Witnessing The Talos Principle is an entrancing enough but even more so when you realize that this philosophical first person puzzle game comes from Croteam – the same developer which brought us the action-heavy, twitch shooting Serious Sam series. The game emphasizes metaphysics and the meaning of intelligence among many other things and it’s truly a unique game for the PlayStation 4 and PC.
We spoke to a star-studded roster of dev team members for The Talos Principle including CTO Alen Ladavac, CCO Davor Hunski, lead puzzle designer Davor Tomicic, “The Old Programmer” Dean Sekulic and CMO Damjan Mravunac. What defines the game, the overall story and the various puzzles you’ll encounter are laid out by the team below.
"Without saying too much, the main protagonist of the game appears to be an artificial being, a robot, but with much more character (which will all depend on player and his choices)."
Rashid K. Sayed: The Talos Principle labels itself as a philosophical puzzler. What is the meaning and the inspiration behind the same?
Damjan Mravunac: The game is indeed labeled as a first person philosophical puzzler (we call it “FP3” :)) since it’s layered up with philosophical narrative, written by two great writers, Tom Jubert and Jonas Kyratzes. The core of the game are the puzzles, which range from easy to hard-core, and you can solve them in non-linear way, at your own pace, while the philosophical layer tackles questions regarding trans humanism, self-awareness and what it means to be human in general. When you mix up those two, you get very interesting puzzles backed by even more interesting story, which motivates player to try and see what lies at the end (or beyond!) Most of the inspirations came from the works of Philip K. Dick as well as from various religious references, like Garden of Eden, etc. and each player will have his own interpretation of the story after finishing the game, depending on his own personal views and beliefs.
Rashid K. Sayed: Can you tell us about the protagonist in the game? What is the story behind the game?
Damjan Mravunac: Without saying too much, the main protagonist of the game appears to be an artificial being, a robot, but with much more character (which will all depend on player and his choices). He (she, it?) is thrown into this world of beautiful landscapes and tasked to prove his worthiness by solving many intriguing puzzles. During this quest, some mysterious characters will appear throughout the game, helping the player or trying to stray him from his path, depending on the power of his will. The questions raised during the game will make player rethink all that he knows (or think he knows!) about life and whole meaning of it, and it will depend a lot on a personal baggage everyone tends to bring to this game.
Rashid K. Sayed: Can you explain us how a particular puzzle will work out in the game?
Davor Tomicic: The puzzle (within context of The Talos Principle) is represented as an enclosed area with the certain Sigil placed somewhere inside. The player’s goal is to reach that Sigil by solving puzzle, and as a reward he gets that Sigil. To solve the puzzle, player will need to overcome some logical obstacles, which include exploring and familiarizing with environment, gathering resources, testing how different mechanics work, making a blueprint and executing it by using available gadgets and items in proper locations, on proper objects and in proper combination with other gadgets and items.
Puzzles are designed in a way that solution is rarely straightforward; obvious paths rarely work. It usually takes some out-of-the-box thinking to arrive to a solution, which is always within a reach of every reasonably motivated player. Sometimes, after trying several different approaches, players will come to the moment where solution seems impossible. But with a bit more thinking, combining items in a new ways, using gadgets with a twist and trying fresh approaches, solution will suddenly come to a mind, clear and obvious, like an epiphany, and player won’t believe he couldn’t come up with it sooner. Game is full of such moments, and during this process of discovery, player will experience great sense of accomplishment once he succeeds in solving the puzzle .
"Although we love Portal games and admire Valve in general, as strange it may sound, the Talos development was ignited when we tested several new game items and mechanics for the Serious Sam 4."
Rashid K. Sayed: Will there be any gadgets or items that will assist the player to make their way across through puzzles? Or may be a skill tree?
Davor Tomicic: All elements needed to solve the puzzle will be available once you enter the yard. Those elements include certain gadgets and items. For example, one of the gadgets you’ll use is a jammer, device that that can jam and thus disable any electronic device from the distance. Second item that you can find very often within puzzles is a white cube; you can place it on the switch, you can use it as a base for higher jump, you can limit movement of a drone by placing it on its way, you can place other objects onto it or even combine few cubes and create some structure…
Very few gadgets can be used from the start of the game, since most of the gadgets require mechanic unlocking to be used. You’ll need to collect Sigils corresponding to certain gadget mechanic. When all Sigils are in place, mechanic will unlock and you can start using gadget from there on. Order in which you’ll unlock mechanics is left for you to choose.
Rashid K. Sayed: I saw some of the gameplay footage and is it safe to assume that you guys were mildly inspired from Portal?
Davor Hunski: Although we love Portal games and admire Valve in general, as strange it may sound, the Talos development was ignited when we tested several new game items and mechanics for the Serious Sam 4. There laid a spark that ends up in this huge forest fire. The thing is that we are all geeks here, math and problem solving lovers. For decades now we play challenging logic and puzzle games, from the early days of ZX Spectrum, Amiga and DOS up to the new classics including Valve masterpieces. We were inspired by all range of games, from the old puzzles, flash games, mobile titles up to the triple A titles, all of the same time. The story, soul and atmosphere of the game is a reflection our own conversations, doubts and hopes about past and future of both humanity and technology.
Rashid K. Sayed: The game runs on Croteam’s Serious Engine 4. What kind of modifications have you done compared to the previous versions?
Alen Ladavac: The new version has a lot of under-the-hood changes, most of which are not visible by examining “with/without” screenshots, but that allow us to create more complex and interesting games, and to run them on a wider range of platforms and configurations. To name a few, there’s complete support for texture and model streaming, loading levels in background as you play, full support for DirectX11, multithreaded rendering, support for Android and PS4 platforms, a new software-based sound mixer which improves sound positioning greatly, physics rewritten for smoother movements of FPS characters, and a lot more, including some internal tools changes that allow us to deliver high quality games faster.
"This is still work in progress, but we're very close to that. Our average frame rate is not an issue (well above 60FPS), but there are still some places in the game where minimum frame rate is in 50's range."
Rashid K. Sayed: The game features over 120 puzzles. Now that is a lot. How are you making sure that they will be unique?
Davor Hunski: First of all, they were created by a several individuals. Each of them added their own flavor to the table. When you multiply that personal style with the significant count of the different gameplay elements (at least 15 of them), you get a rich mixture that resulted in a beautiful variety. To be honest, most of the puzzles that were created in the beginning ended up in similar form in the final game. We were very pleased with the majority of them. The interesting is the way how we brought them to life. In the beginning, we used Lego elements to form labyrinths and gameplay elements, focusing only on the “catch” of the puzzle, playing in the world of ideas. Later on, when we added code for the new mechanics, we translated these ideas into virtual worlds.
Rashid K. Sayed: The game is also coming out on the PS4. Are you guys going to push for 1080p and 60fps on it?
Dean Sekulic: Yes. This is still work in progress, but we’re very close to that. Our average frame rate is not an issue (well above 60FPS), but there are still some places in the game where minimum frame rate is in 50’s range. These things need a bit more polishing.
Rashid K. Sayed: How hard was it porting the Serious Engine 4 to the PlayStation 4? Were there any compromises made since the PS4 is a lesser platform compared to the PC?
Dean Sekulic: Porting was quite easy, I have to admit. There were some hiccups here and there, but nothing serious. Looking from CPU side, graphics API has really very low overhead! From the GPU side of things, I like the fact that Sony opted for fast GDDR5 memory and quite powerful GPU. Putting this all together, no we didn’t have to do almost any compromises for the game to run well and look great on PS4.
"we are working very hard to bring you unique and challenging experience that you'll remember for quite a while after you discover the answer to what it was all about."
Rashid K. Sayed: You guys have a great pedigree in PC games development. How closely does the PS4 API match to gaming PCs and how has Sony helped in understanding the PS4?
Dean Sekulic: Graphics API is very different from Direct3D 9, 11, and OpenGL. Still, I like the approach very much – API is very well made, and it looks like it has been constructed as low overhead right from the start. So, when talking about CPU bound scenarios, you actually can get frame rate very close to PC just because D3D and OGL have really big overhead.
Documentation for the API is quite good, although it lacks some stuff here and there. But tech support site and forum is very useful. We didn’t have the need for direct contact with Sony tech support, because we managed to solve all the issues just by browsing through forums or read documentation. Carefully.Again. And again!
Rashid K. Sayed: The game looks extremely beautiful with soft shadows and lighting. What can you tell us about the technology you have used in the game?
Alen Ladavac: The main difference is in the new “photogrammetric” technique that takes photos of real world objects and generates accurate scans with textures and materials. Those are then further tuned, tweaked and optimized by the artists to give even more photorealistic look.
Rashid K. Sayed: The game is not announced for the Xbox One. Is there any specific reason for the same?
Alen Ladavac: In the nutshell – we still weren’t able to get our hands on development kits for Xbox One. Without that, it’s hard to develop for it.
Rashid K. Sayed: Is there anything else you want to tell our readers about the game?
Damjan Mravunac: Perhaps some basic facts – The Talos Principle will be available this fall for most major platforms (PC, MAC, Linux, PS4, and Android). The Android version in particular is a very cool one, as it features previously unseen graphics quality on mobile devices and plays very well using new touch controls we developed specifically for mobile devices. To conclude, we are working very hard to bring you unique and challenging experience that you’ll remember for quite a while after you discover the answer to what it was all about.