The developers of Smoke and Sacrifice answer some of our questions about the game.
Smoke and Sacrifice is an open-world RPG in which you will play as Sachi, a mother in search of her son. On her journey, she will find that there are larger issues at play, and she will have to try hard to survive in the brutal world out there. This is a game which offers some challenging gameplay along with a deep and engaging narrative.
To learn more about the game and its development, Gamingbolt reached out to the Tancred Dyke-Wells and Neil Millstone – the co-founders of developer Solar Sail Games with some questions and they provided the following answers.
"Over the course of the game Sachi discovers that to look out for the interests of her family, ultimately she must overturn the entire basis for their whole way of life"
This game looks like it will feature a really deep and complex story dealing with themes such as the ecosystem, motherhood, religion, and more. What has been your approachto storytelling with Smoke and Sacrifice?
You have to start from sincerity and really just put it on the line; if players are going to invest their time (and you’re going to spend a couple of years of your life making the game you want to) then you may as well tell a story with some meaning. We’re all parents, we’re all concerned about the future.
Sachi’s journey as a mother is one where she starts out from terrible loss, with this intensely personal motivation to get her child back. But the story expands from the personal to the epic, from family bonds to social structures – as the mystery and falsehood of the world she lives in is revealed.
Over the course of the game Sachi discovers that to look out for the interests of her family, ultimately she must overturn the entire basis for their whole way of life; in the end, she needs to save all kids not just her own.
So yes, the story of the game is really about how environmentalism isn’t just about ‘nature’ as something separate from us, it’s also about people – the personal, human cost of pollution and labour exploitation in fossil fuel based industrial societies.
What were some of the inspirations you drew on for the game’s story and gameplay?
Well, some of those thoughts came directly from my concerns as a parent, my kid having asthma and relating that to having to walk along busy roads on the way to school. And environmental fantasy stories like Princess Mononoke and The Dark Crystal were influences. But gameplay-wise we just wanted a really rich, coherent, living world with a whole host of interactions between creatures and plants occurring so it feels like all the creatures in the world exist in harmony with each other until Sachi arrives.. We liked emotional games like Ico with light and shade but also those open-ended, more sandbox experiences where every player has a different story to tell, where the game offers a sense of possibility and the world feels alive.
With a survival game of this kind, a high difficulty comes as part of the package. Nevertheless, have you taken any steps to ensure that the game remains accessible to a wider audience?
Some players want to run around semi-naked and beat every boss with the wooden cudgel they craft at the start of the game, relying purely on reaction time and skill; some players want to actively moderate difficulty by ‘prepping’, upgrading their armour and weapons to the maximum, finding every recipe, storing up bombs, meals and elixirs and then tanking those fights. And we see those as both being completely valid pathways. We even allow for some fights to be bypassed entirely, or for the player to bring their own tamed creatures to fight alongside them.
It’s very typical on every project for developers to underestimate the difficulty of our own games because we become so expert at them without realising; in this case, we’ve certainly had feedback that Smoke and Sacrifice can be very challenging but for the most part, people seem to love that. However, we have been been listening to people’s niggles and critique too, so a whole host of ‘quality of life’ improvements are on the way. We don’t intend to ease difficulty directly, but we are aiming to improve the pacing of the survival gameplay and to add auto-save opportunities so that players are less likely to lose progress if they forget to bank it at Terminals!
The game has been compared a lot to Don’t Starve. Would you say the comparisons are justified? What are some of the fundamental differences in gameplay between the two games?
We love that game and the camera view and crafting makes it an obvious comparison. But they’re less alike than you might think – In fact, Zelda: Breath of the Wild was actually our main reference!
Smoke and Sacrifice is not a roguelike (we don’t force players to start again on death and remake the world), we’re a progressive hero’s journey and much more of a combat-heavy, action adventure game. There’s not much base-building because the player is usually moving forward and exploring, the world is laid out by hand and unlocked with progress, rather than being procedurally generated. The survival aspects are lighter – there’s no continual hunger bleeding down your health, though the Smoke is dangerous and pretty much everything is out to get you! Gameplay is a mixture of the player setting their own goals through exploration/ crafting and the game/ story defining objectives for you through quests.
But most of all, Smoke and Sacrifice is a story-driven experience in a world populated with talkative npcs!
In games of this genre, story usually takes a backseat to the gameplay. What made you decide to emphasize the narrative aspect of the game?
What we do love about proc-gen games is the sense of possibility, every player having a unique experience. At their best, games in this genre can feel like the opposite of a scripted, prescribed ‘hoop-jumping’ experience – they are organic, different every time and the game world can feel alive.
But, often those sandbox games can also feel like it’s you up against a bunch of random numbers; we like games with heart, story, personality and a sense of purpose – meaning, too. We want you to get to the end feeling like you’d unravelled a mystery and changed the world!
"Sachi is an ordinary human; her core attributes don’t change – your progression in the game is all about creating and improving your equipment and items"
Being a survival game, crafting must be of crucial importance. Can you elaborate about how crafting works in the game?
OK, we have a very extensive crafting system! There is a huge array of meals, weapons, equipment, armour, tools, traps and more to create and use. Crafting stations of different tech levels can be activated at different points in the game. You start with relatively stone-age items made at the workbench but you’ll be making electrical steampunk armour and mystical crystal weapons by the end!
Recipes can be discovered from NPCs but also found and unlocked in the world. Weapons and armour deteriorate with hits, but they can be repaired; it depends on what the item is as to how you repair it (for example, you fix your lantern by putting more glowing flies inside). And, you can upgrade weapons and armour with appropriate materials to make them tougher and more effective.
Raw fruit and meat will rot over time, but if you cook those ingredients into a dish they will cease to decay – or you can store raw ingredients in chests to refrigerate/ preserve them. Dishes offer various buffs and protections.
Traps can be baited with diff foods depending on what you are trying to attract, you can use tools to dig up earth mounds and you can tame creatures with masks and their favourite foods!
Also, what is combat going to be like?
We went a little overboard putting weapons in the game! There are many different types of bombs, heavy projectile weapons, hammers, knives, elemental swords, mines and explosive kegs you can plant, traps and area-of-effect staffs. Each enemy has their own vulnerability; for example, you can stun Smoke Ghosts with flash bombs and then milk them for their ectoplasm!
What is the progression system in the game like?
Sachi is an ordinary human; her core attributes don’t change – your progression in the game is all about creating and improving your equipment and items. But over the course of the game you will go from punching jellyfish-like polyps with your bare fists to romping around in electrical armour and blasting multiple enemies with your crystal laser; the use of elixirs and special foods to buff your speed, armour and resistances is also an important part of how the player grows in strength.
That said, one major ability, the shield/ light gauge does come online at a certain story point in the game and that grants the ability to deflect projectiles as well as survive longer in the Smoke without a lantern.
Were there any particular challenges you faced during the game’s development?
Well, we made a 20-50hr (depending on how completist you are) action adventure with a tiny team in 18 months so really the whole project was a massive challenge. Honestly, we didn’t originally intend to make such a big game! But we loved every minute and hopefully you can feel that when you play. Put love in, get love out…
The game is now confirmed for the PS4 and Xbox One, which also means it will support the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X. Can you please let us know the resolution and frame rate it will run at on the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X?
We’re hoping for native 4k resolution (no upscaling) and HDR support on both PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, but we can’t make promises just yet. Keep an eye on our social media for more as we progress with these versions. If we can get it to run well at 60fps, we’ll be doing that too!
"All the platforms have great tools these days, things have improved massively since I began making games on console"
And the resolution and frame rate on the base PS4 and Xbox One versions?
We are again aiming for full native 1080p at 30fps. The game’s art style really benefits from as much resolution as we can get.
Given that you are now working on both the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, what kind of technical differences did you found between the two?
We use middleware and so far, it has been a very similar experience between the two platforms. All the platforms have great tools these days, things have improved massively since I began making games on console. We’re not yet at a point where we’re pushing the 4K performance on either one, but I expect both of them to cope well with the game when we do get to that.
Why isn’t the game releasing on Switch?
Actually the game is out now on Nintendo Switch! Seeing the beautiful art on that little screen is a sight to behold!
What is your take on the recent trend of Games as a service model and the possible controversial monetization practices arising from it?
It’s not so relevant for us, we’re a Premium game with a single price of entry. There’s nothing wrong with different business models, especially if a game is free in the first place but from a creativity point of view, it’s nice not to have to base your design decisions about what will monetize and instead focus purely on imagining the experience that you think will be most immersive and rewarding.
The current generation of consoles will probably end in the next couple of years. What is your biggest expectation from the next PlayStation and Xbox?
Expectation is a strong word but one question I have in mind is whether this will be the generation where the disc drive is lost and the machines become more of an entirely digital, aways-online, Steam-like service offering. If not, maybe the generation after… but it’s coming. Physical discs are old technology. And I think streaming and subscription services like PlayStation Now are likely to become more central to how consumers buy and play – in the same way that Netflix and Spotify have come to define how we consume movies and music. On the other hand, consumer internet still isn’t ideal for delivering the tens of gigabytes that current-gen games consume, so if they’re even bigger next time round, it could mean games on disc stay relevant for a while longer.
From a developer perspective, do you think the next-gen console era will be the 4K/60fps era?
Well, arguably 4k and 60fps are already here with PS4 Pro and Xbox One X so sure, that should be the baseline, although not necessarily together. In general, developers tend to choose to go with 30 frames per second in order to prioritise graphical quality over frame rate for most of the bigger titles, and I’m not sure that will change other than for multiplier or fast action titles. But hopefully the next gen will offer something more than graphical fidelity, since with each new round of hardware the returns diminish – modern games already look amazing. I’m more interested in platforms that offer improved discoverability and which promote unique, interesting titles to players who might not otherwise find out about them!
Is there anything more you’d like to tell our readers about the game?
It’s made with heart and soul! So we hope you feel that when you play. Oh, and we have been listening hard to all your feedback so there are various new goodies on the way to improve ‘quality of life’ as well as refinements to balancing and even new quest content!