Deck13’s Jan Klose On The Surge’s Difficulty, Dismemberment And Drawing People In

The niche sub-genre that Demon’s Souls spawned all those years ago has blossomed into a rather competitive corner of the games industry. No, it’s not quite as prevalent as the increasingly watered down “Rogue-lite” genre, but there’s a number of pretenders to FromSoftware’s crown.

The Surge’s hook, the thing that really helps it stand apart from not just Lords of the Fallen but other Souls style action RPGs, is its locational damage and the dismemberment that comes from it. The dismemberment is the glitzy, showy side to the game.

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“We came from the angle of the feature itself,” Jan Klose, Director on the game at Deck13 explained. “We thought this is something that could be cool, targeting individual body parts, and it evolved from that. More or less at the same time, we came up with bits of the story and we found out that it fits well together if you have a near future scenario where you have an exoskeleton and the other people in your environment have the same kind of rig.

“This makes it a little bit more logical that you can get stuff from them and use it for yourself – it sounds kind of nasty, but it’s a nice mix of reward and development of the character. We also came up with a scenario where it’s really about survival and crafting stuff for yourself because there’s no shop where you can just go and buy stuff!”

It also has a key impact on how the boss fights unfold, where the dismemberment again plays a key role. “We tried to make this also be an important part of the boss fights,” Jan said, “because it’s an important part of the game and it’s what players have learned. Nevertheless, the bosses are testing your flexibility and thinking. When you meet a boss they can demand different things of you, so you can’t just take all you’ve learned in that level and apply it to that boss. No, the bosses will do something to surprise you. The idea with the bosses is really to challenge you in a very special way.”

The setting is also a new and distinguishing aspect to the game. A near future setting has Warren, our protagonist, forced to take on more manual labour to get by. However, in a world where automation and machinery has taken over an awful lot of jobs, he’s forced to sign on with the suitably shady CREO corporation, getting kitted out with the neural link that allows him to use his exoskeleton. Of course, disaster strikes, turning the entire facility and many of the workers within against the few living survivors.

In an era where film trailers feel like they’ve spoiled every plot beat and twist months before the film releases, and where games are preceded by dozens of trailers, it’s gratifying that Deck13 have managed to keep a number of major surprises up their sleeves. I’m not even talking about deep into the game, but right at the very start and something that is a core part of what makes Warren’s character.

“We’re very happy that we created a world that leaves room for a lot of different ideas,” Jan said. “We’re not shy to show a lot of that, because we think it’s cool if you understand what we want to do with our game world and what we want to do with our storytelling, but at the same time we think it’s a bit unfair if we show everything right from the start. We want to have some real surprises for the player in there.”

Of course, there is the difficulty of drawing people into your game regardless. There have been a number of trailers for The Surge, but they’ve largely focused on the gameplay. Yet even between talking up the dismemberment and discussing the progression systems, these are rather intertwined on the trailer level as well as in the gameplay.

For Jan, that closeness is a net positive. “What we really like is that our core elements fit together well. The story, the fighting, why you can cut off body parts and can craft them for yourself, this all fits together. Of course it’s hard to put all of this in a trailer, explain the user interface, explain the combat, so we decided to split that up a little bit.

“You can just find out about the crafting if you’re interested in that, but if you are into the smashing and the animations, there’s another trailer for you. It is difficult, but we think that’s a good thing because it shows that there’s a lot of layers in the game. […] If it was a simpler game, then maybe one single trailer would have served!”

While The Surge is a fresh start for Deck13, a lot of it has been shaped by their experiences developing Lords of the Fallen and the reaction that had both critically and within the fanbase of this particular genre.

“The reaction to the sheer combat gameplay [of Lords of the Fallen] was very positive,” Jan said. “So we decided to build upon that and not go in a different direction. We especially liked the hard and challenging way of fighting and decided to stick with that, but also say how we can evolve it, which is where the body part targeting came from.

“On the other hand, there were a lot of other design things where we thought we could do things better. Especially with the level design, guiding the player through the level, offering the player more shortcuts and more secrets would be more interesting. We’re not only having flat levels that are laid out in an understandable way, but trying to interconnect stuff, make it more vertical and more intertwined. […] We also tried to distinguish one level more from another, so one level could have more open spaces, another level is more vertical, and we played around with that to always have something different and surprising.”

There’s also been a shift in the gameplay’s moment to moment pacing, with faster weapons as an option for players to equip, as well as the implants that can help push players to get stuck in more. The Combat Energy system rewards you for landing hits, and one particular implant lets you then convert that into health.

Jan explained, “We wanted the gameplay to be a bit more forward, more offensive by not having you wield huge shields that you can hide behind and slow the game down. You’re rewarded for a lot of active gameplay.

“It’s not only that you have implants that turn your Combat Energy into health, meaning that keeping in the battle gets you more health, but also having a timer run down to get the Tech Scrap that you lost in a level. You need to hurry to go there and you’re challenged to arrive at the Tech Scrap in time, but the counter gets something on top if you defeat enemies on the way, so again, it’s a motivation to take on enemies and not just rushing through.”

From what I’ve played, The Surge has come together quite nicely, marrying that ultra-difficult action RPG gameplay with a more futuristic setting – you can read more of my impressions here. For fans of the Dark Souls games and this niche genre as a whole, it won’t take long until reviews roll out for the game next week for its release on 16th May.

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