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Flipping the Script: The Making of Observation

We sat down with No Code's co-founder Jon McKellan to unravel the story behind a game that flips the script on how we experience AI in sci-fi.

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As soon as No Code's Observation was revealed the concept caught our eye. We've seen sci-fi stories with an AI-controlled spaceship many a time before in both games and film, but the idea of putting you in the shoes of the AI itself was not only innovative but helps provide a new spin on an existing formula. Observation is reinventing the wheel, in a sense, and we caught up with studio co-founder Jon McKellan recently to talk about the game and the studio that brought this intriguing concept to life.

Before we talk about how the concept came to life, it's worth talking about how the studio has grown. Formed of triple-A talent, No Code is based in Glasgow, but Observation wasn't entirely developed in-house. Through the various links that the members of the studio had established over the years, there were many hands to help with what they were doing.

"I mean, there's only 11 of us in the studio," McKellan explained. "When we started Observation there was only four of us [...] so some of us have known each other a really long time, you know, myself and Omar [Khan] - the other co-founder - have known each other since we were like four years old or something. Quite a few people in the studio are family, and stuff like that, so it was quite interesting working together in that way, but it was this gradual build-up of a team as our needs grew."

While Observation first sprouted as an idea back in 2016, there was something that would arrive before it saw the light of day, which was Stories Untold. This was released the year after, but despite the acclaim it received, it turns out that it was more of a side project alongside Observation rather than its own dedicated product.

"That was quite interesting because we started working on the prototype for Observation back in the start of 2016 I think it was, and kind of shopped that around to some publishers and got a lot of interest in it, but it took such a long time for things like contracts and stuff to get signed that we made Stories Untold in the meantime, as a kind of stopgap before Observation would kind of kick off, and Stories Untold actually became a bit of a road test for some of the ideas that we had about puzzles and about gameplay mechanics in storytelling," McKellan told us

"So it became a test bed for us, the type of puzzles that we like to make and the type of gameplay we wanted to do. We got to road test some of those ideas before we actually started production, so Stories ended up becoming a bit of like a pre-production game jam almost, and we didn't know really what anyone was going to think of it, but it felt kind of like a low risk, 'let's see what happens, see whether people like this kind of game, like this kind of storytelling, and see what we can learn from it'. And yeah, Stories has done far better than we thought it would, both critically, with streamers, people really took to it, and so we kind of felt like 'okay, maybe we're on the right path', and it was more about looking at the mistakes we made on that project and try and smooth those edges out and make a more accessible version of that in a sense. So Observation I think definitely has more of an accessibility thing than Stories did, which was very obtuse, and deliberately so. But yeah, trying to smooth out the experience and make people get on board a lot easier was one of the main things we kind of took from that."

Stories Untold helped No Code "road test" some of the ideas for Observation.