Former Far Cry, Batman Arkham devs talk Journey to the Savage Planet
"I'm not a big believer of narrative in video games."
You may have spotted Journey to the Savage Planet during the The Game Awards, when the offbeat sci-fi adventure game was first announced via a teaser trailer.
But this quick introduction to the game intentionally did not give much away - just it's alien planet setting and dry sense of humour (the only person shown in the trailer is another colonist who slipped on a banana skin and died a few feet from the front door of their lander).
"Most trailers end with some kind of hero shot," creative director Alex Hutchinson tells me. "Ours is the opposite. Our guy here literally fell out of the door and died. We're trying as well to establish this is a game with a sense of humour."
"We want the sense of optimism in those old adventure serials, kind of Jules Verne," he continued. "You've been sent by Kindred Aerospace, who are very, very proud of being the fourth best space exploration company. And they apologise for budget cuts which meant you don't have any gear with you. Or fuel to get home."
Journey to the Savage Planet is the debut project of Montreal-based startup Typhoon Studios, which sprang to life nearly two years ago. It was set up by Ubisoft Montreal alumnus Hutchinson (creative director of Assassin's Creed 3 and Far Cry 4) plus Yassine Riahi and Reid Schneider, formerly of Batman Arkham Origins studio Warner Bros. Montreal.
The three founded the now 25-strong team in order to develop their next project faster and more efficiently, away from the pressures of triple-A production. There's a flatter hierarchy, Hutchinson says, an ability to quickly experiment and see if something works or not, and there are "no excessive meetings".
"We all learnt at the big publishers there's a glacial pace to evolution," Hutchinson says. "They'll get there in the end and they're unstoppable but there's a lot of room for smaller and faster developers to get ahead of them. We'll never be able to build these ideas to the same scale but I'm pretty sure we can get there first."
Typhoon hopes Journey to the Savage Planet will occupy the same kind of space as Hellblade when it launches at some point in 2019. It's being pitched as the same, shorter experience - but one which still holds a high quality bar.
The game has a story, and you'll visit a series of crafted biomes - but there's no procedural generation here, despite the similar look and feel to No Man's Sky. You'll be able to see a lot of the world from the off, and eventually be able to explore bits you only glimpsed in the distance. And there will be a "wide path" to the end - Typhoon doesn't want to force loads of scripted story into the experience.
"There's a story to the world you're in but I'm not a big believer of narrative in video games," Hutchinson explains. "I think it's something movies and TV do better than us, and what we do best is interactivity. It does have a structured backbone the player moves through, but I see it more of a scenario than a story."
"On Far Cry 4, looking at the story missions and the player satisfaction for that open world - it cost us twice as much to build those story missions and people liked them half as much."
It's a big change for Hutchinson, who directed Assassin's Creed 3, a game with a six-hour prologue - something he said earlier this year he'd now change.
"I see that as a learning - as awesome as it was, it was too long to drag the player through," he concludes. "In all the games I did at Ubi and even with Red Dead now, when the mediocre movie ends and the amazing game begins [you're in] a much better spot."