Subaeria Interview with Illogika Studios
Could you introduce yourself for us and tell us what your position is and what work you do on Subaeria?
[DFL] David Fugère-Lamarre, CEO of Illogika and Co-producer of the project
[LC] Loïc Cayuela, programmer, originator of the project
[EC] Elie Charest, game designer
[PB] Philippe Blouin, scenarist
What does it feel like to work on your own project instead of apps for other companies?
[LC] After a few years developing applications and games for our clients, we finally had the opportunity to make our own game, our baby, and that’s really enjoyable. I first started this game alone, working in my free time and one day per week at Illogika. Then Romain, our game designer, joined me to start creating an original concept with my ideas of the procedural labyrinths. So now I’m currently making my own game with a big team. It doesn’t get better!
Could you tell us a little about the story for Subaeria? How does it change each time you play?
[PB] Subaeria takes place in an indefinite future. Following the rise of sea levels, most of the land has been flooded and society has reorganized around three environments, hierarchically positioned from top to bottom.
First is a flying island called Aeria, where the ruling elite lives within the starsystem.
The second environment consists of many floating islands, which are home to the petty bourgeois Community, the Storages and the hard-working Factories. Together, the political unity of Aeria and the floating islands is called The Commonwealth. However, large areas of the floating islands have been abandoned by the ruling power and are controlled by a resistance movement called The Partisanery, which people from the Commonwealth call “terrorists.”
The final, post-flood environment lies at the bottom of the ocean, called the Abyss, where residents live inside dark underwater domes where oxygen is costly. Having lived in isolation for several hundred years, these ocean-dwellers have developed unique physical and intellectual features. Original residents of the Abyss, called Apneans, have developed a strong religion around which social life is tightly attached. But more recently, immigrants from the Commonwealth have come to the Abyss to mine for the dangerous substance GOO, which permits Aeria to fly.
Subaeria’s storyline allows the player to impersonate characters from each of these distinct environments, with alternate mission paths that each lead to a different world. For example, the game begins with a young factory worker named Styx who is trying to win the Majestic Star, a pop-culture contest using automated dance software. One path leads Styx to meet “terrorist” Antonio, who happens to be her grandfather. Another path encounters Arezou, a young Apnean theology student in the Abyss. And the third path, in which Styx wins the Majestic Star, leads to Commonwealth Prime Minister Bob Dorf in Aeria, where Styx has won a house as the Majestic Star prize. These three alternate paths are all simultaneously available, and each new character unlocks a new path, so in the next game the player can impersonate Antonio, Arezou or Bob Dorf.
In turn, each of these three unlocked characters have at least three alternate endings to their missions, which can influence the other characters’ environments. For instance, when playing Antonio, the revolutionary grandpa, the player can find a way to hack Aeria’s security algorithms, gaining control on the very robots (called cleaners) that protect the powerful in Aeria. This event will then bring a new difficulty level when playing with Bob Dorf, as he will be attacked by his own cleaners, in his own environment. It will also unlock Dorf’s alternate ends that were impossible before.
The game changes due to what we call a “procedural death labyrinth,” which means that each time a player dies, he must start again at the beginning of the puzzle – but that puzzle has shifted randomly since the game was last played. By remembering key information from previous turns, including important characters which are saved in a comic-book format, the player will be able to rationalize his route to win with each successive play.
Why was a dystopian universe chosen?
[PB] I would say a dystopian universe was chosen as a way to stay realistic! Subaeria reflects a totalitarian environment, similar to Orwell or Huxley, with an oppressive atmosphere of high-tech surveillance and automated policing. But this futuristic environment draws on existing technologies such as chip implants, nanotechnologies, GPS remote-controlling, drones, algorithm decision-making, etc. Consider Silicon Valley’s utopia of crowd-sourced “big data” self-management, or the role of algorithms in everything from stock trading to corporate oversight. Where will this all lead? That’s the question we chose to explore in Subaeria, and a slightly futuristic dystopia seemed like the best way to do so.
What makes this game so unique?
[DFL] We decided to combine many gaming features, including a procedural death labyrinth with interactive storytelling, non-violent gameplay mechanics and beautiful 3D graphics, using a dynamic, top-down camera in the labyrinths and fixed cameras (like security cameras) in narrative areas. We haven’t seen this combination in other games, and we believe players will love these features.
By combining a procedural death labyrinth with interactive storytelling, Subaeria creates a deeper and more engaging experience than traditional roguelikes. Although the cleaning robots are violent toward the player, there are no weapons available to blast them into pieces. Instead, the player is challenged to use the environment and discoverable skills, such as remote-controlling robots or changing their color to make them vulnerable to an electrical field. It’s all part of our real-time tactical puzzle solving mechanic.
[LC] The fact that completing a story with a character will change the world in different ways. And then when you’ll play with another character and selecting the ending you just completed, you’ll see that the world has changed. It’s like playing on a big RPG a simple NPC or merchant, finishing his story, and then when you’ll play with the main character you’ll see that this NPC now is different because of your choices when you played with him.
Please tell us a little about some of the puzzles players may encounter.
[EC] They aren’t classic adventure puzzles, more like using the enemy’s behavior to your advantage. For example, in one room you may find yourself trapped with robot “cleaners” – mechanical robots with giant circular saws determined to remove any pest, including you. However, competing conglomerates build cleaners in two different colors, and while they are not a threat to cleaners of the same color, they will damage those of a different color. In such rooms, you have to find a way to draw cleaners of one color to combat those of a different colors.
Rooms may also feature traps you can set up, repair or repurpose to help clear the room and go into the next ones. Sometimes you just have to survive for a given amount of time until a purging EMP clears the room or a cargo transports speeds through it, taking care of your enemies for you. Basically, the game is about using the environment to your advantage instead of directly destroying enemies.
What is one of your favorite characters in the game so far?
[PB] Many characters are appealing in their own way, but Antonio, Styx’s grandfather partisan, is really funny. For us, it seemed important not to stick to traditional video game characters but to find different types of heroes. As an elderly man, Antonio moves more slowly than other characters, but he has more skills because of his experience. We find it interesting to have an elder as a hero, especially for the partisans, because the experience and memory of what has been lost to the present is a major catalyst to resist the system.
Could you tell us about the diversity of the NPCs?
[PB] The NPCs have been elaborated in a near-random way, using aleatory name generators to determine the sex and ethnicity of each character. The idea is to disconnect what is said from the identity of who is saying it, as everyone would be entitled to say anything in a fully-developed liberal society. When possible, we also tried to do the exact opposite of what appeared natural: to have a woman make aggressive, manly statements, and men making teenish groupie exclamations. We also inserted various sexual orientations, body types and ethical standpoints, as to escape dominant, WASP-oriented imagery, towards a more diverse type of universe.
What other games have inspired you?
[LC] The procedural labyrinths come from The Binding of Isaac. At first it was very similar to this game. But after few months of creating gameplay and changing the universe, it got well away from it.
[EC] Clearly rogue-like games were a strong inspiration for gameplay throughout development. With regard to the thematic elements, the game often gives a nod to games such as Bioshock and the Portal series, though I would say a lot of the inspiration came from classic novels, including George Orwell’s 1984, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and Jack London’s Martin Eden.
What point in the game development process are you currently in?
[DFL] Although we have been working on the project since late 2013, the production really picked up pace at the beginning of summer 2014 when we knew we had secured funding. We are a month away from having a first story arc development completed with all the associated gameplay mechanics and labyrinth rooms in order to demo a real polished gameplay session.
Is there anything else you would like to say?
[DFL] Please check out subaeria.com, facebook.com/subaeria and @subaeria over the next months for all the details!
Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us!