themselves too seriously like Tim Schafer games like Psychonauts. Sometimes ugliness is beautiful and beauty is ugly. In terms of the poses for the characters, we love ourselves some Jojo. (Laughs) Poses for us are very very important.


For all the latest from No Straight Roads and more from the world of single-player gaming, be sure to bookmark OnlySP and follow us on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube. You can also join the discussion in our community Discord server.

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