Polish indie developer Robot Gentleman hosted an event in the city of Poznań recently, during which they unveiled their newest game currently in development. The studio started out as a small indie developer in Poznań 12 years ago, and by now they've grown to be a successful one, with the developers recognisable by their characteristic outfits sporting tall hats and goggles. Because of their success, they're now in a position to sponsor other independent developers that often struggle to find enough funding.
Robot Gentleman gained previous recognition with their dark comedy game 60 Seconds!, which puts you in charge of a family trying to survive the early days of an atomic war in an underground shelter. The new game, called 60 Parsecs!, has a similar play style where your decisions determine the course of the story and your odds of survival, but this time you're commanding a crew of astronauts on a space mission gone awry.
60 Parsecs! is set during the Cold War and the Space Race, and features a cartoonish visual style with 1950s hairstyles, big computer screens, and retro space suits. In the early stages of the game you find yourself in a space station that's about to be obliterated in 60 seconds, and in this short amount of time have to you gather your crew members and as many supplies as possible to flee the destruction around you in an escape pod. Gatherable supplies include cans of soup and raw materials such as batteries that you can use to craft items inside the pod, and after the 60 seconds have passed you are blasted 60 parsecs away from Earth. Your job as captain is then to make sure you and as many crew members as possible survive. From that point onwards, your world is confined to the small room of the escape pod where the captain and three crew members sit in their chairs surrounded by the ship's supplies.
At the start of the game you can pick a captain out of the four astronauts aboard the ship. Your main way of issuing orders and making decisions in the game is by giving commands to the onboard computerised assistant, A.S.T.R.O., and every day it's your job as captain to monitor your crew's wellbeing by checking whether they are hungry, healthy, what they think about you as their captain, and how happy they feel in general. Surviving each day means feeding hungry crew members or providing medication to sick subordinates. You can choose to enforce strict rationing or, for example, you can just feed yourself, but this will affect the morale and health of your team.
Besides your job of keeping everyone fed and happy, the A.S.T.R.O. will ask you what you want to do for the next day. Your supplies aren't endless so you have several options available to try to get more of them. You can choose to travel in the direction of a low-risk or high-risk area in space, but this will cost you precious fuel, for instance. You can simply wait for a day and do nothing too, or you can assign crew members to go explore by organising an expedition. The fourth option is to craft items from supplies and materials you brought from the space station or that you managed to collect while travelling or exploring. Craftable items include a pistol, sock puppets for the crew members, crew armour, and a shovel. So what's the use of sock puppets or pistols? This ties into the randomised events that will influence the evolution of the story and which are outside of your control.
Robot Gentleman game designer Radek Smektala told us each story will be different because it will have "roguelike elements" that allow every play session to take different turns and reach different conclusions. An example of a random event we encountered during our hands-on came we chose to move to a new area in space and stumbled upon an empty container. A.S.T.R.O. then asked us whether we wanted to get the container aboard or just leave it be. We chose to take it in, but the container turned out to be empty. We also witnessed another player encountering a mysterious ancient can of soup floating around the ship that could be investigated for alien lifeforms. These are the kinds of randomised events that could alter each player's experience. When the game comes out you can expect to encounter, among other things, "space octopi, the infamous swinging aliens of Omicron-7, and of course those pesky Soviets".
Another element that adds to the possible outcomes in the story are the differences between the characters, as each has different abilities such as strength, agility, or intelligence that will influence how they react to different situations. For example, when we were presented with the option to construct a flux capacitator for our spaceship and we had our captain attempt to assemble it, A.S.T.R.O. let us know the next day that he made one false move and got fatally injured. Had we kept my captain in better shape by feeding him more soup or focusing his abilities on being agile, he could perhaps have survived and our story could have taken an entirely different turn.
This kind of interplay between the decisions made by the player, the specific characteristics of the crew members, and the randomised events you encounter while you play, gives 60 Parsecs! a lot of variety. You will "not passively wait for the story to unfold but can influence the story by crafting items" or by influencing the characters, however. Characters can talk to each other (and even fall in love) based on your decisions. Each time you send crew members out on expeditions it leads to different adventures, and according to Smektala this gives the game a lot of replayability, because you can "expand your knowledge about the world of the game and learn how to play the game better each time over many sessions".
The man from Robot Gentleman also told us one of the most fun aspects of the game is, in fact, the "relationships between the characters". The game is aimed at people that are "less interested in resource management, but more in the story and the tone of the game like in 60 Seconds!". It'll still be a very "casual game", but in order to attract players looking for a more challenging experience there's a new focus on "being able to become good at playing the game" and "not be at the mercy of random events". This is introduced with the more complex systems running the game, such as the possibility to craft items and the crew characteristics mentioned earlier.
Controls-wise the game is very easy to play as it's mostly pointing and clicking. The UI that was showcased also looked easy to understand but this will most likely receive an extensive overhaul or even be rebuilt from scratch. We loved the game's cartoonish visual style and the fact that it has a lot of humour too. When one of your crew members is feeling sick, for example, he or she will curl up in their chair and when you've really made some bad decisions you'll find a skeleton sitting in one of the chairs the next morning. The randomised events are also aimed at being funny instead of serious, as for instance when the pod's cooling system is damaged you can choose to either consult the ship's manual or act immediately and apply some duct tape. This makes the game casual and entertaining to play, but it still requires good decision-making if you want to survive. When the game is completed it will feature around eight to ten hours of playtime, but according to Agata Bednorz, 2D artist at the studio, it'll be very dependent on each player's play style and this could be much longer.
We think Robot Gentleman is going the right direction by expanding on the things that made 60 Seconds! successful, and we recommend anyone looking for a humorous story-driven game to keep an eye on 60 Parsecs! ahead of its planned release in 2018.