Over the last few years we’ve seen the rise of games which put us in the shoes of superheroes or even those with a more villainous nature. Aside from the expected arrival of games based on established licenses, with wavering quality, a few original superhero titles have risen to the surface that allowed us to further our desire to shoot bolts of electricity out of our hands or make a single leap that takes us airborne for five blocks.
The arrival of more superhero games within the action-adventure genre has been nice, but there’s still a desire within gamers for something more. Games like Infamous and even Crackdown have in a way wet our appetite for epic action, but what if we could play a game in which we could create our hero and the abilities we could wield? Thankfully a development studio has taken up the challenge of creating an epic adventure that’s original in the form of Project Awakened.
Developed by the Chicago based team at Phosphor Games, Project Awakened is a long gestating superhero title that is trying to break new ground within the action genre. Aside from featuring the pre-requisite things such as engaging action, featuring both melee and long ranged abilities, Project Awakened allows gamers to literally create their hero from the bottom up – right down to which abilities they’re wield in combat.
To discuss the finer points of Project Awakened, Phosphor Games’ Studio Director Chip Sineni fills Shogun Gamer in on what the game is doing to differentiate itself from other titles in the action genre.
Ian Fisher: Project Awakened may be familiar to a few gamers since the game made a brief showing a few years ago via some concept art and early gameplay videos. For those who aren’t familiar with the game, can you tell us about the origins of Project Awakened and what inspired the team to pursue the vision they had?
Chip Sineni: Project Awakened was originally inspired by us looking at the depth of customization offered by MMOs and combining it with the action and gameplay scenarios of videogames. There really have not been any action games with real player customization. We started on a concept similar to Project Awakened six years ago at another company that closed down, and ever since we have been trying to get the funding to make it happen.
Ian: What kind of narrative can we expect from Project Awakened? Will the game take a very comic book inspired route with the story, both in respect to narrative arcs and presentation, or will it be grounded in a sense of reality akin to the film Chronicle?
Chip: The game is very influenced by some of the more 'mature' story writing in the industry. Tone-wise, it is between a few things - Bioshock, Metal Gear, Deus Ex, Assassin's Creed. The game is set in a real world very close to ours, except some early technological discoveries 50 years ago accelerated things we can do today. We want the world to be very familiar, yet have some unexpected and interesting twists.
Ian: People who are previously familiar with Project Awakened will remember the game for the amazing concept art which depicted sword wielding characters battling on the wing of a flying plane or using a tendril of water as a weapon. Games obviously change over time, but will Project Awakened still have that same scope to the battles (either in gameplay or cutscenes) or have things been scaled back?
Chip: That plane was a cool shot! We still plan to have some epic scenes in the game- whether that exact scene is in there is something we will figure out if it makes sense throughout the course of the story. The issue with some larger specific scenes like that is, while it is very memorable and iconic, that particular scene may not work for many types of characters. (A non-lethal character, a stealthy character, etc.) The scenarios we are trying to come up with now have to be vetted to work with all kinds of different play styles.
Early concept art from Awakened
Ian: Obviously the big appeal of Project Awakened is that it’s a massive action game revolving around characters with extraordinary abilities - all of which can be customized by the player. Can you share some insight on what abilities will be in the game and how players can go about molding their experience as they see fit?
Chip: We have prototyped some 40 or so abilities already. One thing we can figure out is it is very easy to make many different styles of things that can directly harm or incapacitate enemies (electricity, fire, heat, energy), we can make those with projectiles, beams, AOE, shields, etc. But that kind of stuff doesn’t change the game as much, they are sort of different flavors of the same thing.
What we see as making it feel more like you are playing your own character is when you change the way a player moves, fights, is detected, and changes the world around them, like mind control, telekinesis, creating new objects, teleport, etc., all change the way you play severely. So we are looking into as many of those- if players have suggestions, please go to our forums with ideas!
Ian: The abilities offered in Project Awakened truly sound exciting since we really don’t see that level of depth in games in conjunction with a true sense of freedom as to what a player can outfit their character with. Given the depth of the abilities within the game, what has it been like for the development team to implement that system/mechanic without it upsetting the balance of the game?
Chip: Some of the balance is just classic RPG stuff - the more powerful it is, the more expensive it has to be to acquire it, and the more quickly it drains to use it. But some other skills do get tricky. Flying and Super Jump always has this issue. In our first versions, you could super jump and fly everywhere, pretty much leave every situation whenever you wanted and break tension and flow. It was so overpowered that every character would pick it, and it really wasn't about creating the character of your dreams, it was about creating your flying / jumping character of your dreams.
All of the scenarios had to be about that, when really very few of the major video game characters of the past couple of years are about super jump and flight. So we try to figure out how we can get the "spirit" of some skills without necessarily breaking the whole rest of the game. That said, we may even make some "unsupported abilities" for people that want to try stuff out and break the game. If somebody wants to break the game and it is fun, we can facilitate that.
Ian: There’s always an expectation of sorts amongst people when it comes to what they want out of a project that has characters with super powers/special abilities. With properties such as X-Men, and even the TV show Heroes, setting the standard as to what sort of action can be presented, what sort of mantra has the team at Phosphor taken when it comes to creating the abilities featured in Project Awakened, not just in how they’re used as tools of action but what sort of visual cues are provided as well?
Chip: The thing we're most looking forward to with visually showcasing abilities is bringing the next-gen features of UE4 to bear. Physically simulated GPU accelerated particles lighting the world around you will make all our abilities look amazing!
Ian: Out of all the abilities that can be created in Project Awakened, which one is your personal favorite?
Chip: It is really hard to say. As a tinker type player, I really like replaying scenarios over with different skills and see how they go. To me, it isn't so much about picking one character, as it is trying all these different combinations and seeing what happens.
It really depends on my mood. Sometimes I like making tanks that are unstoppable with maybe a massive fire attack and blow off some steam, or a classic character I play a lot is a G.I. JOE "snake eyes" type, which is a bit boring, but really there aren't a lot of game characters like him - an assault rifle, a katana, some movement power, maybe invisibility. Mind Control is also fun to play around with, just seeing how far you can take a battle without personally going on to the battle yourself.
An in-game screen of Project Awakened running on UE3
Ian: Gamers love action games set within open-world/sandbox environments and Project Awakened thankfully is going that route with its central gameplay. Exactly what sort of scope will the city featured in Project Awakened have and how will it play into missions or spontaneous battles that gamers opt to partake in? Is the city going to have a very obvious playground of destruction vibe with things such as environmental destruction or will it have a realistic edge that helps set the mood of the world?
Chip: Our world is devised of both an open world sandbox 'hub' and more detailed intricate 'spokes'. The easiest way to think of a spoke is like a Batman Arkham Asylum / Splinter Cell / Dishonored level, with situations that present themselves and the player, and the player has multiple ways of achieving a goal.
The hub is where you pick up these missions, as well as missions like hunting somebody down, etc. In terms of destruction, we are doing both of what you mentioned, "realistic destruction", meaning you can flip cars, chip away some walls, break objects, sear the ground, etc., but you won’t be destroying all the buildings in the city like the Hulk or Godzilla.
Ian: How will the gameplay variety offered within the character abilities tie into the key gameplay scenarios in the main campaign? Will there be tailored events given a particular play style, or will the variety within the game derive from what the player opts to do?
Chip: If we did that, we'd probably have to limit our abilities. We more see it like your reaction is what changes the world. There may be something like "how vicious or evil you are" may affect a response as well, but we haven’t decided how that could work. A problem that comes from having a morality system is players stop playing the way they want at points, and more start playing how they think the morality system wants them to play. So we are trying to keep more of this just how the game naturally responds to your immediate actions.
Ian: Accompanying the core single-player experience of Project Awakened will be a robust multiplayer mode. Given the unique abilities that players can utilize within the game, what sort of tone and direction is the team taking when it comes to devising the modes and scenarios of the multiplayer mode?
Chip: The initial beta release will have multiplayer working, but not truly supported with polished lobby, matchmaking, etc. We see our first mission with multiplayer beta is making it fun. One of the things we want to support is a lot of ways players can tune their games. We look at the fun people had playing Golden Eye, Perfect Dark, or Halo with limiting certain things and changing some rules.
A type of rule we often discuss is "upon death, inherit enemy's appearance and abilities" - so one person could be a stat maxed Zombie, everyone else are people, and eventually all the players get turned into zombies. This same thing would work for Aliens vs Space Marines or Vampires or whatever. Players just made their own mode essentially; we didn’t have to do anything.
Ian: What can we expect from the implementation of Unreal Engine 4 within Project Awakened? Will the development team be pushing UE4 as much as they can to deliver a world rich with details, or will things be more subdued so as to use the engine for things such as the various effects related to the abilities and providing a dense city that doesn’t sacrifice details to offer a huge scope to everything?
Chip: The great thing with UE4 is it can do everything so well. We want to have as photorealistic of a world as possible to play in, but abilities and some gear on players can be as subdued or crazy as players want. Like particles you emit can light up areas and make it really feel like they are in the same world as everything. The nice thing is, since we aren’t limited to current gen consoles, we can really do so much more with having larger worlds in memory, more stuff on screen, etc. It is very liberating what we can do.
Ian: Project Awakened has been kicking around for the past six years in various forms so this is definitely a passion project for everyone involved. With Phosphor Games opting to go the Kickstarter route this time to make the game a reality, what is the back-up plan if things unfortunately don’t go as planned and the funding goal isn‘t met? Will development on the project be pushed aside to seek funding from other outlets, or will the concept be scaled back to accommodate a smaller budget?
Chip: It really means that it will just take longer to make. Instead of a year and half it is three years or something. We have kept this idea alive for so long, we will keep on pushing to make it happen.
Ian: If there’s one element that the team at Phosphor Games wants to change/define within both the action and superhero genres, what would it be?
Chip: I think it is really giving the players the ability to change everything about the character they are playing with - allowing for people to play as they want. The power to create your own videogame character is incredible, it is something we think gamers will demand more from other games as they get accustomed to the flexibility and customization.
Ian: Do you have any last words for everyone as to why they should check out Project Awakened and what they can expect from the game?
Chip: We really feel Project Awakened is a game changer- there is no other way to get this experience. From the campaign that lets you play how you want, to the multiplayer that lets you customize everything, to the possibilities that modding can change everything further, it really has endless potential.
As someone who has been a longtime fan of superhero games, the direction Project Awakened is taking is incredibly exciting. Even though we’ve seen a decent amount of original IPs appear with a superhero basis, the grounded approach of Project Awakened in addition with the main attraction of being able to craft the abilities of your character is something that I think gamers will find irresistible.
Given how long Project Awakened has been in varying forms of development, one can only hope that the Kickstarter campaign is successful and that we can receive the type of superhero game many of us have been dreaming of for years.
Note: All screens in the gallery are running on Unreal Engine 3 and are not indicative of the final quality Phosphor Games is aiming for.