“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.
The Occupation Designer Reveals Game Length, Talks Design, Inspiration, and More
After a protracted development period, fixed-time thriller The Occupation is set to release in one month’s time. Between its retro aesthetic and immersive sim-inspired gameplay, the game is shaping up as one of 2019’s most unique titles.
In light of that, OnlySP recently spoke to Pete Bottomley, designer of The Occupation and co-founder of developer White Paper Games to find out more about the promising project.
OnlySP: I thought I’d start off with a fairly obvious question. Given the real-time nature of The Occupation, how long can players expect a single run through to last, and by how much can that time be shortened or prolonged by the player’s actions?
Bottomley: The core gameplay is designed around 4 hours of play. There are some sections that are untimed, whether it be for narrative impact or tutorialisation for the player. As we’re playing through the game as a team, it’s taking us around 6.5 hours to play through the game.
OnlySP: How many endings does the game have?
Bottomley: The game’s outcome is a reflection of the steps the player took through the game. I think when playing games, you always want the outcomes to reflect your approach and we’re massively inspired by how games such as Dishonored can tackle that. Our hope is that the ending you experience feels like it reflects their approach and actions.
OnlySP: Tied to that, approximately how many playthroughs would be required to see everything that the game has to offer?
Bottomley: Our intention wasn’t to design a game that required multiple playthroughs. I’m personally the type of player that plays through a narrative, gets an outcome, and that’s my story. That being said, we’ve tried to fill the world with a lot of content, and because of the real-time character simulating actions, hopefully with second and third playthroughs, players will uncover different ways to solve challenges or narrative threads they hadn’t picked up on before.
OnlySP: How did you come to settle on the politicised premise of an Act robbing citizens of civil liberties?
Bottomley: Since we invest so much of our lives into making games, you have to work on something you feel is meaningful and rewarding of your time. At the time of concepting The Occupation, there was a lot of friction between what was happening in the UK and abroad. It affects us all and we wanted to work on something that may put people’s views into perspective.
Our previous game Ether One dealt with the difficulties of seeing a family member suffering with dementia and our aim is to continue these important themes throughout all of our games.
OnlySP: Also, issues surrounding privacy and freedom of speech, among other civil liberties, are pertinent right now. How close to your mind were the modern concerns about the topic while you were concepting the game? And have real-world events impacted the story of The Occupation across the development period?
Bottomley: The world around us always inspires us, but we don’t really rely on specific events to drive any part of the game’s narrative. When you’re developing a game that tries to get its own narrative across but ground it in the real world, you have to try to distil them to focus on the story you’re trying to tell. In a sense, real world stories inspire us but it’s more of an observational thing rather than a particular event we want to depict faithfully. We tend to focus on the emotional and societal impact of the event itself.
OnlySP: How present will those sorts of themes be within the average player’s experience? Or should players expect to be able to lose themselves entirely in the investigation without really leaning on the context?
Bottomley: We aim to put context on all of your actions in the world otherwise there’s not much meaning behind the choices being made. That being said, you can choose to follow certain narrative threads over others, which allows the player to follow the most interesting lead they come across.
OnlySP: Players take the role of a journalist in the game; how accurate would you say your portrayal is of the technologies and general aesthetic of late ‘80s Britain? How much research went into getting the language and atmosphere of the era right?
Bottomley: It’s interesting you raise that point as we’ve just been speaking about the world limitations in this game. In our previous game, Ether One, we aimed to deliver a grounded narrative that had certain sci-fi elements. With The Occupation, we wanted to go even more grounded and aim to deliver a world that belongs in the ’80s so any aesthetic and technological choices were always taken into consideration. Surrounding yourself with these limitations can create really cool gameplay mechanics such as our pager as a message delivery system, public payphones to update your objectives, and fax machines to deliver information.
OnlySP: The game has been delayed twice now, both times quite close to the scheduled release. Is there any chance you could shed some light on the causes of the delays?
Bottomley: Delaying a game is a gut wrenching decision. You’ve put a promise out there and you push yourself to deliver. We’ve aimed incredibly high on this game both technologically and in the game’s design. On top of this, we wanted to deliver the game in as many languages as we could along with sim-shipping on PC, XB1, & PS4 and doing a retail disc submission so that people could pick up the game in stores if they wanted to hold a physical representation of the game. Because of these platforms, the game has to be ready a couple of months in advance to help distribution and all the different regions to have the version of the game you intend for them. With complexity always come more bugs and since our last game shipped in a buggy state, we didn’t want to make the same mistake twice. We’ve QA’d the game for months and had support from our publishers in helping to identify the issues. As with any game, we’ll no doubt spot some issues on launch, but we’ve already put processes in place to address these as quickly as we can and hopefully the execution of the game will immerse people and keep players engaged so that nothing disrupts the experience.
OnlySP: I recall on Twitter that you once wrote that you were testing the possibility of a Switch port. How seriously have you looked at that possibility and what’s the likelihood?
Bottomley: Right now we have a Switch development kit frustratingly gathering dust in our studio. Since we’re a small team, it can be a tough choice trying to figure out where to best use your resources. We’d absolutely love to get the game onto Switch but we’ve not tested a build yet. It’s the first thing we’ll be moving onto in March so we should be able to update people as soon as we know how The Occupation runs on it. Thankfully using Unreal Engine makes this process a lot more straightforward and we’ve seen a lot of developer friends find success on the Switch so it’s a great opportunity to reach a larger audience.
OnlySP: How does it feel for you and the team to be just about ready to wrap development after four years of work?
Bottomley: It’s not quite set in yet. Although we’re done with the game and excited to see the reception it gets from people, it’s really only 50% of the work, especially when you’re in a small team. We’re currently planning all the marketing and PR opportunities along with reflecting on the development cycle and figuring out what we can do better (to hopefully not spend another 4 years on a game!).
OnlySP: Finally, do you have any closing comments for our readers or anything else you’d like to say about The Occupation?
Bottomley: The whole team has put an incredible amount of energy into The Occupation. If you look at our previous game compared to The Occupation, you can see how far we’ve come. It’s been a huge learning curve for the studio both technically and in production and we’re excited to move onto another game to push ourselves. We’re unable to do that without game sales. It sounds corny, but we really can’t develop games without our community’s support. We value each purchase and we want to grow and keep pushing to create more interesting games. We have a lot of goals and drive and we’re focusing on growing and creating more experiences for the player. If you’re reading this and have purchased any of our games, thank you. It absolutely means the world to be able to wake up in the morning and be excited to develop games. Thank you.
The Occupation is set to release on March 5, 2019 for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
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