Ryan Payton on Republique, Kickstarter, and the future
Republique has just recently been released on the Apple App Store. It has been quite an exciting road to release, with the game announced a long 20 months ago via Kickstarter. As you can see by the fact this article exists, we recently had time to ask Ryan Payton a few questions. We talk about his inspiration for the game, what it’s like to to have a game Kickstarted, how the App Store is constantly evolving as a platform (especially in the last year), and get a few small hints as to what Camouflaj will do next once work on République is done - which lets not forget is a multi-part episodic game.
We forgot to ask about the time he had that beard. We are sorry, but you should still read on though!
DarkZero: When did the original idea for République spark? The first Kickstarter video seemed highly fleshed out for a game that was, at that point, 20 months away from its eventual release. Were the core themes of the game clear from the outset, or was that something that grew and developed over time?
Ryan Payton: The original idea for République came from my desire to bring believable, high-quality character performance to mobile. I wanted République to break new ground in this territory. From there, I started to think about the role of the cameras in this facility, and then we were asked to add more action into the game. When we started prototyping action gameplay with surveillance-camera views, the game instantly started to feel like the original Resident Evil, and I knew we had stumbled upon something interesting. The 32-bit era is my favorite in the history of the industry, so I decided to double down on Resident Evil, Metal Gear Solid and Parasite Eve influences.
We had our core vision and gameplay loop nailed down early last year, and then we demonstrated it in our initial Kickstarter video. While the core gameplay loop hasn’t changed much since then, we put 18 months of development into a new Hope and guard AI system, we shifted to fully 3D backgrounds, and we went to work on delivering on the “one touch” action gameplay. I’m not exaggerating when I say that, for 500 nights on this project, I went home feeling defeated by our design. It wasn’t until the final stages of development that our camera system and one touch gameplay started to function properly.
DZ: The iOS platform has evolved considerably since the Kickstarter launch of République. At that launch, you commented that you wanted to “stop complaining about the lack of real games on mobile and start making one.” Do you think that apparent lack has already been somewhat filled with games like Device 6, The Room, Blackbar, and Year Walk making it a great 2013 for iOS. Can République still bring something truly new to the platform, with proven quality now already on show?
RP: Back when we pitched the world on République, there really wasn’t much in the way of high quality titles on iOS. There was Infinity Blade, then Sword & Sworcery and a handful of others. I think you’re right – there’s something of a renaissance happening on the App Store right now with games like The Room and Device 6, and we actually highlight many of these games inside République.
While I’m happy that more serious games have hit the App Store, I want to see more. Now that we’ve shipped the first episode of République, I know what these devices are capable of, and I’m hoping more developers attempt to push the envelope on the App Store. From a game design perspective, in many ways, iOS still feels like undiscovered country.
DZ: You are probably most famous for your work with Metal Gear Solid, and République seems to share a few similarities, do you think République would even exist in its current form if you had not had past history with the Metal Gear Solid franchise?
RP: Not only did I have the honor of working on Metal Gear Solid 4, but I was (and continue to be) a huge fan of the series, so it’s not surprising to me that République is heavily influenced by that franchise.
I love many things about Metal Gear, but two, in particular, are readily apparent in République: a emphasis on non-lethal engagement, and a fascination with modern politics and real world events.
While I’m very letdown by their decision to cast Sutherland as Snake in MGS5, I’m still very much a fan of the series and hope it continues for decades to come.
DZ: One of the main reasons you were part of the Metal Gear Solid team was to help westernize the series – to rekindle its appeal in the US/Europe. Now that you are working out of the US, did you feel a need to make sure République also has international appeal?
RP: One of the main reasons why République is not a console game is because of the broad appeal of iOS and PC. While on Halo, I was discouraged when I realized just how Western-focused Xbox was. While it was a privilege to work on that series, I was disheartened that the game would only sell well in North America and the UK. As somebody who wants game markers to usurp Hollywood as the world’s most prominent storytellers, it was only natural for us to move to a platform with 700 million devices out there. This is also why we chose to localize the game into a half-dozen languages at ship. Most independent developers don’t do that.
DZ: During your time with Kojima Productions, you were a very public figure – and probably the most active staff member with the game’s community. With your name having such close correlation with the Metal Gear Solid franchise, were decisions made during République’s development to try and distance the game from MGS. Paying too close a homage to that game would’ve been a easy trap to fall into, right?
RP: I didn’t think about Metal Gear Solid too much during the development of République, but there were moments when an idea came up that was a little too close to home. Funny enough, a lot of those moments occurred when the team brainstormed hiding spots for Hope – we had a lot of trouble coming up with ideas for hiding spots that either Metal Gear or Splinter Cell hadn’t covered yet!
DZ: You talk about Nineteen Eighty-Four as a big influence for République. During the game’s development, mass surveillance leaks made news headlines worldwide over the course of 2013. The line between fact and fiction are getting slowly blurred. Happening to plan the release of a game that shares these themes, and explores these muddy waters has to be a great stroke of luck. Could you have planned the release any better if you tried?
RP: Back when Brendan Murphy and I started to pen République’s story, we were already reading everything we could about government surveillance and privacy issues. Cases like Room 641A were big inspirations, as was my time working in a big Asian company.
While we’re excited to launch République into the world where the Snowden case is top of mind, I wonder what part our game will play in this international debate. With République, we try not to be too preachy, but by the end of the Episode 5, players will definitely be more informed about the debate. I’m curious what the world will think of it.
DZ: Hope using her phone to contact you seems central to the games story. Due to this, to me, République feels similar to a game like 999 (on the Nintendo DS). For that game, the actual device itself was core to the overall experience of the game. With Hope’s phone, and the players device, seemingly integrated into the story of République, can the game truly be successful if it moves to other platforms in the future in its current form, or will changes need to be made?
RP: This is an excellent question. For me, it’s essential that game makers design their game for the right platform, and I’m proud to say that we’ve design République specifically for touchscreen devices. When we begin PC development in earnest after the new year, my one and only request is that we work closely with the PC community and get their thoughts on how best to make République PC feel like a PC game, and speak to the strengths of that platform. That’s why I don’t really have much to say when people ask if République is coming to PS4. Unless we make significant changes to the design, there’s no way we’re going to just straight-up port the game to a controller-centric device.
DZ: Even though the Kickstarter was successful, and you now have 20 months experience working with your 10,000+ Kickstarter backers behind you, would you approach things differently with all that knowledge in hand if you had those 20 months back to do again?
RP: That’s another really good question. One of my only regrets with our Kickstarter is that it was much harder to get our backers the iOS game than originally planned. For reasons I really can’t get into, we had a plan and it didn’t work out, and our backers had to jump through some hoops to get the game. While I’m really proud of how we’ve handled it, I would have come up with some sort of (different) clever way to get our backers the game.
DZ: You previously talked about appreciating the simplicity that touch control brings to interacting with a game, and making it accessible to all. With that in mind, will a similar mindset be present in future Camouflaj projects. Will you ever take to developing for a multi-button control pad, or continue to strive for simpler player inputs?
RP: Because we’re so focused on République, it’s hard for me to think too much on future games. But with that said, I do want us to continue our current approach to game design: taking traditional console gameplay and distilling it down into simplified inputs. I think Nintendo is good at this, and I’d like Camouflaj games to be thought of as sophisticated but not complicated. And above all, I want to avoid asking players to remember what each button on the 17-button controller does – I think that’s one of the biggest blockers to console gaming becoming truly mainstream.
DZ: You’ve jokingly referred to some iOS releases as “Games for Babies.” Could Camouflaj ever make one of these type of games – albeit in their own style. Or will the company always want to tackle games with a much broader scope?
RP: I can’t help but poke fun at a lot of the games my friends play on iOS. While there’s definitely a place for cutesy, fun-looking games, I’m much more interested in mature, sophisticated topics. When you look at the top charts on iOS, it’s a little too colorful for me. Hopefully more iOS developers will explore more serious topics in the coming year.
DZ: Thanks very much for your time, Ryan.
RP: Thanks so much for all the great questions. This was a lot of fun! I really appreciate your interest in our game, as it’s been a labor of love. The Camouflaj team worked themselves to death on this project, and I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them.