You may have already heard that this was a Q&A interview and not another full fledged feature interview. While we love to do feature interviews, sometimes developers just don’t have the time for those long Skype calls with us, aren’t fluent in English or are just shy. So, throughout the course of this year, we’ll be utilizing multiple interview formats, including long feature pieces, audio interviews and of course, the occasional Q&A interview session.
This week, we’re exploring the development of No Matter Studios and their first title, Prey for the Gods. The game made a pretty big splash a couple months ago when the first trailer dropped for the game, showcasing some very obvious inspirations from a gaming classic, Shadow of the Colossus. Prey for the Gods isn’t just another Shadow of the Colossus, however, as you’ll find out through reading this interview. If you haven’t seen the trailer yet, you can check it out at the bottom of this article.
We hope you enjoy this week’s feature, and if you have any questions about Prey for the Gods, feel free to leave them in the comments section and we’ll see if we can get the developers in here to answer your questions.
Questions answered by Brian Parnell of No Matter Studios.
Q: Can you tell us the story behind No Matter? How did the studio members meet each other?
A: No Matter Studios was born out of frustration with the lack of making games that really meant something.
We first met at Tencent Boston. Tencent Boston was comprised of a number of ex-Iron Lore developers and a number of ex-Mythic devs, and some new faces on the east coast dev scene. It was an interesting experience to say the least. We worked on a next-gen MMO together and once that title was shelved, we were rebranded into a social/facebook team to make an ARPG called Robot Rising. Robot Rising did “ship” in that it got into test markets and received some accolades. For its time, it really pushed what was even possible on Unity on the web.
It was at that time Chien and I started a side project with another friend. Tim was with another group of Tencent people making his own side project. We would play games and chat about each other’s projects while working during the day and quickly became good friends. When that studio imploded we decided to move to San Francisco, where we felt we could help a number of the studios there make great looking mobile games. We quickly realized that kind of development just wasn’t for us, so the three of us started to talk about making a game that would allow us to make what we wanted. We worked every night, met on Thursday nights, and slowly but surely built something that we really felt had a soul and a chance to be special.
Q: The studio’s press kit states that No Matter is “comprised of three lone developers.” What’s it like working with a small team?
A: We’ve worked on all sizes of teams from large to small. More directly, we’ve been working together in other companies for close to five years. When we were in the large teams, it meant we were usually specialized and tasked very specifically. While that can be fun, to work on the specifics, it typically means you don’t have more direct control over the game and you also have very little impact or understanding on the entire game. So when we work on No Matter it’s all about wearing a number of hats, plugging holes and doing whatever needs to be done, even if you aren’t an expert. The upside to this is you learn fast and get a better perspective on the game development overall.
Q: The press kit also states that the game is worked on “in the evening hours.” What’s it like balancing Prey of the God’s development with other obligations?
A: Yep! Typically, 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. Sometimes we sink into the “quick” as I call it. Anything over 2:00 a.m. and you really feel it the next day. Also, any other time we can find, especially on the weekends. Chien and Tim don’t have kids, so they have a little more free time. I do my best and can carve out an hour here or there. It’s difficult, no doubt, and being part time means we have to be fairly brutal with our focus and scope. We’ve all sacrificed a lot to get this game even to where it is now. We’re all happy with the response so it makes those sacrifices easier to deal with.
Q: Can you tell us the origins of the game’s concept?
A: The game really came from trying to do something that would leave a mark for us. At this time, we were all working in mobile game studios and, while it was a fast-paced platform, we felt we needed to do more. We definitely missed developing what some call ‘traditional games.’ When iOS Metal was announced, I contacted Chien and Tim to go for coffee and a walk. I told them we could make something amazing on Metal. Something awesome looking with a small team.
At that time, Chien was thinking more of a Dynasty Warrior style game, which was somewhat easier for him engineering-wise, but a ton of work for art with all the animations and honestly, it just didn’t ‘wow’ me. I told him we needed to make something that would blow people’s minds, and if we couldn’t do that with one hero and one boss, then we should pack up and call it a day. That’s when I said we should try to make something along the lines of SotC [Shadows of the Colossus] – climbing onto a giant, seeing that intimate battle up close, is just so awesome. Plus, if we couldn’t do it, we’d know pretty quick!
From there, we jumped into prototyping and had realized early on we wanted to make this on PC. That’s when we started to do some discussions on story and mood. Snow wasn’t even a thing yet, we were looking at desert or something arid primarily for scope (no foliage!). Snow seemed impossible for us. However, snow is just so amazing when done right. So I wrote up a story [and] ran it over with Tim. He liked it and we pitched it to Chien and he was bought-in. Since then, we’ve revised elements but this is pretty much when we were all in.
Q: I have to say, the game trailer looks really nice. I love the animation and visual style. What were the inspirations behind going this aesthetic route?
A: Thank you! We worked hard on that. We come from 3D backgrounds, both in art and technical skills with 3D engines and gameplay. Surprisingly, we’re much faster and comfortable in 3D next gen stuff than, say, pixel art. So for us, we spent more time trying to get a feeling than a specific style. Getting that sense of atmosphere was a big deal for us. The animations are still incredibly early and in many cases placeholder. So it’s great to hear you liked them! We plan to replace and improve them before we launch.
Q: Can you tell us more about the gameplay mechanics?
A: So we’re still early in development and things are iterating daily on a lot of the gameplay. For exploring and adventuring gameplay, the character will show how she’s surviving in our exhaustion system. So if she runs into deep snow, she’ll slow down and have to traverse it. If her health gets low, her world will change color and she’ll limp. If she’s cold, the screen will begin to get covered in snow making it difficult to see; she’ll shiver and thus her aim will no longer be steady. If she’s sprints for too long, she’ll begin to gasp for breath; her vision will blur and darken. Effectively, she will begin to pass out and succumb to the elements. All these things are remedied by how you choose to play in the game. You’ll definitely want to avoid these effects by resting in caves and setting up camp. Burning things you find to stay warm, crafting arrows from wood, and finding items all improve your chances of survival. However, we are trying to avoid a giant item-fest or mindless crafting. So you won’t have to get five cracked bandages to make a ‘minor bandaging of bandages.’ That kind of stuff can be tiring and derail the overall experience.
What we do want the player to feel is that their choices matter. One simple way is making inventory finite and items scarce. By only allowing them so many items to carry at a time and then those items possibly not resurfacing for a while. That immediately will create different situations for the player on how they journey through the game. We’re still early in development on this and have already begun making minor tweaks and so far, it’s shaping up nicely. Clues will also be scrawled and etched by those before you. Some may seem cryptic, some useful, some useless. The idea being that you’ll have to think for yourself how to proceed with what you are given.
So yea, we haven’t even mentioned the obvious: the giants! Currently, we have the one ‘test boss’ in game. Of course, we are planning more, however we’re focused on the moment-to-moment while we rework some under-the-hood engineering. Thankfully, this will get a cohesive loop established early, allowing us to then focus on more bosses and the world layout. We will say he’s a ton of fun to climb on and defeat. He also kills us quite a bit. There are a few different ways you can get onto him and there’s certainly a great feeling overcoming all the obstacles and defeating him. We’ve got a couple other early prototypes of giants we’ve worked on but nothing we’re ready to discuss.
Q: Can you tell us more about the storyline? Why should our readers get excited about Prey of the Gods?
A: We’re keeping the story close otherwise it’d ruin it. With the internet now, it’s really hard to tell any kind of story, so we’d prefer the player take in the story in their own way. I think players should get excited about PFTG because we aren’t afraid to tackle difficult topics. Being independent allows us to do things that would never fly in a big budget title.
That will come through in the gameplay and story for sure.
Q: If possible, can share with us information on additional characters (e.g. NPCs)?
A: Sadly, any person you find is long since gone. They may have left clues or items but they won’t be talking. There are events that happened prior to your arrival and if you explore enough you’ll discover it as you progress.
Q: Prey of the Gods has been compared on sites like Kotaku and Rock Paper Shotgun to Shadow of the Colossus. Gamespot also referenced SotC, along with Tomb Raider. How does No Matter feel about these comparisons?
A: So let’s take a step back for a second. Kotaku, Rock Paper Shotgun, and Gamespot mentioned us. That’s insane. The week before we put out the trailer, we were busy getting the press kits and website up. We were hoping for 1,000 to 10,000 views on Youtube and figured after a bunch of clever emails to press, we’d get some small response. We never had to send out those emails and instead we were floored with the practical overnight craze that happened. So the fact that anyone is even talking about us, good or bad, is exciting. We’ve been making games at companies for years so we’re used to having our creations getting compared by the press. We loved SotC and we don’t hide from the fact that we are inspired by that. The Tomb Raider comparison surprised us, but I guess there’s similarities in that she has brown hair, can have a bow, and is in the snow? Our game plays very little like Tomb Raider, but by the trailer I could see how people would think otherwise.
Q: How long do you expect the game to be?
A: It’s really too early to give a specific game length. Seeing as we’re three developers working on this, scope is something we’re incredibly mindful of, so it’s less arbitrary gameplay length we’re focusing on and more about creating memorable gameplay.
Q: What can we expect soundtrack-wise?
A: We’re still pretty early with the soundtrack. The trailer track was primarily a trailer-esque music that our friend wrote. We had a number of limitations which made it pretty tricky to write a score, but for a trailer it worked. We’ve been looking at a number of other sound tracks, getting ideas and bouncing ideas around. If things go as planned, we’d like to get live instruments as that makes a huge impact.
Q: What made you decide to go the PC route and not consoles? Is this decision set in stone?
A: We knew that PC was the best option for us to start with. There’s so much going for the PC even outside Steam. Consoles were just something we never even thought possible. Luckily, we’ve had a number of people reach out to us since our announcement and we’re looking into how to get this to as many people as possible. PC is still our first choice and our first platform.
Q: Have you considered launching a crowdfunding campaign (i.e. Kickstarter)?
A: Yes. We have. Thankfully nowadays, there are a number of options for indie developers. We are looking into any and all options.
Q: Can we expect any new trailers anytime soon? Has a more definitive timeline been set as to the game’s release?
A: Soon? Probably nothing until after GDC. We’re still looking into timelines. Our roadmap is sorted out but we have a lot of asterisks depending on how things come together over the next four to six months for us.
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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