Hamburg-based developer Master Creating recently released the first information on Restricted Area, its upcoming futuristic action RPG. We caught up with the managing director of Master Creating, Jan Beuck, to find out more about the game's futuristic setting, action-oriented gameplay, and branching story.
GameSpot: To start things off, give us a quick overview of Restricted Area.
Jan Beuck: Restricted Area is an action RPG with an accent on both action and RPG. On one hand, we want to bring you more action--this means the game plays faster, the controls are more direct, and you can even find some shooter elements. For example, you can switch between your weapons without entering the inventory. On the other hand, we try to be more RPG-like, and we developed a discussion system with real choices, a storyline with surprising twists, and a complex but easy-to-use attribute and skill system.
At the beginning of the game, four totally different characters meet each other in a downtown area. They have only one thing in common--the need to start a new life. You choose the one you want to play as, and this choice determines the point of view you experience the story from. As the game's story develops, your character will be able to team up with a variety of other characters and fight against the Osaki company.
Let's take a simple example: One of the characters is caught while trying to steal something. If you play as this character, you will sit in a cell for a while until one of the other characters rescues you. Then you two will have to fight your way out, side by side. If you are the character who rescues the character who was caught, you have to go in and find him first. You will also have to make sure he doesn't die during the escape. If you are neither of these two characters, you will do something totally different at this moment. Also, it's logical that a cyberspace mission can only be solved by Jessica, the computer expert, while a mission that requires brute force is predestined for fighters like Johnson or Kenji. So if you want to see everything, it'll be worth playing as each character.
GS: We understand that Restricted Area is set in the year 2083. What can you tell us about the world at that time?
JB: As a result of environmental pollution, most of the earth is covered by the so-called wastelands, contaminated deserts with ruins and shelters where only mutants live. The only exceptions are the oceans and the cities, which grew larger and larger until they merged together to form giant megacities. Smog covers the atmosphere over these megacities, so the light is always dim, but colorful commercial projections and lanterns make up for the lack of light. This stands in contrast to the merciless, continuously shining sun over the wastelands.
Where once-powerful nations dominated the globe, threatening each other with sudden nuclear annihilation, one global government now rules the world. This global government is weak, and megacorporations have become a law unto themselves. People who accepted their sovereignty were protected, but the outcast, dissidents, and rebels were exploited and abused, continuing a condition that has existed between the weak and the powerful since the time began.
On the other hand, if the megacorps want a job done but they don't want to dirty their hands, they need outcasts. Through an outlaw's existence is not listed in any government or corporate database, the demand for outlaw services is high. Some are computer experts, sliding like a whisper through the visualized databases of the giant corps, stealing the only thing of real value: information. Others are ex-soldiers, armed with weapons and synthetic reflexes.
To protect their secrets from these criminal freelancers who steal them for other companies, the megacorps build large subterrestrial fortresses far out in the wastelands. As only company law counts there, that's what's known as "restricted area."
Technology is now far more advanced---cyber implants and genetically enhanced organs replace most external equipment and can be bought to increase your abilities, going far beyond the possibilities of a normal human.
GS: Will the player's progress through the game be linear, or will there be opportunities to explore and attempt subquests?
JB: Beside the nonlinear main storyline--which not only has different endings for the characters, but also has multiple endings according the way you play--there are an unlimited number of computer-generated subquests, so the game will never get boring unless you don't like the game itself. Once you finish the main missions, you are still able to play subquests.
GS: Can you tell us anything about the four different playable characters in the game? How do they differ? Will the game be very different depending on which character the player chooses?
JB: Johnson is a former member of the global government special forces, which were founded to make sure that the worldwide government maintains control over the companies' private armies. After the political influence of the companies became bigger, the special forces were dissolved. As a former enemy of the companies, Johnson's chances of getting a job somewhere are bad, and he doesn't like to work for his former enemies anyway. He decided to become a professional criminal, living from jobs like stealing prototypes of new cyberware, assassinating important people, and so on.
Victoria is the first known human gifted with psionic abilities, a form of mental magic, but these abilities were also a curse. The Osaki Company was so interested in researching the psi phenomenon that she was kidnapped as a child and doesn't know her parents or her surname. She was jailed in an Osaki laboratory until she was 20, when she managed to escape. Although this was four years ago, she is still persecuted by Osaki. As her last hideout was discovered, she has to start a new life.
Kenji is the son of a powerful Yakuza boss who tried to kill his father but failed. Now he has to escape, as the Yakuza is trying to kill him. He doesn't remember the exact incidents and believes that someone has betrayed him, as he has no reason to kill his father.
First accused of data crime at the age of 13, Jessica was jailed for life when she was 17. In prison, she learned one thing: The executive is your enemy. At the age of 22, she escaped with help of a self-build robot drone. Now she has to hide from the police. As she is the weakest character physically, the flying robot drone guards her wherever she goes--except for cyberspace.
Finally, as all the characters have different attribute values and their own skill pyramids, with skills fitting to their background and character, they are as different as four people can be.
GS: Do you anticipate players enjoying the game more than once with different characters, or just choosing their favorite and sticking with it?
JB: I would suggest everybody play the game with all characters. Otherwise, you may never find out all about the story or who is really your favorite.
GS: Can you give us some examples of the different weapons that players will have access to in the game? Will these vary according to the character chosen?
JB: There is a wide range of weapon types, and each type features a nearly unlimited number of different computer-generated models. Some types can be accessed by all characters, such as pistols, submachine guns, and shotguns. Others are limited to a special character, so Kenji is the only one who can handle close-combat weapons like cyberclaws and katanas, while Johnson may equip the heavy gear, which ranges from plasma rifles, railguns, and different sorts of grenades such as standard fragmentation, flashbang, and EMP. We spent a lot of time on providing each type of weapon a unique gameplay. For example, the shotguns have real choke that is different from model to model.
GS: We've seen some pretty nasty-looking enemies in the screenshots you've released. Can you tell us a little about the enemies in the game, and the different ways that they'll behave?
JB: There are more than 50 different enemies, and they can all be classified as robots, cyborgs, humans, mutants, or computer programs.
Generally, the behavior of an enemy relies on three key points: its current strength, its "intelligence," and your current "visible strength" (as perceived by the enemy). Some enemies don't behave very intelligently, while others are very clever and even act in groups. The complex artificial intelligence allows the more intelligent ones not only to act, but also to react. For example, for the first time in a computer game, some types of enemies will run away if the player draws a larger gun than he had in his hands than before. Since the act of arming yourself with a bigger gun increases your visible strength, and the enemy now judges itself to be at a disadvantage, it may choose to flee. This will provide a very fun and realistic experience, as it can happen that a small group of enemies attacks a player who is holding a pistol and then run away when he suddenly draws a rocket launcher.
GS: And what about the genetically enhanced organs and cybernetic implants in the game? We understand they'll enable players to improve their skills and learn new abilities.
JB: Yes--genetically enhanced organs and cybernetic implants are the "magic shields" and "golden armors" of the future. For example, stronger muscles can increase your strength, while skill software can replace your real knowledge of a certain skill with synthetic knowledge. Stay natural or replace your body piece by piece, either biologic or cybernetic--it's your choice!
In the world of Restricted Area, cyberware (technical implants) and bioware (genetically enhanced organs) can replace most of the external equipment and are able do nearly everything. Why wear an armor jacket if you can make you skin hard as stone? Why wear night-vision goggles if you can have eyes with infrared vision? Why stay with your normal arm, if you can have a stronger one built from your own enhanced genetic code? Victoria has it a little harder, as she loses her aura and therefore more and more of her psionic abilities with each part of her body that is replaced. Each character also has a resistance against internal equipment, and if you overload yourself, it will have bad results.
GS: Will Restricted Area feature multiplayer support?
JB: Yes, there will be multiplayer support. We are even trying to provide some interesting new multiplayer modes, but as none of them have been tested yet, I'd prefer to talk about them later.
GS: We understand that you've spent two years developing your own engine for Restricted Area. What does it allow you to achieve in the game that a licensed engine wouldn't have?
JB: Unlike most of today's engines, the IRIS engine is not written in C++, but in assembly language. Therefore, it works much closer with the hardware and is much faster than other isometric engines. Restricted Area can easily achieve frame rates higher than 500fps in 1024x768 with 32-bit color depth. This way Restricted Area has the smoothest scrolling currently available.
The game uses a mixture of prerendered graphics and real-time 3D graphics. As the characters and environment are highly detailed (about 100,000 polygons per character) but prerendered, we can put all the power of today's 3D accelerators into lots of stunning graphical effects--fog, rain, smoke, dust, dynamic colored light, multiple dynamic shadows, self-shadowing, marks in walls, fire, water, explosions, and reflections.
GS: Finally, what advice would you give to somebody about to play Restricted Area for the first time?
JB: Try to learn the new "advanced control mode" instead of using the "classic control mode." It offers a much better, more direct control than the pathfinding-based classic mode found in other RPGs and strategy games. The advanced control mode is one of the reasons why the game offers more action than a pure RPG--you move like in first-person shooters, switch weapons without entering a menu, and even sidestep to avoid projectiles.
Finally, I would like to say that there are new fantasy RPGs every month, but RPGs set in a dark future are rare. Although the gameplay isn't totally different from that of fantasy action RPGs--which is good, as we like those games--it has a few interesting twists, like modern weapons and technology. To infiltrate a shelter with a submachine gun (with an underbarreled grenade launcher) or with a shotgun and night-vision goggles definitively feels different from walking through a graveyard with a sword. We had to face the hard challenge but also the great possibility of creating a world the way it might be in 80 years.
GS: Thanks for your time, Jan.