“I think inherent to the My Eyes On You world is a question of what is true and what is false, and how much we should believe in what our eyes show us.” – Matthew Moffit, writer
Comprised of talent behind titles such as The Witcher 3, S.T.A.L.K.E.R., and Metro: Last Light, Storymind Entertainment was founded in 2015 with the goal of making “story-driven action titles” that force the player to think about their actions while engaging in the narrative. The Ukrainian studio has been hard at work on the upcoming My Eyes On You—a neo-noir mystery set in an alternate version of Chicago where Carnival permeates the atmosphere and detective Jordan Adalien must track down a serial killer known as the Carnival Man.
OnlySP recently had the chance to talk with members from the Storymind team to discuss the studio’s structure, the inspiration and uniqueness of the story and setting, and how the gameplay allows Jordan to interact with this world as he follows the killer’s grisly trail.
When asked if working within a smaller studio structure has affected the team, the project’s director Val Daniels admits that the change has had some effect on the process. According to Daniels, the biggest challenge facing the team right now is working on a demo, which he describes as “a pretty hard task, but doesn’t necessarily need a lot of people involved in the process.”
However, even though only about 30 people work on the team right now, Daniels seems hopeful about the continued development, saying, “The studio will expand in the next few months to have twice of that because development will go full time and in many directions, simultaneously.” Understanding the scope of the team and the development process is important when looking at the actual content and story of the game, as My Eyes On You is aiming for big results with the resources at hand.
Despite the team’s previous experience with lauded AAA games, Daniels tells OnlySP that “those IPs you mentioned [The Witcher 3 and Metro: Last Light] don’t have much in common. My Eyes On You is a different game compared to both titles” when asked how the team leverages that previous experience working on larger titles. Nevertheless, he continues, “However, I might say we could use character development techniques from those games because our game’s story is really a personal story. So, character building is at the core.” While My Eyes On You may not be as large as those other titles, this emphasis on character seems to be the crux on which the game is being centered, with Jordan serving as an integral lens into this world.
Speaking to Matthew Moffitt, one of the game’s writers, OnlySP asked about working within the ever-popular neo-noir/cyberpunk genre and how the studio is both able to use the established conventions therein and also make My Eyes On You unique. Moffitt sees the answer to this question as stemming from the story and in creating relatable characters and themes for the player to connect to.
He argues that “it wouldn’t be good for one to write a murder mystery novel without ever having read one…or two… or three. And it wouldn’t be good to make a neo-noir detective video game without having played and studied the predecessors.” He goes on to cite games such as The Last of Us and Heavy Rain, films such as Drive and Blade Runner, and even the philosophical works of Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Nietzsche. Hearing such a strong passion for using inspiration and then working one’s own vision alongside those works is encouraging and shows that Storymind is aware of the rich tapestry of ideas to which it is contributing. In summation, Moffit says, “in order to write something wholly unique, you start with knowing what came before and playing off it, based on the story and characters you’ve created. That becomes a springboard for [a] new tale.”
With that information in mind, seeing how the character of Jordan and the gameplay fit into the vision of My Eyes On You makes the prospect of entering this world even more enticing and shows how passion and homage can go hand-in-hand in crafting something new.
While Chicago is a tried and true setting for many stories and has many connotations for Americans and those abroad, OnlySP wanted to know why Storymind chose this setting and how My Eyes On You uses the history of the city to tell its own story. Val Daniels mentions both that Chicago is a “place full of legends and facts that derive from its criminal history past” as well as more contemporary criminal activity and that “Chicago is the capital of noir films,” and thus already connotes the genre through familiarity to these stories. He focuses in on the “series of Italian immigration waves [that] brought Italian criminal gangs along with the normal folks into the city.”
Reaching to this point of history, Daniels says that the immigration of Italians into the city is “the basis of our alternative version of Chicago.” By exaggerating the Carnival culture and exploring this “bigger impact on the local culture than in the real place,” My Eyes On You can situate the story within a familiar location, but twist historical fact with an alternate future. While players may be familiar with both Chicago and the Carnival culture, they may not have seen such a combination as this one, and Storymind’s interpretation of this cultural history will assuredly determine the story going forward.
Within this Carnival Chicago, Jordan must track down the Man in the Red Mask and explore personal connections that will upset his viewpoint and status within the story. Considering the gathering of clues and a blurred line between reality and mysticism, OnlySP asked just how blurred that line is and if a truly canonical ending exists.
Matthew Moffitt, in speaking on this idea, admits the topic is a hard one to discuss without giving away too much. Nevertheless, he goes on to say, “We question his [Jordan’s] reality along with him as he delves further and further into this alternate world of Chicago.” On whether a ‘correct’ way to play is to be found, he adds “what is true for you, the eyes of player? In that answer is the canonical/true ending. This is reflected in our attempt to let the player find the clues, deduce from them, and then extrapolate about theory.”
Though other games explore similar ideas and put the player’s interpretation of events as the ‘canon’ of the narrative, the design of My Eyes On You seems to be more in-depth than other attempts at player-decided facts. Saying that each player may have a different experience—a different canon—is an intentional aspect of the story and that “in short, the conclusions you draw from the clues become canonical because it was you who found them and drew from them in the first place. Another player may have a totally different experience because he [or she] may choose to believe in supernatural causality of crime. Such [a] player will get a totally different ending that will contradict the grounded ending. And that’s okay. That’s what we want.”
That player-driven focus is an exciting prospect, to be sure, and one that will allow for replayability and much discussion in a way that goes beyond morally complicated choices and into the very perception of truth within the narrative and what exactly is known.
To tie together this vision of the story, gameplay, and how the player’s interaction colors the narrative, OnlySP spoke to Daniel Vyukov, one of the game designers. When asked about a split between gathering clues and combat in terms of level design, Vyukov said that no clear distinction is made, as clues can be found from enemies or within combat areas after they are cleared. He instead spoke of a difference of “state,” saying “if it’s combat, you just don’t have a reason to pick up evidence because the priority is on evasion or taking down enemies fast. If it’s stealth, it just blends with exploration, and you can pick up evidence.”
By not having as obvious a distinction between what the player should or should not be doing in certain areas, this approach is similar to the clues themselves. Players are free to undertake the investigation as they see fit, and the gameplay elements exist to further explore those ideas. Vyukov also adds that “the investigation is not a priority when you’re tense in a stealth or combat situation,” as that would just be poor design, not a complicated one.
Jordan’s sanity is also a factor in the gameplay, as the deeper he goes into the investigation, the more complicated the narrative becomes. This anxiety permeates all aspects of gameplay, Vyukov explains, saying, “Jordan’s anxiety must be kept in check because it affects all areas of the gameplay. Dialogue go the awkward way, his senses become unavailable or unreliable in analyzing clues. And his combat/stealth abilities change and become unreliable.” Adding this element to the Chicago backdrop and player interpretation of clues seems sure to round out the story in an exciting way.
While no release date has been set, players can look for the demo that the studio is working away at. From the few screenshots and videos the studio has released so far, coupled with the topics explored in this interview, My Eyes On You is looking to shake up the genre with a unique take on character and investigation while keeping alive the rich tradition of the predecessors and the interactivity that makes games so engaging. Stay tuned to OnlySP for continued coverage of My Eyes On You as development carries on.