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.
“Immersion [is] Really Important For Us”: IO Interactive Discusses Hitman 2’s Development
OnlySP had a chance to talk to IO Interactive’s community developer Clemens Koch at Fan Expo Canada earlier this month about Hitman 2. In the interview, Koch discusses his favourite additions to the game, his least favourite bugs, and some funny stories from development.
Check out the video of the interview at the bottom of the page. Major audio issues are present in the video, so the full transcript of the interview is available below.
OnlySP: So what do you do with Hitman 2? What’s your job on it?
Clemens Koch: I’m a community developer. So what I do is, I take care of all the—I’m the voice for all the fans. And I talk about what they wish was in the game, and I give that to the developers. And then I do a lot of testing.
OSP: Awesome. So with the first one being episodic, and this one now actually just all coming out at once, what was the big deciding factor in that?
Koch: Well, there are many factors in that, but one of the main factors is to do with, we want people to play the game at their own pace. And it’s more varied on live content, so instead of being focused on one level and only giving life to one level, we have a lot of different locations now, which is fun. It also gives the player options: if they want to speedrun through it or they want to take each mission and there’s multiple paths they can take. So we give the opportunity to play as you want. We give that freedom of approach in every level, so we also wanted to give that freedom of approach to the game. We give you that — when you start the load out, you can do “Ah, I don’t want any weapons on me.” You can do whatever you want. We wanted to give this full freedom of approach so you can do whatever you want with the targets. How you want to do it — it’s all up to you.
OSP: That’s awesome. There’s also been talk that the story is going to cover some of Agent 47 in the past, so is this going to bleed into the older games or make the fans look at the older games in a different way?
Koch: Yeah, our lead writers are really good at writing; the story is amazing. So I don’t want to talk about the story. There’s a lot of cool things happening, and also, within the world of assassination, where we take Hitman Season 1, and actually make it playable within Hitman 2, so we have all the different elements from Hitman 2, but make them playable it Hitman 1 as well.
OnlySP: Oh really?
Koch: Yeah, if you’ve purchased Season 1, that’s free, so you can actually get all these things for free if you’ve purchased Hitman Season 1 beforehand.
OSP: Oh, that’s good to know!
Koch: Yeah, so there’s a lot of elements also in the story that will trigger this, and there are so many cool vibes, and I’m really—the story is really cool, and gives a bit of background on 47, which is really, really cool.
OSP: Okay, that’s good.
OSP: What’s your favourite costume in the game?
Koch: In Hitman 2, I think my favourite at the moment is a guy—I cannot tell you who he is, you’ll have to find him yourself. But there’s a guy by the pier; he’s amazing. His suit is just so hilarious. But the flamingo is like a fan favourite. He’s so fluffy, I wanna die, I wanna hug it! I really wanna walk around in that. He really is—I am the flamingo. And then you pan around and see Agent 47’s face just like staring at your soul, like “Oh I’m sorry!”
OSP: It’s a funny contrast.
Koch: Yeah, it is right? It’s very funny, and then this dark soul. And I think that’s also a thing that we really, really love at IO Interactive. It’s all about a fine balance, right? So we have this dark, twisted humour, and this dark, twisted reality, so we have to mix it, so it’s never too goofy, but it’s not too serious, so it’s a very fine balance we try to walk, with fun dialogue, but you’re killing people, right? It’s pretty dark, so drowning a guy in the toilet is not funny, but the guy says something funny in the background, so it’s like “Okay, that’s cool.”
OSP: Yeah, I noticed there was a really good contrast, because—the game is beautiful.
OSP: There are no ifs, ands, or buts about that. But it’s so full of colour with such a dark story, it stops the player from just feeling so drab about it, but really immersing yourself in this world where they can just have fun in and explore. And it’s a really great contrast, I find.
Koch: Thanks. And we actually do that, and you will see that—especially Hitman 2—we have a huge contrast between each level, so Miami is full of sun and colour, and we have a jungle level coming up—we can talk about that. It’s gonna be dark and scary and muddy, so there’s gonna be a huge contrast going from Miami to another level. You’ll see the big contrast in this level.
OSP: Approximately how long do you think the story is, like how many hours?
Koch: I mean, it’s hard to say, because it really depends on how fast you play the game. I mean, I can’t put a number on it. I’d love to, but I don’t think I can, because it might just be a random number. I mean, someone would be like “That’s not right, it takes twice as long!”, or like “Man, that’s too long!” Like I could be wrong!
OSP: So the key is “Don’t speedrun, you’ll wreck the game.”
Koch: Yeah, enjoy it!
OSP: With Hitman: Absolution, there were user-created levels, basically, where people could set up their own challenges. Is something like that going to be coming back?
Koch: We have Contracts, where you create your own Contracts. So you can go in and find people you wanna kill, and say “Let’s do this in this particular disguise,” or “Let’s use this particular weapon.” That will be back as well.
OSP: What is your favourite change coming from Hitman Season 1 to Hitman Season 2?
Koch: Uh, from Hitman Season 1 to Hitman Season 2, I think my favourite—I love the mirrors. There is actually working mirrors, so if you go in there’s a guy washing his hands in front of a mirror, and you walk behind him, he’ll be like “What? What is happening?” and turn around. And also if you kill a guy, and there’s a mirror where another guy can see it, there’s actually working mirrors and I think that really adds so much to this fantasy that you can’t actually just sneak up on everyone, because they’ll see you and be like “What are you doing?” Because there’s a guy coming up sneaking behind. You would react. Like “What are you doing?”, right? So I think that is one of my—and that’s also gonna be in Season 1, so we’re gonna drag that system across. We want to ever-expand the world of assassination. So if you’ve purchased—as I said before—Hitman Season 1, you will be able to play within Hitman 2. And all the new things, like working mirrors, we have security cameras, and better graphics. And I think that’s also—it forces you to play the older levels a different way, because now everyone will bust you if you’re trespassing, and that’s also a cool feature. The mirror thing—I really love the mirrors. When I first realised and saw it, I was like “That’s important.” It makes sense, right?
OSP: Well, most games, they don’t even show you in the mirror.
Koch: I hate that. I hate when you’re not in the mirror.
OSP: It’s so boring!
Koch: It’s like, that’s a mirror man, come on! But now we actually have working mirrors where you can see from both sides. I really love that. It adds to this agent story, this agent fantasy. I really dig that.
OSP: So Hitman: Blood Money is usually the fan favourite, a lot of people really like that game. What kind of stuff for people who are like “Hitman: Blood Money is the best game ever” will really enjoy about Hitman Season 2 here?
Koch: I think it’s the atmosphere and the immersion of feeling like you’re there. I think that’s one of the things I really, really love when creating our games, and it’s this immersion that’s really important for us, and the fidelity. Everyone just makes you feel like you are Agent 47. That was very strong in Blood Money, and I think that’s very, very strong and back now.
OSP: That’s good to know. Gaming and creating games is a long, hard, arduous project, so what do you do to keep from getting burnt out?
Koch: It’s video games! I love it!
OSP: Fair enough!
Koch: Yeah, I mean—the process is amazing. Going from an idea to actually a level where you play it, it sounds so far out, but it’s like, this process is just—when you have the product you’re like “Oh, this is amazing!” It’s kinda parental, it’s like “Okay, my little Jimmy is now big Jimmy.” You get this sense of joy. What happened in between, right?
OSP: It’s only been three months and you grew six feet?
Koch: Exactly, right? You see it from the concept art, like—look at Robert Knox, how awesome he looks in the concept art, and then to actually see him in the game, like… what?! I mean, I think the process is just amazing. And it’s an experience and video games is amazing working with them is amazing, so we just enjoy it, and we love our games.
OSP: What is everyone’s least favourite glitch?
Koch: Items falling through the floor, that’s annoying. I mean, we see them as love childs, so we have to talk special care of them. And we do! To see people play here is amazing, to see things—I see things like “Oh no.” And you don’t see those things, because you have fresh eyes. I’ve been staring at this level for a month now. But it’s just amazing, I mean bugs can be made—they can also be a thing that we don’t really think that it was supposed to be like that, but it actually works out better. So yeah, what is a bug?
OSP: Any funny dev story you can tell us?
Koch: Yeah, we have—we have many, many funny stories. I have one story in particular where we stood at security in the airport, and we were talking a lot about killing people, what we’d do, and we were like “Oh, we should do this,” and we were standing there as a few guys just talking about the airport at the security. And talking about how to kill a certain target and we all had very graphic ways to talk, so we were at one point talking about drowning in the bathroom—that was fun, like in the toilet. And another was like “Oh, we should do an action explosion!” And not realising that we were in security, and you have to behave around security at the airport, so the security guy just looked at us like “What are you talking about?” and we were like “Oh, uh, A video game.” But we were all pulled out for security checks. They didn’t find anything, of course, but we were really nice, like “Sorry, sorry.”
OSP: It makes a great story!
Koch: Yeah it was funny, and you have lots of cool kind of stories like that. We have video games where action guys and girls work, and fun stuff happens.
OSP: Can we find an Easter Egg of that happening in a level maybe?
Koch: Not like that, because that’s pretty recent, but there is a lot of great stories in other levels.
OSP: My biggest question about the level design and how you guys tackle it is, how do you guys go about building a level from scratch? Do you come up with your targets and the possibilities of killing them, or do you build a world and then figure out what you can do and skew it from there?
Koch: That’s a good question. I think it’s—there’s a lot of people working on it, and we want a lot of different things in every level, and we have these two targets, and we have the idea of how to do it. It’s like a snowball effect. We have two targets, we have a race—so okay, one of them should be racing, of course, so we start building up. All the opportunities come during the map, and in the end you have this crazy map with all these opportunities, and you guys are only seeing like a small percentage of what you can do. I see people play like “Uh, you could do that! You could do that right now!” and they just walk around. There’s many layers, it’s a huge team effort, plus these levels—they’re so huge, we want them to be very detailed and very immersive and very, very high fidelity, so there’s a lot of things going into the levels and it’s not only because it’s really big. It’s very important to us that it feels right. It feels like a race track should be. So it has to be big.
I think the main process is to just have the idea and then see the end of the tunnel. And be like “This is where we’re going. This is how it should be.” So it’s a team effort. I love talking and creating, and elements of the level get scrapped because that’s just necessary. If this doesn’t add to—why is it there? What is its purpose? So it needs a purpose, but it also needs to be believable. And fun—it’s very important that it’s fun. There’s nothing worse than playing a game where you play a level and it’s just a chore to get through it. Like “Uh, I don’t wanna play that,” right? It’s very fun—and also we put you in the beginning. We put you in front of the race, and after the briefing you’re like, “Here you go!” More choice. And, it can be nerve-wracking for some, like “What do I do? Where should I go?” but for us it’s just like “Yeah, immerse! Enjoy!” But it’s kinda nice, ’cause the level design, you have coloured rows everywhere pulling you into places, so it gives you idea. And you’re not just in the centre; you’re at the entrance, so it funnels you in.
OSP: It gives you that nice ease in, and you’re like “Alright, let’s go!” And now you’re in the world of assassination.
Koch: Exactly, and that’s what we wanted: when you see these signs on the floor. That’s real, that would be like that. So it’s not like a big, pointing arrow on top of the screen telling you where you have to go. It’s actually built in the level design, so if you’re lost, just look around. There will be pointers. Natural pointers that will help you.
OSP: What kind of inspiration did you guys get from the dialogue, like how do you come up with some of the crazy conversations?
Koch: Yeah, we have—I have to say—we have one of the best writing teams and the dialogue, they—I think they are inspired by things that you hear around, but also cool things that can happen, and sometimes it’s like “Oh, this area seems too dark, we need to put in some fun banter.” And it always has to be—and also, some dialogue will talk about something that happened in another level, or happened in the next level, so I think they find a lot of weird dialogue. Sometimes it’s like “We cannot put this in.” A lot of it is like telling you to do a specific thing, so maybe you’ve played the game a hundred times, there’s dialogue you might never hear, because you haven’t played a certain, specific thing that triggered that scenario. And we have such deep, rich dialogue that also makes our games so special. It’s funny to go around and listen, and listen to what people are talking about. Makes it feel like a real life world, in a way. When you play the game, you could be in a little corner of the map, or at the other end of the map, things will still happen; they will still talk. You could trigger something over here, but because you’re there, you would never know that, you will never see that. So that adds to this living, breathing world. Which we’re very proud of, and that’s what makes Hitman so like Hitman.
OSP: That’s awesome. Well, thank you.
Koch: Thank you so much.
OSP: And it comes out November…
OSP: Oh, that reminds me, my Editor has a question. Why are you guys shipping the game on the 48th week and not the 47th, because apparently it’s a major marketing opportunity loss. That’s what he said. I think he was joking, but he said he was gonna go out on Twitter, so I’m getting it out of the way now.
Koch: That’s a good question! I mean, but doesn’t he want the game to be good?
OSP: We want the game when it’s good.
OSP: Awesome. Thank you very much, man. Have a good one. Have a good Fan Expo!
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