Interview

The Other 99 Mixes Shadow of Mordor’s AI System With Brutal Survival Action and Morality

We’ve gotten a lot of survival action games over the past few years, many that focused specifically on multiplayer. Developer Burning Arrow is currently working on The Other 99, a single player survival action game built on Unreal Engine 4. The game will plant you on an dangerous island and constantly push you to think about the choices you make. Players will meet a number of different people on the island as you try to escape, how you deal with them is completely up to you.

Burning Arrow is bringing The Other 99  to Steam Early Access on July 25th. After speaking with Thomas Brown of Burning Arrow and learning more about the game’s reactive AI system, combat and focus on morality, this is a game we’ll be keeping a close eye on.

UPDATE 7/6/2016 – The Other 99 now releases on Steam Early Access on August 25.

ONLYSP: Can you tell me a little bit about your personal history as a game developer and how Burning Arrow was formed?

Thomas Brown: Sure. So I started developing games at University and during my final year, I found out about an incubation program run by Falmouth University which would allow me to achieve my dream of a masters as well as starting my own company. It was during this incubation course that I was teamed up with the three other guys – Harry Stevenson, Alex Barnes and David Croft-Sharland – who are the three other directors and founders of Burning Arrow. We spent a year in the incubation program, which is where we got to know each other, and we developed the demo of The Other 99, which we then used to contact publishers and, eventually, we agreed a deal with Deck13.

ONLYSP: Interesting, I didn’t know Deck13 signed on as a publisher. So The Other 99, then; from the trailer and your Steam page we can tell it’s a survival action game, but it seems quite a bit different from your normal survival game.

Brown: Yes, we have tried to make ourselves stand out from other survival games through our narrative and AI. I can’t tell you too much about the story as there is a great deal of mystery, and we want the players to discover it for themselves, but what I can say is that we have spent a great deal of time crafting a number of storylines which cater for various playstyles and we hope will enable every player of The Other 99 to be able to uncover some of the mysteries that surround how you got here, where you are, and who/what is responsible. The other aspect which I mentioned was the AI. We have been creating an AI system similar to Shadow of Mordor in the sense that the AI are independent of the player. Each of them is unique and has a distinct personality which is shaped and changes based on what they experience on the island – all of which is taking place around the player, which enables us to give players a unique gameplay experience every time they start up a new game of The Other 99.

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ONLYSP:  Based on the title, will there be 99 different people on the island that the player can interact with then?

Brown: Each of the 99 will be a unique person with a distinct personality. Everyone is trying to achieve the same thing: to survive. The differences come in the way that everybody tries to achieve this, in the same way we expect players will do. When a player starts up a new game of The Other 99 however, they won’t always get the same 99. The AI are generated randomly at the start of the game, so you never know what you are going to get.

ONLYSP: So how exactly does the player interact with the AI then? Will there be conversations between the player and the AI? Or how exactly are you presenting the different personalities of the characters?

Brown: In our initial Early Access release, the player will interact with AI based on simple actions such as having your weapon out or not, or if you are running towards them, etc. The AI will do most of the communication and will inform the player about their story if they are so inclined. If a player kills the person before they have a chance, then their story will be shown through notes they have written. These notes can also be found hidden around the island along with other trinkets and scraps of the world that used to inhabit this island. These will let players discover aspects of the lore that we have created. As with a lot of our game, these are procedurally placed, which will require players to explore as much as they can. But ultimately, they aren’t guaranteed to find the entire story in a single play through.

ONLYSP: Maybe it’s a bit spoilery, but finding these notes will tie into the overarching narrative of the game I imagine?

Brown: So we have multiple storylines which are tied to your playstyle. So the way you play will shape what stories are available to you. These storylines are portrayed via notes which will link directly into major storylines, but also some of the notes, which are hidden away, could lead you down a side story that has less to do with the main goal of surviving and a lot more to do with discovering the how, what, why, [and] when of the island.

ONLYSP:  Looking at the gameplay trailer and from what you’ve told me so far, it seems like morality comes into play quite a bit in The Other 99. I’m assuming that’s going to be all based on the player interaction with the game, like you said above, and no clear cut morality system?

Brown: You are correct. Morality is a major part of the game and we are working hard to not only provide the player with difficult moral decisions but also to demonstrate the effect violence has on the human mind. We all believe that killing someone would be physiologically damaging in real life, and we didn’t want to contribute to a culture where killing in video games goes unpunished. In The Other 99, you are a normal person. You haven’t killed anyone before and therefore, when you fight, this should be reflected. Therefore, your first fight will be drawn out and ugly. After, if you kill the person, you will be shaken and will have a handicap for a certain period of time. If you then choose to kill over and over again then it will become easier. But at that point, you have made a decision to be that person, and as a result the island and the AI will react accordingly. AI who would have been willing to talk will run at the sight of you covered in blood, and equally deadly AI will identify you as a threat and therefore someone to kill and hunt down. As a result, certain story lines will disappear and you will have to live with the consequences of your actions.

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ONLYSP: Will a lot of the story be up to the player’s own interpretations? Or is it a more traditional narrative with a beginning and end?

Brown: Because players can find notes in any order, it will be up to the player to check the notes that they have collected and see how they link together. Therefore, we have defined endings, but how you get there is up to you. We want to give players those moments that you get in games like The Witcher or Elder Scrolls where you read something and then a little further along or somewhere else it becomes relevant and you have that lightbulb moment that makes you feel great.

ONLYSP: In regards to combat, is it primarily a hack and slash game then or is it a bit more complex than that?

Brown: We have decided to create a directional based combat system. The main reason for this was because again it gives players choice. You can switch to your fists and try and knock an enemy out instead of killing them, or if you switch to a weapon then you can learn which attacks do the most damage and customize your fighting style to take advantage of that. For example, if you have an axe, you will want to do large sweeping attacks with multiple enemies or very heavy hack attacks to get maximum damage.

ONLYSP: You mentioned above the combat can be rather…brutal. Can you go into a bit more detail about that?

Brown: In order to effectively show people how violence can affect a human being, we decided that we couldn’t hold back on the brutal nature of the lengths someone would be willing to go in order to survive. Currently, when we first launch our early access, the game will have the expected blood and gore, but it is really throughout the Early Access period that we will bring in stealth executions and combat executions which will force players to get very up close and personal in order to finish an enemy off.

ONLYSP: Are you using any kind of motion capture to really bring the enemy characters to life?

Brown: Some of our animations have come from motion capture thanks to the Unreal Engine Marketplace, however we haven’t done any motion capture ourselves. If the game is well-received and it is something we think would improve the quality of the game, or if it is something the community highlights as an issue, then we will look into it in more detail.

ONLYSP: Sure, seems like a game where some facial motion capture would really drive your choices home if done right. The game takes place in an open environment and you have plans to continue expanding that environment. How big of a game is The Other 99 expected to be?

Brown: When we launch on Early Access, we are expecting around a three hour play through from roughly a third of the overall game world. But obviously this will change based on the way you play the game, and as we bring in new features, I can see people losing a fair few weekends to The Other 99, especially if they want to find out everything!

ONLYSP: How long do you expect The Other 99 will be in Early Access and how often do you plan on updating the game?

Brown: We are planning on a full release on PC, PS4 and Xbox One in the summer of 2017 and we are aiming to provide monthly updates.

ONLYSP: Great! Is there anything else you’d like to let our readers know about the game before I let you go?

Brown: Just that we are really looking forward to getting people playing the game and hearing their feedback. If they want to stay up to date with our progress they can follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

ONLYSP: Awesome. Thanks for taking the time to speak with me about The Other 99. I think people will be quite surprised to hear about a survival game that’s more than just building bases and killing things with no real defined purpose.

The Other 99 is expected to hit Early Access on July 13. You can also follow Burning Arrow on Twitter and Facebook and their webpage.

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