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Exoplanet: First Contact Interview

by Farflame, 2015-08-25

Farflame has touched base with Alersteam's Game Designer Alexey Belyakow and Lead programmer Alexander Pischenko to discuss their game Exoplanet: First Contact, which is currently on Kickstarter.

RPGWatch: How did you get the idea to found a studio and start developing Exoplanet?

Alexey Belyakow: Through friends in the Gothic 1-2 mod scene I found Alexander and his team, who actually was offering more than the others for a newbie game designer such as I was: his own engine and freedom to work on an original concept of a completely new game and new IP. They were looking for someone with game design skills and who could speak English and German. I played their prototype (some kind of steampunk-fantasy third person action game, which was for me resembling Fable: Lost Chapters for some reason) and started to discuss things with them. I called Alexander on Skype and we spent a sleepless night talking about our favorite games and dreaming about the games we would like to see in the next 5-10 years. At some point we came to the conclusion that we wanted to create a game we really like to play ourselves and also make it commercially successful. Three years after that Skype call you see the results on Kickstarter. It's up to our audience now to decide whether we were right or wrong, with putting that much work in our dream project.

Alexander Pischenko: Well, all of us are gamers, and we're all interested in game development. We wanted to create a game that we would enjoy playing ourselves, without being influenced by third parties in terms of technology or game design. We didn't want to be controlled by the publisher and marketing people who would direct the development towards their goals, add and cut features for fitting certain platform or audience etc. Despite all hardships of developing a game of such caliber as an independent studio, we wanted to create an interesting and original setting, and a mature solid storyline. We didn't find much support from typical publishing studios for our concept and prototypes, so we've decided that we're going to try and make it out on our own. That's when we founded our own studio, where we can do what we want, and find like-minded people to help us with our journey. We feel that with this kind of community support we can tackle any kind of challenge.

RPGWatch: You stated that you aren't happy with modern RPGs. So what do you miss or dislike in modern RPGs?

Alexey: Many things. We miss the breathtaking sensation of discovery, the feeling that there is a new living and breathing world that lies ahead, with hand-crafted landscapes and quests and with detailed simulations of its inhabitants' daily lives. These days developers take a set of rules and fill it with content. This content might be professionally and well crafted, but you can see this approach from a mile's distance. The world might be huge and detailed but uncomfortable, it feels like cardboard decorations for the role they want you to play. Not a world where you can live an alternative life.

Also we miss new, not clichéd settings, for example the low-magic fantasy like the first 2 Gothics and the crazy mix of cultures you can find in Morrowind. The Witcher 1 was a breath of fresh air with its Slavic mythology and bestiary as well. These days developers are not taking any risks to miss their hard won audience, they choose good old heroic fantasy with brick-faced heroes and huge shoulder pads or "realistic" variation influenced by George Martin and his followers' books. Personally I would like to see a game set in Jack Vance's "Dying Earth" world, grotesque and not pretending to be so serious. Or Mass Effect gameplay mechanics in a Firefly TV-series universe... Or the Dune universe. Lots of interesting settings and opportunities but nobody takes the risk to create a AAA title like that.

Alexander: The gameplay and level design, that gives you freedom of exploration, not hindered by quest markers and other "guided experience" gimmicks. You know, we really "lived" in some games like Bethesda's TES III or on the island Khorinis in Gothic. Why? Because their creators designed them, so you can find your way without taking a look at the map and constantly using a fast travel system. It was more interesting to follow the road and see where it leads, than checking if there are some question marks, showing the location of the quests or other activities on the map of this area. We like the more ambient storytelling through the details, observation of the events in older games. That is what we want to achieve in Exoplanet: we don't want to hold player's hand but to invite him into adventures that we design. In modern games the guided "cinematic experience" kills this feeling of freedom for us.

RPGWatch: Your C&C sounds good. You stated that "entire towns could be wiped from the map". Does it mean that you could lose quest givers in that wiped out area? And will someone react to the fact that a town is gone or does it happen often on K'Tharsis? :-)

Alexey: The changes of such big scale in Exoplanet's world are a logical consequence of many choices the player has made. All these decisions won't be that easy to make. It is not like: "Press the button to detonate a nuclear bomb and pulverize the town you never cared about" The town could be destroyed at the end of a long quest chain, where you will see the motives of both sides and probably start to feel a connection to one of them as well. And yes, that means you will lose some quest givers and unlock others from the group that wanted to burn this town to the ground. It's a tradeoff, you can't save everyone, you cannot get maximum profit. On the planet K'Tharsis you must pick your side in a conflict and then hope that it was worth risking your neck. Patient players however will be able to play double agents for a while, to try and maximize their profits.

RPGWatch: When I see those famous western quotes on your KS page like "Those with guns and those who dig" I'd like to ask if we will see some of them incorporated into dialogues (like easter eggs)?

Alexander: Definitely. There are a lot of easter eggs and homages to the Western genre as well as to the cult games and movies from other genres. It would be really interesting for us to watch the community hunting for them and trying to solve other riddles we have set for them in the game's texts, character names and even level design. Our game designer and authors are very creative in this aspect, and sometimes I find myself stricken by the realization that a certain character's name or profession, or his pet is a reference to something completely different than I thought it was.When you suddenly realize that the Sheriff's name has something to do with the Scooby-Doo! cartoons you cannot help but crack a smile.

RPGWatch: Im sure we will see some classical western events in the game like duel on a street. Would you like to play with these moments in order to make them more unexpected or funny because Exoplanet is sci-fi. For example imagine 2 men preparing for a duel when suddenly a droid comes near and asks one of them to show his ID card for checking or something. That would be a hell of distraction in such situation. :-)

Alexey: Yeah, we have something like that in our design documents. Expect some comic relief and dark humor as well. In moderation. We think that some developers take their characters and story too serious. Too much pathos can kill all the fun in certain situations. Someone growling for a 100th time with a harsh manly voice "I'm Batman" becomes a meme and will be laughed upon. Someone, who comments his misadventures in more ironical manner will be seen as a more mature and serious character.

RPGWatch: Exoplanet reminds me of ukrainian sci-fi Precursors. Were you inspired by this game? Will you allow players to drive some vehicle like in Precursors or at least control some robot or vehicle remotely?

Alexey: Unfortunately I never played it. I heard about it from Alexander, and he was "impressed" by a nonlinear quest that was revolving around a mother-in-law of some character and alien-made living weapons that you need to feed.... with corpses of the enemies? I would like to see this idea implemented in Exoplanet as well.

Alexander: Precursors... was a mixed experience. Speaking about vehicles and drones, we think, that less is more when they have different gameplay function and are not considered a boring and unnecessary aspect of the gameplay. In the first chapter of Exoplanet we will have fast hoverbikes and massive armored elephant-like "arphants" to ride and customize, as well as the sneaky bitebugs for remote control and infiltration missions. Remember the "5th Element" movie scene with a spy-cockroach? On K'Tharsis "the cockroaches" - we call them bitebugs - are a bit bigger. They can bite your fingers off! Or carry a remote detonated explosive trough a hole in bandit den's wall.

RPGWatch: Could you describe briefly character development? Should we expect teachers who will teach skills and learning points ready to invest into skills, perks and stats (strength, charisma...)?

Alexander: We think that the main characteristics like Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence etc. are unnecessary atavisms of the pen-and-paper games in our 3rd person action RPG. In some games you often encounter situations like this: You cannot identify and use that unique item, because your character does not have a high enough INT. Your champion does not have enough STR to wear this great new armor you just found or cannot swing that sword you just looted from the defeated demon knight's corpse. Or he does it completely ineffectively, because you did not invest enough points in the required stats. This system will work better with certain genres like an isometric RPG or maybe some MMOs, but not in our game.

Alexey: Our hero, Jack Sharp is not a weakling or an imbecile or a provincial guy who spent his life under a stone and then became the chosen one. Jack is an old bird, he can use any weapon and armor he will find, but some special pieces of equipment or gadgets will require to obtain the "know how" for their effective usage. Our skills system  will not punish and restrict, but encourage certain usage of the weapons and other items, compliment certain playstyles you like and choose to improve.

Solving the quests, Jack gets experience points. (We really want to avoid making grinding a main source of XP. If you really like that kind of gameplay, better farm some rifts in Diablo 3 or spend a day or two in your favorite asian MMO) . After our protagonist gets certain amount of XP points, he gets a level, which increases his basic life, stamina and energy, and one PERK slot. Perks are game-changing talents, that could be seen as "implants" or items of a special category. The Perks can be obtained in many ways: you can get them from quests, trainers, find them in secret areas etc. Even steal some of them form NPCs if you focus on it. What a perk actually does? It improves your abilities in a certain way that gives you new options for killing enemies and solving quests. For example, you have found a trainer who has the "Trick Shot" perk to share with you. Trick shot gives your aimed shots 100% chance to trigger buttons, levers, break chains, hanging locks and ropes and detonate grenades on enemies belt or in their hands. Now you can activate some devices and destroy structures remotely, dealing more damage to your enemies or creating distractions.

Combine it with the "Tactical Scanner" perk, that allows you at rank 2 to highlight interactive items through thin walls and use armor piercing ammunition - now you can activate something trough the wall. For example open a cage with alien dogs or detonate a plasma grenade on someone's belt. Perks can synergize with each other and your equipment. Some perks will have ranks that unlock new cool stuff and some of them, the most powerful, require more than 1 Perk slot to install. If you want to test different combinations, you can redistribute them for a significant sum of antigravium crystals (local money on K'Tharsis). I think, that is enough information about the perks for now. We will describe this system and the character progression in detail in one of the upcoming Kickstarter campaign updates.

Alexander: Just one more example, my favorite perk: "Machine gun madness" ( actually it is a working title). When you have a machine gun in your hands and shoot in long bursts, you get bonus damage, additional armor and run speed. You also produce a fierce battle cry to chill the blood in your enemies' veins. Inspired by Borderlands 2 Gunzerker class and an old movie, which you probably can immediately recognize.

RPGWatch: Are there more non-combat skills like healing, mechanics, science knowledge, mining (it's a mining planet, right? :) ?

Alexey: Yes, yes and yes. And they are important for solving quests. Some will give you more respect among certain social groups as well. Merchants have respect for barter specialist, bandits like shooters, antigravium prospectors will shake hands with those who knows how to hold a pickaxe, aborigines like skilled hunters and crafters etc. And respect is valued high on K'Tharsis. Probably higher than money.

RPGWatch: Could you describe combat? I see potential problems here because shooter-positive players want to shoot like in FPS, while some hardcore RPG fans want stat-heavy RPG-style combat. Secondly, if a player is too fast, it can easily degrade into "run around, shoot if reloaded, run around again" tactics. So how do you want to resolve it?

Alexander: Well, we understand that we cannot please all players at once. Exoplanet is more focused on RPG-style combat. Still, the skill of the player will be a big deal in most of the combat encounters. Technically you can win them all with a very basic weapon and ammunition, not using any perks, but this will be difficult as hell. We are creating situations, where the player will be attacked by groups of enemies with different behavior and danger levels. In Exoplanet you must prioritize the most dangerous enemy and use your character's perks to even the odds... or be a damn good FPS player.

Alexey:  We are experimenting to create fast paced encounters, which you need to solve like a tactical puzzle. For example, if you start a fight stealthily, you must pick the first target cautiously, or you will find that even the weakest enemies can be a big problem in a wrong place at a wrong time. Many developers think that a "hard" fight means you need to spray tons of bullets at fat enemies, who can probably one-hit you. At some level they become real bullet-sponges and your character is squishy like a fly: one mistake - and you load a previous save again. We would like to avoid this situation and that is why we do a lot of testing for enemy AI and balance. This will take time but we are patient enough. We don't have a publisher with a whip behind our backs and a release date written in stone before our eyes.

RPGWatch: Do you plan also some melee weapons and/or boss battles (with special rules), for example vs some tough battle robot?

Alexander: Yes, we have melee weapons. My favorite thing is the cactus-club. It is literally a branch from a poisonous cactus, you can break it off and use as a blunt weapon with additional poison damage to unarmored targets. The local aborigines use it to punish traitors. I think it is too early to announce other stuff, like bosses and giant alien robots.

RPGWatch: Do we meet some intelligent alien race or intelligent androids/robots? (If it's secret you can just hint.. :-)

Alexey: Yes. I cannot confirm romance options though.

RPGWatch: Are there some active objects in the game world? I mean for example big mining machinery that can be activated if you know how to do it (if you have the proper skill or proper item) etc.

Alexander: Let this information stay secret for a while.

Alexey: You will activate things. They will affect the game's world. The rest you must discover on your own. A piece of advice - some things should better stay untouched. You know this story with the UAC research center on Mars...

Box Art

Information about

Exoplanet: First Contact

Developer: Alersteam

SP/MP: Single-player
Setting: Technofantasy
Genre: Action-RPG
Combat: Real-time
Play-time: 10-20 hours
Voice-acting: Partially voiced

Regions & platforms
· Homepage
· Platform: PC
· To be announced
· Publisher: GrabTheGames

More information