We have something special this time!
With Stasis (and, more recently, CAYNE, Stasis’ somehow even darker follow-up), THE BROTHERHOOD has reinvented the horror point-and-click adventure games. Now, some time after, the studio’s founders, brothers Nic and Chris Bischoff, plan to do the same with the genre of post-apo’s. Beautiful Desolation is to be their v. own – and v. unique – take on retro-futuristic eighties-inspired post-apocalyptic setting. The more unique as the game is to be set in beautifully desolated South Africa (with all of its incredible diversity of more or less slightly mutated Sub-Saharan flora and fauna).
We’ve managed to catch the brothers for the interview. The piece turned out to be quite an extensive one. Hence, we decided to divide it into four parts. Don’t get swayed, though; it’s a coherent whole! Want to know more about the direction the Bischoffs are taking with Beautiful Desolation? Read on!
Beautiful Desolation-related questions
Przem Wierzbicki (StartingThingsUp.com): Beautiful Desolation’s setting is truly unique. I have never seen anything like it!
Chris Bischoff (THE BROTHERHOOD): I live at the tip of Africa – a stone throw away from the beach and right next to a wild nature reserve. BEAUTIFUL DESOLATION is an attempt to capture a bit of this magic around me and use it as a vehicle to tell a story. I want to show a desolate wasteland with a unique twist to it, and Africa is largely unexplored in science fiction and provides amazing potential for interesting design, characters and locations.
I was wondering. Who came up with the name? Beautiful Desolation. What a masterpiece of a name!
While brainstorming ideas for a name, I recalled that Buzz Aldrin wrote a book on his journey to the moon and called it Magnificent Desolation – since hearing it, it stuck at the back of my mind as a poetic name for a project. Joseph Kosinski called his vision for the film Oblivion “a beautiful desolation”.
With this in mind, BEAUTIFUL DESOLATION was an easy pick as a descriptive and emotive name for our game. It succinctly coveys both the descriptive nature of the project as well as the genre in only two words.
What were your most important inspirations? You have mentioned A Boy and His Dog…
I feel that science fiction has an incredible ability to distill complex ideas in simple personal stories. We grew up on Star Wars, Star Trek, and 80s sci-fi films like The Thing and ALIENS, and as you mentioned L.Q. Jones’s A Boy and His Dog (clearly inspiring POOCH) to name a few.
I think these films were largely inspiring in terms of our graphical elements and the look and feel design, especially in STASIS. But if I was to choose a single thematic inspiration for BEAUTIFUL DESOLATION, it would be Mad Max.
And how did you like the latest Mad Max?
The latest edition to the Mad Max series is probably one of the finest movies of this new century. They captured the essence of what made Max awesome and made it even better! George Miller is an incredible director and you can see that Fury Road was well planned and executed… and don’t get me started on the music! Wow.
About A Boy and His Dog. Pooch is obviously going to play a big role in the game, both mechanics- and narrative-wise. There’s a lot of games that explore this kind of theme, this kind of bond: a bond between a person and his/her animal companion (the latest one is, I believe, The Last Guardian). What’s your approach here? What makes the relation between Mark and Pooch unique? Given the fact that Pooch is a machine, there’s a lot of possibilities…
Perhaps the best recent example of this is the dependency showcased in the relationship between Ellie and Joel in The Last of Us. It is both subtle and emotional, and it builds up from the start of the game to the climatic ending that has most players crying. A core bond resonates with the audience and will develop between these characters as they journey through the game becoming increasingly reliant on each other.
Although POOCH is a mere robot, her sentience will speak to her past and we hope this explores and expands to a new territory for our stories. POOCH will assist Mark in the puzzles, but we trust that this relationship becomes more than a game mechanic. POOCH is fondly named after our pet labradoodle and we want to imbue a bit of her personality into this character, too. Can we make POOCH feel like a real anthropomorphic character? This is the challenge!
You’re also going to explore the relation between two brothers, right? Can you tell us something more?
YES! First and foremost, we see our games as a way to tell interesting stories. It is often said to “write what you know”. As brothers developing this game, we have a keen understanding on how our relationship works. Mark and Don will have separate stories through the game that are intertwined in the larger story events. Unlike the relationship between POOCH and Mark, Mark and Don have a history together, and with that comes messy, but interesting, intricacies. We hope that this gives the characters an unusual character arc as they come to terms with what has happened and how they need each other to survive.
In one of your updates, you’ve mentioned that Beautiful Desolation will emphasize exploration. How exactly?
We are still fleshing the technicalities of aspect but we want BEAUTIFUL DESOLATION to be more open than STASIS and CAYNE. We’ll be using a world that will have multiple places that can be explored at any time rather than keeping the player locked in an area.
I have also noticed that you have this Fallout-kind of world map mechanic in the game (I mean, it resembles the map from the original Fallouts; God, how I’ve missed it)…
Yes, Fallout is a massive stylistic influence on BEAUTIFUL DESOLATION, but I’d say that Star Control 2 is a larger design influence. Star Control 2 had a world that just felt gigantic, and you were overwhelmed when you first saw the star map – we want to capture that feeling again!
Will the game feature any action sequences? Are we going to see combat? Stealth? Something turn-based, possibly?
Not in the traditional RPG or ARPG sense of the word. We’re staying close to the point-and-click routes of combat, through subterfuge rather than direct action.
What about the conversations? Choices?
We’ve experimented with a conversation system similar to the one found Oxenfree, but it requires large amounts of dialogue – written and recorded. Considering all of our characters are voiced, we’ll probably be sticking to the same automatic conversation system found in STASIS and CAYNE.
Are you planning to add some RPG elements, like skills, experience points, something like that?
That’s an interesting question! We have some ideas that need to be play tested, but we will be avoiding heavy GURPS-type stats in this game at least.
Can you tell us anything about Beautiful Desolation‘s actual plot at this point? You have told us a lot about the setting. But what is the actual story?
As our game is story-based, we’re not giving much away at this point, but this is the official story blurb:
“The Penrose appeared without warning. One day the sky was empty, and the next it was filled by an impossibly shaped monolith. Tragedy hit home for Mark and Don Leslie, when an incident tore apart their brotherly bond in this dramatic story that spans the 1980s and beyond.”
How big will the final game be?
It will be much larger than any of the games we’ve developed thus far. To elaborate on this, STASIS was a 6 hour game and had 124 areas, CAYNE was a 4 – 6 hour game that had 24 areas to explore – we’re aiming for a STASIS level, plus, with the story techniques we learnt from CAYNE, to expand the play time. We are also working on a non-linear story mode, so it should build in replayability.
It may be too early to ask this kind of question, but are you going to establish a larger universe with Beautiful Desolation? One that can serve some future games, possibly?
I think both Nic and I are reluctant to plan future games and stories at the early stages of development – we’d rather make this the best game we’ve ever made, complete it and serve it up to happy gamers, and then move on. That being said, often story threads are cast aside during the actual development which can be extrapolated at a later date. For instance, we have hundreds of story ideas within STASIS universe that need revisiting.
When can we expect some more reveals?
My lips are sealed! 🙂
Stasis– and CAYNE-related questions
So. About Stasis and CAYNE. Are we going to see any more games set in this universe? There’s a lot of great lore there…
I hope so! Both of these games hold a special place in my heart and I think that we’ve only scratched the surface of the world of STASIS. STASIS also comes with a built-in fan base. Fans want more games in this sci-fi horror genre, and we are not ones to disappoint.
Stasis was v. well-received. How about CAYNE?
Absolutely. It allowed us to concentrate on full time development. Although CAYNE is a free game, it has been downloaded 150,000 times in the past two weeks and has vastly increased the sales of STASIS. I think the media also enjoyed both games and we hope to make more in this style.
Will Beautiful Desolation build on the mechanics you’ve established with your previous two games?
DESOLATION will use the same base framework of CAYNE, which means that we had 150,000 people beta test the game engine. That being said, we’re going to rework some elements, such as the scene load speed, as well as enhance it further based on feedback.
Both of these games were heavily inspired by the original 1979 Alien (and it’s almost-immediate sequel). They do also kind of remind me of Event Horizon…
Whenever I need inspiration (call it writer’s block), I watch Event Horizon or ALIEN and get back my cinematic roots. A lot of the inspiration for STASIS came from research into the worst side of humanity. People really are the scariest monsters to have ever walked this planet. I think there are several film directors that capture this motif eloquently. Event Horizon and ALIEN are as much stories about a monster or hell, in the case of Event Horizon, as they are about people.
Are you planning to establish more game worlds in the future?
Campaign- and promotion-related questions
Your campaign is really well-prepared…
Thanks, it took us 3 months to put together. We also did 11 months of pre-production on it which was mainly talking about what we wanted to see and how we could communicate the project simply yet still with precision.
The funding is also going really well. From what I’ve seen, in the initial phase, you’ve gathered, what, 30% of the minimum funding goal? That’s quite a result!
Yes, I believe that our previous backers were to thank for that initial burst of funding. We produced STASIS to their liking and they showed this with their enthusiasm on our new project.
People are pretty excited about your new game. How do you promote your campaign?
The main vessel for promotion is CAYNE, which launched on Steam and GOG. It has garnered 150,000 downloads in just under 2 weeks. CAYNE has an in-game banner that informs gamers about our project.
Although we’ve seen that, due to crowd funding fatigue, players have chosen to rather support us by buying STASIS and the deluxe version of CAYNE. We respect and understand this decision. I think that our campaign would have been funded already if folks had spent those same funds on backing DESOLATION, but we are not concerned as the money will still go towards development.
We’ve also built up a large newsletter subscription audience, and a Facebook and Twitter following. I believe that if we can get people to the Kickstarter page, we can show them how cool this project is and that it’s worthy of being supported.
You have released CAYNE for free. The game was cool (albeit a little bit short). And so, I was right: there’s only one reason I can think of to release something this good for free – and it’s to promote Beautiful Desolation… ^^
Thanks! Yes, CAYNE was both an educational exercise to work out our development pipeline, and an experiment to see if releasing a free product would be able to introduce players to our current and future games. We also wanted to give something extra to our STASIS backers, and they got to play CAYNE before the general public. I think people appreciate that we care about our supporters and want them to stick around for a while.
I’ve noticed that inXile‘s Brian Fargo said that he’d back “just about anything” you’d do. inXile has also helped you some, posting info about your new project in one of their recent Wasteland 3 updates. Can you shed some light on the relations between your studios?
We worked with InXile on the Wasteland 3 ‘look and feel’ development. Brian, Thomas, and the team have been awesome to work with, and we have gained a tremendous insight into how their studio operates. First and foremost, they’re also nice people who want us to succeed.
I have also noticed that you’re helping to spread the word about Banner Saga 3‘s campaign. Oh, and isn’t it a masterpiece of a campaign, by the way? ;- )
They are pros! Their graphic design is special and you can see they know exactly what they’re doing.
In some of the Updates posted on Kickstarter on Beautiful Desolation, you delve into pretty technical details. This is different from what we’re used to, as the usual practice is to post something much more general or narrative-oriented. I find it v. interesting, though – a sign that THE BROTHERHOOD is really serious when it comes to its backers and the info you share. What is the reason behind this approach?
Backer updates are difficult because you don’t want to say the same thing 10 times, every other day. We want to give backers an insight into how we think and keep them involved in the campaign and beyond. People come to Kickstarter because they want to be a part of the process and the project. I think it is up to us to keep things interesting and make sure that people are getting their monies worth. If we just needed money, we’d go to the bank or enlist a publisher to front the capital, but we want the community that comes with crowdfunding. I feel that if you treat the community well, then they will respect you.
By the way. I have mentioned Wasteland 3. It was funded on Fig. What is your take on Fig (and the platform’s pros and cons vs. Kickstarter)?
Fig is an interesting platform and I must say that it’s a nice and encouraging group of folks who run and operate it. They’ve had some negative press but after meeting and chatting to those involved I feel that it is unfounded. I believe that because of the investor involvement that Fig is less prone to ‘fly by night’ developers that could scare some backers off.
The model is great and I think it’s the future of crowdfunding. I foresee Kickstarter adopting some of the Fig investor model to evolve.
Just as your most recent CAYNE, Beautiful Desolation is based on Unity engine. From what I can tell, it’s Unity 5 (or 5,5), right?
YES! Nic has used Unity for many years on client work in the architectural industry, so it was a natural fit for us as we’re making 2D games. If we ever move on to 3D games, then Unreal Engine would probably be the best path. Unity is a brilliant piece of software, and the community and asset store make it an attractive solution for a tiny studio like ours.
And how do you find the engine and the possibilities it provides? From some of your updates, like, for example, this one and this one, one can tell that you’re pretty excited to work with it…
Unity suffers and excels from the fact that it is a jack of all trades and a master of none. It can literally do anything on any platform (within reason). Which means it needs to cater for every possible scenario. I enjoy this scope, and as long as you do things the Unity way, you won’t have any problems. It is when you try and be clever that Unity gives you problems. The Unity support is largely community based and the community is always willing to assist where Unity won’t. All in all, we’re happy with our choice.
What useful things have you learned working on CAYNE that will help you develop Beautiful Desolation?
The entire exercise of developing CAYNE was a learning process. I think the greatest thing I strived to learn was writing clean, reusable code. We want this framework to facilitate at least 2 more games, which means I’m stuck with it for at least 4 more years, so I had better make it as good as possible!
Something that I should’ve learnt from STASIS is that no matter how well you think you have bug-tested the game, once you give it to a tester, they will break it in 5 minutes. It happens ever time!
You should give it to my girlfriend. She’s a game-breaker. Really. Recently, she’s broken Hyper Light Drifter, and that was after all these patches stuff… Anyway! Unlike CAYNE, Stasis wasn’t based on Unity, was it? What was it, Visionaire? Why the change?
Nic has used Unity for a long time, so it made sense for him to work with the same tools he was familiar with. It also allowed me to concentrate on the graphics and story development while he did the heavy lifting coding.
What are the most important pros and cons of using Unity vs. using Visionaire?
Visionaire is an excellent program for creating classic adventure games, but it’s limiting when you want to expand the different styles of gameplay. Something we’re trying to do with BEAUTIFUL DESOLATION is to break out of the mold of traditional adventure games and create a more open-world experience.
There is no doubt that Visioniare is an extremely powerful tool and without it STASIS wouldn’t have existed, but with the flexibility that Unity has given us, we can stretch our creativity into something new and different.
Photogrammetry. This is also something unique. The Update #2, where you explained this concept, was v. interesting indeed! Are we going to hear something more on it anytime soon?
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter used photogrammetry to create AAA-level graphics with a much smaller team. It allows artists to capture an incredible amount of detail and helps to immerse the player into an extremely realistic world. Small details like how a rocks falls or the slightly mismatched patterns of bricks are all captured, giving the 3D models a natural feel which is hard to replicate – I’ve tried. In our games, the environments are as much a character as the inhabitants, and we hope that through photogrammetry we will capture the personality of the African landscape with all of its subtle nuances, as well as adding in an incredible amount of detail to our world.
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Did you like the interview? Back Beautiful Desolation on Kickstarter – now – here!
You can also download CAYNE for free from Steam and GOG!
The campaign ends on Feb 18 2017.