Interview: Ryan Payton uncovers the AAA iOS experience of République

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We chatted with Ryan Payton of the newly founded Seattle-based studio Camouflaj about République, his team's current endeavor that's in need of donations on Kickstarter. Payton explained why a "AAA iOS experience" is worth supporting, delved into the game's mechanics and influences, discussed the female lead Hope, and shared his vision for the future of Kickstarter.

GameZone: Kickstarter is turning out to be a great way to fund experimental titles, but it requires a leap of faith on the donators’ part. They have to believe in what you’re selling. How did you decide Kickstarter would be a good choice for République, and how are you attempting to earn the trust of prospective backers?

Ryan Payton: Back in February, we were in the middle of a short tour to secure a funding deal for République which led to a critical internal meeting that left us scratching our heads as we tried to figure out how to find funding for the game without losing creative and IP control, which, as you can imagine, is difficult. On that very day, Tim Schafer and Double Fine launched their Kickstarter campaign. We noticed a revolution happening and wanted to be a part of it! We knew from the very beginning that these projects live and die on the honesty and integrity of the people behind them. This is why we set an aggressive goal of $500,000. Friends told us to just ask for $200,000 because it would be more likely to get the money, but that just seems wrong to me. It’s not just about getting money from the community — it’s about sharing your creative vision and financial situation with people and then handing over your fate for them to decide. We need to raise half of our budget through Kickstarter in order to secure the other half without losing creative control. We have a number of local investors willing to meet us half way and make République a reality in the event we find success on Kickstarter. We’re really excited to see where the remaining three weeks take us!

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GZ: Your Kickstarter page describes République as a collaborative effort between industry veterans behind famous AAA titles like Metal Gear Solid and Halo. Can you name some of the professionals on your team and what their involvement with République is?

While we don’t have official job titles at Camouflaj, I’ll try to make it clear what each member does. Patrick Ascolese was a Senior Developer at Microsoft working on a lot of PC titles and was integral to the development of Kinect. Ezra Hanson-White is a brilliant designer who worked at Gearbox on Brothers in Arms and most recently at Monolith on F.E.A.R. and Gotham City Imposters. Paulo Lafeta has a lot of raw talent as an engineer and is a recent graduate from Digipen’s master’s program. Jeremy Romanowski is an extremely talented self-taught game artist and designer. Jeffrey Matthews is our business dude who has a long history in investment banking and leadership mentoring. And Bernice Jing Ye was also a developer at Microsoft before joining us. We also work with a number of very talented Seattle-based developers who help us out on a contract basis.

GZ: République is an ambitious endeavor — a “AAA iOS experience.” How was the idea conceived, and what makes you think it could work on the mobile market?

RP: Last year I decided to challenge myself and think of a design for a AAA mobile experience that I would actually play. I have an iPhone loaded with dozens of games, but I don't play any of them. Since I still find myself more attracted to epic console experiences like Metal Gear, Halo, and BioShock, I figured there must countless others out there like me who would play more games on mobile if they offered the deeper, more cinematic experiences that we get on consoles. So with République, I challenged our team to create a story-driven, action-heavy game specifically for mobile, touch devices. Based on the positive response we’ve had with the announcement and trailer, it seems like we were right to assume players want more serious, graphically intense games on iOS.

GZ: I was talking with someone the other day about the good a game like République could do for the mobile games industry. Even now, some developers are ditching the 99-cent standard and opting to deliver more quality experiences with more expensive price tags — but that line of thinking could open up a whole new side of the market. What kind of impact do you hope République will have on games, mobile or otherwise, if successful?

Our hope is that République opens the door for more developers to explore story-driven games on mobile. There is a lot of fear out there from corporate executives about doing cinematic games on iOS and Android because there is no proven market out there for these types of games. They don’t want to be first-movers and fail. This is where Camouflaj and Logan come in, as we want to be trailblazers in everything we do.

From a pricing perspective, it doesn’t seem like anybody has figured this out yet. République will definitely be priced at more than 99 cents, but we also don’t believe that $14.99 price tags are appropriate on the App Store either. And on top of that, we don’t want to ruin the game experience with any advertising or annoying micro transaction schemes. So it’s very clear what we don’t want to do with the game’s pricing, so now it’s on us to come up with a fair and appropriate pricing strategy.

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GZ: If you had to sum up the story and gameplay of République in three sentences or less, how would you describe it?

RP: When players first enter the world of République, they receive a phone call from a woman named Hope who asks you, the player, to help her escape from the totalitarian nation she has been trapped in her entire life. By hacking into the country’s surveillance systems, players peer into Hope’s world and guide her to escape via gameplay that’s a mix of stealth action and survival horror.

GZ: You and your team at Camouflaj stated that you’ve changed your mind about planning a PC/Mac version. I think a lot of people would be interested in having a unique experience like République on computers. What happened to make you want to focus solely on iOS?

RP: We had a critical team meeting during GDC where we discussed our plans to port République to PC and Mac once the iOS version was done. We expressed some lingering concerns about the port plan because, by inviting friends to come in and playtest, our assumptions were validated that the gameplay experience is much more kinetic and “real” when playing it on an iPhone and iPad. This was no accident as we designed the gameplay and wrote the story based on the idea that players were interacting with Hope through their iOS device. By the end of the meeting, we decided that we would freeze development on PC and Mac until we were confident we could allocate enough time and effort to redesigning the gameplay and altering the story specifically for PC and Mac. This wasn’t an easy decision, as PC and Mac is something we desperately want to do. On the flip side, I’m proud that we, as a team, made this tough call solely on the basis that we are all committed to the idea that everything Camouflaj puts out will be of the highest quality possible.

GZ: Tell us about Hope, your “believable, non-sexualized female lead.” And why is it important for her to be portrayed realistically?

RP: I knew from the very beginning that I didn’t want our protagonist to be an overtly sexualized, Hollywood action heroine. Instead, I want players to form a true connection with Hope via their iOS device, so turning her into a caricature would just make the experience feel less real. This gets back to the first-mover, marketing side of the business. I think more companies just need proof that their heroines don’t need to be exploitive to be successive. I think games like Half-Life 2 and Mirror’s Edge are steps in the right direction.

GZ: You’ve said you want to “create an intense action game without a focus on killing.” What will the focus be instead?

RP: The focus is on intense stealth action and takedowns. Hope has to defend herself, but she’s not going to go head-to-head with enemies standing in her way. The game really feels great when Hope sneaks into position and players distract a guard, then send her from cover-to-cover into a better position, allowing her to then sneak up behind a guard and tase him. But takedowns come at a cost: they make noise and use up her limited supplies. Even without zombies and gore, we’ve found that République’s gameplay gives that sense visceral, intense gameplay that great survival horror games do.

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GZ: The Kickstarter page says that Orwell’s 1984 was an inspiration to narrative and core gameplay, and the interview with Gamasutra mentions Dark Souls/Demon’s Souls and Metal Gear Solid. In what way would we see these influences manifest themselves in République?

RP: One of our initial ideas was viewing the world through surveillance cameras, so it was very natural to start exploring a 1984-inspired world, especially since Alexei Tylevich and I are so obsessed with dystopian worlds. Like Castlevania, Metroid, and Dark Souls, one of the player’s main objectives in République is to explore and gradually take control of the Overseer’s world. This fits in very nicely with the player’s role as a hacker infiltrating Big Brother’s perfect surveillance society.

GZ: Kickstarter not only offers gamers and fans a chance to support developers, but to be directly involved with the game itself. For example, a $1000 pledge for République will incorporate the contributor’s name in the game world and its fiction. Why do you think these incentives are important to the developer-gamer relationship? What kind of future do you see for Kickstarter?

RP: A good friend of mine told me that he’s sick of hearing about Kickstarter already. I told him that I think this is just the beginning. Kickstarter and this entire crowd-funding revolution will continue to send shock waves throughout the world. I love it because it’s allowing people with creative ambitions to appeal directly to customers instead of old people in boardrooms who used to monopolize the path to getting creative works made. It’s incredible to watch the internet disrupt yet another part of traditional global business. I find it very encouraging.

On the games side, I hope more companies pursue Kickstarter or similar methods to help them erase any fears they may have about the marketability of their games. My personal dream is that Sega announces a Shenmue III Kickstarter-like campaign and attempts to raise ten million dollars. I’m confident the community would respond with their dollars and help get this game made.

This leads into the next step for all this, which I believe is crowd-investing front. Let the community pledge and (if they choose) invest in Shenmue III and see financial returns if the game is a success. I believe Obama just signed a bill supporting a similar crowd-investing initiative.

GZ: Is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers to convince them to invest in République?

RP: République is all about giving you an epic, AAA, cinematic experience on your iOS device. The team is completely committed to our desire to design a game and write a story specifically for the mobile, touch experience. If you liked our trailer and you want to see more serious, deep games on mobile, please help us pave the way! Please back us!

Camouflaj

Follow @wita on Twitter for tales of superheroes, plumbers in overalls, and literary adventures.

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Stephanie Carmichael Twitter: @wita
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