Some games are fairly straightforward about what they want from you. Fight enemies, rush to the end and claim your reward/top score. Beacon from Monothetic Games is different. It’s a roguelike top down sci-fi shooter that’s equal parts survival as it is fierce gunfights. As you crash on a hostile alien planet, one that’s randomly generated, it would seem the odds are against. That is, until you start cloning yourself and melding enemy DNA with your own to survive.
Beacon sounds intriguing as a whole and GamingBolt decided to speak to Joseph Russell, Kiefen Zipf, Taychin Dunnvatanachit and Arran Seaton of Monothetic Games to learn more about the game’s story, direction and overall gameplay.
"It’s definitely up to the player to explore for the narrative elements if they’re interested in learning more about the world."
What inspired the rogue-like mechanics of Beacon and being able to combine enemy DNA with your own?
Kiefen: From the beginning of development we knew we wanted to make a roguelike game with a science fiction theme. From there, we began to explore ideas that would make Beacon unique compared to other roguelikes. While exploring the subject of death, Joe – our writer – came up with the idea of cloning as a basis for the game. After exploring the possibilities of cloning mechanics, and the narrative elements that come along with that, we decided pretty quickly that it was the right direction for the game and began refining mechanics based around it, which naturally led to the DNA Reconstitution and Mutation systems that we currently have in the game.
Will the story in Beacon be overly narrative-based or will it be up to the player to decide how much they want to know through lore and whatnot?
Tay: It’s definitely our goal for Beacon to be a more exploratory experience, where there are as many implied narrative threads as there are explicit throughout the game. There’s a story, made up of smaller stories, and a lore to the world – but the player is ultimately the one who decides how much they want to dig into it.
Kiefen: We want to avoid forcing the player to read or watch repeated cut scenes to progress the narrative, as it’s likely many areas will be explored repeatedly through multiple lives. As a result, it’s definitely up to the player to explore for the narrative elements if they’re interested in learning more about the world. Having said that, there’s still enough visual storytelling through the environment to give the basic narrative beats to players who aren’t inclined to search out or read the more structured narrative elements.
Joe: I hope we’ve taken a pretty sensible approach to the way Beacon’s narrative will play out, in recognizing the structure and use case of the Roguelike genre. By keeping anything overtly narrative as an ‘opt-in’ interaction on the part of the player, we’re hoping to avoid the burnout that can happen when you see the same content again and again. We’ve also been thinking long and hard about what form our written content comes in, and how we can best tie it into the game’s central idea of death and cloning. Hopefully that’s reflected in the final result.
What kinds of areas will players be able to explore? Will the unique art-style and theme allow for a world that escapes typical definition?
Tay: We have plans for various “Acts” of the game, with each having a distinct tone and play-style attached to them. The world of Beacon is rich in variety, and we’re very excited about working through some of the different sets of environments – the differences between which also bring in a number of gameplay considerations. For example, we have an indoor-centric research facility which is very unlike the outdoor areas we’ve been showing already. There will also be some areas that defy typical definition, as you say, but we’re not quite ready to start talking about those at the moment.
"You can pick and choose between the DNA that you’ve picked up in your most recent run, and combine it with your previous selection, overwriting the effects that are in the current slot."
Can you tell us about some of the enemies residing in this world? What kind of abilities can they bestow upon players?
Tay : The enemies in Beacon are divided into many factions, each with their own specific abilities, identities, and goals; the last of which can even conflict with those of other factions, leading to some fighting between enemy factions. The Prism droids, for example, are very focused on cybernetic augmentation, which the player can eventually utilize. Something we have in right now are Integrated Circuits, which can allow the player to ‘overclock’ their abilities once enough damage has been taken. The Solus, the indigenous insect-like race, have organic modifications that can act in a symbiotic way with the player, such as an appendage that grows out of their spine, and fires out projectiles every time the player performs a roll. Stuff like that. We want to keep the mutation abilities distinct depending on the faction they stem from, so that the player can begin to know what to expect from a mutation that belongs to a specific faction.
How much variation within the player’s DNA will be allowed? Will abilities and stats stack from previous DNA or will each clone be a fresh slate of new DNA abilities?
Kiefen: The Reconstitution system gives a lot of control to the player, in terms of DNA and mutation variation. Essentially, there are 5 slots in your genome into which the DNA pieces can be integrated, and whatever you end up filling your genome with will persist over multiple lives, allowing you to build up your character with the DNA that suits your play style best.
Joe: The idea is that as you complete – or rather, fail – your runs, you’ll be able to build upon the previous DNA configuration that you used in your previous life. You can pick and choose between the DNA that you’ve picked up in your most recent run, and combine it with your previous selection, overwriting the effects that are in the current slot. Due to the slot limits, this could mean some tough decisions where you’ll have to decide which previous stat change to give up, in order to gain the benefit from a more potent new piece of DNA.
If DNA stacking does occur, can we see further mutations and evolutions for character abilities?
Kiefen: The player will definitely have a sense of evolution over multiple playthroughs, as if you’re genome is filled it’s likely you’ll gain a fresh mutation each time you go back through the cloning process. The way we currently have the system set up, each mutation only lasts three clone generations, so DNA and mutations will continue to cycle the more you play.
Will Beacon support co-op play and Daily/Weekly challenges for players? Will there be any other modes aside from the main campaign?
Kiefen: Currently, we’re not planning any cooperative experiences. We’d love to put in daily/weekly challenges and other game modes for players, but don’t currently have any concrete plans to include anything like that.
"Currently we’re hoping for an early 2017 release. We’re only planning for Windows, Mac, and Xbox One currently but would of course like to release on as many platforms as possible."
Is it possible for a player to complete the game without having to alter their DNA at all or will certain areas require certain DNA abilities?
Kiefen: It’s definitely possible for the player to complete the game without altering their DNA, but it will be very difficult. DNA will, more often than not, give you a positive gain in your statistics, and the game is designed with that in mind. That said, any players who conquer the game without altering their DNA will get a special reward, but I expect few players will be able to do so.
What kind of play-time are you estimating with Beacon?
Arran: We hope Beacon becomes the sort of game that you’d want to keep coming back to each day, maybe playing for an hour or two – depending on how successful the run is! The randomly-generated nature of the game means one attempt to the next could be wildly different, and we’re aiming to keep the world feeling alive and emergent as possible, so you’ll constantly run into new things all the time.
The DNA/Mutation systems are definitely something for those looking for a more long-form, persistent element to the game, allowing players to experiment with stats & mutations across multiple runs. But, if we’re talking a single, start-to-end run of the game, we’re probably looking at about two to three hours.
When can we expect Beacon to release? Will it be heading to other platforms besides Windows, Mac and Xbox One?
Kiefen: Currently we’re hoping for an early 2017 release. We’re only planning for Windows, Mac, and Xbox One currently but would of course like to release on as many platforms as possible.
Is there any reason why Beacon is not coming to PS4?
Arran: We definitely want to bring the game to PS4 at a later date, once the initial release is out of the way. As a team, we have no bias towards one console or the other! Microsoft were simply first in approaching us and have been very supportive through the ID@Xbox program.
I am assuming that you must have heard rumors about an upgraded PS4 (code name Neo) flying around the internet. As you can see, there is a marginal improvement in CPU but impressive improvements in the GPU and Memory bandwidth. As someone who is in the development industry, what is your take on this? What kind of improvements do you think this will result into? (this question is from a theoretical perspective since nothing is confirm yet)
Arran: As much as the news regarding the Neo (and now Project Scorpio) is exciting to all of us, we’re honestly just trying to focus right now on making the best possible version of the game on current available hardware platforms. We haven’t really talked about what we could do with Beacon if and when we support these new hardware revisions. Though, theoretically, I can imagine we would be looking at improvements such as higher resolutions, or being able to provide options like down sampling, higher quality anti-aliasing… more gibs. We’ll see when we cross that bridge.
"Microsoft has come into its own over the last year. They taken a little while longer to understand what their identity is this time around, and where they are taking it."
Do you see devs aiming higher performance parameters for Neo and delivering sub-optimal performance on current base model PS4? (this question is from a theoretical and developer perspective since nothing is confirmed yet)
Arran: I’m hoping both Sony & Microsoft keep a strict policy on the output of ‘vanilla’ PS4/XB1 versions of games being as fully featured and stable as possible. Ideally, it will just function like the quality settings you are provided in PC games. The baseline consoles will run at the equivalent of ‘medium’ spec, whereas Neo/Scorpio games could target ‘high/very high’. Though, in reality, I have no idea if that will happen. It would be a disappointment if developers decide to use the performance gains to essentially brute-force past certain stuff to hit targets, instead of optimizing with both hardware models in mind.
Nintendo NX is scheduled to launch next year, do you have any plans to support that platform?
Arran: I’m curious to see exactly what the NX is! I’d love to have Beacon on a Nintendo platform. Unfortunately, with a team our size, we can only target so many platforms at once. We certainly wouldn’t rule it out though, so maybe one day!
In your opinion, what is Sony and PS4 doing right and Microsoft and Xbox One doing wrong? (given the PS4 is literally leading this console cycle)
Arran: I’ve never really enjoyed fueling the ‘console wars’ narrative. I think they’re both doing a lot of right things in their own different ways. Sony objectively got off to a better start this generation, they had very clear intentions they wanted to achieve after the PS3. Even in regards to support for indie developers, Sony were very welcoming right off the bat. PlayStation VR is also currently the best chance VR has to get widely adopted by general consumers.
But Microsoft has come into its own over the last year. They taken a little while longer to understand what their identity is this time around, and where they are taking it. They’ve learnt from their past mistakes on Xbox 360, with the fantastic ID@Xbox program. The upcoming support to play Xbox games on PC is great, and the Xbox One S is a sign of them listening to their customers (smaller, no power brick, physical power button, yay).