République: The Ryan Payton Interview
Camouflaj and Logan are two independent game studios that have united with a powerful vision; create a new iOS game that can appeal to the core gaming audience through stealth, action, and deep storytelling. Their unique vision is on display in the newly announced République, an intriguing title about a young woman trying to escape from a futuristic dystopian society.
We had the opportunity to ask game director Ryan Payton, formerly a part of the teams that created Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, and more recently part of the Halo 4 team, some questions about his new project. Here's what he had to say:
What’s the top-level concept of République?
République was born out of a desire to do something different and creatively challenging. I’m bored and uninspired by the vast majority of games on mobile, so I wanted to challenge myself to write and design a mobile game worth playing. I wanted to take the unique elements of the mobile platform and give players a sophisticated, story-driven experience that actually meant something. With République, we’re tackling hot button issues like censorship and voyeurism and giving players an adventure that’ll really make them think. 1984, We and Brave New World have been huge inspirations. We also wanted to make a game that was fun to play and designed specifically with mobile in mind. No virtual joysticks here.
What makes it different from other iOS games?
We’re trying to build a boutique game studio, so everything we do needs to be of the highest quality possible. So even though this is an iOS release, we’re treating it like a AAA console game. No cutting corners. No walls of text to communicate the story. No throwaway narrative. We’re doing full voiceovers, motion capture and giving ourselves enough development time to make something really special. My personal goal is to create something that people remember decades from now. I don't know if we’ll pull it off, but it seems like a good ambition to have.
Who is the main character in the game? What’s the situation she finds herself in as the game begins?
The heroine of République is a young woman named Hope. At the beginning of the game, she calls the player and asks them to help her escape from the mysterious, dystopian nation she’s been living in her entire life. There are a lot of mysteries surrounding Hope and the facility, “Metamorphosis,” that she’s trapped inside, which we’re excited about unraveling over the course of the game. With Hope, it was really important that we created a female hero that wasn’t overly sexualized and bloodthirsty. We want players to connect with her, not lust after her.
Our early glimpses of the game reveal some pretty slick visuals. What technology are you exploring to make the game stand out graphically?
After Metal Gear and Halo, I told myself that I didn’t want to work on another blockbuster game that required a lot of effort and attention to deliver realistic graphics, but I guess I just can’t get cinematic games out of my DNA. From day one, it was our goal to allow players to establish an emotional connection with Hope, so making her look as good and believable as possible was paramount. The teams at Camouflaj and Logan have done an incredible job designing the graphic systems to utilize the strengths of the iOS platforms. I love it when people see the game running on the iPhone and say “wow.” Personally, I’m proud of the fact that République is one of the few cinematic games being made for mobile. It feels like we’re breaking new ground.
The game employs a novel strategy for interaction between the player and the protagonist of the game. Can you tell us about that?
One of the biggest challenges for a former console game developer is designing your games for an entirely different platform like mobile. This was a challenge for me early on because, to be honest, I didn’t really respect the mobile platform. I couldn’t separate the unique attributes of the platform from the mountains of bad games found on it. But once I started thinking deeply on the strengths and weaknesses of iOS devices, I started to see the true potential of a game designed and written specifically for them. What you’re seeing now is a full embracement of mobile and touch devices. I was wrong about them.
How does interaction with the game work, and what unique options does that conceit open up for you as a developer?
Setting up my own independent studio has allowed me to test a narrative design idea I’ve had for a while: What if we acknowledged the player behind the screen and integrated him/her into the story? This gives players a unique role in the gameplay and story. Unlike almost all other games, the protagonist on-screen is not a marionette for players to control. Hope, in particular, has a life of her own, making the gameplay largely about trust and your partnership with her. Yorda from Ico was a big inspiration.
This non-traditional approach between players and on-screen characters isn’t without its challenges though. Players are playing a game because they desire interaction, so we’re trying to design the game to give players enough opportunities to direct and control the action, while also allowing Hope to be her own person. It’s a fun (and maddening) challenge.
It sounds like some elements of your game have a meta quality, echoing ARGs that try to draw players into the concept of the game as an actual reality. Is that a fair characterization? If so, in what ways do you hope to capitalize on the “what is real?” vibe?
The goal is to give players an experience on their device so believable and immersive that they start to confuse what is fiction and reality. I think having the game running on your phone is integral, as the game will always be with you. I like the idea that we’re not writing a story that will forever be contained in a console in your living room. I like that the story will always be with you, and I’m excited about what storytelling experiences that opens up for us. There are those who tell us that story-driven games will never work on mobile. They might be right, but it’s my job to try and prove them wrong.
Two different development studios are working on the game. Who are the two teams, and what are their individual tasks on the project?
Logan and director Alexei Tylevich is driving much of the visual look and feel of République. They created the environments, designed the logo and cut the game’s trailer. The team at Camouflaj is focused on the gameplay and engineering side of development. It falls on me to develop the high-level gameplay and story, and to make sure both studios are working well and collaborating as much as possible. It’s been a good pairing.
Can you describe some of the actual gameplay you’ll engage in during the course of the story?
I like to describe République as a “stealth survival” game. The gameplay is a mash-up of the best elements from the stealth action and survival horror genres. At its core, République is a sneaking game where players help guide Hope from cover to cover to avoid and engage enemies. The survival elements come from the realistic approach we’re taking with our protagonist – Hope isn’t an action hero and certainly doesn’t know how to shoot a gun or kill a person. This leads well with the survival gameplay, which requires players to help Hope collect supplies, conserve ammo for her taser and avoid direct combat. Hacking is the third side of the gameplay triangle, as players can manipulate the world by accessing doors, computers and other mechanized items to explore the world and give Hope a strategic advantage.
Given that you’re helping a character chart a course to escape, are there branching story paths as the game progresses?
République started as a game designed to give players the more narrative choice than any other game ever created. The design has since evolved into a structure that gives players meaningful choices while also not going overboard in terms of scope and budget. An important goal for us is that players share their unique story experiences with each other, which hopefully convince them to play through the game multiple times.
What other features are you most excited for gamers to see in République?
We have a lot of things we’re excited to show the world. One of features we’re most excited about how players go about hacking and exploring the network. Early prototypes show a lot of promise. I know the team is excited about getting back to work on it now that the proof of concept is finished.
Other than iOS, on what other platforms are you planning to release the game? Will other platforms play identically, or are there plans to make changes in the game or how it plays?
We don’t have any plans for other platforms at the moment. Putting République on another platform would be a big decision for us, because we’re serious about the idea that the experience would need to be special and optimized for each platform.
When is République going to release?
République will be released in spring 2013.
Just after this story went live, Ryan Payton sent along a link to the team's Kickstarter page, which also includes a trailer for the game. Check it out by clicking here.