If you’ve played any stealth game, you’ve expected the usual hiding around corners, stalking the rooftops and rafters and taking out your foes one by one when you’re not blending in with the crowd. Cyanide’s Styx: Master of Shadows aims to be different though simply by the fact that it takes place in Of Orcs and Men’s world. You’ll be playing as the first goblin Styx, as he scales the Tower of Akenash, in order to steal the heart of the World-Tree. On the one hand, you’re trying to discover an awesome fortune for yourself; on the other hand, the master of theft, murder and sneaking is looking to discover his origins while battling humans and elves together.
We spoke to Cyanide’s marketing project manager Camille Lisoir about the game along with how the level design and stealth aspects work out. What kind of skill trees can we look forward to and what about the enemy AI, an essential part of every stealth game out there? Let’s find out.
Rashid K. Sayed: To begin with can you please tell us a bit about yourself and the company you work for?
Camille Lisoir: Cyanide started up in 2000 as an independent video game studio based in Paris. The studio was started by seven Ubisoft employees who left to follow their dream of making a sport management simulation set in the world of professional cycling. More than 14 years later, Pro Cycling Manager regularly tops the PC sales charts with Tour de France now on consoles, the founders’ initial hunch has more than proved itself.
Behind the sport-management façade, there is a collection of hard-core gamers and fantasy fans, borne out by games such as Blood Bowl, Game of Thrones, Of Orcs and Men and the recent Aarklash: Legacy. These titles offer a rich pool of characters drawn from a wide variety of game universes.
"The levels are not too big or too small and comparable to those in the other games. What is important is how they are constructed - and this is what makes the game so original."
Rashid K. Sayed: For our readers who are unaware about the plot, how does the events of Styx Master of Shadows tie into Of Orcs and Men?
Camille Lisoir: Styx: Master of Shadows is a prequel to Of Orcs and Men. You play as Styx, the goblin master assassin and one of the two heroes of OoAM. In Master of Shadows, you’ll learn more about his personal history and motivations.
He wants to steal the heart of the World Tree, the source of the amber, immense power and fabulous riches, but the goal will also reveal his history. To reach this objective, he’ll have to cross the immense Tower of Akenash, protected by many of his enemies, including humans, elves, orcs and more…
Rashid K. Sayed: One of the intriguing aspects of the game is the level design. Unlike other stealth games, the player is put in these wide open spaces. Although it is not as wide as what we are going to see Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain. How do you strike the balance in keeping stealth mechanics intact and at the same time keeping the levels wide and open?
Camille Lisoir: The levels are not too big or too small and comparable to those in the other games. What is important is how they are constructed – and this is what makes the game so original. You have many possibilities and there are many different roads you can take to reach your objectives. Some missions have multiple objectives which can be completed in the order that you wish; thus letting the player choose his own path on the map.
Rashid K. Sayed: The game has seven skill trees with each of them having abilities. Can you tell us a bit about them?
Camille Lisoir: Each skill tree is a specific talent of Styx, as well as agility, amber, or assassination, for example. You can develop theses talents and improve on them. For example, concerning cloning, you can give your clone some diversion skills or even offensive abilities.
Rashid K. Sayed: I have seen gameplay footage and I have some concerns about the enemy AI. Like when objects drops, the enemy just gets attentive and makes no effort to check it out. Is this going to be something that you guys are going to work on?
Camille Lisoir: We have worked hard to make the AI as realistic and reactive as possible. The AI reacts to a lot of details, such as movement, past events, or even sounds. If you drop an object on the floor by mistake, the sound will help your enemies to spot you. If your enemy sees you hiding somewhere, you won’t be able to stay there for long!
"You’ll progress step by step in the Tower of Akenash discovering many places like high-quarters of the tower (embassy, library, airship docks, etc.), the military area (prison, laboratories, etc.) or the bowels (sewers)."
Rashid K. Sayed: Are you going to provide any other weapons other than the one Styx already have?
Camille Lisoir: Styx has his daggers but his other and best weapons are in his mind! As our hero is a small goblin, he has to be clever rather than rely on combat skills. He uses the environment to his advantage.
Rashid K. Sayed: Roughly speaking, how many hours of gameplay are we looking at here?
Camille Lisoir: It depends on how you like to play – whether you like to race to the finish or take your time. On average, it should be around 15 hours of gameplay to complete. There is scope for replayability. For example, you could repeat maps in order to complete different challenges, such as getting through without killing anyone, or finishing a mission as fast as possible. You can also search for collectible objects to complete your collection!
Rashid K. Sayed: Is the game going to broken down into a bunch of episodes or will they take place across different locations separated by load times?
Camille Lisoir: You’ll progress step by step in the Tower of Akenash discovering many places like high-quarters of the tower (embassy, library, airship docks, etc.), the military area (prison, laboratories, etc.) or the bowels (sewers). We did everything possible to make the transitions fluid.
Rashid K. Sayed: Are you using the June SDK update for the Xbox One to boost the resolution to 1080p?
Camille Lisoir: Yes sure!
Rashid K. Sayed: Is it safe to assume that the PS4 version will run at 1080p and 60fps? If not, is there a specific reason why you guys are not aiming for 60fps?
Camille Lisoir: We are working on that matter to get the better fps rate as possible and to optimise it. At the moment, we’re quite confident about the result.
"We choose to focus on the future as we couldn’t develop the game on all platforms. And the current gen displays the vista in a much better way, which creates a beautiful and deep environment for the game."
Rashid K. Sayed: Did you face any issue while developing the Xbox One version, specifically the Xbox One version?
Camille Lisoir: No, on the contrary, we found it easier than with the last gen. The PS4 and Xbox One are more similar to each other in terms of development process, and the developers are very happy with that.
Rashid K. Sayed: Styx Master of Shadows is a current gen exclusive title. What kind of benefits has this given the development team to unleash their creativity? Furthermore, what was the reason of not bringing the game to last gen i.e. PS3 and Xbox 360?
Camille Lisoir: It is a choice, both strategically and technologically. We choose to focus on the future as we couldn’t develop the game on all platforms. And the current gen displays the vista in a much better way, which creates a beautiful and deep environment for the game.
Rashid K. Sayed: What are your thoughts on the 8GB of RAM in the new consoles? Do you think they will be sufficient to last an entire generation?
Camille Lisoir: Yes I think it will be sufficient. We already have some room for manoeuvre.
Rashid K. Sayed: With the advent of the new consoles, Styx Master of Shadows is still being developer on Unreal Engine 3. Is there a specific reason why you guys did not move over to Unreal Engine 4?
Camille Lisoir: When we started to develop Styx: Master of Shadows, the Unreal Engine 4 was in its early days. We had so much experience working with the Unreal Engine 3 , it was natural for us to work on this engine. Today we are very satisfied with the result!
Rashid K. Sayed: Is there anything else you want to tell our readers before we take off?
Camille Lisoir: With Styx Master of Shadows, we wanted to return to the roots of stealth genre and offer you a complete and pleasant challenge. We put together all the ingredients for a great adventure and we hope you’ll like it!