Dropping A Clone On PlayStation – How The Swapper Came To Consoles

The Swapper is a truly gorgeous looking game, with an utterly unique art style that I have long admired from a distance. However, until I sat down with the PS4 version of the game, as Curve Studios work with Facepalm Games to bring the game to PS3, PS4 and Vita on June 25th, I had not actually played the game. This is a decision I now regret.

The game features a brilliantly dense and heavy atmosphere, with the hand-crafted clay models that were the source material for the graphics giving it a particularly surreal and individual style that you simply won’t find elsewhere. It’s added to by the ambient noises and sounds as you explore the abandoned space station, from a heavy background hum to the blinking of light bulbs.

Within this world, you have to navigate and solve various puzzles centred around the key gameplay hook that is the eponymous Swapper. As soon as you pick it up, you are able to create four clones of yourself anywhere on the screen to which the character you are controlling has a line of sight.

It’s a hugely powerful device, allowing you to drop a clone up onto a ledge or somewhere else that you cannot ordinarily get to. The Swapper itself also gives you the ability to switch control from one clone to another, again dependent on line of sight, but, your inputs will always control all of your clones at the same time, mirroring your movements exactly.

It’s a tricky mechanic that is at the heart of the puzzles within the game, but with the original release on PC last year being designed around keyboard and mouse, the system has taken some tweaking to bring to console. As I played, I was also chatting to half of the team at Facepalm Games, Olli Harjola, and asked him about this transition.

“The first thing that I thought, when I was first thinking about making this game work with a gamepad, was that it was going to be quite terrible,” explained Olli. “When we were designing this we focussed on making it for keyboard and mouse, but we’ve now limited some puzzles, like got rid of the most reaction-based puzzles. These were mostly for different reasons than making it nice to play with the gamepad, but after we started doing this, it turned out that it’s OK with the gamepad.

“It’s a different experience, compared to keyboard and mouse, where you have great precision, but this now gives you a slightly more relaxed experience, and personally, these days, I prefer playing with a gamepad. I think that’s how the game should feel, where it’s the difference between sitting on a couch and sitting in front of a PC.”

Swapper-FP-IL2

Interestingly, and as a measure to preserve the ability to create a clone anywhere within sight, the right analogue stick controls a tiny dot on the screen, able to move it anywhere. It’s about as literal a translation of mouse controls as you can really get, with your character always looking towards that dot and lighting the way with his space suit’s headlights.

However, even then, it’s something which has been worked on for an extensive amount of time, to get it feeling just right.

Olli said, “It took quite a few months to get it right. When we first thought about it after release, I tried implementing gamepad controls, but I was quite tired of working on this game. So it was six months after that, I revisited it because I had promised people that we would add gamepad control, and it took 3 months of iteration to get it right.

“For the map, we rewrote all of the controls. When you’re using a mouse, you can just precisely focus on things, but now we have this snapping system, and it took a while to get that snapping right. there’s a fine balance between having it being too snappy and giving the player too much freedom to move the cursor and never being able to focus in on things.”

There are tweaks all over the game to accommodate, such as the degree to which the game slows as you hold the button to create and place your clone. This aspect is vital to the more reaction-based puzzles to solve and even just to getting around the world. It was necessary to slow time a little bit more, so that it was more possible and feasible to perform some of the trickier feats of Swapper-based teleporting.

Swapper-FP-IL1

Even from playing for just 30-odd minutes of the game, it’s quite clear that this work allows the control system to really get out of the way and for you to focus on the puzzles, the cloning itself and the story.

“There are basically three different things that we’re using to move the story forwards,” Olli explained. “There are these terminals that are mostly about the past, then we have these telepathic rocks and this lady who is calling you from time to time. And all of these things start making more sense later in the game and building a story together.”

My own initial impression, purely from the opening cutscene, was that the game was focussing on non-verbal story telling, and while this is still very much present, it’s just part of a rich mosaic of elements.

Olli said, “The start of the game is the only part where you have no control of the game. After that we have some cutscenes, but they are Half-Life-style cutscenes where you can break them by running around!”

Gallery images from the PS Vita version of The Swapper.

The story also has an interesting and potentially quite revealing twist, surrounding the moral quandary of the cloning process and their oft brutal demise – yet it still has a PEGI rating of just 7+.

As the occasional and freakish ragdoll deaths caused me to chuckle, Olli observed that “Some people find it hilarious that they can do this, while some people feel terrible after playing the game, that they killed so many clones.

“The focus of the story was more on the moral problems of this, at one point, but we got rid of that and replaced it with more aspects of mind philosophy, because we felt it was more interesting.”

As one of the most critically acclaimed games of last year, The Swapper was always going to be a prime candidate to bring across to consoles, and my brief hands on time with the game demonstrates some of the nuance and attention to detail that has gone into translating the game. If you missed this last year or don’t have a PC to play on, then June’s PlayStation release should be one to keep an eye on.

2 Comments

  1. Nice to get some insight on the game.I had my eye on it when it was pc-only so i’m looking forward to playing it on PS4.

  2. Hot damn, I didn’t realise I actually own this already! The curse of the Humble Bundle…

Comments are now closed for this post.