RPG Italia is proud to present an interview with the author of Underrail, an indie RPG set in a far future where humanity lives confined in the underground that once served as metro. The concept that inspired this game is very close to the old Fallout and you will notice the similarities also watching the video attached to the interview. Now let Dejan speak, author of the game and frontman of the indie software house Stygian Software, who kindly answered our questions about his interesting project:
1 – RPGItalia: Hi Dejan, could you please tell us something about yourself and your decision to start making an RPG? What’s your background? Computer RPGs? Pen & Paper sessions? Both? And do you work alone or with a team?
Dejan: Hi. Well, I’ve always been interested in making games, especially RPGs as it’s my favorite genre. Growing up I played a lot of big classic western cRPGs such as Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, Fallout, Arcanum, Neverwinter Nights, later installations of Might and Magic and so forth. And then at one point companies just stopped producing these kind of games.
Five years ago I got a job in business software industry that enabled me to get a lot of experience in developing “real world” software so to speak, and also to get much more disciplined and focused in my work. So once I got to be a better programmer, naturally I turned back to the kind of software which I really wanted to make. I started developing Underrail some 3 years ago. At first I worked on it part time, but I quit my job a few months back and now I’m working on it double-time.
I’m working on it alone, except for outsourcing character models.
2 – RPGItalia: What’s your favourite (non RPG) videogame genre? And which is the last “good” RPG you have played?
Dejan: I don’t play many other games outside the RPG genre, but those that I play, I play a lot. My second favorite genre would be turn-based strategy games. I’m a big fun of Civilization games, and Alpha Centauri in particular.
Also, I play a lot of Heroes of Might and Magic 3. That game has literally been on my desktop since 1999. Whenever I reinstall my system I immediately put it back on because I know I’ll play it again at some point.
And while I don’t like RTS in general, I do love Starcraft 1 & 2.
Hmm, the last good RPG I played. Well, if we’re going to count the rogue-like ones I’d say TOME (Tales of Maj’yeal) and Dungeons of Dredmor.
But if we’re talking about a more classic types of RPGs I think that would be Neverwinter Nigths 2 and its Mask of the Betrayer expansion.
I played other RPGs since, but I don’t think I played any of them for their RPG qualities.
3 – RPGItalia: What do you think about modern RPG? In your opinion, is there still room for “Old School RPGs” in the mainstream market?
Dejan: Well I guess it depends on what you mean by “mainstream market”.
I don’t think they can have as big of a fanbase as those competitive online shooters or whatever it is that’s popular these days.
But they can certainly fill more than a niche.
4 – RPGItalia: About Underrail, let’s start from the beginning: Is this your first project? How long have you worked on it? And what can you tell us about the change of the name from “Timelapse Vertigo” to “Underrail”?
Dejan: Underrail is my first serious go at game development. I started the project in 2009. I think.
The previous name is something that I came up with before I really had a good feel of what the scope of the game would, or rather could realistically be. Initially, the story was much more ambitious but somewhere along the way I realized I had to cut out a smaller stand-alone-ish piece and use that instead. And that piece is Underrail.
5 – RPGItalia: Can you tell us something about the world setting and the main storyline? Are you interested in telling a good story or is your focus more on mechanic like combat, stealth, hacking and so on?
Dejan: There is more focus on the mechanics and the exploration factor. The game will still have moderate amounts of narration, primarily dialog, but that’s not really my strong suit. Story and general world settings are an integral part of a good RPG, though, so they will definitely be in there.
Underrail is set in the distant future in which the mankind is living in a system of underground metro station that is the namesake of the game. It’s a chaotic world where most stations are states of their own, have their own set of laws, ethics and interests and usually only come together to trade. We also have a number of stations that, under the pressure and with backing of a powerful paramilitary force, formed an alliance and are working towards creating something resembling a country. This act causes an imbalance of power which is one of the main themes of the game.
Also, the Underrail system is surrounded (literally on all sides) by a sprawling labyrinth of natural tunnels and caverns that hold dangers of their own and which the player will be able to explore.
6 – RPGItalia: Who is our playable character? A normal person? A criminal? A spy? A policeman? A thief? Can we choose or customize his background or class at the beginning of the game?
Dejan: Player takes a role of a newcomer to one of the stations. His past and how and why he got there is not important as he starts with a clean slate. And from that point, he can be whatever you want him (or her) to be.
7 – RPGItalia: We think that sometimes the choice of a good ruleset is the first step to create a good RPG, so can you tell us something about the kind of ruleset used in Underrail?
Dejan: The ruleset I created for Underrail is mainly inspired by later D&D editions and Fallout’s SPECIAL.
It’s a classless system with three levels of customizations:
Base ability scores (such as strength, dexterity, intelligence, etc) determine the core potential of your character. You distribute these scores at the character creation, but also receive additional points as you level up.
Skills represent linear progression of your character in various areas: use of weapons, defense, subterfuge, crafting, psionics, and social.
You get to increase those at every level. You get a certain amount of skill points that you distribute as you see fit (each skill is level capped though). They are also influenced (increased/decreased) by base ability scores.
And lastly, you gain feats (also known as perks in games like fallout) on every even level. Feats can do a lot of things: they can change the way some of your abilities work or grant you new abilities or provide passive bonuses.
8 – RPGItalia: Watching your alpha build video gameplay, there’s a lot of Fallout inspiration. Do you intend to keep the same formula or are you going to expand it? And what are you trying to expand in that case?
Dejan: When you look at it, fallout had very simple (although good) combat model.
I’ve taken the bases of fallout combat and added more options on top of it, such as use of special abilities and psionics. I’ve also added more combat utilities: poison/tranquilizing bolts, all kinds of grenades (frag, HE, EMP, flashbang), throwing nets, etc, and I plan to add many more.
I want the players to have a lot of options in combat so they can develop their own unique styles of play.
9 – RPGItalia: Will there be only a main quest or also some side quests? And what kind of interactions can we try in this quests? Stealth? Hacking? Violence? Diplomacy? Please give us an example.
Dejan: There will be plenty of side quests.
Most quest you will be able to solve with violence, if you come prepared and well equipped, but sometimes a different approach can be better.
Here are the examples of what I did in the demo video outside of direct combat complete that area more easily:
– I avoided fighting with sentry bots by using stealth and the ventilation ducts. I could have just killed them, but they are very tough to beat, especially on lower levels. I would need stuff like armor-piercing rounds and EMP grenades, which are rare and expensive.
– I hacked the turrets to kill a good amount of invaders because I had enough skill points in hacking to do so.
– I deflected the initial (unfavorable) confrontation by intimidating the invaders, convincing them that I had backup.
– I could have avoided fighting completely if I managed to persuade one of the captives to tell me where the key card I needed for was.
These are the kind of thing you will be able to do to win encounters that otherwise might be too hard for your particular character build to face head on.
10 – RPGItalia: How many areas can we visit? And what about level design? Will it be linear or will there be several possibilities to reach the same place?
Dejan: I can’t really tell you the number of areas the final game will have right now, but it will be plenty.
By watching the video, some people got the impression that the game will be a linear dungeon crawler. This is not the case. What I showed in the video is just one location in what is actually an open world.
And you’ll usually be able to reach these locations by different means. For example, there is actually a breach on the level 1 of the ‘dungeon’ shown in the demo that you can use to access it from the caves.
11 – RPGItalia: Let’s talk a bit about character system: how can we improve our character, his attributes and his skills? There will be a level up system and a level-cap?
Dejan: There will be a level cap. I answered the rest above.
12 – RPGItalia: Can you describe how the combat system works? Is it possible to take control only of one character at a time or will there be the possibility to manage an entire party?
Dejan: You control a single character and you can’t lead any companions, but you’ll have plenty of tools at your disposal to make up for that.
13 – RPGItalia: How many dialogues will there be? And what can you tell us about the special option (stat/skill check) in them? Will there be a dice roll behind this option? Can we fail a dialogue?
Dejan: You can fail a dialog in a sense that you can fail to persuade or intimidate someone and then suffer the consequences. There are fixed skill checks in the background (no roll) and often times other things will influence the outcome, like the stuff you said beforehand.
For instance, in the demo I’m only able to intimidate the raiders by first pointing out that I’m a citizen of a certain station which made them less eager to pick a fight.
14 – RPGItalia: Can you give us an example of choices & consequences in your game? Is it like “fail an option in a dialogue and fight!” or more like “choose not to kill a boss and he will help you in a future occasion”?
Dejan: It’s usually more like ‘fail an option and have to do it the hard way’. The other kind of C&C you mention will be less common as it’s a lot more work to implement.
Here’s an example of C&C without a skill check: In one of the early quests you set out to kill some rathounds (wouldn’t be an RPG without killing something ratlike) and one of the NPCs ask you to be on the lookout for the watch he lost. If you find the watch you can return it to him for free, for a reward or just show it to him and then refuse to give it to him. The first option will make the NPC like you a lot more; the second options will make him like you a bit more and will also earn you an item; and the last option will cause the NPC to just not want to talk to you anymore at all. And while this will not break the game, it is very bad because he has things to trade and can also give you important tips on how to kill different creatures you encounter.
15 – RPGItalia: About IA and Stealth: how NPCs react to a stealth approach? Will there be a level of awareness or something similar? Can you give us an example?
Dejan: There are four levels of awareness: oblivious, suspicious, alert, aware. As you sneak around an NPC, their level of awareness rises at a pace determined by your stealth, their detection, positioning and lightning.
An oblivious NPC is susceptible to some special attacks (like ‘cut throat’ attack that stuns them and applies heavy bleeding wound, or an assassination with a sniper rifle). Suspicious NPCs will sometimes take measures to try to detect you.
For example, if you get spotted by a security camera it will notify sentry bots in the area and they will come to the place you were last seen. They don’t actually see you immediately, but if you stick around you are likely to get detected. If they don’t find you, they give up and resume their patrols.
16 – RPGItalia: Let’s talk about weapon and equipment: how many types of weapons and armours will there be? Can we use crafting to create or modify them? And can we use some gadget to improve our stealth skills?
Dejan: There are 7 types of weapons (knife, sledgehammer, pistol, SMG, assault rifle, sniper rifle and crossbow) and there are currently 3 types of armors (leather, bulletproof vest, metal) with 2 more to come.
You cannot modify items, but you can craft your own (weapons, armors, gadgets, everything) by using components you find or purchase. The quality of components will determine the quality of the item of course, and you can also add some special enhancements to weapons, such as laser sights, scopes, bipods, etc.
You can improve your stealth by wearing a black overcoat over your armor, and you should definitely avoid using armor with high encumbrance, such as metal armor.
There is also a cloaking device that improves your stealth while active, but requires energy to run.
17 – RPGItalia: What do you think about Kickstarter? Have you ever thought of using crowdfunding for Underrail or another of your future RPG?
Dejan: Before I launched the demo video I used to dismiss the suggestions of putting my game up for crowd-funding. But I changed my mind once I’ve seen how many people got excited seeing the gameplay video.
There will now be a crowd-funding campaign. It will most likely launch with the release of the demo.
Kickstarter is the best platform for this. Unfortunately, I do not live in US so I will have to use one of the alternatives, likely IndieGoGo.
Thanks Dejan for your time, RPGItalia wishes you good luck for this interesting RPG.
Lastly we announce that yesterday Dejan released the first playable alpha demo. You can download it here.
For those who want to follow the development of the game, this is the official site.