One week left to vote for your favorite projects! That's right, people, you have more than one vote. So I highly recommend you keep checking in for these Spotlights. This time we have APORIA - intriguing First Person Puzzle Adventure Game by Investigate North, Copenhagen - challenging the status quo and having a story to tell.
Aporia is an upcoming first-person puzzle-adventure game being developed by the independent studio Investigate North. The game is set in a mystical, fog-swept valley, wherein lie the ruins of a once-mighty civilization, now haunted by a dark entity. What's the story behind this civilization, the reason for their fall - who the protagonist even is - will be for the player to find out as they explore the valley and unlock secrets that lurk within.
Investigate North were happy to provide us with in-depth answers to all of the questions I had, so let's dive right in:
Tell us about you and your team!
Everyone on the team is young and up-and-coming, but extremely dedicated and über-talented. We are very blessed because, even though we have very few resources, each team member passionately strives to deliver the best experience they possibly can to the player. Investigate North has, like many game developers, quite a flat hierarchy, which allows everyone to be involved on every level. In some ways it makes up for the fact that we aren't able to pay them huge salaries. We constantly nurture a culture of “try, fail, and learn” so we can push boundaries and dare to challenge the conventional way of designing games and telling stories. Many of us have known each other for years, others are newcomers, but we are all part of the Aporia family now and our friendship and creative mindset always helps us to critically evaluate each other's work and aim for greater results. Of course we make games because we think it is fun, but in the end, we want to create a really great experience for our audience, and that requires us to question our own assumptions a lot. For us, a game is a journey into the unknown, a voyage across an endless blue ocean with dark clouds ahead, pushing each of us to do our best in order to keep the project-boat afloat, and in the end, reach our goal.
"For us, a game is a journey into the unknown, a voyage across an endless blue ocean with dark clouds ahead, pushing each of us to do our best in order to keep the project-boat afloat, and in the end, reach our goal."
If selected for the Indie Development Fund, how large do you see your team growing? How will your new-found resources be allocated?
Well, we are a small team and in many ways we enjoy this. It allows us to know what everyone is doing and taking a lot of decisions together. But we would like to grow. If we were to get the support from the Cryengine Indie Development Fund it would mean that we get the resources we need to complete the game, but also allow us to hire some of the part-time employees full-time and recruit at least one additional programmer, an UI artist and a community manager that can help expand our fan base and be responsible for PR and social media. Like everyone else, we would love to be more in touch with our audience. But it takes a tremendous amount of work, which you can’t always focus on, when you are churning away on solving a problem in the game design. But connecting with the audience makes it all worthwhile. Just two weeks ago we had 14.000 upvotes and over 900 comments on a small GIF on 9gag and it was very positive. It was great to connect with the people who are going to buy your game, get some feedback and of course it was great to get a pat on the back. So this is something we would love to have more time and resources to do - besides actually making the game.
"Aporia is mostly about exploration and storytelling - there will be no combat elements in the game. However, there will be one enemy, but the only defence the player has is to run or hide."
Going off of the announcement trailer, Aporia appears to be puzzle-adventure game, and, judging by the scene inside the temple, it contains some platforming elements. Will the game also feature any combat or other gameplay elements not seen in the trailer?
We thought a lot about how we could renew the puzzle-adventure genre, while also staying true to the genre. Since the trailer is only a teaser, you can expect a lot of other gameplay mechanics in the game. Especially with the “vial”, which is the player’s main tool of interaction, and can do all sorts of things. For instance, it can make plants grow (which was a fun mechanic to design), project light and figures, and it can be used to activate mechanisms and different animated sequences.
We pondered a lot of whether to include elements that would create additional resistance to the player besides the different types of puzzle elements we have. But we also wanted to stay true to what our audience expects from a game like this. So, Aporia is mostly about exploration and storytelling - there will be no combat elements in the game. However, there will be one enemy, but the only defence the player has is to run or hide.
The temple from the trailer is a specifically designed ”trial” which is one of five major challenges the player has to overcome. This one focuses specifically on platforming elements. The other four trials, will have a theme; such as water, light, fire and earth. In this way, we have a framework for each trial, which gives them a unique design.
Aporia Announcement Teaser Trailer
At the very beginning of the trailer - assuming this takes place at the beginning of the game - the player wakes up from some kind of tank, which leads me to believe that they are somehow tied into the mystery surrounding the valley. If it doesn't introduce any major spoilers, would you be able to let us in on the protagonist's backstory?
Finding out who exactly you are is one of the bigger reveals in the main story. However, we can say that the main character is a female and is a part of “The Ancients”, a humanoid people that populated The Valley, before it became uninhabitable, due to the pollution they caused by overusing “The Substance”. The protagonist, or the player, plays a significant part in the entire background story, which you must uncover during the game.
How will the game progress? Will it be linear, open-world, or a mix of both? Will the player be led through a series of events, or will they be free to uncover different parts of the game in an order of their choosing?
The first 45 minutes of the game will be linear and then the world will open up into two major areas where the player can explore freely in open world-style. Since the landscape dictates the structure of the level, the process of designing the world has been great, using the brilliant Cryengine terrain tool. This also means, that players can uncover sections of the story in completely different orders. As we tell the main story without words or dialogue in separate small stories, the player can piece the sections together in any number of ways and thus get a unique interpretation of the narrative.
"Players can uncover sections of the story in completely different orders."
To me, one of the most important aspects of a videogame is a good difficulty curve. Will the challenges faced throughout the game become progressively more difficult and complicated, such as introducing new things along the way to provide new experiences as well as greater depth to those introduced early on?
The flow in the game, relies completely on the structure of the world around you. As we have the linear part in the beginning and two completely open world areas, we increase the difficulty throughout these three main areas, making the puzzles harder and harder. Also, the dark creature will be more present and will change behaviour depending on your actions throughout the game, either being more friendly or more aggressive. We are also planning to make another mode of the game, which is time-limited with a much more aggressive enemy. This will satisfy the audience that prefers horror over exploration.
"We are also planning to make another mode of the game, which is time-limited with a much more aggressive enemy. This will satisfy the audience that prefers horror over exploration."
]The visuals are deeply evocative and atmospheric. Are you using, or have you considered using CRYENGINE's experimental global volumetric fog system? Given that fog and light shafts seem to be an integral part of Aporia's design, I feel your project would be the perfect one to show off this amazing new engine feature.
Volumetric fog and its effects are key to the art style of Aporia, and we therefore use it extensively. It has allowed us to work artistically and creatively with the light as we are able to show it clearly with the fog. We use several tailor-made and tweaked environment probes in each area to control the fog. They affect the fog artistically, creating intense and vivid light custom to every scene and point in time.
Additionally, we use volumetric fog as an integral part of gameplay, where it helps draw attention to “glowing” objects, and create ‘visible’ solutions to light-based puzzles. Cryengine’s Volumetric fog and the technology behind it has enabled us to create a unique atmosphere that might have been difficult to achieve with other game engines. It is integral to our overall lighting in the game, and it carries large parts of the visual expression of Aporia.
"Cryengine’s Volumetric fog and the technology behind it has enabled us to create a unique atmosphere that might have been difficult to achieve with other game engines."
The music in the trailer is beautiful. Is it a stock placeholder, or is your composer already hard at work?
We are lucky to have an extremely dedicated sound engineer, who is also a composer, working on Aporia. He is young, but his talent exceeds his experience by far, so we are really proud to have him on the team. Because of our limited resources, we have been completely focused on creating music and ambience for stuff inside the game. You can experience a snippet of one of our composer’s pieces on Soundcloud which offers a great atmospheric experience. We were however a little unprepared for making a trailer for a game we haven’t completed yet. We wanted it to be as good as possible and ended up finding some stock audio that would match our ambition for the trailer, and which we thought was as good as our composer’s work.
"We felt immediately intrigued by CryEngine's interface and the speed at which we could create something beautiful."
I took note of some great-looking, advanced visual effects. What inspired you to choose CryEngine, and how long has your team been working with it?
We started working in Cryengine back in the beginning of 2012. We studied interactive storytelling in games at the university and wanted to create a visually stunning exploration game, in the style of Dear Esther, but with more interaction with the story. We tested basic concepts in different engines such as Unity and Unreal. Then, we came across Cryengine, which quickly blew us away with its shading system, dynamic time-of-day and shadows. This was mostly because of Cryengine’s way of handling nature and vegetation. We also felt immediately intrigued by the interface and the speed at which we could create something beautiful. Additionally, we really like the fact, that you don’t just have a game engine, you have all the other necessary built-in tools it takes to create a game.
"We wanted to create a visually stunning exploration game, in the style of Dear Esther, but with more interaction with the story."
If Aporia ends up being a success, do you have any concepts in mind for future projects?
If Aporia ends up being a success, we will definitely create a spiritual sequel, with the same atmosphere and style but set in a completely new world with different mechanics. Two DLC packages for Aporia are also on the drawing board if all goes well. One that opens up a brand new environment to explore, with new and challenging puzzles and an additional storyline that adds a different perspective on the current story. The other one would be optimizing the performance significantly to add Virtual Reality support with the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift – with specifically designed gestures and controls.
Apart from that, we have started conceptualizing a new game also in Cryengine, which will hopefully be part of a bigger venture - including a UK TV-series. We can’t say much about it yet, since it is at a really early stage, but we want to combine the experiences of storytelling and environmental storytelling in Aporia with more mainstream elements such as stealth and shoot-em-up.
All the best, from Investigate North.
If you want to check out their site, head over to investigatenorth.com , where you can also take a peak at some other projects they're working on. Check out their composer's Soundcloud page while you're at it! To me, it sounds as if the team are passionate about their art and will deliver a beautiful, engaging product. I can't wait to give it a try - all the best to them!
- Adsolution & Nic