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Interview With Studio MONO About InSomnia

Retro-Future Shock.

 

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InSomnia is a very exciting looking new third-person RPG from Studio MONO. It’s set in a spaceborne city called Object 6, which is traveling towards a mythical place called the “Evacuation Area” where it’s hoped that humanity can start anew after the environmental destruction of Earth. The game is developed by Studio MONO, a Russian-based studio who launched a kickstarter to help bring their dream to life. They have released a demo as a way to give us a taster of the full version of Insomnia to come, and also to serve as a prologue for the story of the main game. It lets you play as Typer: a roguish chap who has gotten himself deeply in debt and is forced to wear an explosive collar to make sure he pays it off.  I played through the prologue demo and was fascinated by the way it seemed to evoke the experiences of classic post-apocalyptic CRPGs. From the creepy, ambient music to the gritty, unforgiving level of challenge when facing mutated monsters and murderous machines; InSomnia really sparked some of the excitement I felt when playing Fallout or Wasteland for the first time. I had the chance to interview InSomnia’s project lead: Anatoliy Guyduk, and ask him some burning questions I had about the future development of InSomnia.

HPP: How does it feel to get the endorsement of such legendary figures as Chris Avellone and Brian Fargo at such an early stage in the project? Have you been inspired by their work on the Fallout series in any way?

AG: Certainly, it’s very inspiring, however this also makes us feel a degree of pressure as well. We never hid the fact that we were inspired by classic old school PRGs like Fallout 1-2 and Planescape: Torment. These games were the initial reason why we started working on InSomnia in the first place.

HPP: InSomnia draws obvious comparisons to Bioshock in its retro-futuristic style, art deco fixtures, and focus on an isolated man-made city going down the tubes. How do you feel about comparisons to Bioshock? Were you inspired by Bioshock in any way?

AG: We admire Bioshock, but we never considered it to be much of an influence for us. Such movies like Blade Runner, Dead Man’s Letters, Metropolis, and Akira had a significantly bigger role in this. However we don’t see people comparing InSomnia with Bioshock to be a problem. The final product will be completely different thing.

HPP: There’s a humourous moment after the initial tutorial finished, where a bum asks Typer to go on a quest to find a magical flower in a cave infested with centaurs. Then it turns out he was “just shitting you”. Are you trying to subvert some of the standard quest tropes in InSomnia?

AG: This bum will play a significant role in the final game, so don’t think he is just some simple fool :). Sure, we have a certain amount of dark humor in the game. However, we try to develop dramatic, sometimes non-sense, crazy  quests, and some of them make player perform questionable moral choices.

HPP: You had to restart your kickstarter after you realised you didn’t have enough money the first go-around. What do you think you’ve learned from the whole kickstarter experience?

AG: Kickstarter is a great place for indie developers. The amounts of experience you get while doing a campaign there are huge. It’s safe to say that there would be no InSomnia at all if there was no Kickstarter.  It teaches you to communicate with the potential players, helps with shaping the vision of the project. One thing is to lay on your coach and dream about the best game in the world you will make some day, and Kickstarter with all the people that are involved in it is something completely different. It makes you understand which things are the most important ones, which can be postponed or even cancelled entirely.

 

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HPP:  Sometimes, the game can feel a bit fiddly when you’re switching between your toolkits and weapons. I especially noticed this when switching between the toolkit and the hacking device while Typer was underground. Is this something you’ll be changing for the full release or is this a conscious design choice to make the game feel more like old school RPGs?

AG: Many things will be changed, the others will remain just the way they are now. For example right now we are improving the way interactive objects click between each other, the way you work with toolkits etc. Everything will become more comfortable to work with, but don’t expect the map with markers and pointers anytime soon. You will have to keep your eyes opened and  check your quest log for clues from time to time. We find having a “magic navigation” system kills the feeling of uncertainty and the necessity of exploring and joy of the moment you actually find something you were looking for. Anyway, as I said previously many aspects of the game will be given a second thought as we’ve received huge amounts of feedback, which transformed in long task lists finishing which will dramatically improve the usability of InSomnia.

HPP: The stealth gameplay seems fairly basic at the moment. It seems to mostly focus on crouch-walking and keeping your distance from enemies. Will there be more complexity in the main game such as being able to hide in dark areas or make stealth attacks?

AG: Yes we are reworking the stealth mechanics along with hidden objects/enemies system. Your foes will be able to hide from you and stealth attack you as well in the final game. Sure, these options won’t be always available.

HPP: The prologue chapter gives us a preview of the various factions you’ll meet in the game. Poor Typer seems to be on thin ice with all of them! Will you be able to choose to support one faction over the other in the full game? Will this affect the ending somehow?

AG: Oh, well, Typer is certainly out of luck, but you as a player can help him get out of this nightmare so he can become your companion. You won’t be able to become a 100% part of any faction, but there’s a certain invisible counter that calculates your relationship progress with each one of them. This will have an impact on how the game will end, and staying neutral will be quite a task. However this is just one of many elements that affect what you will see before the credits start to roll.

HPP: Insomnia seems to have lots of survivalist elements such as the need to consume food and water. Are you catering to a more hardcore audience with this? Do you think you’ve struck the right balance giving the world an extra layer of challenge while not distracting the player too much from other aspects of the game?

AG: Survival elements need some improvements as well, however their main purpose is to make gameplay richer. So this is hardly a key element of InSomnia. Think of this like a set of tasks that will make you interact with the surrounding world more and not just gallop through the main storyline. We’ve got tons of secondary content. There’s one situation when you will search for a good place to set a camp and instead face a boss fight. Ouch.

 

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HPP: I found it very interesting that your character can gain traits through experience. Do you think this acclamation of traits through experience will stop players from optimizing and min-maxing their characters, and create a more organic sense of character progression?

AG: Our goal is to connect the leveling up process to the actions of the player, the decisions he or she takes. Habits and skills that player gains are also traits in some way, and they might be quite negative. Some of them are tightly connected with certain items, just like the famous chin bomb Typer wears. You might actually end up being one-eyed, and that will give you better sniping options etc. So when the game ends you will have a real character with his own history, and not just some buffed gorilla with all stats maxed. The list of the traits you gained while you played the game will give a perfect idea of what person you become.

HPP: Randomly generated events appear frequently as you’re traveling around the game world. Will the player start to see how he or she has changed the gameworld through these events? If so, can you give an example?

AG: Taking part in generated events won’t change the world, quite the opposite. If you destroy The Children of Morakh criminal clan you won’t meet them anywhere again. Thew will just disappear. On the other hand if you will decide to end the life of Briggo the travelling merchant once you meet him during one of the random encounters, the result will be pretty logical – you won’t meet him anywhere in the future (he is an often guest to big settlements of the station). The main way to make an impact on the game world is through main story quests, while generated events are there just to make it all look more alive.

 

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HPP: Crafting and scavenging seems very integral to InSomnia. It seems like you’ll have to weigh up whether you want to sell items or strip them down to create something more valuable. Will it be possible for a master craftsman character to strip down various items and create something more powerful than anything they can buy or scavenge?

AG: Currently we plan to give a less prominent role to crafting. You will be able to craft ammo, picklocks, upgrade certain types of weapons. So you won’t be able to create powerful equipment or weapons, not without some rare exceptions of course. To be more precise the most certain way to find some really powerful stuff is to explore the distant parts of of the station. And this won’t be easy. Finding the powerful stuff will happen other way –  by completing difficult quests.

HPP: Combat feels pleasingly tactical, and incorporates the skills of your character, while it also has a definite visceral punch to it. Can you give us an example of some of the more complex tactics you can use in the full game, and how your companions can help you pull them off?

AG: Our combat largely depends on player’s skills. Regarding the tactics – the results of the fight often depend on what equipment you are using, as some foes will be too tough to fight with regular stuff. For example heavy turrets are almost invincible when it comes to small guns, however they can be defeated with EMP grenades. Talking about the companions – you will be able to place them on some good spots before the fight starts. Each one of you NPCs will have their own specialities and tactics: classic “tank” who can go straight into the middle of it all but deal a moderate damage; damage maker – keep him distanced and he will be able to effectively eliminate targets. Each companion will have up to 3 abilities like temporary increase of physical defense, armor piercing shot, turning off of a bot/robot for some time, run attack that knocks the enemy down etc. You will be able to activate those abilities during the use of tactic pause along with such commands like “retreat”, “change target”, “use stimulator” etc. Turning that pause off will get you back to active control of your character, as you will be a central part of any fight anyway with NPCs giving some support along the way.

HPP: Companions seem very important to the experience of InSmonia. Will you able to decide the character development of your companions as well as your character? Is romancing companions a possibility?

AG: It’s likely that each companion will have a unique level up tree on their own. Sure it won’t be as vast and detailed as the one player will have. However it will be closely related to the backstory of each NPC. As an example you can have a classic “tank” character and develop him into a hardy fighter who will be able to distract the enemy for quite a long time; or as an alternative you can put more points into attacking abilities so he won’t last as long but will provide a much better support in terms of dealing the damage. Romancing the companions is something we didn’t really considered so far. Thank you for your questions!

HPP: Thank you very much for answering them! We’re really looking forward to the full release of InSomnia!

 

 

Jonathan is HeyPoorPlayer's token British person, so expect him to thoroughly exploit this by quoting Monty Python and saying things like "Pip, pip, toodly-whotsit!" for the delight of American readers. He likes artsy-fartsy games, RPGs and RPG-Hybrids (which means pretty much everything at this point). He used to write for Sumonix.com. He's also just realised how much fun it is to refer to himself in the third person like he's The Rock or something.

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