It's crazy to think that Metro 2033 is over ten years old at this point. The first-person shooter title, influenced by the novel from Russian author, Dmitry Glukhovsky and developed by 4A Games, has sprouted two sequels, the most recent being Metro Exodus. While the world of Metro is a little cruel and unforgiving, we love the concept of the series so much that we reached out to 4A Games to get an insight into the developmental process. Jon Bloch, Executive Producer at 4A Games got back to us with some great results.
Gamereactor: With Metro celebrating 10 years, can you tell us about some of the highs that the team has experienced during that time?
Bloch: One of the biggest highs was probably seeing the trailer for Exodus launched on the Microsoft stage at E3. So much work has gone into the series, and at that point, we never had a big marketing push or big exposure moment. To see that our work was in front of millions of eyes and that people were recognizing it before the name reveal at the end. To see our fans getting excited about the game, that meant a lot.
Gamereactor: And what about some of the biggest challenges?
Bloch: One large challenge was finding the formula for Exodus to introduce the more open sandbox areas to the franchise. Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light were very linear experiences, and we didn't want to lose that by making a generic fully open game. It took us 2.5 years to find it, and that's really when Exodus production could start in earnest. Scaling up production multiple times greater than anything we'd tackled before on the previous two games also brought big changes to the studio. More people, new pipelines, it caused a change that has rolled into further adaptations for the Exodus DLC, and even now as we start our next projects.
Gamereactor: What makes the Metro series so special and unique, in your opinion?
Bloch: So many games, especially in our signature genre of the post-apocalypse, are told from western perspectives, and while there are plenty of games coming from Eastern Europe (more and more every year), the west still dominates this market for much of the world's consumption. Metro provides a different take on the apocalypse and how society looks after that. Metro is also a series that looks more at the human cost, morality, and life experience of an apocalypse instead of just the world condition. In theory, the story could be told in any place as it exists generally outside of the need for a particular location to define it, as at its core, the story is more about humans and how we treat each other at our worst, most desperate moments. The fact that it takes place in Eastern Europe adds a further perspective on this that would probably end up very different if told in the west.
Gamereactor: The third game was much more open than previous installments. Looking back, are you glad that you made that choice, or do you long for a return to the confines of the metro?
Bloch: This was a decision not taken lightly, but it comes from a desire that pre-dates Metro 2033. Originally that game was designed (pitched) to be an open world. Much of the core team came from developing S.t.a.l.k.e.r. and wanted to do another open-world experience. Eventually, Metro 2033 had to be scaled back into the linear highly atmospheric story-driven experience that we all know, but that desire never went away. The challenge was, now that we have the technology and budget to start opening things up, how do we do it without destroying this thing we established? We are happy with the result, but we do still recognise the importance of retaining those key, core aspects of the first game that made the franchise so great.
Gamereactor: Immersion and atmosphere have always been at the core of the Metro experience. I'd love to know more about how you look to bring those aspects to the fore and how you approach those challenges from a design point of view.
Bloch: Everything has to have a reason for existing and an explanation to exist where and how it does. We ask questions like: What would you need in real life in this situation? Where would that come from? How would it work? Instead of gamifying it, or hiding it behind some automatic contextual animation, could we actually make players do that? What tool would they use? Where would the screws be on that device and why?
There, of course, needs to be a balance between being too real, as real life is hard work, compared to the ultimately fun experience we're trying to make in a game. But this can be seen all throughout our design philosophy ranging from intricate and mechanically sound weapon design, physicalized HUD information, features like the gas mask, and even the little micro-stories that players can experience when exploring dark corners that in other games would have been dressed with cookie-cutter environment design. In particular, features like the gas mask, the watch, the charger, all contribute critically to the thick atmosphere and immersion that are unique staples of the Metro franchise.
Gamereactor: The story in Metro has always been very rich and you've always worked closely with Dmitry Glukhovsky. Has that relationship taken development in any new directions?
Bloch: Dmitry has been involved in every game from start to finish. What he focuses on changes over time as we move through development, but he's always involved to some extent. We have a highly collaborative relationship with him that starts with developing the main story of the game, refining it into chapters and missions, all the way to dialog. For Metro 2033, the main story and a lot of dialogue was done already as we followed the book pretty closely. For Metro: Last Light and Metro Exodus we developed original stories together with Dmitry that fit into his world and paralleled some stories in his other two books Metro 2034 and Metro 2035.
Gamereactor: With 10 years in the bag already, can we expect another decade of Metro games, do you think?
Bloch: We'll just have to wait and see, but we've got no plans to actively move away from the franchise.
Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions 4A Games and Jon Bloch. If this has put you in a Metro mood, be sure to check out our review of Metro Exodus right here, which is still available to play today on PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Google Stadia.