Half a year ago I had a talk with Ryan Payton about République and its themes of surveillance and information control. A lot’s changed in the interceding time. A new episode came out, then the whole game hit PC looking incredible, and somewhere in between Ryan told about his shower habits. I had another chance to catch up with him at GDC, alongside Camouflaj game designer Paul Alexander.
Hardcore Gamer: Let’s talk about République Remastered
Paul Alexander: I’m not gonna name names, but “Remastered” is a term that’s been beaten into the ground by developers looking to cash in or resell a game. Sometimes it’s cool to revisit a game and see the graphics up-rezzed, but we didn’t just take the textures and make them higher resolution – we had to take them down and re-author them all. It’s actually five times the amount of work, because you have to make the normal map, the specular map, the albedo map, and everything for over 5,000 different materials.
Ryan Payton: In fact, it’s the first time we’ve ever had to outsource anything. We did a lot of the hero stuff in house, but this is the first time we actively seeked out an outsourcing partner to help us with the pure volume. Our artists looked at it and said “if we do this internally, we won’t be able to ship until 2016”
PA: Luckily the team we worked with was great. They did great work. It came back and looking fantastic. It happened really seamlessly, and it takes a lot of trust to hand all that off to an outside partner when you’re a small company like us, but it worked out great.
PA: I think there was one more thing in your review, to do with the UI of the phone calls
Right, it should have been a Skype window
RP: We had plans to do that, and I don’t know why we ended up not doing it.
PA: It’s funny, because you read reviews and just think “yeah! we totally had that on our docket”
RP: It just ended up being a lower priority.
RP: There was a lot of stuff that we wanted to do that ended up not happening. It sounds like not that big of a deal, but I wanted to have an in-game options menu – right now if you want to tweak them you have to go to the front end – and oddly enough that’s a huge ask. Changing stuff in run time is what Gavin Carter would call a “bug fountain.”
PA: Because the game was mobile, we never had a proper pause menu. This is super inside baseball, but Omni-view is for all intents and purposes our “pause screen.” That’s what creates all the problems, using Omni-view as our defacto pause menu in the code. It breaks a lot of graphical stuff if we try to introduce in-game options.
Oh yeah, because you’re basically still running the game.
RP: I don’t know what the next step of inside baseball is…
PA: We’re actually inside the ball, tearing the canvas off.
RP: I played a game last year, and their pause wasn’t an actual pause, it was just extreme slowdown. I remember the devs came back to us two years ago when we were integrating Omni-view, and they told us we couldn’t have it be a total pause. We could slow it down to almost pausing, but if someone sat there for a few minutes the game would slowly keep going, and I remember playing a game that had that same phenomenon. We did end up managing to do a full pause in the end, but it was a challenge.
RP: It was on our plate for a while
PA: I think it had something to do with not being able to support DirectX 11 right out of the gate. It’s one of those issues that, when we upgrade to the retail version of Unity 5 – which is a huge task – we’ll be able to tackle.
RP: It’s on the docket to address though.
HG: There’s so much that must have gone into changing everything
RP: Yeah, the controls, the UI, and primarily the graphics took the most time. We actually had a PC version almost ready to go early last summer. Paul was working really hard on that with the devs, and the controls were feeling really good. We actually sent it out to an elite subgroup of our most engaged backers that we call our “ambassadors.” We sent them this build and the results came back with flying colors. They thought it was a true PC experience for République, but I had this niggling fear at the back of my head. We’d promised something really special for the PC version, and this didn’t really seem like it was enough.
RP: It was unity 4, and it looked better than what it looked like on iPad and android. It looked good and controlled great. We just had to implement some UI stuff and we were ready to ship. But then we got our hands on Unity 5 and decided that would be our killer feature. We did some tests and went all in. It was a huge amount of work, and it has resulted in the delay of episode 4 and 5.
PA: I think it was the right thing to do. You spend enough time staring at the game, and you stop having any reasonable opinion of whether it’s good or not. I believed him when he said “this isn’t enough,” but I didn’t have any concept of how far we had to go. Once I saw Unity 5 and we put in the initial three or four days of work transforming the atrium space in episode one I was totally on board.
RP: That’s sort of the reason we did it first. Because it looked so good in Unity 4 we wanted to see what the difference would be. My more maniacal plan would have been to take one of the uglier spaces in the game and transform it, then there’d be no arguments. But I wanted to challenge the art team to take one of our best-looking spaces and make it even better.
PA: The space looks like night and day. We wanted people to be immediately impressed by the scope and scale
RP: The other thing is, if we waited for episode 5 to be finished before we hit PC, the PC guys would have had to wait three years to get the game. That didn’t seem fair, and we never thought it would take this long.
PA: We made a promise to get it out on PC, and we made a promise not to just do a simple port. Unity 5 fit the bill in that respect, and it helped us avoid that stigma that a lot of mobile devs this year are experiencing, where they move their games to steam and… I’m not gonna name names, but we sat down and played some of those games and just thought “here’s what we don’t do.” We didn’t want to be those guys who just phone it in and try to get some steam numbers.
RP: Like, the UI clearly designed for touch with the massive buttons that take up half the screen. You probably can’t guess which one, because there’s a lot of them.
Who would you say made it work?
RP: The room guys did a good job, and the sword and sorcery guys did a really good job. There are a handful of examples of guys who actually took the time to do it right.
One thing we mentioned in our review is that it isn’t quite enough like the mobile game in the camera controls.
RP: That’s maybe the most requested thing I’ve seen so far, to have mouse controls
PA: it’s so weird, because that’s the way it controlled before, with clicking and dragging, and everyone told us we needed to get rid of it
RP: Because it makes it feel like a mobile game
But if you could do it both ways…
PA: I think that’s what we’re gonna do.
RP: But we also have to finish the game. Just the other day we had our second to last voice over session for episode 5.
Episode 4 is rolling along nicely then?
RP: Yeah, it’s greyboxed out and completely playable. we still need to art it up though. Episode 5 is actually the same way. We’re building 4 and 5 concurrently, Lord of the Rings style.
RP: What I’ve said publically is I think it’ll be our most divisive episode. A lot of people are gonna love it and say it’s their favourite episode, and a lot are gonna hate it and say it’s the worst episode. We’re prepared for that. It’s so dramatically different. I don’t know if you feel the same way, but the overwhelming feedback we’ve gotten from players, as well as what we think internally, is that by the time you make it through episode 3 we’ve kind of taken our core gameplay loop to its logical end. What happens to Hope at the end and where you are in the facility feels like a good stopping point. I don’t want it to continue as it was. I want to surprise people, because I think at this point they’re ready to be surprised, and as a creative group we’re ready to do something different and wild.
Well, we are outside the facility now so we’re potentially unbound from security cameras
RP: potentially. it’s pretty wild, it’s a big departure, and episode 5 is more of a greatest hits from previous episodes. We’re gonna go out with the barn burning,
Will 5 take us back into the facility to get stuff we missed?
RP: I’m not saying either way, but we do have a message at the end of 3 that says you may not be able to come back.
“May” being the operative word
RP: Yeah, because we have to decide that, we’re still figuring it out. I mean, are we?
PA: Don’t ask me dude.
RP: Maybe we’re going back to shadow moses.
Do I get to fight Metal Gear Ray?
RP: Maybe you become Metal Gear Ray
PA: Maybe the whole thing is all VR.
Playing through a second time, I feel like I picked up on some stuff. In one of his tapes Zager said he didn’t expect to fall in love, and Mireille has a prominent place on his corkboard. Are Zager and Mireille an item?
RP: That’s a good conspiracy theory, and Zager loves conspiracy theories so I’m sure he’d appreciate that. Maybe it was Cooper. *laughs* But seriously, no comment. In general my whole philosophy for this game is not to comment too much on story stuff. I don’t want to taint it.
PA: You’re part of the conversation that is the game. So you talk back by playing it. You lend your own contributions to it, and we’re hands off from that point on.
RP: It’s like when your favourite artist – I’m not saying I’m anyone’s favourite artist – but they talk about your favourite album they made 20 years ago, and their whole perspective on it is so skewed and weird that it ruins the whole thing for you. I don’t want to ruin the game for people by opening my big mouth.
PA: Some people don’t even care what the author says. You shouldn’t care what Ryan says about République.
RP: Thankfully most people don’t.