Studio Mojo Bones is currently working on a game called Impact Winter, due to release later this month, and in anticipation of that release, we talked to Mitch Murder, who did the music for the game, and designer Stuart Ryall, in order to discover more about the development process that has defined the game. First up was Mitch Murder, who has worked on games like Hotline Miami 2 in the past, but this partnership with Mojo Bones is something quite new...
Gamereactor: How did the collaboration with Mojo Bones come to be?
MM: Well, I've known Mark (of Mojo Bones) for years now, and while working on various projects separately, we always talked about how it would be cool to collaborate on something, and Impact Winter presented the perfect opportunity to do just that.
GR: What was your initial approach when putting down ideas for Impact Winter?
MM: Initially I was very much inspired by John Carpenter's "The Thing", and with that in mind I made some basic concepts for the first trailer. However, while still very much a synth score, eventually it sort of morphed into something slightly more melodic and piano heavy, and influences grew to include works like Blade Runner, The Fifth Element and also Dreamweb (one of my favourite '90s PC games).
GR: How does working on a video game soundtrack differ from your normal creative process?
MM: Working on soundtracks in general is different because there's usually some sort of guidelines and a set theme right from the start that you have to adhere to. It's something I really enjoy doing, though, interpreting other people's ideas and concepts and turning them into music, with the hopes that they recognise their original vision in the music upon hearing it.
GR: How much variety can we hear on the soundtrack - is the music perilous, or slow, or a mixture of both? And how do you manage the transitions between different in-game events?
MM: There's certainly a sense of dread or unease to some pieces, but pretty much all of it is slower and atmospheric rather than fast paced. I didn't want it to sound "too ambient" however, so while some of it is indeed just droning ambience, there's still a sense of composition and structure to each track. As for transitions, when you're out in "The Void" for example, the music changes as day turns to night, so I made two different tracks in the same key and style to make the transition as smooth as possible.
GR: How important do you think the music and audio is in enhancing the experience?
MM: To me, it's very important, but I'm sure it differs from person to person, what type of game it is and whether or not the music compliments what's happening on screen. Hopefully, I've done a decent job with the latter.
GR: How has the collaboration been with the developers? Has there been a back and forth or did they mostly leave you to it? What influences and common ground do you share with them?
MM: They didn't really interfere much at all with the actual process aside from giving me feedback here and there, so it's been really nice having that kind of freedom. Early on we had a Skype conversation where we pretty much decided on a moody, sort of piano-heavy synth-score, so I think we've been more or less on the same page throughout the entire development process. Also, I'm sure it helps that we're all giant nerds for most things '80s pop-culture.
GR: Have you played the game much? If so, what do you think of it and its themes?
MM: I think the last time I played the game it was in early alpha, so I'm really excited to see how it's progressed since then once it's out. I love the way it looks. The contrast between its fairly dark and dystopian theme against its sort of cartoony aesthetics is really appealing to me for some reason.
GR: Having worked on things like Hotline Miami 2 and Kung Fury previously, how different is it to work on something like Impact Winter?
MM: Well, the obvious difference would be that Kung Fury and Hotline Miami are both more upbeat and action-oriented both in terms of gameplay as well as the music. Aside from that though, Impact Winter is by far the longest OST I've worked on so far, clocking in at well over one hour. It's also one of the more thematically consistent soundtracks I've made. Some might even say too much so, but I aimed for a very similar feel throughout most of it, for better or worse.
GR: What is the main thing you want people to take away from listening to your work in Impact Winter?
MM: I just hope it compliments the experience rather than take away from it. Can't really hope for more than that. I mean, it would be cool if people enjoy it enough to listen to it outside of the game as well, but I'm keeping my expectations low for now. Mostly because it's fairly different from a lot of my previous work, so people who know me from Kung Fury or my earlier Mitch Murder stuff might be surprised at the slow pace and what not.
Head over to the next page, where we interview designer Stuart Ryall.
Next we talked to Stuart Ryall from Mojo Bones about the game itself, and how the development process has been, in particular with regards to the ups and downs that have come during the journey:
GR: How would you describe the journey with the game from concept, via failed Kickstarter, teaming up with Bandai Namco, and ultimately launching the game?
SR: Kickstarter was a great opportunity to present Impact Winter - and although unsuccessful - we attracted a small but loyal fan base that have stuck with us to this day. That initial fan base pushed us to explore Steam Greenlight and put the concept in front of an audience without the constraints of asking for funding. We got Greenlit in 3 days and the reaction was incredible. It was from this that publishers began to approach us.
We had a lot of publisher opportunities with Impact Winter but we also had a very specific idea of what we wanted from a partner, which involved more of a collaborative approach. We're pleased to say that Bandai Namco [has] really helped shape the game through feedback and discussion. For a small team like us, it's been invaluable.
GR: Give us the setup: what's going on in Impact Winter?
SR: The setup/premise is quite simple: the game takes place one year after an asteroid collision which has caused a perpetual winter that has buried the world. You play as Jacob Solomon, and at the beginning of your game it becomes apparent that someone is aware that you and your team are alive. The game then becomes part survival/adventure, part speed-run, where you're tasked with trying to last until the Rescue Timer reaches zero.
GR: How does Impact Winter distinguish itself from other survival games right now? And, at the same time, what survival game staples have you embraced?
SR: To categorise the game as purely 'survival' at this point is a bit misleading as we take inspiration from lots of different concepts/genres. For example, our love of JRPGs is there in the form of earning RP (Rescue Points) that cause you to level-up. This becomes a driving mechanic where the more you do in the game, the faster the Rescue Timer reduces.
Most survival games task you with lasting as long as possible, in Impact Winter we turn that concept on its head and have you trying to get rescued as quickly as possible. That's not to say the game forces you to play fast - it's still a relatively slow-paced experience - but there's a definite shift from the 'last one more day' approach that people expect from survival games.
GR: Why did you decide to go with snow over other adverse weather conditions? Was it an aesthetic-driven decision, or was it a gameplay one?
SR: Both. Impact Winter has been in dev for a number of years, and although we love post-apocalyptic fiction, we were also aware of that genre/theme having a certain look and feel. Canyons, dust, sand - Fallout, Mad Max etc. So this was our opportunity to create a post-apocalyptic game/setting that felt different to what people have seen before.
The buried world also has some interesting gameplay effects too. We play with scale - the idea that you're a small character set against this large, buried environment, but we also use the buried locations themselves as self-contained scenes (think dungeons) where the player can enter and explore. So there's a mixture of open-world (freedom) mixed with the linear, more crafted interiors.
GR: What have been the technical challenges of realising the game?
SR: Mainly the team size. The game has been developed by five people and the scope is way beyond that. So that's been the biggest issue to deal with. Technically, the game is developed using the Unity Engine which has proven to be very effective. There's a mixture of our own tools/scripts working alongside popular assets to achieve the look and feel we're after.
GR: What are you doing to ensure replayability? How different will subsequent play-throughs be?
SR: Because of our focus on rescue time, the replay factor comes from pushing for a higher rescue rank. We judge players on certain criteria that will dictate how effective their survival strategy was. Players might complete the game but feel they need to try and complete the game again, this time without losing a team member or pushing for more RP.
The map is fixed but there are certain procedural elements. Weather is dynamic - and will affect stats and events - and your team also has an element of unpredictability too. Items in the world are all assigned on a new playthrough, so each time you play there will be new strategies required.
GR: Can you tell us more about the mechanics the player will deploy to survive?
SR: Although you play as Jacob, the game is actually team-based. You have a team of NPC characters that are housed in your makeshift base - an old abandoned church.
We have classic survival elements (building/upgrading campsites, crafting, stat-balancing etc.) but we also put a lot of focus on your team, which means that keeping them alive becomes a potential strategy. Each team member also has a standalone story path to explore and follow, which will unlock new abilities and rewards that can ultimately help towards your rescue.
GR: In what directions can we expect the story to take us? And how have your influences shaped the story that you're giving to players to explore?
SR: Other that being influenced by the games we love, the story is a work of fiction and isn't inspired by anything in particular. We have a love of '80s movies and pop-culture so hopefully there's a 'feel' to the game that shows that. From John Carpenter's 'The Thing' to early Steven Spielberg movies: I think a lot of our inspirations make their way into our work in some form.
GR: What do the NPCs bring to the game and how variable are they in terms of their behaviours and the way you interact with them?
SR: Each NPC has their own skill-set. Maggie is a mechanic who can upgrade the church. Wendy's skills are centred on well-being, with the ability to craft recipes and health items. Blane can offer survival tools to make surviving/exploring the world a little easier and Christophe is in charge of upgrading Ako-Light, your robotic drone companion.
There are also the natural effects of having a team. For example, team members can get unhappy and argue with each other (leaving you to step in) or perhaps a team member will get so depressed they decide to leave the church altogether, forcing you to decide whether you should go after them.
GR: What's left to do in the PC version of the game, and how is it shaping up on console? Has that platform shift proved to be a natural transition?
SR: We're in Beta for the PC version and are busy squashing the bug list in preparation for launch. Things are going well and we're constantly amazed at how the game has grown in scope since those early days. Re: console, Unity obviously helps make that transition a lot easier. We haven't announced a release date for console yet, but it will be following the PC build in 2017.
Impact Winter is launching on PC on May 23.
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