Bloober Team discusses its cyberpunk, reality-bending horror title.
Bloober Team’s Observer is an intriguing beast, a first person horror adventure title that promises reality-bending experiences similar to Layers of Fear. However, it also pays homage to cyberpunk, drenched in neon colours and distorted spaces while questioning the culture of augmentation and surveillance. The game is already out on Xbox One, PS4 and PC but GamingBolt had a chance to speak to the developer and get their thoughts on the overall development, the decisions behind the aesthetic and much more.
"The actively changing environments will be connected mostly with when you are exploring the chaotic minds of people you encounter."
Observer takes place in a future Poland, which is diametrically opposite to the olden times of Layers of Fear. What inspired the setting, cyberpunk themes and concepts of hacking into people’s minds?
The cyberpunk setting came mostly from the interests we have here in BT – a lot of us are fans of this genre and we wanted to make something unique, hence the combination with psychological horror. The dystopian future presented in works like Blade Runner or Akira is definitely scary on its own, but we wanted to make the game even more grittier by keeping the setting very down-to-earth. We introduced the slums of Krakow and enabled the player to hack into the minds of people. This way we could merge the dystopia of the real world with the psychedelia of a deranged mind.
What can you tell us about the main character and other NPCs? How does the characterization differ from Layers of Fear? Will there still be a strong focus on the protagonist at all times?
The protagonist – detective Daniel Lazarski – is the most important character in the game, however the story is not all that centered around him, as far as other NPCs are involved – it’s different in this way from Layers of Fear. The game is heavy on the symbolic side, so Dan can be treated as an active Observer of events taking shape in the game. He wants to stay in control of everything that’s happening but it might become very difficult for him over time.
Can you tell us how the gameplay in Observer works and how the tandem vision modes function with each other?
As a neural detective you will have two vision modes at your disposal: UV and bio visions. The former allows you to scan for electronic objects of interest, the latter for biological ones. It’s all about gathering information and evidence in the ‘real world’.
What do you believe is the biggest differentiating factor between the gameplay in Layers of Fear and Observer? How will the actively changing environments work and alter a player’s approach?
Observer is definitely a larger game than Layers of Fear was. There are more gameplay mechanics, dialogue options, detective work to do, minigames and of course mind hacking. The actively changing environments will be connected mostly with when you are exploring the chaotic minds of people you encounter. We have bumped up this technique a little more in Observer, so now even what’s right in front of you is subject to change.
"The choices are there mostly for the player immersion and the dialogues can be pretty lengthy."
Compression artefact effects have been utilized as a unique aesthetic for the changing environments. Are there other computer-centric visual touches you’ve employed to grant that cyberpunk feel?
When we were conceptualizing the game we thought about classic cyberpunk works, including books from William Gibson and Phillip K. Dick, movies like Johnny Mneomonic or Blade Runner. They all shared one thing in common – they were created in the 80’s and 90’s, so we took that vision and crafted our game with a retro vibe to it, so you’ll see a lot of oldschool computer effects, and even some old PC’s as well. The audio design matches the sounds of floppy discs booting up, the overall visual of the game is a little reminiscent of old VHS tapes, and so on. However, the most important element of the aesthetic and world building are the holograms plastered all over the tenement building as means of covering up the gritty world beneath them.
How deep is the conversation tree in the game? What compelled you to allow players to make dialogue choices? Can different choices influence the game’s outcome?
The choices are there mostly for the player immersion and the dialogues can be pretty lengthy. Most of the time you will be able to receive hints and tropes about what’s going on in the game through conversing with other people, however, they were also designed to give the players a solid backbone to the world of Observer, a peek into the ordinary lives of people forced to live at that time and age. The dialogues can influence the game, however it’s done scarcely.
Observer is described as a horror game but much of the horror (at this point it seems) is contained within a human’s mind. Is there a point where that horror can transcend into the real world? Furthermore, what effect do these horrors have on the player’s mind?
It’s a part of the surprise for players to uncover, so I won’t spoil more than just say that the threat is very real in the real world on both the physical level – there’s a killer on loose, but also on the psychological level. Once you begin to understand the intricacies of events taking place you will know what I mean.
"The Xbox One X is closer in specs to the PC gaming rigs right now, which will always benefit developers releasing their games on multiple platforms."
In terms of play-length, how long would you consider Observer to be? What kinds of environments can players look forward to seeing?
Observer should last for about 8 hours for a normal playthrough, but I bet a lot of people will need to clock more hours into the game to finish the story. There are also different endings, so those who want to get all they can from Observer will need at least twice that.
There’s a lot of different environments that you will explore both inside buildings and some even in the wilderness. There’s a few that you definitely won’t expect to see in a cyberpunk game.
The game is coming on the PS4 and Xbox One as well. What frame rate and resolution are you targeting for both? 1080p and 60fps?
Observer is set as a full HD game running at 30fps. We tried our best to sustain as much graphical fidelity as we could on consoles. Because the game doesn’t rely on your reflexes 30 FPS count works best in terms of maintaining the visual quality.
I am sure you must have heard about the Xbox One X’s announcement and how powerful it’s. It has a powerful GPU and a ton of memory, I am sure Observe will run at 4K/60fps on this machine?
The Xbox One X is still a few months shy from release, we will disclose any information regarding Observer on this console closer to the release date of the hardware.
Despite being powerful in the memory and GPU departments, the CPU is a tad disappointment and is slightly better than the Xbox One. Do you think that could stop developers from realizing its full potential?
The Xbox One X is closer in specs to the PC gaming rigs right now, which will always benefit developers releasing their games on multiple platforms. As long as the GPU is solid a lot of calculating can be moved from the CPU to the video card, so it shouldn’t be a huge problems for developers to fully realize the potential of the new console.
"The bottom line here is that the better hardware developers have at their disposal the better the games will run and look."
The PS4 Pro despite being a powerful system is actually weaker than the Xbox One X. As a developer, will you aim for parity between the two or will you push the Xbox One X to its strengths?
Both the Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro are a solid step-up in terms of what can be achieved on them. We always strive to bring the best possible products for owners of the consoles, and as such, we will always strive to push the quality of our games on each of the consoles to its full potentials.
The Xbox One X features 12GB of GDDR5 memory. Now that is a ton of memory…how do you think this will be beneficial for the developers?
Obviously the more memory the smoother the calculating will be, so expect faster level streaming, shorter loading times and probably thousands of other benefits that I’m not really capable of providing as I’m not a programmer myself. The bottom line here is that the better hardware developers have at their disposal the better the games will run and look.
Is there anything else you want to tell our readers before we let you go?
First and foremost, I’d like to thank our fans who have been steadily growing after the release of Layers of Fear. They are very supportive and I can’t stress this enough, but you guys are the best! I hope you’ll have a great time playing Observer and I hope you will take some time to ponder on the issues presented in the game. It’s a very symbolic, deep game that tackles real problems both those present in our contemporary world, but also those that might await us in the near future.
Secondly, I urge you to try horror games, I know they are freaky and we as people don’t like to be afraid, but think about them as vaccines for everyday fear. It really works!