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Prodeus is Distinctly Old School, But its Developers Are Not Interested in Repeating the Past

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Prodeus

Prodeus is an upcoming retro-styled, first-person shooter that skirts the borders between DOOM and Duke Nukem 3D. So far, the game has received a lot of attention for its unique aesthetic, matching old-school resolution with modern visuals and capabilities.

The project has just begun its Kickstarter campaign, and OnlySP sat down with Mike Voeller and Jason Mojica, the pair behind  Prodeus, to discover more about the game beyond its aesthetic indebtments.

OnlySP: Firstly, how did Prodeus project start? How did you initially meet?

Mojica: Mike and I met a little over 10 years ago at Raven Software. We both started on a project called Singularity, a game about time travel and time manipulation. While this was our first industry project, Mike and I were both participants in the Half-Life 2 Modding scene before that.

Fast forward 10 years, I was working in Sweden on Payday 2 and Mike had just gone full-time indie dev. We had talked about going indie a few times over the years but weren’t able to get things off the ground. Eventually, I made the decision to leave Starbreeze on December 31, 2017, with no plan in mind, but Mike was the first person I contacted to see what he was up to. He showed me this small visual demo he had put together and it sparked my interest quite a bit.

Voeller: I had worked on the idea of a retro FPS on and off for a few years and had done a lot of visual and system tests for how everything would work. I had been ramping up work for a few months when Jason called me up looking for something to do and here we are now.

OnlySP: What do you make of the mini-revival of classically-inspired FPS games? DOOM (2016) and the modern Wolfenstein titles, for example.

Mojica: We think it’s great, both studios have done an amazing job of converting them into the modern age. I remember working on the 2010 Wolfenstein ages ago, which was also a lot of fun, but it was a completely different beast back then. One of the things that stands out to me in the new games is the movement options, huge fan of those! It’s something we’re working on for Prodeus.


OnlySP: Obvious aesthetic influences aside—DOOM, Duke Nukem, etc.—what other games inspired the retro vibe of Prodeus?

Voeller: The visual influences are actually really broad, so far we have only shown visuals from one level.  When we show some of the other monsters and environments we have in mind Prodeus will really start to stand out.

As far as the retro aesthetic, there’s just something wonderful about those big chunky pixels.  One of my favourite games is Metal Slug, it’s the epitome of what you can do with 320×224 pixels.  I don’t think there has been a Metal Slug calibre game for the FPS genre so that’s what we want to shoot for. There will, of course, be plenty of options for players to customize their visuals.

OnlySP: Weapon variety is essential for these pacy FPS games. How many weapons will be in the game?

Mojica: We don’t really have a set amount just yet, but the goal is to give players a bit of something old, a bit of something new, and a bit of something unexpected.

Voeller: Basically a weapon for every occasion.

OnlySP: How about enemies/enemy types will be in the game? In terms of interesting design and challenge, which enemy variety is the highlight for you?

Mojica: One of the things we discussed early in development was to give the player interesting scenarios based on AI level geo, and item placement that would cause them to use their tools at hand. Having an emphasis on moment to moment decisions and asking the player what their priorities are.

OnlySP: In terms of level design, what are you aiming to achieve with it?

Mojica: A mixture of old school abstract and modern flow. I take a lot of inspiration from old Half-life 2 levels and mods, as well as the new DOOM and Quake maps being made by the community.
Having built more accurate settings (like cities) most of my career, I’m having a blast forgetting all of the rules and focusing on creating fun and interesting spaces. Exploring ideas based on how engaging can I make this combat scenario instead of trying to make the space as realistic as possible.

OnlySP: The trailers so far have shown off some secret areas, are these difficult to interweave into the levels? How do you ensure these areas are rewarding or challenging to find?

Mojica: That’s sort of a philosophical question. I guess the short answer might be that while I’m building my spaces, I tend to leave room between areas that I think might work well for a secret. A lot of times it comes down to the ending shape of a room and what it’s telling me it wants to be. You really got to keep a vigilant eye open for these sorts of things while building the layout. The last thing you want is for your secrets to feel tacked on.

OnlySP: The Steam page states that post-launch the game will receive “continuous support.” What will this entail? Will it be focused on user-generated content?

Voeller: Community created maps will play a big part as well as additional official map and content packs.  Our mapping tools work in-game, so community mappers will have access to the same tools that we use to make all the official maps.  We will have more on this soon.

OnlySP: The dynamic soundtrack and music have certainly stood out so far. Who is responsible for the soundtrack? Does creating a soundscape that’s dynamic posit any unique difficulties?

Voeller: Andrew Hulshult made the first track that you hear in the trailer and we are using this to flesh out the music system, which we really haven’t shown off yet.  There are a few challenges, like deciding when to ramp the music up and down (do you want it to be reactive or preemptive or designer controlled) and balancing consistency and repetition (players don’t want to hear the same thing over and over, but they want the ambient music to be consistently ambient), but we are working through them.

OnlySP: Prodeus is, perhaps narrow-mindedly, grouped in with DOOM quite often. Is Prodeus an extension of DOOM-like play, or are you striving for something more?

Voeller: While the gameplay is very Action-FPS, we are taking inspiration from several different games and genres. Once we are further along Prodeus will really start to feel like its own game.

OnlySP: How much work has gone into the story? Does the game have a loose narrative in order to prioritise gameplay or are you trying to achieve something more with its story?

Mojica: Gameplay always comes first no matter what, but we’ve been tossing around some things internally that help us focus our design and create content for the game. One day we’ll be able to share more with the community, can’t wait!

OnlySP: Do you have any other comments for OnlySP’s readers?

Mojica: Our Kickstarter is coming out on March 25! Right smack in the middle of two crazy industry events, GDC and PAX.

Voeller: So keep an eye out for that if you want to get yourself some early access, backer discounts, or name in the credits.

For more on Prodeus, be sure to check out the Kickstarter and be sure to follow OnlySP on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube. OnlySP also has a community Discord and we’d love to have you on board to discuss all things single player.

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Interview

ARMA 3 ‘Contact’ Project Lead Discusses Importance of Single-Player Content, Inspirations, and Plenty of Details

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Arma 3

ARMA 3 ‘Contact’ delivers a new spin-off expansion for players to explore an unnervingly realistic interpretation of humanity’s first contact with an alien species. ‘Contact’ combines popular science-fiction with stunning graphics, realistic forested terrain in Livonia, real military general protocols for dealing with any unknown threat or situation to produce an authentic hardcore military sim experience.

In an exclusive interview with OnlySP, the expansion’s lead developer Joris-Jan van ‘t Land discusses influences, game development, campaign details, a new weapon—the ‘Spectrum Device’—and much more.

OnlySP: Arma has a strong history of hardcore realistic military sandbox sims. What made you want to take your formula and branch out into the sci-fi genre with ‘Contact’?

van ‘t Land: Firstly, we should make clear that we view ARMA 3 ‘Contact’ as a spin-off expansion. It does not signal a new direction for the ARMA series, which will itself stick to its authentic military sim-game core. ARMA 3 being six years into its impressive tour of duty, we felt this was the right time to get a little more creative. We’ve supported the game with lots of free and premium content, features, and support. Now some of us wanted to explore something less traditional, while still doing our best to support the military sandbox as much as possible.

The ‘first contact’ premise is one many in our team have wanted to explore for years. Some know that during its pre-production stage, ARMA 3 itself had some less conventional elements under its ‘Futura’ codename. We had done our own experiments with the topic on the side for fun, but now pitched it as an actual project, and were fortunately given the chance. Looking around at other sci-fi entertainment covering aliens, there are but a few approaching it from the viewpoint of contemporary (or rather 2039 Armaverse) military. We simply loved to theorize about how current armed forces might react to an extraterrestrial intelligence arriving on Earth. Nobody really knows what might happen, so it’s a conceptually interesting ‘what if’ setting to work with. ET adds a variable that nobody can really argue with: who knows what they are technologically capable of, what their motivations are, and what it would mean for humanity?

OnlySP: Has Earth’s first contact with aliens always been something that you wanted to do? Where did the inspiration come from?

van ‘t Land: Absolutely! Personally, it’s one of my favorite big topics in general, ever since being very young. I grew up watching movies like Independence Day, Contact, and later Arrival, following TV shows such as X-Files and Falling Skies, reading books like War of the Worlds, and playing games like XCOM. Since the ARMA series (as Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis) entered my life, there have been many moments when I fantasized about building scenarios involving humans and aliens. That mostly did not really go further than hobby projects and quick experiments, until now. During the project’s concept phase I also had the chance to re-explore many inspirations, for example by reading lots of books, like Contact, The Black Cloud, and a lesser known hardcore military sci-fi series: Legacy of the Aldenata.

OnlySP: Given the time since ARMA 3‘s full game was released. Why did you decide to create another expansion instead of ARMA 4?

van ‘t Land: ‘Contact’ originated from our relatively small Amsterdam studio, a team which was formed to develop original ideas for Bohemia. That specifically meant doing less traditional projects, even if they were DLC or expansions to an existing game. Our first project—ARMA 3 ‘Laws of War’also offered a non-standard perspective on armed conflict. Some of our team members have worked on ARMA for well over a decade, and we were personally interested in doing something different. Initially ‘Contact’ was not even specified to be an ARMA 3 expansion. We considered even a stand-alone game, but ultimately the benefits of the expansion route were far too great. It meant we could make use of a massive sandbox, and ARMA 3 players would benefit from additions even if they do not care about the setting. Without ‘Contact’, there likely would not have been another official ARMA 3 DLC or expansion, aside from our Creator DLC program of course.

I should also mention that we received very important support from other small teams in Bohemia, such as in the Czech Republic and Thailand. They helped to build the Livonia terrain and other sandbox content, while in Amsterdam we focused on the “First Contact” campaign, aliens, and defining the overall package. Other than that, it’s no secret that Bohemia has been working on its next generation in-house engine: Enfusion. It continues to mature and will power the next decades of awesome Bohemia games. We’re a pretty sizable company meanwhile, with various teams working on exciting things.

OnlySP: ‘Contact’ will get a single-player campaign, can you give any details of the campaign and how long it will be?

van ‘t Land: A big part of the campaign is about uncovering its mystery and exploring what is going on, so we’ll leave most details for players to discover for themselves. Known is that you will assume the role of a NATO drone operator, deployed to Livonia for military training exercises. Eventually our alien visitors arrive to the Area of Operations, and from there on out you’re part of an improvised reconnaissance operation to investigate what’s going on. The gameplay at its core is still ARMA 3, but we’ve wanted to add some extra mechanics that are less directly combat-focused, such as Electronic Warfare. It’s largely up to the player whether they want to use more direct action or deceive their enemies using a new type of ‘weapon’: the Spectrum Device.

The length is always hard to specify, because it of course depends on each individual player, and how much they explore the terrain beyond the core objectives. We’d estimate normal play sessions lasting between 4 and 6 hours. And after that there’s of course a cool box of new toys to tinker with, including the rest of the new Livonia terrain. We also hope community creators get inspired to build their own alien scenarios.

OnlySP: Is the idea to produce a realistic version of what you think first contact might be like? Military robots, recon, drones and tactical planning?

van ‘t Land: Military and scientific authenticity were definitely our starting points when we kicked off the project. We scoured books and the Internet, spoke to various consultants, and tried to find out whether there even exist real-world ‘post-detection protocols’. There are bits and pieces out there, like the US military’s Seven Steps to Contact (1950), but also the usual conspiracy theories and questionable sources. We could not find a clear central and declassified playbook, so then you get to more general protocols for dealing with any unknown threat or situation. Much of that could be extrapolated to an alien arrival, so we quickly landed on themes like Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear defense, autonomous vehicles, and SIGINT (signal intelligence). These things just make basic sense: avoiding cross-contamination and taking extreme care in general. Another interesting analogue was how Navy vessels may react to a non-responsive ship at sea. How certain actions or inactions may trigger the wrong response. Not all of it is intuitive; a signal meant to communicate a basic message can easily be interpreted as hostile. And that’s between humans … who knows how aliens are and observe the world around them?

Setting out to depict this premise put us in a pretty challenging situation. We wanted to be authentic, but at the same time introduce aliens, whose level of technology can easily surpass our understanding. We approached it by setting ourselves the rule that the aliens were allowed one general super technology that they could use to ‘cheat’ our scientific knowledge, one magical ability if you will. The other parts of their tech should have a strong connection to how we think the universe works. And we are also still making a game, so along the way you can encounter gameplay situations that need to break with authenticity to preserve fun or player understanding. All in all, I would still say our interpretation is more down-to-Earth than many other sci-fi stories out there.

OnlySP: Can you reveal if any missions will take place on an alien spaceship? Or does humanity’s encounter with alien tech revolve around the orange levitating orb seen in the trailer.

van ‘t Land: What I’ll say is that you will not be leaving Earth. And there is more to the alien visitors than the Alien Flying Object and anomalous orb seen in the Announcement Trailer, but you’ll experience that when you play.

OnlySP: This expansion is adding five new weapons, all of them based on real-world arms. Will there be any weapons specifically designed for engaging alien targets? Did you ever consider adding in alien weaponry?

van ‘t Land: Perhaps not a traditional weapon, but the Spectrum Device is the player’s primary new tool. It lets you receive and transmit signals on certain frequency bands of the electromagnetic spectrum, depending on the antenna you attach. This can be used for engaging in Electronic Warfare against human forces and technology, but perhaps also more. We based the device on real-world experimental drone jammers and how they might develop over the next decades. How capable the alien visitors are at defending themselves is something for players to uncover.

OnlySP: The environmental graphics in the trailer look amazing. The forest setting is an iconic setting for many alien stories and films. Were you consciously attempting to tap into the cultural heritage and atmosphere of the likes of E.T. with it?

van ‘t Land: Thank you! E.T. is another movie all of us saw growing up of course. I would not say we were directly trying to replicate its atmosphere, but now that you mention it, the mood of being alone in the dark with strange light anomalies, definitely is a huge part of the campaign. Another similarity with Steven Spielberg’s movies in general is subtlety. We quite quickly settled on wanting to focus rather on that as opposed to bombastic blockbuster scenes. Think Jaws and Jurassic Park more so than Independence Day. At the same time there are several events in the campaign that nobody has ever seen in an ARMA game.

Livonia’s development history is not as straight-forward itself. The terrain started as a Research & Development project to incorporate more automated tools for terrain building, but after building a prototype that way, it did not have an actual project to finish it in. Then we kicked off ‘Contact’ and at some point the match was made. This turned into a rather massive effort to shape the foundation into Livonia, but having an actual narrative context and setting helped to flesh out its back story. It meant we started developing it as a fictional nation, with a history, flag, and armed forces. And we started incorporating wishes from the ‘Contact’ campaign team. It was no easy task, but the teams did a fantastic job, and it has also allowed the expansion to bring a huge new sandbox to ARMA 3 players.

OnlySP: The forested area of Livonia looks like a closed landscape as it’s densely packed with trees. This is something quite different from vast open landscapes that we’ve seen in the past with sandy, grassy and dirty environments. Will players be forced into exploring different tactical options to cope with this?

van ‘t Land: The landscape indeed means not all tactics are suitable or successful. Especially in the mid-section of the campaign, the player has some freedom to explore off the beaten path, and choose to walk or use vehicles, employ direct action or pure stealth. Even so, Livonia is rather large, and there will be plenty of interesting places to explore beyond the campaign. We fully expect the community will create their usual assortment of cool scenarios and multiplayer modes to make the most of its rolling hills, fields, and forests. Some of them have actually already started to publish versions based on our Sneak Preview builds.

OnlySP: How important is the single-player portion of ARMA 3, not just for ‘Contact’ but the game as a whole?

van ‘t Land: That’s going to depend a lot on who in the player community you ask. For some only multiplayer matters. They spend thousands of hours in mil-sim operations or on role-playing servers, and perhaps never touch any single-player content. And yet, I could personally not imagine an ARMA game without a single-player component. It does not have to be a complex narrative-driven story, but could also be a more simulation-driven open world. The current ARMA 3 library of content, whether official or user-generated, is vast. Pretty much everything is represented in one way or another. Going purely on analytics, it could be tempting to conclude that singleplayer does not matter nearly as much, but the data does not tell the whole story. Aside from curated content, there is another way to play ARMA 3 alone: the editor. Many players love just throwing together a quick battle and seeing how it plays out.

Then you could argue that any playable content could be both singleplayer and multiplayer, but there are still many complexities that make it very hard to pull that off well. We’ve learned some of these lessons with our co-operative “Apex Protocol” campaign. Besides being technically much more complex and harder to test given all network situations, there are many storytelling difficulties when you have multiple players in the virtual world, starting with their individual pace. ‘Contact’ actually started out intending to be playable in both singleplayer and multiplayer, but we are really pushing the limits of our engine with the aliens for example. A few months in we made the call to go single-player-only, letting us focus on building the atmosphere we wanted without the worries of network synchronization.

OnlySP: Is there anything else you would like to say to our readers?

van ‘t Land: Having worked on ‘Contact’ for some two years, we are very excited to finally let players experience it soon. There are not many companies like Bohemia, where such an unorthodox concept would be greenlit, so we’re very happy to have had the chance to make it a reality. We hope you all enjoy playing our take on this big human topic!

ARMA 3 ‘Contact’ will be available on 25 July 2019 for PC.

For more on ARMA 3 ‘Contact’ and from the world of single-player gaming, be sure to follow OnlySP on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube. Also, be sure to join the discussion in the community Discord server.

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