From Russia with Love: An interview with Studio MONO, developer of InSomnia

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Earlier this week, Russian-based indie outfit Studio MONO announced that its debut project, InSomnia, has successfully completed its Kickstarter campaign and is moving into full development – though the developer continues to accept donations via its official web page. InSomnia is a throwback to the isometric RPGs of the 90’s like Fallout, Planetside, and Baldur’s Gate – it combines a retro-futuristic dieselpunk art style with the 1950’s science fiction ideas coming out of Soviet Russia and The United States.

I was able to get a few questions in with Studio MONO lead developer Anatoliy Guyduk about the team, game, styling’s, and features – as well as discussing the Kickstarter campaign process.

I understand that the Studio MONO team is based in Brooklyn, New York, and Samara, Russia. That must create quite the challenge when it comes to communication and design as the team is divided across the globe and in different time zones. Tell me a bit about yourselves and how you came together over such a great distance to form MONO and create InSomnia?

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One man’s corpse is another’s treasure chest.

That’s not all of the team though as we have members located in Japan, Netherlands, Malaysia, Lithuania, Ukraine, and the UK all working on InSomnia. Of course at first communication was difficult, but has since become much easier and even now we are preparing to add more people to the development process. But yes the core team of developers – including myself – is from Russia and we’ve made plans – a sort of road map to help connect other team members via Skype so we hold video conferences and meetings.

Most of the members of Studio MONO I found myself by scouting around for talent. If I saw people that are really talented and cool, who also makes creative art that is similar to the look and feel of InSomnia – I would get in touch through email. Often people found me on their own and asked if I was interested in doing a co-op, and I like to give artist absolute creative freedom to work.

So, I guess I’m saying without the internet it would be impossible of course. And while we would love the opportunity to work out of one studio, right now we lack the funds to do so.

You use the term “Dieselpunk” to describe the world inside of The Ark that players will be able explore during InSomnia, and the artwork released by Adrian Smith, Nikolay Eliseyev and John Liew reflects that aesthetic. How would you describe Dieselpunk and the impact it has had on the game’s design?

Dieselpunk is not exactly what InSomnia’s styling is, but it is a more understandable term we use when trying to explain the complex mix of art and aesthetic styles of InSomnia. But really we have incorporated Teslapunk, Noir, and Monumental Art Deco elements with a retro-futuristic idea of the Soviet and United States popular science fiction.

We have worked hard on creating a unique style for InSomina, and there is still a lot of work to do to create not just a Dieselpunk style but an InSomnia style! But when people are first experiencing the game it is much easier to explain it as a Dieselpunk style before we really expand on the concepts.

InSomnia is described as being inspired by “old-school RPG games” and is reminiscent of the Tactical/ turn-based RPGs of the 90’s. Which games would you say have had the most influence on InSomnia?

Oh for sure Fallout 1 and 2. But Planetscape: Torment and Baldur’s Gate have had a heavy influence on our vision. These games took traditional RPGs to a whole new level and have given the team and myself a great deal of inspiration!

Players will create new characters that have recently woken from a long cryogenic sleep, and they are discovering the world along with the players. How different is this world that has evolved while the player characters have been asleep?

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Come find me in the wasteland son, I’ll be waiting.

Not so much actually. You see the cryogenic sleep has not been too long for the characters, they’ve not been asleep since the exodus – around 400 years ago – but for about 20 to 25 years. There is a special system in place on the station where most of the inhabitants are in “Deep Sleep” while a small fraction are awake to work on the stations systems, functionality, and other various task of repair. Every URB – or living sector – inhabitant has about a four or five year period work cycle before they return to Deep Sleep again for another 20 to 25 years.

This is how the economy of the station keeps flowing; workers get the resources needed to give the station and its inhabitants a chance to reach the final Evacuation Point. This system is what new characters will experience after they are woken up from Deep Sleep. However, things will not be so simple for them as there has been a sort of brain reload during this last cycle of sleep.

One of the major features highlighted in InSomnia is that players will have to survive starvation, extreme weather conditions, and injuries that will all have a direct impact on player characters abilities. We understand that The Ark has become a very dangerous place over the last 400 years, but weather conditions? Just how large is this space station?

The station is very big, but when I talk about weather conditions I meant that some actions within the game will not always be played out on the Ark. There will be a sort of time travel mission chain that will return the player to the home planet several months before the Exodus. And without giving too much away the Ark will have to reach the Evacuation Point sooner or later.

But yes the station is a megalithic construction that can support millions upon millions of people with its own closed ecosystem inside of its sealed hull. There will be a wide range of locations from small corridors to two big city sectors within the station – complete with cars, streets and so on. But as we’ve mentioned most of the station, about 85 to 90% is abandoned or very dangerous to go to.

Furthermore, you’ve expressed there will be a Sandbox portion of the game, and that you wish to create a living world with reactionary NPC’s inhabiting it. Would this area be where most of the randomly generated events and missions would take place?

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Friend or Foe, every decision could haunt you.

There will be a number of systems to implement randomly generated missions, locations, and events like monsters or marauder attacks. There could even be a technogenic catastrophe or a chance meeting with several peaceful NPC characters. Each time you explore the station will bring a different experience and all of these systems will also be in place during the storyline missions to create differing experiences for players.

For example you could destroy one faction early on that would completely remove them and their NPCs from the rest of the game, and we’ve hidden some absolutely unique content for these NPCs for you to find. And we’re looking to create an experience like Fallout 1 and 2 where meeting characters on the global map will have deep interactions and implications that will vary on your choices.

You’ve also stated that character progression will “break free” of more traditional leveling systems, character classes, and grinding, and that you want to create a more flexible “classless” system as well as unorthodox approaches to progression. Can you elaborate more on your plans for character progression?

There will sort of be an experience system in place in InSomnia, but it is a skill cap. Meaning your skills will grow organically as you use them, and as you cap a certain number of skills you’ll be able to choose from several perks. Furthermore, each of the skills will have its own perk tree to choose from, adding another level of character customization. For example – if you are using light weaponry and have been growing skills associated with these weapons, you will be able to choose from different specialization perks that specifically influence those skills.

There will also be traits and perks attributed to each character – both positive and negative – that will provide different bonuses or penalties. Some are added randomly through your play and others are added when certain conditions are met. The basic perks that you can choose from also can add traits that will be accumulated over time as you play the game. So there will be a lot of potential for your character to improve as you explore the station.

I like the idea of players having to cross “points of no return” that harken back to games of old where players can really find themselves in a bind. We understand that this will force players to think heavily on their decisions as they progress, but could you give a specific example or elaborate more on what you are intending with this design feature?

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I guess Andrew Ryan had the day off.

While I can’t give you specific examples right now, I can say that there will be a hybrid mix of saving, free saves, and checkpoints throughout the game. So sometimes you’ll have absolute freedom – outside of combat of course – to save while exploring the station. However, some parts of the game will be completely free of saving and it means that you’ll have only one chance to make a big decision. These decisions could either be good or bad and will have their own unique consequences, and don’t expect that since you’ve made a good decision that there will always be a positive consequence.

There will also be points of no return, where all your saves will be rewritten after you’ve made a crucial choice, but this feature can be turned off by switching the games difficulty to easy mode.

Along with areas deemed points of no return, InSomnia will feature “hardcore and survival gameplay,” with players having to manage fatigue, injuries, hunger, and sleep – as well as optional hardcore levels and quest. Many games have these features as an option for a “hard mode” or they try to balance these in such a way that ultimately makes them trivial. Will these systems always be in place, or will there be an option at the start?

Most of the hardcore scenarios and quest will be marked as such so that players will understand that the potential for an imminent death is ahead of them. From there it’s their choice to decide if they are ready or not.

Furthermore, will there be an option for permadeath?

Permadeath is something that we are seriously thinking about, but maybe it will be on of higher difficulty level.

Finally, I would like to congratulate you on reaching your Kickstarter goals and moving into the next phase of InSomnia’s development cycle. I’m sure the last month has been really hectic with the amount of attention you’ve gained, and fans of classic RPG’s have responded in kind. How would you say your experience has been with Kickstarter? Was there anything you had not anticipated, or did you have a good idea of what to expect of the campaign process?

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Where is Ron Perlman when we need him?

Hmm…yes there were some situations that I wasn’t expecting, but they were mostly pleasant. I think Kickstarter is a very good instrument for indie developers and it is very helpful in making a really clear vision for your product, and it is a fantastic away to learn how to communicate with your potential gaming community.

But it is not the place where miracles happen. From the outside it seems very fun and exciting but if you are not already a famous public person it is really hard work. Not a place for gathering millions.

However, it also really helps to have a helping hand with the talking with the media, and without our PR team we would have been incredibly overwhelmed.

Finally: Cake or Pie – and why?

Pie. Because the cake is a lie.

Brian Kale
With a firm belief that the day doesn't start without a firm cup of coffee, Brian has been writing almost as long as he has been gaming. Based out of Brooklyn where he spends his days discussing the rise of robotic singularity and the modern RPG revival.
Brian Kale

@brianwkale

Helping humans help their robot help humans. Writer, Futurist, and Internet hack - not in that order. x.ai
RT @adamrank: A Ryan folding in the clutch is starting to become a theme in 2017. https://t.co/Y9TkwGogy3 - 1 day ago
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