Video games are meant to be exciting and provide entertainment, but they’re also meant, or at least allow, developers and gamers the chance to explore things never experienced before. Obviously games wow us by taking us to mythical worlds filled with dragons or cybernetic beings, but sometimes developers lose track of what makes a game truly compelling: its story. If the motivations aren’t there for gamers to sink their teeth into then the overall experience may be compromised to an extent even if the gameplay is fun.
Some developers have realized that story and the overall mood of a game matters more or as much as how many enemy encounters a gamer will be placed in, but few out there have truly attempted to take such a thing to the next level. It may still be early in its lifecycle, but the stealth action game Republique from developer Camouflaj is one of those rare games that is stepping things up and in turn attempting to evolve games and the tales that are told in them. Camouflaj may be an upstart studio that may not have 50 to 100 people working on Republique, but that hasn’t stopped the team from attempting to do something innovative in a story that may make people think more about their personal freedoms and things they may otherwise take for granted.
To learn more about Republique I was able to get some insight from Ryan Payton, the founder of Camouflaj and the creator of Republique. In the interview Ryan discusses certain aspects of the game as well as his thoughts on Kickstarter and what it could mean for young studios such as Camouflaj.
Ian Fisher: Can you tell us about how the concept for République first came to fruition? Was the concept of the game and the themes it tackles something you had wanted to work with for a while or was it more of a spontaneous thing in how the game came to be?
Ryan Payton: The idea for République was born out of a combination of things. Initially, I was brainstorming a game concept about the player’s relationship with an AI character on the other side of a phone. I was also playing Infinity Blade at the time and was impressed with what the guys at Chair were able to do on iPhone, so it got me thinking about creating the original game concept that featured a believable, great looking companion character. From there, the game evolved from a strictly story-driven game to my desire to do an action game with native touch controls.
Ian: So far République has a lot of buzz not only due to the talent that’s involved but because of the thematic nature of the project which thankfully isn’t yet another dudebro action game or something that involves elements we’re all too familiar with. As a developer what has it been like to create the narrative that’s found in République and more importantly make sure that the core themes of the game either don’t come across as too heavy handed or similar to things we’ve seen in the past such as George Orwell’s classic novel “1984”?
Ryan: I believe other studios in the industry have the dudebro market cornered, which is why we’re looking to tackle something a little more different and believable. I’ve seen people refer to République as an ARG of sorts. I’ve never been a big fan of ARGs, but I think what people are gasping onto is the idea that Hope and the world we’re creating are very much grounded in reality. That has been a goal of mine since the beginning.
Writing the full script for République is something I’m looking forward to. I’ve got all the major beats plotted out inside my head, now it’s just a matter of committing it to paper.
The themes of 1984 have heavily influenced us, but the narrative and world are going to be different. The Overseer has created a world that’s quite original and with a unique purpose. Before the game is released, we’re going to have to reveal the main hook for the story – it’s totally fresh and cool.
Ian: One of the reasons why I really like the concept of République is that it deals with themes that not only make for a good game experience but are also quite pertinent in today’s climate with things like SOPA being a major issue these days. With that said, are you concerned that the tone and approach Camouflaj is taking with République may be too much for gamers, or at least those who regularly game in the iOS space since it’s not exactly the standard fair that mainstream audiences eat up?
Ryan: For whatever reason, I think developers put on kid gloves when developing stories for the gamer community. I’m not sure why this is, but I suspect it has to do with the fact that we still haven’t yet shed the kid-friendly push of the 8-bit and 16-bit eras.
République is my attempt to approach game narrative from an entirely different angle instead of just building off of what we have now in terms of common stories and narrative delivery methods. The story will be hard-hitting and challenging, and my suspicion is that people will appreciate the game for talking to them like adults.
Ian: A major issue in the minds of core gamers is that iOS games simply don’t offer the same level of immersion as found in console games, either due to the graphics or the obvious lack of physical buttons which makes playing some games on touchpads extremely cumbersome. What sort of mechanics is Camouflaj offering in République to keep gamers immersed in the experience and generally intrigued by the gameplay that’s offered?
Ryan: All of the input methods in the iOS version of République are common gestures that all iOS users know – tap, double tap, swipe, pinch zoom, etc. We want people to be able to instantly enter the experience without having to remember what button does what. We think that if we can streamline the input method, we’ll have a much better chance of immersing the player in the experience.
Ian: Some gamers may know of your previous past as a Producer at Kojima Productions during the development of MGS4, a project which many feel greatly benefitted from the input you managed to provide. With République you’re taking the stealth genre in a different direction compared to that of the Metal Gear series, but where there any elements or perhaps game design ideologies that you were inspired by while at Kojima Productions that in some ways may have led you to approach things as you are in République?
Ryan: With MGS4, we made a conscious effort to deprioritize stealth and make it more of an action game. Stealth games are oftentimes difficult, stressful and unforgiving and because MGS4 was created as a mass-market product, I think that was the right move. But with République, I really want to go back to the roots of stealth and what makes it fun. A lot of that has to do with the hero character and why they must sneak around instead of engage enemies. Hope doesn’t have combat training, isn’t packing heat and is trying to escape undetected, so the game design and story makes sense. With Metal Gear, as Snake was getting stronger and given more rocket launchers, machine guns and grenades, it became less and less believable that he would need to sneak anywhere!
Ian: République seems like it’s taking the typical traits of the stealth genre but spinning them in a new direction thanks to the narrative themes and the touch controls that are presented. Based on how République is a stealth game made for iOS platforms in mind how have you and the team at Camouflaj approached the basic game design logic of everything? Have you wanted to present the experience of République more as a console experience (long missions, 8-12 hour playtime) or has the general approach to the game been to provide a game with a rich narrative and a nice pick up and play nature that’s definitely tense but can be tackled in simple 10 minute sessions?
Ryan: I think Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery has helped convince people that you can have an immersive experience on iOS that lasts for more than five minute play sessions. I also don’t trust it when Americans tell me that we have to design the game for short bus rides, since the majority of us never use public transportation. With that said, I believe people want both: quick games like Draw Something and more immersive games like Machinarium.
With that said, we’re designing République with the mobile device in mind, so missions won’t be as long as your typical console game. And like Dark Souls, the game is frequently saving the game state, so players can turn it off at anytime and then resume right where they left off.
Finally, we’re going to keep the story moments short and integrated into the gameplay experience. I love the long cutscenes of Snake Eater on console, but couldn’t stand them on my 3DS…
Ian: An element that I’m really excited about République is that Logan, in particular the newly formed Logan Games label, is aiding in the development of République. Can you talk about what it has been like to once again work with Logan on a major project and in general what elements are Logan working on in particular in République?
Ryan: Working with Logan has been a dream. The République production is all about relationships, and our relationship with Logan and Alexei Tylevich is no different. He and I have great creative synergy and we’re just excited to get to the next deliverable. Our ideas for next area of the game we’re going to feature in our 2nd trailer give me chills.
Ian: The general public hasn’t seen a lot of République but what we have seen shows a very stylized world that seems to be grounded in reality as opposed to being set in a bleak or entirely futuristic dystopian future. Now you may not be able to say much regarding environments that will appear in the game, but can you tell us what was the choice behind going with a more grounded and in some ways old era look for Republique as opposed to going all out sci-fi and offer something akin to the film Minority Report?
Ryan: We want the world of République to be believable and less overtly oppressive. With that said, there’s a huge secret about the world that we haven’t revealed yet that’ll make the environment design make a lot more sense. Sorry for being such a tease!
Ian: Over the last few months Kickstarter has gained a lot of momentum as far as gamers knowing about it and game developers using the service to get projects off the ground. So far we’ve seen quite a few major projects go the Kickstarter route such as Republique, Wasteland, and even a Leisure Suit Larry revival. Those well-known projects have been launched alongside smaller projects that in some cases live up to what Kickstarter embodies – giving the underdog the chance at success. But amidst all the success there has been a lot of debate as to which projects should go the Kickstarter route along with gamers bemoaning when a developer announces a Kickstarter campaign. So with that said do you worry about the essence of Kickstarter being diluted over time and things essentially being a quick flash in the pan scenario with a small window for creative success?
Ryan: If anything, I see Kickstarter and similar efforts growing in size and influence over the coming years. We’re only scratching the surface with what crowd-funding and what happens when creators connect directly with who’s actually buying the product. The idea of creators pitching their ideas to the community instead of old dudes in a boardroom seems like a good one to me.
Ian: In the end what do you think the success developers have had with Kickstarter means for the video game industry as a whole? Some established developers have had success with Kickstarter so far due to who they are which in turn also means that less than known developers don’t get a lot of buzz on their projects – essentially mirroring the situation that currently plagues the video game industry on the digital and physical distribution side of things. So do you think Kickstarter has what it takes to help the industry grow or is it merely a tool that can be used every now and then?
Ryan: This is an interesting question. We know now that the community is willing to financially back projects loaded with nostalgia, but what about really off-the-wall, crazy game concepts? Would a game like Portal or even DOTA do well on Kickstarter without a playable demo or big names attached to it? My hope is that Kickstarter-like efforts will not only foster old-school games that publishers have lost their faith in, but also innovative game projects that would be too risky for most publishers to back.
Ian: When Camouflaj announced the Kickstarter campaign for République I think a lot of people were happy to see the project out in the open so they could help it out and spread the word about it. But there has been a bit of skepticism around the project, which seems a bit unwarranted, concerning the funding goal of $500K. The budget or at least funding goal of République seems logical as making high quality video games isn’t cheap, but do you worry about people who think $500K to develop an iOS game is ludicrous and in turn could potentially make the Kickstarter campaign fall short of its goal?
Ryan: One frustrating aspect of this Kickstarter campaign has been people balking at the size of our budget, saying it’s too big. If anything, I expected people calling me out with comments like: “Ryan is clearly in over his head – there’s no way you could make the game he’s promising for only a million bucks!” But instead, we have a lot of people in the community getting really upset at the idea that an iOS game could cost so much. The truth of the matter is that a lot of games people are downloading on the App Store cost up to $2 million and their production valves that aren’t even comparable to what we’re doing in République.
While this has been frustrating, I also recognize that this is just part of the Kickstarter experience, as it should be about transparency and honesty. If we don’t reach our goal because people didn’t like certain aspects of the project, that’s OK. That’s part of the process. At least we were honest about our situation and our aims.
Ian: République deals with themes that really aren’t seen in a lot of games for one reason or another. As a game creator and someone who has been in the industry for a long time on the press and development side of things, at what point do you think we’ll see video games take on more mature storylines to go along with the popcorn blockbuster style narratives found in games like Call of Duty? Outside of a few developers such as Hideo Kojima, David Cage, and the team at Rockstar Games there doesn’t seem to be a sense of urgency to push the narrative elements of video games in a mature way to match the experiences we see in films and high-end TV shows. So do you think the lack of mature narrative in games today is simply a business matter since it’s a slightly risky endeavor to break from the norm or is it something else entirely?
Ryan: Nobody has cracked the code for how to tell a great story through games, as it’s incredibly hard to do. I think there are good story-driven games out there, but we still lack our breakthrough game that really turns peoples’ heads. I’m not suggesting that République will be change the medium, but it will take a different approach that I hope we can use a stepping-stone to further evolve the game narrative effort.
Ian: As the creator and key driving force behind République what excites you the most about the project at the end of the day and why should folks check the game out once it’s finally released?
Ryan: The thing that excites me most about République is all the unique things we have planned for it: action on iOS, an intimidate one-on-one story, our 1984-inspired world, our strong female protagonist, our obsession with survival horror and Metroidvania design. République is, in many ways, a dream project for me and it’s been a blast developing.