Once again, Indie-o-rama deliver another interview that we’re hosting the English language version of to get the word out further. This time it’s Dejan Radisic of Stygian Software that falls under the microscope, with a particular focus on his upcoming RPG Underrail. There is a demo that’s certainly worth checking out if you want to get a feel for the game, and if you’re a fan of the Fallout games, then that should be the case.
Indie-o-rama: Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. It’s obvious that Underrail was heavily influenced by Fallout, among other post-apocalyptic games. As we all know, Bethesda decided to go a different route with Fallout 3 or, as it’s commonly known, “Oblivion with guns”. That meant some fans were left craving for a game with the style and gameplay of the original. How much of a compromise has been met in order to acknowledge that influence, while at the same time staying true to your own ideas and concepts? Are the fans that approach Underrail expecting another Fallout, or would you rather prefer that they play the game without such prejudices?
Dejan Radisic: Well, I’m not so sure about the Fallout release timeline, but I think I started the development of Underrail even before Fallout 3 was released. Or at least I started working on the engine with the intention to build this kind of a game.
So back then there wasn’t, or at least I was not aware of, this craze with the fans that wanted the old Fallout back. And it certainly all started before this Wasteland sequel thing and all that. The game obviously draws some inspiration from Fallout, such as the mood, environments, some weapons, etc, but it wasn’t ever meant to be the new “real” Fallout. I don’t have a problem with people considering it that, though, and I believe that those who come to this game with such expectations won’t be disappointed and will find some of the old Fallout elements that are missing in the newer games. So in short, I do not mind it, but I’m also happy when people point out design differences and acknowledge the game as being it’s own thing.
IOR: Underrail reminds me of another really different game, which also punished the player’s mistakes without mercy – X-COM: UFO Defense. A member of our staff said that “Underrail is a game about survivors, not heroes”. Do you agree with this sentence?
DR: I’ve never played any of the X-COM games, but I hear people often point out that Underrail reminds them of the old X-COM visually. As far as the gameplay goes, Underrail is intended to force the player to play cautiously and respect the dangers they may encounter. In the game you control only one character, so getting outnumbered without a way to escape or mitigate damage is one of the most common ways you can get killed. So if you do not approach a new area or any other challenge cautiously, or just come unprepared, you can expect to die a lot.
“It’s one of the most enjoyable things for me when developing – adding more stuff to craft, but it’s also really time consuming. “
IOR: Underrail is set within a post-apocalyptic world; a vast underground universe inhabited with other survivors. What role do the NPCs carry among the Underrail story? How can a one-man crew write such a huge amount of dialogues?
DR: The player’s character is a member of one of the station-states on the fringe of Underrail. It’s a station that’s one of the more powerful in the vicinity but it’s not up to par with the major factions of the world. Its remoteness is the main factor keeping it independent.
One of the main themes of the game is this imbalance of power that’s currently occurring in the Underrail. Where one faction has become too powerful and is moving through the metro system, annexing other stations one way or the other. So a lot of the things that happen in the game will revolve around this conflict. And the player will have options to help different factions in their struggle against this big force or other factions in the game.
IOR: And have you written every line of dialog in the game?
DR: Yes. I’m not much of a writer so I try to keep it as straight forward as possible. [laughs] Hopefully in the future I’ll be able to delegate this work to someone else.
IOR: Do you enjoy reading? Have you taken some elements from books and put them in your game?
DR: I don’t do much reading as something else ends up taking priority. And when I do read, I rarely read decent length novels. I might have taken some elements from some of the books that I’ve read, but I can’t really recall anything specific.
IOR: Devastation and lack of resources are two of the most important elements in the game. Maybe this situation has something to do with the item creation system? Are you satisfied with that playable part of Underrail?
DR: Story-wise, food and habitation are the two scarcest thing in Underrail, so that’s not really a direct influence for the crafting system. As for the system itself, I’m happy with how it’s working out for now. There’s a bunch of blueprints I still want to add in, though, especially in the utility department.
It’s one of the most enjoyable things for me when developing – adding more stuff to craft, but it’s also really time consuming. I also want to make sure to eventually add things that you can only obtain by crafting. So to give a slight edge to those characters that invested a lot of skill points into that.
IOR: Talking about items, what methods are you using in the development of such a deep game? Would you pick the same tools if you have known the usability at the beginning?
DR: The game runs on a custom engine that I wrote myself. I also wrote all the tools involved. There’s a few things that I’d do differently if I were to start over again and some of them need more work, but I’m generally happy with them. I have an area editor, a character editor, an item editor, a dialog editor and then a bunch of smaller tools.
When I come across something that I can’t easily do in the tool then I have to make a choice to either modify the tool or to do it the hard way. Before I released an alpha version I was kinda in a hurry so I didn’t want to spend my time modifying the tools (even though that’s almost always more time efficient), but nowadays I do make improvement to them once in a while.
“I like doing things my way and being my own boss.”
IOR: With much of the indie scene geared towards experimental games, you have gone in a different direction and taken direct influences from some of the most well-known retro games. What kind of reception have you had with a game so rooted in these origins?
DR: Well, the game generally gets a good reception, but poor visibility. The problem with games like this is exactly what you pointed out. It doesn’t fit with this experimental/art/whatever you want to call them games that so many indie news sites and communities are centered around. On the other hand, it doesn’t fit with the mainstream gaming press for obvious reasons.
So getting interest from bigger gaming sites and communities has proven quite difficult so far. But when the game does catch interest, the reception is generally good.
IOR: Underrail can already be purchased, even though the game is in alpha state. Nowadays players can access all kind of information and assets about and from a game at an early stage of development, and even play an unstable version within a few months before its release. How does this affect the relationship between the developer and the player? Does it pay to throw away the secrets of game development prevailing in the industry in favor of a more open approach with the fans? Why have you chosen the alphafunding model against others?
DR: Well, the good thing about Underrail is that it’s been in development for quite a while already and the game is very stable. It has bugs but they are rarely game breaking and it doesn’t crash regularly or anything like that. So I don’t have to deal with the kind of customer frustration that maybe some other games that go into commercial alpha earlier in development then they necessarily have to.
With alphafunding I get the benefits of having people playtesting the game during the rest of the development and I get to earn some money in advance, which is not unimportant because since I’ve went into full-time development last year I don’t have that much income from other sources and there’s still development stuff I’ll have to pay for – stuff that I can’t do myself.
IOR: And a quite simple question to finish: what does being indie mean to you?
DR: I like doing things my way and being my own boss. That’s what it actually means to be indie for me, everything else is disputable.