REPOSE: Attila Talks About His Upcoming Game and How it is More Than Just Turn-Based Dead Space
In space, no one can hear you scream, in gaming, that is another story entirely. Between Dead Space and Alien Isolation, players are used to seeing the vast darkness of space as a setting for their favorite horror games, and may feel like they have seen all there is to see from the genre of space horror. But Hungarian dev Attila Bertold Bozó aims to shake things up a bit with his upcoming title REPOSE, which aims to bring dungeon crawling exploration with a side of puzzle solving to the inky darkness of outer space.
When I first saw REPOSE, I was intrigued by its monochromatic color scheme and its desolate but detailed environments. When I had first viewed the game, I was operating under the assumption that the title would share a lot of DNA with traditional CRPGs, and I was curious to learn more about the title and the work that had gone into it. I reached out to Atilla, to see if he would be interested in sharing some information about his upcoming title, and I was glad that he accepted my offer, as I learned a lot about the title and the developer’s philosophy for ensuring the player is always in a state of disempowerment.
Thankfully, Attila has not found himself trapped in the maze-like levels of a corporate space station, so we were able to get together for a conversation with no issue. After exchanging introductions and again thanking him for taking the time to speak with me, I began asking about REPOSE, the world he had created, and the work that had gone into it.
Starting our interview off, I wanted to get an idea about how long Atilla had been making games, as my research into his career only brought up a single game, Out of the Blue. Curious as to what led him to start making games, and how long he had been at it, I asked Atilla if he could tell us how long he had been working on REPOSE, and what led him down the road of game development?
Attila: Well, actually, REPOSE is the first game that I ever worked on. I had smaller projects, you know, experimenting with them before that, but this is the first actual game I’m doing. I started it like two years ago, before that, I was just experimenting with Game Maker Studio 2. That’s what I’m using to make this game as well. You know, I don’t really consider myself a game developer, at least not professionally, I’m just doing it because it’s fun in my free time. Two years ago I started doing pixel art for fun, and I mocked up some 1-bit dungeon crawler designs, because they seemed fun. And I liked them enough to actually want to turn it into an actual video game. So that’s when I started, though back then it looked a bit differently. It had the 1-bit design and this fake 3D rendering as well, but back then it was a more whimsical fantasy game with RPG mechanics, money that you can farm, and turn-based combat happening on a separate combat screen. The game that I’m doing right now is very different from that. I eventually realized that I’m not really good with fantasy, I like fantasy, I just don’t have many ideas for it. But I was doing a lot of traditional drawings before that, and in those I tend to lean to more sci-fi and abstract visuals. And I realize that it’s kind of me at my most honest, I guess., so I guess I should make this game a sci-fi game too. Because I just have more ideas for that… So I made some tile sets, trying to achieve this more cold and harsh sci-fi atmosphere, And I liked it a lot more, so that was a big turning point.
Taking a look at his instagram, I saw that aside from making cool games he was also a talented artist with a distinct style. I wanted to know if he had been drawing his entire life or if this was something he grew into as an adult, so I asked Atilla how long he had been working in visual mediums?
Attila: I think drawing became my main hobby like 10 years ago. Though back then I was just doing graffiti stuff. And later, you know, I played Deus Ex, you’re probably familiar with that game, and this cyberpunk futuristic worldview made me really fascinated. So that’s when I started doing more sci-fi drawings, and I guess, I just kept doing that because I enjoyed it.
While he had touched on it before, I wanted Attila to clarify something, so I asked if he had been working on REPOSE since before he had made Out of the Blue?
Attila: Yeah, it was, so Out of the Blue was just a small project that I’d made in like two or three weeks that I meant to be my entry to Dungeon Crawler Game Jam 2022. I just ran out of time, you know, you had to make a game in one week, but I didn’t have enough time for that because of my day job. So I took an extra two weeks and finished it up. So yeah, I made that in the meantime.
It made sense, as I could definitely see the DNA of REPOSE in Out of the Blue. But as someone who is historically not well-versed in CRPGs or dungeon crawlers, I asked Atilla if he could tell us about some of the titles that mechanically inspired his work?
Attila: Well, initially, these old dungeon crawlers inspired it, like Wizardry and Eye of the Beholder, at least when I was planning this game to be a fantasy RPG. And, you know, as I mentioned, there was this turning point when I turned it into a sci-fi game. So that was a big turning point, because I realized that I have an atmosphere, you know, a vibe to shoot for, so I should design my gameplay mechanics around that too. So I got rid of the RPG mechanics, and right now, it’s more like an exploration game with survival elements. And a lot of smaller ideas inspired from different games, for example, you have the flashlight In the game that is inspired by the Doom 3 flashlight. So you can either have a weapon equipped, or you can have a flashlight to light dark environments. And for example, you have this, it’s actually the same in Out of the Blue, you have this energy mechanic, but what it really means is that you have a limited amount of steps from your save point that you can take before running out of energy, and you get reset to your starting location. That’s something that I first tried in Out of the Blue, but I liked it a lot. There’s a game that’s kind of similar to that, it’s a small indie game called Minit, I don’t know if you heard of it. It also does 1-bit graphics as well. It is basically a game, where you have 60 seconds to explore the world. And after that, the day is over, so the game puts you back in your home. And you have to, you know, make the best use of those 60 seconds. But whatever you do in the game world stays like that. So you can open shortcuts, talk to people, they will remember that. So the way I did this energy mechanic in Out of the Blue and now in REPOSE as well, is kind of similar, except you don’t have the time pressure. So you have to strategize, like, how do you use that limited amount of steps.
I commented that it sounded like while there is an absence of a clock the timer is still counting down with every action you take.
Attila: Yeah, exactly. And so, initially, I had bullets for your gun that you could pick up but I realized that I don’t actually need that. But instead, I made it so that this gun consumes your energy as well, so it kind of has the same purpose. And I think it’s kind of cool because your gun can actually kill you, if you waste it too much.
Hearing Atilla discuss this mechanic was giving me second hand anxiety, just imagining a scenario where the player is low on energy and has to decide between navigating an unsure route or confronting an enemy, each of which takes your most valuable resource, made me excited to play REPOSE.
Attila: Yeah, Out of the Blue is kind of similar to that. So it was really useful to try that game jam, even if I couldn’t submit in time. Because, you know, I got to experiment with this idea, and I think it works really well.
Speaking more about REPOSE, while we had discussed the mechanical influences on the title, I wanted to learn more about what had inspired the aesthetic and thematic design of the world. I asked Atilla if there was any specific media that he drew from when crafting the world of REPOSE?
Attila: Well, it’s inspired by many things. Like, the way it tells the story is, it’s cryptic, and it’s somewhat inspired by David Lynch movies, where characters talk to you like they know everything, but you have zero context to that, so you can have to piece the information together to make sense of the story. And visually, you know, there are some dungeon crawlers that have a sci-fi design but they are kind of rare. The enormous dungeon crawlers have these fantasy designs with, you know, actual dungeons and villages and stuff. So, for example, there’s this Hungarian game called Perihelion: the prophecy. And that’s visually just amazing. So that inspires me a lot. Deus Ex is another one. And let’s see, I guess System Shock is the main big one.
Having learned more about what shaped the world and gameplay of the title, I wanted to know more about the conflicts within, the information available gave a vague idea about the players goal, but I was left wanting more. I asked Atilla if he would be able to tell us about the player’s mission in REPOSE, and why the company they work for has them collecting old oxygen tanks?
Attila: I am trying to not spoil anything, but basically, it’s your first day at your job in the game, and you are tasked with this really weird job. But that’s kind of a mystery by itself, why the company needs these oxygen tanks. Like it’s supposed to be weird at first, it’s gonna get explained eventually. But it’s your first day, you get to explore the environment, and you know, just dig deeper in the levels of the corporation. And the way the game tells the story is that you save at beds, you can take a rest to save your progress, and sometimes you will have dreams. And in these dreams, a guy named Aaron will appear in your dreams. He was the guy who worked in your position previously, before he just mysteriously disappeared. And, you know, he’s gonna give you snippets of information about why you shouldn’t be doing what you’re doing. It’s supposed to be really confusing at first, it’s gonna get explained eventually, but I didn’t do a lot of word building. I could basically explain the whole thing in like two sentences. But yeah, that happens at the end of the game… It’s going to be a bit more surreal than, you know, actual hard sci-fi.
It made sense that the title would be more surreal, considering he was quoting David Lynch as an inspiration for the story. Although, while we had touched on it a few times, I was still somewhat in the dark about the gameplay of the title. I asked Atilla, for a new player booting up the game for the first time, what is the moment to moment gameplay going to look like in REPOSE while they learn the ins-and-outs of the game?
Attila: You explore the game from level to level, and when you get to a level, you usually find a bed first where you can save your progress. It gives you a certain amount of energy, sometimes it gives you 32, maybe it gives you a 16, it depends on the level and level design. And you will probably die a few times when you’re trying to explore and trying to find a route, you know, as you can with your limited energy. And you will have enemies to fight, there’s a very simple shooting mechanic where everybody dies in one hit. It’s not there to, you know, have enjoyable action, but rather it’s there to keep you tense and something that you have to account for with your bullets, basically your energy. And you essentially keep looking for shortcuts, opening doors to make sure that you can make better use of your limited amount of steps to go further. The way I could explain it is that exploration by itself is a puzzle where you kind of try to figure out how to just keep going forward and how the corridors connect to each other.
I loved that idea, as a player who would often hoard supplies until I reached the end of the game, wherein I would typically wipe the floor with the final boss, It was cool to hear that REPOSE would not reward such behavior, as every resource is meant to be used to solve the puzzle that is the current floor, and would not carry forward.
Attila: Yeah, exactly, that’s what I’m trying to achieve. And it allows me to trick the player sometimes, like, for example, you have this city area, where you get a lot of steps, like over 100. So you can walk around and explore freely, and eventually you find a building, and inside this abandoned building you find a bed. And initially the player is happy about it, because they found the new save spot further into the game. But they rest at it and that bed gives you like, only 16. So after that you can not leave the building anymore because you don’t have energy anymore. And your new save spot is that new bed, not the previous one. So I think that’s kind of funny, and it’s a very interesting way to get the player to keep going forward… And that’s one of the reasons why I dropped the RPG mechanics. Because I don’t want people to, you know, horde ammo, or skill points, or money, or whatever. Like, I want to be in full control of the tension and the challenges of the game at every point.
I was excited to hear about the approach taken to ensure the player was always depowered or in a deadly situation, even when exploring. While he had made it clear that there was nothing to hoard and no skill points to worry about, I still wanted a clear answer to the question, so I asked directly, was there any way whatsoever to increase your characters capabilities during the game?
Attila: Not at all, at first I planned a lot of things similar to all dungeon crawlers, I did that simply because that’s what all dungeon crawlers did. But when I realized what the atmosphere is that I’m trying to shoot for, then I realized just how many of those things I just don’t need. And I guess that what REPOSE is gonna be, is not dungeon crawling in the purest sense. But I think what I’m enjoying the most with dungeon crawlers is, you know, figuring out how to map out an environment. And by itself, that being a puzzle and a challenge, and I think it’s still there in REPOSE.
On the topic of gameplay, and the minimal combat system, I asked Atilla if he could tell us, without spoiling anything major, about the creatures in REPOSE that the player may encounter on their quest for oxygen tanks?
Attila:Well, if you played Soma, it’s gonna be kind of similar. Like, a lot of creatures full of cables and black goop that is visually, like, I don’t want to make them feel like they are evil or enemies, they are more just a result of the environment that they are in. And in terms of gameplay, they are more like, you know, part of the puzzle of exploring the environment, because you have to make sure that you have ammo for enemies. Now, this is one of the features that kind of is inspired by Dark Souls, that whenever you rest the enemies just respawn. So you can’t just remove them from the world, but you have to, you know, always count for them being there, you always have to make sure that you have enough bullets or that you are quick enough with your axe.
I commented that it was very cool to hear that, as I had said before, I almost always end horror games with my pockets stuffed with ammo and healing items, if they’ll let me. So the idea of having to solve each floor like a puzzle was enticing, as the respawning enemies and energy depletion ensured that the player could not simply lay waste to every enemy and wander at their leisure.
Attila: Yeah, exactly. Because for that I would need enjoyable action. But that’s not what I am going for.
On the topic of the floor to floor navigation in the game, I asked about an optional area he had teased, titled the Labyrinth, which is a dark zone of sorts that even your coworkers warn you against investigating. Specifically, I asked if the Labyrinth was a single instance of optional exploration, or would the player have agency in how they traversed the floors, or would the player always go through the floors in a determined order?
Attila: Well, every floor has one entrance and one end so eventually, you will always find your way forward. You have these optional areas, for example, the labyrinth. The idea of it is that you have this really scary location that you can access from the beginning of the game. And you don’t have to, but it’s gonna keep you interested because it’s there and as I described it, there are other people, you know, telling you not to go there. So you have your coworkers that you can talk to. Some of them are friendly to you, some of them, not really, but they will always give you advice as to what to do next.
It was nice to hear that unlike many sci-fi horror games, the player would not be alone in their expeditions, isolated maybe, but not alone, even if it was just coworker chatter over the radio.
Attila: Yeah, exactly. They don’t have the same problems and struggles that you do but they are there for you.
I was excited to have learned more about REPOSE, as someone who was not playing dungeon crawlers when they were popular, I was glad that this game had stripped out the power fantasy aspects, instead focusing on the claustrophobia of those old tile-based, corridor filled adventures.
Attila: Yeah. Well, I’m kind of young, too, like, I’m 25. So I didn’t get to play the old dungeon crawlers as a child, I was just too young for that. I like to play retro games, I feel that same sense of, you know, being afraid of an old game, because it just has so many of these very hard (regarding game difficulty) game design choices.
Moving past the game and back to its development, considering that he had been working on the game in his free time, and was working on each facet of the game alone, I asked Atilla if he felt as though he was making good time with REPOSE?
Attila: Well, considering that I’m only doing this in my free time, I do this in my free time, because my day job doesn’t have to do with game development. Yes, I’m pretty much happy with it, I think that I did a lot, but I guess because I’m still enjoying it, too… Like so far, I do not really have any part of the development that I do not enjoy.
With his steady progress and confidence about his work, I followed up by asking if he had any tentative time frame for a full release or a demo?
Attila: Well, if I can keep up the progress that I made so far, I think I’m gonna release it sometime this year. It also depends, you know, just how busy my day job is. And it depends on everything, basically. But currently, it seems like I’m going to be able to release the game sometime later this year… I don’t want to work on a demo, because I think that the effort that I can put into it, I could also put into the full game.
I could absolutely understand not wanting to work on any kind of demo when the full release was hopefully coming within the year. At this time I had reached the end of my questions for Atilla, but before I ended the interview, as I often do, I asked Atilla if there was anything else he wanted to share with the readers that we may not have touched upon in the interview?
Attila: Well, I think I mentioned everything that I wanted to say right now, I can’t really think of anything new. I just don’t want people to be expecting a traditional dungeon crawler, that’d be a problem.
I don’t think he has to worry about that, as it seemed very obvious after our interview that if you are looking for a game that is more Dead Space meets Eye of the Beholder, then you should look elsewhere, as REPOSE aims to deliver a more mind-scratching, anxiety inducing tile-based trek into darkness. Wrapping up the interview, I once again thanked Atilla for his time, and told him again how excited I was to get my hands on REPOSE when it dropped, hopefully, later in 2023.
In the interim, if you want to stay up to date on the latest development news for REPOSE, be sure to visit Atilla’s personal Twitter page, and watch the race to the finish line as he wraps up production on the title. And of course, if you are absolutely fiending for the latest and greatest in gruesome ghoulish gaming, then head back to DreadXP and read more of our frightful features!