Mixing Survival Horror And Metroidvania: A République Interview

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Just hours ago, indie studio Camouflaj achieved their Kickstarter goal for République, a stealth-action game in development for iOS devices and PC. As previously detailed, République takes place in a dystopian future on an unmarked nation. A girl named Hope is trapped somewhere on this nation, and you have to help her escape captivity after she contacts you for help.


You do this not by controlling Hope directly, but by hacking into various electronic devices scattered about the building she’s trapped in, and opening up new paths for her. Along the way, Hope will also encounter guards she’ll have to take out. Camouflaj flounder, Ryan Payton, says that the team hopes to make something along the lines of a survival horror game mixed with “Metroidvania” design.


We got in touch with Payton to ask a few questions about République, its survival horror roots, telling story through interaction rather than cutscenes, and what the game was like before Camouflaj settled on its current design.


What can you tell us about République’s world and setting?


Ryan Payton, Camouflaj founder: We’re being pretty secretive about the setting of République as that’s a big reveal in the game, but it’s safe to say that Hope is trapped within a secret nation located somewhere on Earth. This nation was designed and is maintained by our antagonist character, the Overseer. He knows all and sees all, making it very tricky for players o help Hope escape from this highly surveyed society…


You mentioned certain keywords with regard to what République is about, including voyeurism and paranoia. Are these primarily to do with the story or will they be expressed through gameplay as well? Can you say how?


When I left the Halo 4 project, I was surprised that my old co-workers said that the big impression I made on them was the importance of funnelling everything
through major themes. It’s true, though—I’m big on themes and I want them to touch every aspect of the game. So with République, the aim is not only to write a story that’s about voyeurism and paranoia but to make sure the player feels those emotions while playing.


With République and future games, I’m also trying to not compartmentalize story and gameplay. We’re going to keep cutscenes at an absolute minimum in République, and instead attempt to tell the story through the gameplay and action as much as possible. We really want to stress test the storytelling capacities of pure gameplay as much as possible.


One of the bullet points mentioned is a “Metroidvania” type of exploration. Both Metroid and Castlevania are fast-paced games where you’re very mobile. They’re also very action-oriented, so searching for power-ups to make yourself stronger is almost a requirement. How are you adapting that style of back-and-forth exploration to a slower-paced stealth game?


Without giving too much away, we’re planning a slightly different approach to power-ups while at the same time retaining what makes “Metroidvania” games so fun. That different approach is a little more believable—the player will be gaining more power and control over the facility throughout the game, not Hope. We’ve just started developing the Map View and it’s already cool to zoom in and out of it, hack rooms and gain access to new areas for Hope to explore. I think we’re honing on something really special.


There are going to be multiple solutions to solve different problems in the game, and it sounds like they could have different consequences as well. Could you give an example of how they affect the game?


My gaming tastes have evolved over the past year in that I’m much more interested in choice when it comes down to the pure gameplay, as opposed to selecting story paths from a menu. Our plan is to give players a number of critical decisions they must make in Hope’s journey to escape, which will dramatically affect how the story unfolds.


This ties back to our theme of “control” and wanting to give players more choice and control over how they want to help her escape. The path choices won’t be black or white, they’ll be all shades of grey.


You guide Hope around by hacking different electronic devices around the area to open new paths and opportunities up for her. How will the building change over the course of the game as you make these different adjustments, take out enemy guards and so on?


Very interesting question. Yes, the building and facilities that Hope must sneak through will change and become more challenging. To be honest, these are areas we are developing this summer, so I can’t really say what those are just yet!


What can you tell us about Hope? Who is she, and who are you (the player)?


Hope is a young woman who was born and raised in this mysterious nation. She’s lived an extremely controlled life and has received special guidance from a character we’re simply calling “The Mentor” who is tasked with developing Hope into the person the Overseer wants her to be. That’s all we’re saying at this point.


As for the player, the player is you! Hope gets a hold of a contraband cell phone at the start of the game and calls the only number on it and it happens to be your
number. This idea stemmed out of my distrust of the “empty vessel” narrative style of a lot of first-person shooters that assume you’ll be more immersed in the game if your FPS character doesn’t have a voice or face, meanwhile you’re in some foreign country killing hundreds of people. Our aim is to give the players a true empty vessel for them to inhabit and a believable situation that they can actually imagine themselves getting into.


Before it took its current form, République was a slightly different game with less action elements. Can you tell us a little more about the differences
between the older and current versions and what led to them?


Originally, République was all about your one-on-one conversations with a dozen or so characters inside of the Overseer’s hidden nation, but there was something
missing from that game vision. We wanted to explore more action gameplay situations, which led us down the path of survival horror games, mainly because we noticed that surveillance cameras gave us a similar view into the world that you get in the mansion in the original Resident Evil.


On top of that, we’re all just huge fans of games like Silent Hill, Parasite Eve, Resident Evil—games where the player isn’t invincible and has to think about which enemies to take down and which to avoid.


For the PC/MAC version of République, you tossed around interesting ideas like having the game run like a regular application in several different windows, having a constant video feed with Hope and so on. Now that you know for certain that you’re doing a PC version, how is this affecting the design of the iOS version, aside from just building higher-res art assets?


Honestly, the PC/Mac decision hasn’t affected our design of the iOS version. That could change, but we’re first focused on making the best game possible on iOS, and from there, we’ll focus on making the best game we can for PC/Mac. I think it’s dangerous when you’re trying to serve two masters during one development cycle. I don’t want to speak for the Ion Storm guys, but I’m assuming they had that problem during the development of Deus Ex: Invisible War and Thief III.


Can you give us an idea of what a typical day in your life is currently like while working on this project?


I’ve been working on République virtually nonstop since Halloween 2011. I’m an early riser, so I get up at 5 or 5:30am, head to a local coffee shop to write the story and catch up on email, then I walk to the office in time for our 9:30am morning sync, and from there, my day is consumed by team discussions, meetings, playtests, heading to the bank, making sure the team gets fed and so on. We were working until 10 or 11pm every night until the beginning of April, but now we’re trying to get out of the office by 7pm.


By the time I get home, I’m usually pretty tired but I try to make it to the gym and catch up on reading. I should be playing more games, but I just don’t have the energy. Oftentimes I’ll just load up Dark Souls and play until I fall asleep. People laugh when I tell them that, since Dark Souls is normally a really stressful game!

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Image of Ishaan Sahdev
Ishaan Sahdev
Ishaan specializes in game design/sales analysis. He's the former managing editor of Siliconera and wrote the book "The Legend of Zelda - A Complete Development History". He also used to moonlight as a professional manga editor. These days, his day job has nothing to do with games, but the two inform each other nonetheless.