One Way Trip Interview: The Six Hour Hallucinatory Gamble on PS4

What is real and what really matters collide in the upcoming indie title.

Posted By | On 11th, Mar. 2015 Under Article, Interviews | Follow This Author @GamingBoltTweet


How many times have we told you about a game being bizarre? How many times have you believed us (all the times, we hope) and then experienced the game for yourself before deciding it wasn’t that weird? Well we can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that PS4 and PS Vita indie title One Way Trip is perhaps the most bizarre game ever created. While the story focuses on a nation which has been poisoned via its water supply and now has six hours to live, each and every character is under the effect of hallucinogens.  To quote the developer, “it’s an atmospheric exploration of what it would be like to find out you and most everyone you love is about to die, and then have to process that while your limbs turn into cartoon dolphins.”

The overall direction for the game sounds intriguing though – your life is ending and really, nothing is as it seems but you need to decide what is important to you and get to it quick. Project lead Michael Frauenhofer spoke to GamingBolt about it while also expounding on the game’s unconventional art style and choice-based gameplay. Sit back, relax and enjoy the one way trip into madness.

Why is One Way Trip a PlayStation 4 console exclusive? Why is the game not coming on the Xbox One?

We were initially targeting One Way Trip for PC/Mac while we explored our options as far as bringing it to consoles, but as a tiny two-person team, we also wanted to be aware of our limitations and not spread ourselves too thin on too many platforms if that meant the game quality would suffer. Given our relative lack of resources, once we realized releasing on both PlayStation 4 and Vita would be possible, we decided to focus all of our efforts for the time being on making the best, most polished game we could for those two systems at launch, and then expanding our reach from there as much as possible! So we see no reason for One Way Trip to not eventually come to any platform where there’s an audience that would want it, but two platforms was really all we thought we could handle at once.

One Way Trip_03

"One Way Trip is a game where you play as a specific character with specific capabilities and limitations in a specific world, but at a moment in the character’s life where everything they know has been thrown into flux, and they’re still trying to figure out what kind of person they even want to be, let alone what they should be doing that moment."

The game aims to deliver on the promise of adapting game play based on the player’s choices. How do you plan to achieve that?

I think the only way to achieve that promise is to make it, above anything else, the central focus of the game, so that is what we have done.

No game, apart from maybe life itself or a blank project in a game engine, can offer truly unlimited choices, so obviously there are limits within reason – i.e., no matter what you do the game won’t suddenly become a kart racer. That being said, I’m sure most people who have played a game that emphasizes choice and consequences are familiar with how much it sucks when you feel like a game isn’t properly respecting your choices, or is writing around them to minimize their long-term impact, so from the start our biggest goal was to avoid that at all costs! Primarily, we’re doing this by making choice both the central mechanic AND the central theme of the game. I think the best games are those that feel like a cohesive work of art, where the themes/message and mechanics are united in purpose and shaped perfectly to each other; it only felt right to make a game with a primary mechanic of choosing be “about” choice.

So when it all comes down to it, One Way Trip is a game where you play as a specific character with specific capabilities and limitations in a specific world, but at a moment in the character’s life where everything they know has been thrown into flux, and they’re still trying to figure out what kind of person they even want to be, let alone what they should be doing that moment. Every day that you wake up you can choose to do almost anything, but most people experience only a limited range of what the world allows because they have things like responsibilities, commitments, goals that require things to achieve. By letting you play as a character who has just discovered he only has six hours left to live, you have a much wider and wilder possibility space, and we want to offer as broad a freedom as possible within that – so while it cannot truly be unlimited, we still want it to feel as if it’s far beyond what other interactive narrative games have traditionally allowed; we’re using a mixture of techniques to accomplish that.

If you look at interactive narrative as a sort of continuum from binary choices to Dwarf-Fortress-style systems-based design, we decided to use a mixture of techniques to push ourselves as far away as possible from simple branches that split at forks and towards the other end of that spectrum. The end goal is to build a game that flows smoothly between sections of more structured conversations/branching and sections driven by deeper interlocking systems-based design, in such a way that the player doesn’t have to think too deeply on any of that beyond “whoa, my choices DO matter, and the other characters DO actually live their lives and do things when I’m not there.” Certain choices definitely helped make that more possible, like forgoing voice acting outside of key moments, but overall it’s mostly a product of putting “respecting player choice” ahead of everything else, and individually designing each moment uniquely so that the game uses the smartest possible combination of branching elements and more systemic ones.

Since everyone is going to die in six hours, what message will One Way Trip deliver to players?

One Way Trip does not have a specific message to deliver at all, because of the level of freedom players have to determine who they are and what they do; while there are certainly issues and themes that One Way Trip explores on a deeper level, what the predominant themes are, how characters feel about them, or even if certain themes are encountered all depends on what you do, who you talk to, or what you say to them.

At the heart of it all, though, if One Way Trip is about anything in particular, I think it would be: “What is the purpose of life? How should a life be lived? What does it mean to be a person, or a good person?”

One Way Trip_02

"Unfortunately, as a huge fan of tactical strategy RPG games, which was finally getting to make my own strategy RPG battles, I kind of went overboard on the complexity, and soon discovered that I had a much deeper and more interesting set of mechanics than I’d intended, and I wasn’t sure it fit the game we were making at all."

What can you tell us about the RPG and first person shooter elements that the game will have?

RPG, or Role-Playing Game, is a tricky label because it means so many things to different people; I think we’ll hit most people’s ideas of what to expect from an RPG game, though perhaps not all in one mode or in the usual ways. The story mode is really centered on playing/defining a character with a lot of freedom of action and choice in a way that feels a lot more like the non-combat aspects of a pen-and-paper RPGs than computer RPGs to me, with the involving world/narrative/characters people have come to expect from computer JRPGs/WRPGs.

The battle mode is where you see more of the traditional mechanics side of the RPG genre, blended in with the shooter elements and influences. In this mode you’re fighting waves of enemies much like a horde mode in a shooter game, but at the same time the enemies have hit points, and things like placement/weaknesses/turn order are really important; you’re using points to level up abilities as you progress, like in an RPG, but with shooter-style load outs of what abilities you carry into battle.

This blend of genres has been the idea at the heart of the battle system from the beginning – we wanted to use a strategy-RPG style battle system where you controlled four characters of four very different classes/abilities – two of them play like they’re from a strategy-RPG, one of them is more of a traditional turn-based RPG mage character, and the fourth character plays like a third-person shooter where you directly aim and line up the reticule to score hits.

Are there plans to make it cross buy and cross save on the PS4 and Vita?

Yes, absolutely! We plan to support both Cross-Buy and Cross-Save.

I find it rather interesting that you have separated the shooting mechanics from the main game. However you could have easily modified or lessened the shooting tone and made it a part of the main game.

That’s totally what we did! When we say “you can beat the game without firing a single shot”, that is certainly true, but it also means you can shoot people! As our goal has been to design and structure everything in the main story mode to support player choice, that was how the whole battle system got its start: we had a game where you might shoot people, and we needed a way for you to do that, and then we started doing everything we could to make the mechanics of that as satisfying as possible. Unfortunately, as a huge fan of tactical strategy RPG games, which was finally getting to make my own strategy RPG battles, I kind of went overboard on the complexity, and soon discovered that I had a much deeper and more interesting set of mechanics than I’d intended, and I wasn’t sure it fit the game we were making at all.

While I personally love playing something like XCOM, I’m not sure how well a battle system that complicated would work out for players if they routinely went hours between battles, or only had one battle in an entire play through – that kind of systemic complexity thrives in the spotlight, and One Way Trip’s focus on choice means we honestly have no idea how often the player will end up in a combat situation. Given that, rather than gut the battle system and reduce its complexity, we decided to design a full play experience around the system to be as satisfying as possible, while tailoring the combat encounters within the story mode on a case by case basis to offer an appropriate level of complexity for the contexts in which they arise.

This means that if your story mode character gets into a fight, you won’t suddenly be managing a squad of four characters in a protracted battle with waves of enemies like you would in the battle mode, but the process of resolving that fight and shooting whoever you need to shoot will use the same controls/logic/HUD as battle mode would, applied to the situation you are in.

We just chose not to emphasize the battles in story mode when first telling people about the game because we didn’t want to create false expectations for people that there would be any certain amount of them; that being said, we think of our modes less as “battles vs. no battles” and more “ultimate battling experience vs. ultimate role-playing experience”.

One Way Trip_01

"Every game I make, my biggest fear is dying in a freak accident or something before it is done, and not being able to get that idea out, so I want every game I make to be the game I put everything I have into like it’s the last game I’ll ever be able to make."

What are your thoughts on the efforts of people like Shahid Kamal and Shuhei Yoshida in the indie development scene? How are they helping the lesser known developers to showcase their talents?

I think the efforts of Sony’s teams in bringing over indies have been hugely positive for both Sony platforms and the industry as a whole. There’s no question at this point that good games can compete and succeed on console no matter the size of the team behind them, so more good games can only be good for consumers, and as a developer you always want the biggest and best platform possible for your games, so we’re super excited to be able to put out a game for PlayStation.

Even allowing that kind of access to release on a platform alone is so amazing, but beyond that, Sony has been incredible with helping indie developers get eyes on their game, from things like bringing developers to shows to retail kiosks or the PlayStation Blog. It’s always great to see a huge company use their platform and reach to help smaller art-focused developers and make good money doing it.

What kind of options are you providing for local multiplayer?

We aren’t sure yet – we’d love to incorporate local multiplayer in any way that ends up working for our battle mode, but a lot of those decisions will end up happening a little farther down the road, so all we have at this point are a bunch of ideas that seem worth trying!

What was the inspiration behind the art style of One Way Trip?

The character art of One Way Trip is a lot like the art style for the interlude levels of Demon Chic, which is the only other time I’ve had to do art for a game, because it’s the only style of art I really know how to make – I am not a very trained artist. I wish I could make it look better! My background art was even worse so luckily we found someone who is better at that – Christine, the other developer on the team who does all the programming! So now the art style has changed so that she paints all the backgrounds. We try to pick as pretty colors as we can, and she actually knows some more things about painting, but we just didn’t really have other options for the character art. Sorry to the people that hate it!!

Do you have a solid release date?

We don’t have a solid release date beyond “2015”, but that’s just because we want to get it out as soon as possible once it’s finally all done!

There is lot of claims in the industry that the Vita is dead and it’s. The sales figures are not healthy. What are your thoughts on these claims?

I honestly have no idea what types of sales figures are or aren’t healthy for a console system from a manufacturer’s perspective, so I can’t really speak on that in any knowledgeable way, but I DO know a lot of developers who are super happy with their sales on the platform, so as a game developer it seems pretty healthy to me!

Is there anything else you want to tell us about One Way Trip?

Every game I make, my biggest fear is dying in a freak accident or something before it is done, and not being able to get that idea out, so I want every game I make to be the game I put everything I have into like it’s the last game I’ll ever be able to make. I totally understand if someone reading about it thinks it sounds really weird, or really stupid, but we’re working very hard to make it actually be something real and deep and worth people’s time – hopefully at the end we will have succeeded, but at least if we fail, we will have made something that I will be happy exists because nobody else was going to make it otherwise!

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