The Alters Interview – Player Choice, Survival Mechanics, and More

Game director Tomasz Kisilewicz speaks with GamingBolt about 11 bit studios' next title.

Posted By | On 07th, Dec. 2023

The Alters Interview – Player Choice, Survival Mechanics, and More

With the likes of This War of Mine and Frostpunk under its belt, 11 bit studios has built up a well-earned reputation as one of the most effective and skilled developers when it comes to the art of blending story and gameplay, and with its next title, The Alters, it’s making similar promises. From a unique sci-fi setting to a narrative premise with thematic depth, from a focus on storytelling through player choice to an emphasis on survival mechanics, The Alters is making some very intriguing promises. To learn more about the game and what will serve as its key pillars, we recently reached out with a few questions to its developers. Below, you can read our interview with game director Tomasz Kisilewicz.

The Alters_05

"For the main theme of our game to resonate properly, it was important for us to allow players to make decisions that shape their story, because The Alters is a game with a branching story and different endings."

How much of an emphasis will The Alters place on player choices and how they will impact the experience and how it pans out?

It is crucial. You know, the whole game starts with a decision to create the first Alters, which triggers the whole avalanche of events. And ultimately, that’s what The Alters is about. Those decisions that shape our lives, the fact of who we become based on our choices. For the main theme of our game to resonate properly, it was important for us to allow players to make decisions that shape their story, because The Alters is a game with a branching story and different endings. Decision-making is to some degree the foundation of video games in general.

But I think that is not the most important thing. We strongly believe that decision making is the foundation of games in general. That’s why we try to make our games have mechanical depth so that every choice matters. It’s no different with The Alters, the best example of which is our emotional system. The alters that the player manages have their own emotions, which we can influence through our decisions – plot, economics, etc. Each dialogue choice affects our alters, influences their attitude or motivation, and, consequently, their individual stories and behavior.

What can you tell us about the mechanics surrounding building relationships with Jan’s different alters, and how influencing their choices could impact the experience?

Each Alter has their personality – it results directly from the course of their simulated life. They made decisions along their life path that shaped them. For this reason, they react differently to various events or our decisions. While for one alter the main drive might be ambition, another will be an empath who cares mostly about the fate of his team. Getting to know Alters, understanding their personality is crucial to effectively building a relationship with them and to have a chance in your common fight for survival. This won’t work with a team that is demotivated, undermines your decisions, or is planning a rebellion.

The Alters

"The Alters is built on the experience from our previous productions, whether it’s This War of Mine or Frostpunk. Our new game is quite an original mix of genres, we are trying new things, such as RPG-like dialogues that shape the course of the story. But our philosophy remains unchanged and this is something I strongly believe in – the best games tell their story, convey their message, through core gameplay mechanics."

11 bit studios’ past titles have obviously had a knack for combining storytelling, choice and consequence mechanics, and survival gameplay systems. How familiar will The Alters’ general structure be for someone who has experience with the studio’s previous games?

The Alters is built on the experience from our previous productions, whether it’s This War of Mine or Frostpunk. Our new game is quite an original mix of genres, we are trying new things, such as RPG-like dialogues that shape the course of the story. But our philosophy remains unchanged and this is something I strongly believe in – the best games tell their story, convey their message, through core gameplay mechanics. In this way, the player has the opportunity to literally “experience” the topic we are discussing – it is something unique to our medium and that is why we care about it so much. I believe this is what made our previous titles so successful and I think The Alters has that 11 bit fingerprint all over itself.

Speaking of the survival mechanics, what approach does The Alters take with difficulty where its survival mechanics are concerned? How much granular control and management will players be expected to keep an eye on, especially given the more narrative-heavy nature of the experience

Survival mechanics are this great engine for us, both in terms of gameplay and narrative, and it comes together fantastically. The desire to survive drives our hero Jan to create alters, because without them he will undoubtedly die. In our game, we have a huge ticking clock of the rising sun which will burn everything in its path and from which we must escape to survive. This desire to survive, on the one hand, motivates our Alters, but also raises the stakes and tensions – if our decisions are poor, we have to deal not only with the threats of a hostile planet but also with internal frictions within the team.

The right balance of difficulty is undoubtedly a big challenge for us – we need a clear sense of danger and gameplay tension, but we don’t want players to easily fall into a snowball of problems that will be difficult to get out of. This is an interesting challenge because our game reaches a fairly wide audience, both for players interested in learning about the history of our alters and those coming for a gameplay challenge. Our goal is certainly not to create an exceptionally difficult survival game, but we want fans of the genre who choose this game to find a challenge in it.


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