Spiders has had a rather interesting journey through the games industry. It started out with a fairly modest title in Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack The Ripper in 2009 before progressing to action RPGs like Mars: War Logs in 2013. Along the way, the team has remained relatively small but it’s work continues to grow – Spiders will be bringing The Technomancer out in 2016 and unlike its previous efforts, this RPG is focused on current gen consoles only. There’s plenty to say about the jump and also the return of Spiders to the Mars setting that it laid out in Mars: War Logs.
We spoke to Spiders CEO Jehanne Rousseau about The Technomancer, including the relation to Mars: War Logs (which it’s neither a prequel nor sequel to), developing on Xbox One and PS4, the difference in development on both platformers and much more.
"We added attributes that will change your damage with the different weapons or skills, but your ability to wear or use the different equipment too. We changed the feat system that is now really linked to non-combat abilities..."
Rashid K. Sayed: The Technomancer is a follow-up to Mars: War Logs, which released in 2013. What prompted the return to the cyberpunk theme of the universe, especially after working on fantasy RPG Bound by Flame?
Jehanne Rousseau: The universe created for Mars: War logs is really one of our favorites, we began to think about it even before creating our company, so it’s a very “historical” world for us. In our previous game, we were not able to approach all the aspects we developed for that universe, and we barely made a dent in what we had imagined as a background for Roy’s adventure. So after developing Bound By Flame we decided to come back to this previous creation, and to show a little more of this setting. We also thought that our next game had more to gain to be set in a more original and unique world than the more traditional fantasy settings. And well… I really love Sci-fi, and I’m fond of Philip K. Dick books, so I guess that I’m really appealed by these type of stories and worlds.
Rashid K. Sayed: How does The Technomancer follow-up on the story established in Mars: War Logs?
Jehanne Rousseau: The Technomancer is neither a sequel nor prequel of Mars: War Logs. It’s a different story, with a different hero who’s living in a different corporation but the overall background is the same. During your adventure in The Technomancer, you’ll hear about Roy’s doing and what’s happening in Aurora. In fact, the two stories take place around the same time, on the same planet (but once again in different corporations that are fighting each other).
Rashid K. Sayed: Will decisions made in Mars: War Logs carry over into The Technomancer? Is there a way to craft one’s previous experience and have it carry over, a la Dragon Age’s The Keep?
Jehanne Rousseau: No, as the two stories are not directly connected we thought it was not necessary to keep the choices made during the first game into the second.
Rashid K. Sayed: The Technomancer will feature three different fighting styles like its predecessor. What changes and improvements have been made to the overall abilities of these styles and to the combat mechanics in general?
Jehanne Rousseau: Mars: War logs had three fighting styles including the technomancy (with combat and rogue skills trees), as The Technomancer has in fact 4 fighting styles: one style based on the use of mace and shield, more defensive; one other based on the use of a quarterstaff, more aggressive; one style based on knife and nail gun (rogue) and technomancy as the last one of course. But it’s only one of the many changes we made in the character evolution and skill system of our game.
We added attributes that will change your damage with the different weapons or skills, but your ability to wear or use the different equipment too. We changed the feat system that is now really linked to non-combat abilities like the craft, the charisma, or science (that will be used in conversation as much as in the gameplay itself, and will allow the player to solve some quests without fighting). And more important the player begins now with only one spell in technomancy and the ability to use each of the three fighting styles, but all the special attacks and spells will need to be unlocked during the player’s progression, allowing an improved personalization of his or her hero and a greater feeling of progression.
"These new consoles really offer far more power than the previous generation. So we started last year a big rewriting of our engine to allow us to take advantage of these new possibilities."
Rashid K. Sayed: Will we see any returning companions in The Technomancer and how many new characters can be expected?
Jehanne Rousseau: You’ll meet some characters you’ve met in Mars: War Logs, but to be honest it’s more cameos than real important characters. All the companions in The Technomancer are newcomers that are really linked to your hero. Discovering their story will lead you to learn more about yourself, and they’re more important in the story than the companions were in MWL (except for Innocence maybe).
Rashid K. Sayed: How will the world change depending on player actions in The Technomancer and will the effects be discernible enough to affect one’s experience?
Jehanne Rousseau: During your journey, you’ll have to choose different ways to solve the quests, and most of the time these ways are connected to one of the 6 main factions you’ll meet during the game. Theses factions can’t all become allies, so depending on your choices you’ll have more or less allies, and as these factions are really important on Mars, your support will off course change the political balance on Mars.
I can give you a very simple example: you will meet the Thieves and the Free merchants, they hate each other, so of course you can’t have both as allies, but depending on all the quests you’ve done and more important how you’ve done them, and of course of your choices during the dialogs you’ll be able to ask for one or the other help. It will change the reaction of some people, modify some quests, and of course improve the importance of your ally on Mars.
Rashid K. Sayed: The Technomancer will be the first Spiders game developed only on current gen consoles (PS4, Xbox One along with PC). What challenges did you face in transitioning to the current generation and what benefits did the added power of the consoles present to the development process?
Jehanne Rousseau: This was indeed a big change for us. These new consoles really offer far more power than the previous generation. So we started last year a big rewriting of our engine to allow us to take advantage of these new possibilities. Every aspect of the engine benefit from this work. Mainly the graphics of course, but also the size of the world and its life with the AI of the characters.
The big difficulty for us was to allow the production to progress while developing a new graphic engine. Indeed, we have moved to a full PBR renderer and that was new for everyone here. The first months were a bit difficult but in the end the results are here, and we are very happy of the final aspect of the game and all of its very cool materials.
"As both stories are not really connected, I’m not sure we can talk about a trilogy, but depending of course on what will think our players, we will probably write and develop more stories in that universe, as we have plenty of things we can do there."
Rashid K. Sayed: How much bigger is the world of The Technomancer compared to Mars: War Logs?
Jehanne Rousseau: It’s always difficult to evaluate the size of a world, but to compare with Mars: War Logs, which was a relatively short game, the world of The Technomancer is way bigger! At least three times the size I would say. But above all, it will be more varied and we could go back freely in most of the zones.
Rashid K. Sayed: Both Bound by Flame and Mars: War Logs have seen their fair amount of criticism. What efforts will be made to avoid this in The Technomancer?
Jehanne Rousseau: We really tried to listen to our player’s criticism to improve as many aspects as we could. Of course we’re still limited, we’ve got a small team, but we really took some time to read the forums, mail and articles about our previous games and tried to change or improve each point we could. The fighting system as we’ve already talked about, the companions and most of all their behavior, and we completely changed our way to translate the dialogs and writings of our game, working with a team of US authors which will probably improve a lot the quality of the texts and recordings.
Rashid K. Sayed: Will The Technomancer conclude the story told in Mars: War Logs or can we expect a trilogy of sorts in the end?
Jehanne Rousseau: As both stories are not really connected, I’m not sure we can talk about a trilogy, but depending of course on what will think our players, we will probably write and develop more stories in that universe, as we have plenty of things we can do there. But to be honest, I can’t tell you for now what kind of story, when will it take place and with which hero!
Rashid K. Sayed: Can we expect The Technomancer to run at 1080p and 60 fps on both the PS4 and Xbox One or are you settling for 30 frames per second?
Jehanne Rousseau: For a RPG like The Technomancer we preferred to achieve the best graphic quality, so we decided to stick to 1080p and 30 fps on PS4 and Xbox One. The 60 fps is a very interesting technical challenge, but concentrate our efforts on it would not be reasonable for us, and there would have been too many sacrifices to do on the game.
Rashid K. Sayed: What are your thoughts on DirectX 12? What kind of advantages do you think it will bring to PC and Xbox One games development?
Jehanne Rousseau: We can’t wait to see DirectX 12 well installed on PC! This is the missing standard to allow everyone to benefit from the new generation of graphic API initiated with Mantle. This will mainly allow even more detailed and dynamic environments. But in practice, we already have some sort of more low level API on consoles than on PC.
"We always try to give the maximum of flexibility for our PC players. This is usual on this platform and if we forget one parameter our players don’t hesitate to remind us. "
Rashid K. Sayed: Xbox One’s lower compute unit count, memory bandwidth and eSRAM issues are well documented. Resolution differences in multi-platform games are commonplace and in some titles we’re even looking at 720p vs 1080p. What’s your take on the differences between Xbox One and PlayStation 4?
Jehanne Rousseau: Honestly the differences are not that important.
They are present, it’s true, but we are very far from the technical difficulties we usually faced with a cross platform title on the previous generation. There may be subtle rendering difference between the two platforms but that seems unlikely. Our objective is really to offer the maximum of details in 1080p. And it’s unthinkable for us to go back to 720p.
Rashid K. Sayed: The concern people have is that by optimising with the Xbox One design in mind, PC and PS4 could miss out on more ambitious visuals. What’s your take on that?
Jehanne Rousseau: There is no need to worry about that since the difference between the two consoles are small. However the high end PC will have a better resolution and slightly more detailed graphics, but this won’t dramatically change the game experience in the end.
Rashid K. Sayed: Are you using the 7th core of the Xbox One CPU to further enhance the game’s performance?
Jehanne Rousseau: We are not using it yet but this is only a matter of time! This is very interesting for us to have access to this processor. We will use it to do a part of our computations to smooth the frame rate. In fact we designed our new engine to be very flexible about the number of processors. With mainly in mind the numerous PC designs, but this will also be useful for this 7th processor.
Rashid K. Sayed: What kind of advanced graphical options can PC players expect from the game?
Jehanne Rousseau: We always try to give the maximum of flexibility for our PC players. This is usual on this platform and if we forget one parameter our players don’t hesitate to remind us. So there will be many options to tweak the graphic rendering, like the quality of the shadows, of the SSAO, of the anti-aliasing, of the FX, and so on…
Rashid K. Sayed: Thanks for your time! Is there anything else you want to tell us?
Jehanne Rousseau: I really thank you for this interview, and hope our players will enjoy our game as much are we’re enjoying developing it for them.