Intro by Daniel Lisi, managing director at Game Over
I pitched the studio to Seiji Tanaka standing on a parking structure rooftop in downtown Los Angeles in the summer of 2014. It was hot out, I was sweaty, and Seiji was crazy enough to accept my plan. We agreed on our approach, gathered some seed funding, and then kicked off operations full time with a team of two other programmer-designers, an artist, and a 3D modeler on December 15, 2014.
Eleven months later and we’re in the homestretch of development for our studio’s pilot project, Failsafe, a first-person parkour game about exploration, a forgotten civilization, secrets, and the relationship between its two main characters: Isra and The Robot.
Game Over has been a lesson in expectations, the conflagration of best-laid plans, and most of all one of deep self-reflection. I think we’ve all learned a good deal about ourselves building this start-up video game studio. And we’ve built a hell of a thing. I couldn’t be surrounded by better people.
How did you come up with the characters Isra and The Robot and are they based on real people? What's the story behind that?
Answer by Daniel Lisi, Managing Director at Game Over
Failsafe was a very different game when we first started development back in December 2014. I initially wanted to make a game about super mercenary spies pulling off grand heists in a Deus Ex-ish future setting. My initial concept of Isra was a Thai military brat who grew up under a UDUA (the Thai equivalent of the Navy Seals) soldier. She would eventually become one of the world’s greatest infiltrators, heading a global group of mercenary infiltrators that would steal anything for anyone with enough money.
My friend who had just moved to, and still lives, in Chiang Mai, Thailand inspired the Thai origin. I know a handful of ex-pats there, and I became interested in Thai culture through them.
For three months after we kicked off operations in December, we provided ourselves with some prototyping time, and it was a mess. We had a big bag of interesting mechanics with no real focus on what was going to be the fun “meat” of the game. Eventually, the first-person movement system we were iterating on glaringly outshone everything else. It made us stop and think, “What are we actually trying to do with the gameplay here?” This prompted an entire project reevaluation, from mechanics to aesthetics.
Seiji proposed the new direction for Failsafe then, a Miyazaki-inspired exploration game that keeps the spirit of Isra and puts her in a fantastical world that we can invent from the ground up.
The Robot’s initial conception also came out of the idea of the super-spy game. Spy Isra was going to have a universal gadget-companion that would assist her in planning and executing heists. When the project reevaluation kicked in and the universe of Failsafe was born, The Robot evolved into its own standalone character.
It was a pretty wild process, and what turned it into a positive outcome was making the hard call to scrap everything we thought we knew about the project and start from the ground up. It seemed like an incredibly outrageous thing to do in the moment, but it was the right call.
Is there a particular gameplay feature that you think sets this apart? If so, why and what's the story behind that?
Answer by Evan Hemsley, Programmer and Designer at Game Over
Wall running. Our focus with the gameplay has been mainly on delivering fluidity of movement.
Our main character is small and agile, and we want the process of navigating her world to feel as smooth and seamless as possible. We decided early on that we wanted her to be able to run on walls.
It sounds simple enough, but there's a lot of factors to take into account to make something so unrealistic feel natural and intuitive. We experimented with a lot of different wall running mechanics and control schemes. For example, at the start we had a binary distinction between vertical wall running and horizontal wall running.
The problem with that approach was that it was hard for the player to discern how to approach the wall to create the right kind of movement. Often players would intend to run horizontally, and instead accidentally initiate a vertical wall run, or vice versa. In the end our solution was to remove that binary distinction, to take into account the many possibilities of speed and approach angle and turn those factors into smooth arced motion on the wall.
Camera positioning was an issue too. At first, the camera would not move at all when the player initiated a wall run, and they would stay facing the wall. Players found this extremely disorienting and it even made a few people motion sick. Later on, we forced the camera to swivel out to face away from the wall, but found that some players actually preferred the camera to face the wall slightly. So again we had to take a more middle-ground approach.
As for controls, the player originally had to hold the jump button to maintain a wall run, but we decided that it made more sense to maintain consistency in terms of how the player controls movement, so now the player holds forward input to maintain motion along the wall. Overall, our wall running system now gives the player a high degree of control without being overly complicated. It took a lot of iteration but the result is a mechanic that feels very intuitive and fun.
What were your inspirations for the games story and art design? Did this change over time or relatively stay the same?
Answer by Seiji Tanaka, Creative Director at Game Over
As huge fans of the Ghibli classics, all of our story development and art design are heavily inspired by works such as Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Laputa: Castle in the Sky, to name a couple.
For the characters, we wanted to keep the simplicity and charm found in artists like Akira Toriyama, who designed the iconic characters from Dragon Ball series, as well as classic video games like Chrono Trigger.
We went through a significant shift in the direction when our artist Noe Leyva joined us, but ever since then our core direction has remained the same, which is to create a unique, fantastic world that evokes feelings of not just playfulness and excitement, but also solitude and contemplation.
by Daniel Lisi, Managing Director at Game Over
We’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign for Failsafe. We’re on the third day of the campaign, and productivity is slowly adjusting back to normal after obsessively tunnel-visioning on the campaign page for the first two days. Evan’s refining how Isra runs vertically on walls. Seiji’s designing some new levels. We’re getting back into the groove.
The response we’ve received from backers and media about the project have been positive. People seem to be excited for first-person parkour, and our unique aesthetic seems to build on that excitement even further.
Launching a campaign like this is a big system shock. On a company level, it’s the first time a project from this studio has been unveiled on such a large scale. Personally, for most of us on the team, it’s the first time we’ve had our names attached to such a public project. For me, a unique hybrid of anxious excitement is what I’m left with.
I’m thrilled at the response from my friends and from the industry at large. It’s hard to feel doubtful when a stellar team that is as passionate as you are about the game surrounds you. Failsafe is something we all deeply love, and seeing that affection shared in the community is inspiring.
Failsafe’s projected to be completed summer of 2016. We’ve got some long months ahead of us, but the studio has molded into an extremely capable unit, a team that has my unyielding confidence in its ability to turn Failsafe into an extraordinary experience for people.