Renowned Explorers: International Society has been out since September and in that time, it’s gotten overwhelmingly positive reviews from its player base on Steam. Players seem to love the intrepid adventures in exotic locales, set in the exciting (and more-than-a-little-dangerous) Age of Discovery. In fact, one of the few complaints of the game is that there isn’t more to it. Indeed, it’s pretty easy to run through the gamut of Renowned Explorers’ expeditions – the episodic adventures that make up each of the game’s “stages” as you attempt to climb up the rankings and become the most Renowned Explorer – in only a few sittings and while the game certainly adds a ton of procedural and randomized content – made even more extensive by the sheer volume of choice you have when constructing your crew – it’s easy to feel like you’re treading the same stories with minor tweaks over and over again.
Enter More to Explore, the game’s first expansion, which is due out tomorrow. More to Explore, true to its name, adds more of the game to explore. But more than simply adding expeditions (it adds two, one for the mid game and one difficult, end-game expedition), it also adds new mechanics – like the campfire stories that promise to tell you more about the characters you chose for your crew, as well as watch them interact with each other – that should spice up each play through and give you more incentives to play the game multiple times rather than just tunnel-visioning the end result.
I sat down with Adriaan Jansen, Creative Director at Abbey Games, to talk with him about this new expansion and what Abbey Games has in store for the intrepid explorers at home.
Reid A Gacke: Ok, so. I know who you are of course, but why don’t you introduce yourself to our readers.
Adriaan Jansen: I’m Adriaan Jansen, game designer at Abbey Games. I had the honors of creative director of Reus, Renowned Explorers: International Society, and its upcoming expansion More to Explore.
Reid A Gacke:: How long have you been with Abbey Games?
Adriaan Jansen: I’m one of the co-founders, so Abbey Games hasn’t known a moment without me! That’s already 4.5 years!
Reid A Gacke: And who are the other co-founders of Abbey Games?
Adriaan Jansen: I started with Bas Zalmstra, the technical director of Abbey Games, and later Maarten Wiedenhof (now CEO) and Manuel Kerssemakers (Development and Marketing) joined as co-founders.
Besides us, we have another 3 employees at the moment, doing art, production and programming.
Reid A Gacke: What exactly does a creative director do? What was your role with Renowned Explorers and Reus?
Adriaan Jansen: I was responsible to give direction to all creative aspects of the game, but I was especially involved in game design. In the case of Renowned Explorers, that meant all the balancing, characters, events, writing etc. was for a very large part done by me.
Reid A Gacke: Sounds like a pretty big task. There’s a lot of writing in this game!
Adriaan Jansen: There is a lot of writing! If I recall correctly, there are about 300.000 words in the game and over 600 events (with the expansion, that is). The sad thing is that I’m not even good at it! That this happened is a bit of an accident. If you would have told me I would be making a game so reliant on text, I would have laughed in your face, hahaha.
Reid A Gacke: So tell me a bit about Renowned Explorers: International Society.
Adriaan Jansen: Renowned Explorers: International Society is a… rogue-lite, strategy, RPG game about exploration. Yeah, and you thought the title was too long! It most closely resembles a weird mix of FTL, Civilization and the Sims, in my opinion. Some unique things are the possibility to solve every encounter with moves that not only represent violent actions, but also verbal ones. That way, you can convince your opponent of your cause, or make them run away in fear or anger.
I could go on explaining it, but I think you did a better job than I did describing it in your review.
Reid A Gacke: Why thank you sir! Yeah, I definitely thought the combat mechanics were quite unique. How did you guys come up with the idea to have a game with such a strange and unique combat mechanic?
Adriaan Jansen: Interesting question! We already were set on the theme of 19th century exploring and it being a strategy game. Then there was a mix of reasons that all pointed to this mechanic. First, we wanted to do something different, and preferably not violent. There isn’t all that much fighting in Jule Vernes’ books, and we wanted to infuse those encounters with moments of treachery or peace making.
Second, an artist at the time (Peter Klijn) made some brilliant character designs, but some of them weren’t well suited for combat unless you gave them a gundam suit. But we really liked the diverse cast.
Last, we wanted the game to be whimsical and funny in nature. Insults and friendship would fit it perfectly.
It took us about a year to come up with the final result, and if it wasn’t for the Sims 4 releasing in that period, I think it might even have taken longer!
Reid A Gacke: Obviously I know the answer since I’ve sunk so much of my life into this game, but what are some of the characters that don’t lend themselves so well to a combat-oriented approach?
Adriaan Jansen: Well there is Hildegard, [a] 14 year old girl who wants to be a magician. Or Agatha, a venerable university teacher who really is just “too old for this”. But there is also the seductive heartbreaker Maria or the kind-hearted Emilia. They just prefer to solve conflicts differently.
Reid A Gacke: Hildegard’s my favorite! Thank whoever put her adorable self in the game for me.
Adriaan Jansen: Yeah, I love her too! I will tell our artist who animated her with all her love.
Reid A Gacke: Do you have any favorite characters?
Adriaan Jansen: Hildegard is definitely adorable, but it’s a tie with Dolores. I don’t know, she is a bit of a dork with her encourage, but I think it’s so endearing! She’s so well spirited! I also like bringing Harry on adventures because he’s a trickster.
Reid A Gacke: Dolores is another one of my favorites. Who doesn’t love a huge, menacing luchadore lady?
Adriaan Jansen: Only lunatics.
Reid A Gacke: Clearly.
I imagine you play the game a lot. Do you have a favorite team setup when you play? A favorite way to solve the conflicts in the game? Your preferred playstyle, I guess I should say.
Adriaan Jansen: I really like playing Devious with Yvonne. Maybe because it’s more straight-forward, and I don’t have to think soo much during testing. If I go for a challenge, I like to just make something weird. Using Dolores as a speaker for example. You’d be surprised…
think the weirdness I like emanates through the game quite clearly, hehe.
Reid A Gacke: So you’d say the game encourages experimentation?
Adriaan Jansen: I think so, yes. At the Abbey at least, we see quite a few combinations and strategies!
Reid A Gacke: I know I mentioned in my review that one of my only criticisms of the game was that there wasn’t more of it, which seems to be exactly what this expansion, More to Explore, is all about. What was your intent going into the expansion?
Adriaan Jansen: There were indeed two things we wanted to tackle on the surface. One was just adding more places to go to, as you suggested as well. The other one is giving the player a bit more incentive to play more runs. The game has so many secrets and strategic possibilities, but due to the narrative nature of the game people will more quickly focus on solely that part. We hope the new campfire mechanic will give you some incentives to discover more hidden stories and weird strategies!
We don’t want to keep you hooked with an endless stream of minor rewards, but we do want to push the average playing time to be more, around 20 hours.
Reid A Gacke: Tell me more about the campfire mechanics, because that seems like the major addition in the expansion.
Adriaan Jansen: Yes! I’m very excited about it! During your expeditions, you will have the chance to start a campfire and choose a campfire story to play out. Initially those stories will be very small and give quite boring bonuses. But as you finish games of Renowned Explorers, you will unlock new, more character specific stories to play. How is Hildegard handling the pressure of an adolescence? Can Ivan live up to his actual pacifistic believes? Those kind of things. The outcome can often be different if you take other crew members with you. Kwame’s joyful attitude can be pretty unnerving for the more sarcastic and mean spirited adventurer, for example…
Reid A Gacke: I noticed in my latest run through when Hildegard was the captain and Agatha was a crew member, she received a minor debuff because she was being “led by a child.” Are there a lot of those sorts of character-specific interactions in the game and expansion?
Adriaan Jansen: Yes! The campfire stores have quite a few of those in store for you!
It’s actually one of my hidden agendas, to insert more of those in the game!
Reid A Gacke: You’re my hero. I love stuff like that. It makes it so there’s even more incentive to mix and match and play more games.
Adriaan Jansen: Thanks! I hope you’ll enjoy some of the new stories. Hildegard and Agatha have some more stuff up their sleeves…
Reid A Gacke: So tell me about the new expeditions. I noticed between my play-throughs for my review and my recent binge on the game (which was just as much fun, I have to add) that you added a few expeditions in the interim and now the expansion adds a couple more. Is it your goal to keep adding content like that in regular updates? Or will that sort of thing slow down now that you’ve set your eyes on an expansion model for the game?
Adriaan Jansen: Great question. We’ll definitely support the game for at least another 3 months after the expansion hits. The game is sometimes just as much a mystery to me as it is to you, and sometimes I need to balance things out with new content or reshape some of the ill parts of the game. A good example of this is the science overhaul in November. I expect something similar will happen here too. There is just too much content for us to test, so we depend on the explorers at home to come with feedback.
Adriaan Jansen: After that, we’ll have to wait and see what the expansion will do financially. I would absolutely love to add new locations, and ESPECIALLY new characters, but the boss has to make sure we keep doing stuff that can keep us alive.
If the expansion does well, I think I might persuade some influential monks to do another DLC or two.
Reid A Gacke: So you’re saying I have to buy a couple dozen copies? Because I am totally willing to buy a couple dozen copies.
Adriaan Jansen: (laughs) Well I hope you will get some backup of fellow explorers and that such extreme measures are not needed!
I’m rooting for it!
Reid A Gacke: Speaking of Abbey Games, it sounds like your plans for Renowned Explorers are up in the air, but do you have any more plans in the pipeline? Or are you just playing things by ear right now?
Adriaan Jansen: To be totally honest, I have no idea what I will be doing 3 months from here! I hope it’s more Renowned Explorers, but we also have to start thinking of future projects.
Reid A Gacke: I can’t wait to hear what else you have in store.
Thanks for your time Adriaan, do you have anything you want to say to all our Single Players out there?
Adriaan Jansen: Thanks for having me and working on OnlySP! I’m a Single Player myself, so it’s awesome to have such a nice place to get well informed information on SP games! To those Single Players who plan to play Renowned Explorers: I hope you have a lot of fun and we would love to hear feedback from you!
Stay tuned to OSP for a review of More to Explore when it launches tomorrow. And keep an eye open in the near future for a more in-depth interview with Abbey Games about the unique and clever conflict resolution system Renowned Explorers introduces.
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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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