Following on from Lords of the Fallen, Deck 13 are looking to push on to new pastures. They’ve proven themselves capable of making a good game in the kind of action RPG subgenre that they share with the Souls series and Bloodborne, but now they’re trying to make something that looks and feels a bit different.
You can read our thoughts on what they had to show at last week’s Focus Home Interactive showcase, but we also had the opportunity to sit down with Deck 13’s CEO, Jan Klose, and talk about the game’s new setting, combat and more.
TSA: Coming from Lords of the Fallen and then heading into The Surge, was going for a new game and a new setting a response to some of the reaction to Lords?
Jan Klose: Well, there were a couple of reasons. We really, really liked the fantasy setting, and were big fans of Lords of the Fallen’s setting, but we just did that. So the question was, what do we want to do for the next couple of years?
Thinking freely and openly about the setting, some things were coming up that people had on their mind that they found very interesting, and so it was one of those rare occasions where the team had a certain direction where people thinking, “oh, this fits together, if we do it the right way.” It wasn’t only the setting, but also the mechanics in the game, to see how we can take the next step and do more. This especially comes into play where we have this mechanic of cutting off body parts, and using them for yourself makes sense in this technical environment, instead of some fantasy thing.
The other thing is that we thought it would be interesting to tell the story in a different way. We start off with a world that people know, our real world, and then extrapolate what’s happening and how it might end up in the future.
Most of all, we thought Lords of the Fallen was a bit serious…
TSA: So The Surge is more of a comedy? [laughs]
Jan: Obviously! We wanted to do Army of Darkness! [laughs]
No, it’s not a comedy, but our idea was to get it to be over the top. So it shouldn’t take itself too serious, but it should be where we can say, “OK, now this is bizarre. What’s going on here?”
So, for example, the Fallout series, where it looks dark, it looks very brutal, but the quests and the characters are really bizarre, and you like to listen to their stories. This is what we really loved, so this environment let us be free to tell these kinds of stories.
The other thing is that we wanted to be able to do something surprising and not something that people already expect. To do this while sticking to the core mechanics and the core gameplay, this scenario means they really don’t know what’s going to happen next. There’s no hints other than in the game.
TSA: I think the initial surprise is that you have this science fiction setting in the future, but there’s no guns, there’s no plasma rifles…
Jan: Well we were thinking about this at the beginning and if we need guns in a futuristic setting. We don’t need them, though we do put some in without breaking the gameplay mechanics, but there are so many settings that we could think of where you just don’t have guns.
TSA: It’s basically anywhere outside of America, isn’t it? [laughs]
Jan: [laughs] For us, we’re playing inside a production facility, and they don’t have any weapons there, obviously. You’re trapped in there, so you have to use the tools there as your weapons, but there are more or less no guns.
You will find ranged weapons, but they won’t let you stand somewhere and take them out from a distance.
TSA: Something like in Bloodborne, where the guns were there to break and stop an attack, mainly?
Jan: Yeah, exactly.
TSA: The cutting mechanic is an interesting one for me, where you can target certain limbs and maybe aim for a weak point or a hard point, but how do you explain needing to cut off a limb before an enemy is dead in order to take that piece of armour or equipment from them? Surely you can do that when they’re dead as well?
Jan: It’s pretty simple. When you kill someone that has a mechanical attachment, they just short circuit at the moment that they die, so you need to detach the part before that.
TSA: Ah, right. It’s such a simple explanation as well! [laughs]
TSA: So with that explanation out of the way, how does the system work and where did it come from?
Jan: It really comes from the tech designers, who said they wanted to make the combat stronger, but not in a way that it’s more challenging to you. It’s not where you need to beat them up at the end and react faster, but it gives you more freedom in what you want to do.
So the basic proposition was to do something that would not break the combat we already have, but would just enhance it. It should not feel like you need to now deal with something else as well, when the game is already difficult all the way along, but it’s there if you want to do this now. So you can just do it and it feels natural, it doesn’t break the game, it doesn’t pause it like VATS mode or something.
So that was the idea and we started prototyping it to see if it would work in this environment and if it would be fun. We saw that it does work, and we were surprised by just how fast it worked!
We’re using the right control stick for targeting, and this is normally used for controlling the camera when you’re not locked onto an enemy. So basically, you’re doing the same thing. As you’re looking, you’re pointing in a direction, so it doesn’t even feel like you have a different use for the stick!
I think it feels really natural and we’re really confident that when people get their first hands on experience, they will immediately recognise that it works.
TSA: You’re also doing something quite interesting with the character progression. It almost feels like it’s not so much focused on the main character, but the suit that he’s wearing and the technology that he has available to him. Is that fair to say?
Jan: Yes. The basic feedback that we had from Lords was that players really liked to develop their characters in the way they wanted to play, but that at the beginning of the game, they had to pick one out of three and didn’t know how they would play. Some picked the heavy guy and thought it was a slow game that’s not very difficult, the guys picking the light guy found it was pretty difficult but that it’s quite fast. So we had to suggest they try the other characters, which isn’t really what we should have to say, but what the game should suggest to you.
So now you start with one single character and then you find stuff, equip stuff that you want to wear and also the skills you want to have, which are implants in this game. You find them, you use the ones that you want to have, you can play around with them to see that this is your playing style and that you want more of that. Also with the weapons, you’re not bound to use certain types of weapons, but can say that this is a weapon you like, so you want to increase your stats with a particular weapon, but you can still change.
TSA: So does Warren, the main character, get stat points from using equipment? Or is he just the fleshy core to the suit of armour which where you get character progression as it improves?
Jan: More or less. Some things, like increasing stats as you use something is what’s happening in the game, however almost all the other stuff is enhancing your attachments and his implants. So as you play, you can find better stuff or you can make better stuff when you craft it. That’s how you progress.
TSA: And speaking of those implants, there’s a lot of placeholder work in progress stuff a moment, so will there be a clear limit on the number of slots you can have?
TSA: So there’s this give and take, where you don’t necessarily want to have the tutorial implant – which I think is a nice twist – but can replace it with a health booster or a damage booster?
Jan: That’s exactly how it works. You have a power level that can only power a certain number of implants, so you have to choose which ones you want to take with you.
It’s not really a tutorial implant, though, it’s giving you extra information on the game, so it’s like a HUD enhancement that will be very helpful at the beginning of the game. You can just remove that, you don’t get to see that information anymore, but you can get a health boost or something that you put in instead to fit your play style.
Other players might decide they always want to have this implant and see the extra information.
TSA: Like the implant for seeing enemy health bars.
Jan: Exactly. They can help you in a lots of different ways, so you can see if you’re dealing enough damage and if it would be better to retreat. They will help you, but maybe you want to have that space for something else.
A player like me? I will always want to go with the health bars!
TSA: Turning to the story, it’s the classic thing of waking up and finding that everything has gone wrong. Who are you fighting against as you play, though? Are these corrupted employees? Robots gone wild?
Jan: Basically, the overall arc is that you don’t know what the overall arc is!
It’s very hard to talk about it, but for a long time in the game, your main quest is to find out what the hell is going on here. You can puzzle this out as you play, but you will find a lot of humanoids, humanoid machine mixtures and pure robots of different sizes and flavours. Some of them will come from what they’re using to produce stuff in the company, some will come from research areas, or even some things they sell to others. This could, for example, be a riot control device, that might not be so good to encounter here…
TSA: I imagine that a robot with riot control water cannons would be really bad to come up against…
Jan: That’s a good idea! It would maybe take time for the water to have effect, like the classic poisons you have in games…
Thanks to Jan for taking the time to talk to us about The Surge. Head over to our preview from a little earlier today to see our early impressions on what they’ve demonstrated so far.