Mike Bithell's Thomas Was Alone surprised many gamers in 2012 with the way it managed to inject humor, personality, and emotion into characters that were little more than geometric shapes. Bithell's next project, Volume, is on its way later in 2014. We asked the designer about the project, which seems a surpising departure from his last release.
What is Volume? How is it different from other stealth games?
Volume is looking to do a little of the old, and a little of the new. On the one hand it looks back to older stealth games, with their focus on precision and timing over brute force, and on the other, we've really tried to pull up the pace and the rhythm of the experience to make for a faster, more exciting stealth experience. By removing any way of directly attacking the enemy, players must rely on their wit and skill to steal and get to the exit before the enemy can catch them.
You've described Volume as a modern-day retelling of the Robin Hood legend. Can you elaborate on how the game calls back to the classic story?
This is a direct retelling. The hero, Rob Locksley, is a thief who decides to use a piece of the government's technology to train the people of England to rob from the rich and keep for themselves. Bringing this legend to the modern day has presented a bunch of challenges - our tastes have changed since medieval times! But at the same time, it's been fun to stand on the shoulders of generations of great writers and weave the tales they've told into mine.
You've previously announced that Volume will star Charlie McDonnell and Danny Wallace. Who do these actors play in the story, and why were you interested in including their performances?
Charlie McDonnell plays Rob Locksley, the hero of the game, a cocky, nerdy thief who wants to use enemy technology to tip the scales of power. Danny Wallace plays the AI of the Volume, a high-tech simulator. Initially unsure of his most recent user's motives, he'll become an ally to Rob in his mission to bring down Gisborne and his corrupt government.
Can you walk us through the primary gameplay loop of a level in Volume? What are you doing in the level? What are some of the tools you might use to succeed? Who or what are the antagonists you're facing?
The player chooses a level, either one from the core game, or an environment grabbed from the community. The Volume creates an abstracted simulation of the space, filling it with AI enemies, interactive objects and plenty of handy hiding spaces. The player's objective: Steal everything, and get to the exit. Rob Locksley can move around the space, use cover and whistle to attract a guard, but if you want to do anything more advanced, you'll need to smartly use your environment. Gadgets can be picked up, such as the Bugle, which directs a noisemaker around the level, or the blackjack, which knocks guards out for a few seconds, enough time to sneak past them. Items in the world can also be used, be they lockers to hide in, flushing toilets to draw guard movements, or alarms to deactivate.
How do you improve over time as the game progresses?
As you move through the game, you'll unlock access to ever more complex environments. Since Locksley is only simulating environments, he cannot take anything with him, so all items are constrained to the level itself. A steady flow of new items, gadgets and enemies throughout the game's length mean the player will have to keep changing up their style and tactics to progress through the story.
Volume has an interesting art style, filled with sharp angles, and vivid colors against dark backdrops. Can you talk about the choice of visual presentation and how it adds to the game? Is anything changing about the art style as the game continues development?
The game's environment is geometric, simplifying real world locations to aid player understanding and decision making. I want to put players in the mind of a stealth genius, and a big part of that is giving them all the info, quickly. It also doubles up as a cool look for the game. As development continues, we've gone more and more abstract, playing with the idea of glitches and errors, reinforcing the virtual nature of the environment. Really happy with where these experiments are going.
You've said that Volume will allow the community to re-edit and create their own levels. Can you talk about the level editor you plan on including? Is it built for anyone to use, or do you recommend that players have some experience with coding or design?
The goal with the level editor was to make a tool that everyone can use to play with stealth mechanics. I'm a Lego nut, so emulating the simplicity of that building system really appealed. The added bonus is that the easier the tools, the easier my life is making a game with them. I don't want anyone to be excluded from making cool stuff with this editor.
On what platforms are you hoping to release Volume? Do you have a time frame for release that you're aiming for?
We're launching first on PS4 and Vita, with PC, Mac and Steam OS following the next month. Still aiming for a late 2014 release.