RetroSpace: The Wild Gentleman Make Contact to Share Info on Their Immersive Sim
I am sure you have seen it, dear readers, the oncoming wave of immersive sims is cresting, soon we shall be swimming in it. As I have said in previous interviews, it seems as though the popularity of indie-darling Gloomwood, as well as the boomer shooter revival bringing classics like Deus Ex and Thief back into the public zeitgeist, has brought about a new wave of independent immersive sims. One such upcoming title that has caught my eye is RetroSpace, an upcoming space-based horror title from The Wild Gentleman, a growing indie studio responsible for last year’s Chicken Police – Paint it RED!
RetroSpace aims to bring the exploration and interactivity that is common for the genre and apply a healthy dose of 60’s to 70’s sci-fi and humor to the mix. There is a lot of polish and heart seen in the footage shown so far, and of course, I was eager to learn more about the project. As I am wont to do, I reached out to Bálint Bánk Varga, the writer, director, and lead designer on the project, to see if the team would be able to spare some time for an interview. While the team wasn’t able to make space in their schedule to speak about RetroSpace, Bálint Bánk Varga was able to take my questions and get me the answers I had been searching for. After reading the answers given I have found myself even more excited for the title, and I am sure that if you have even a passing interest in either immersive sims, or classic sci-fi, then you will be happy to hear about the love and care being put into the game to create something that brings new ideas to the genre.
The Wild Gentlemen was started in 2018 by 3 friends, how did that come about?
BBV: Yes, Chicken Police was an old idea of mine, which I had wanted to do for almost 10 years. I started it off as a solo project, but then – thank goodness – Peter came along, and then Tamás, and the trio were able to start a much more professional, much more real development.
What was the team up to before coming together as The Wild Gentleman?
BBV: We have a very mixed team. We have people who have been developers since the videogame as a medium was born, so they’re real veterans, but we also have people like me who are new to the industry. For example, I came into video games from a creative, writing/directing side. And because I’ve always been a crazy big “gamer”. But our team is pretty diverse really, we have people who have been involved in world-famous AAA games or even real cult classics before we got into Chicken Police, which was our first game as the team: The Wild Gentlemen.
Can you tell us a bit about the development of Chicken Police?
BBV: The project started very small. It was supposed to be a relatively simple visual novel that really only stood out from the crowd because of its unique world and, of course, its photo-realistic art style. Then, as development progressed, ambitions grew and grew, sometimes we could barely catch up and what was supposed to be a 1-year development took 3 years to be released in 2020. But it was worth it because from a small visual novel, a very serious, 100% voice-overed and very high quality game was born. (and luckily both critics and players loved it)
How long did the original 3 founders work on the title before bringing in other team members?
BBV: Peter was the main and only programmer, Tamás did the 3D modelling and was also involved as a producer, and I was the writer, director and graphic designer. Then very soon we got a really professional graphic designer who dreamed up and executed the final form of the game as we see it today. We continued like that for a while with four of us, and then gradually, as the project grew in ambition and size, we brought in more and more people. When the game was released, the project had 7 full-time staff and 4-5 part-time helpers.
What was the attitude of the team before the game launched, considering it had a self described “bumpy start” was there any concern among the team about how the game would be received?
BBV: We knew it was a good game, we knew we’d put everything we had into it, and we knew players loved it, because we put the demo out on expos and it was also available on Steam. What made it a difficult launch was more of a marketing issue, as we didn’t know how the theme of photorealistic, anthropomorphic animals and of course the black and white, noir environment the game had would resonate with a wider audience. In a market where it’s almost mandatory to bombard users with all the colours of the world or they won’t notice you, coming out with a black and white game in an already niche genre was a risky business, especially since we and our publisher spent a fortune on things like voice over and localization.
How did the team feel after the title was released and gained such favorable reviews and awards?
BBV: For a while we were just scratching our heads about what was happening around us. Sure, Chicken Police didn’t become a smash hit, but its critical reception was almost unimaginable and still is. To this day, the game is at 96% on Steam, which is still a bit hard to comprehend. We’ve received and continue to receive a lot of love from our small but very loyal fan base, so it’s been a fantastic start for our little indie team, which has started to grow as a result.
Moving forward from Chicken Police, was RetroSpace something you had originally planned as your second title, or was it something that was discussed within after development for Chicken Police was completed?
BBV: For a very long time after Chicken Police, we only produced pitches and prototypes. We had a lot of ideas, out of more than 20 good ideas we had to filter down to 8 or 9 really good ones and only a few of them made it to what you could call the pre-production phase. But RetroSpace was a favourite within the team all along, and while we were looking for what TWG’s next big thing would be, 1-2 members of the team put together a small internal demo. Eventually this demo started to grow to the point where, seeing the interest on social channels, we started to develop the game properly.
At this time how long has the team been working on RetroSpace?
BBV: A very small team has been working on the game for almost a year, but the real, serious work has only just begun, with a slightly larger crew. For the time being, the project is not using the full capacity of the studio, as it is no secret that we are working on other projects, but as the game gains more and more attention and requests, the RetroSpace team is growing and building.
Can you tell us about the world and the conflict of RetroSpace?
BBV: We don’t want to give too much away, because the set-up is deliberately mysterious. All we can tell you is that our hero is an nameless janitor who gets into a big mess that ends up with an entire space station in the bowels of a black hole. There, time and space become entangled and our hero has to find a way out of the situation, presumably getting the station home in the process.
Along the way, some very mysterious and rather creepy characters appear to further complicate the story, and by the end we are guaranteed to find ourselves at the centre of a mind-melting, crazy, bonkers story.
Disco-punk is a rather new genre that, from what I can tell, draws heavy inspiration from late 60’s and 70’s pulp science fiction stories, and you have said as much on the marketing for the title. I feel as though it would be reductive to say that the entire genre was the inspiration for the title, while you have shared some information about the films that inspired the game on your twitter, I wanted to ask if you would share with the readers the particular worlds, or artists that inspired RetroSpace?
BBV: In terms of mood and humour, Philip K. Dick and Ray Bradbury are perhaps the two influences we would highlight, although at certain points the satirical humour of the game will almost touch a Douglas Adams-ish edge. (but Hunter S. Thompson‘s name could also be mentioned.) The term ‘disco-punk’ as a genre itself comes from the fact that although the world of our game contains elements of classic sci-fi, Atompunk, Raypunk, as well as Casette futurism, we felt that somehow none of these elements fully captured the mood we were trying to create and convey. Sometimes completely modern, other times extremely retro, dominated by a 70s disco-infused atmosphere. I think that’s the best way to capture it, but once this genre is in a dictionary, its writers will surely be able to give it a better definition.
Aside from the skin-deep inspirations, are there any particular stories that inspired the plot for the title?
BBV: Not really. Instead, many “classic” stories were mixed together to create something new and quite insane. The basic plot itself is extremely simple – our space station is sucked into a black hole – but the madness that takes over from there is quite extraordinary and really-really unpredictable.
The fantastic creature designs shown so far seem to be based on insects and flora, what was the design philosophy for creating these insectoid enemies?
BBV: We were determined to populate the game’s setting, Aurora 5, with mutant monsters, but we felt that the disfigured, zombie-like creatures and naked, tumour-covered The Thing-ish mutants had been slaughtered in too many games and in too many different ways. We wanted to have really distinct opponents, so we came up with the things like the ‘Mothmanaut’ or the ‘FlowerHead’. There will be some relatively more down to earth opponents in the game, various robots and androids for example, but we wanted to put some twists on them too, to make them also unique.
Immersive sims are complicated games to make, typically with many unique systems for the player to quite literally immerse themselves in, while there have been examples shown of some of the mechanics at work, such as the need to clean up after killing foes to avoid unwanted odors, I was wondering if you would be willing to shed some light on other minor or major mechanics that will help the player feel more like the world of RetroSpace is a living breathing one?
BBV: Cleaning up after ourselves is a good example of the immersive and reactive systems we create for the game. If you leave blood stains everywhere, certain enemies will smell it and follow the trail, so it’s advisable to clean it up, although not mandatory. In fact, this feature can be used as a trap too, deliberately luring enemies to the blood. But if too many corpses are left behind, an even greater danger will emerge, which we won’t spoil just yet. The point is, we want these game elements to not only be present, but to be able to be used in a variety of ways by the player and of course combined for greater effect. We want to build as many of these ideas into the game as possible, to the point where we don’t overcrowd it or make it too complex. Making an immersive sim game is a 10x multiplier in terms of challenges (and unexpected bugs), so we implement only such features with a lot of care and after a lot of pre-planning (as well as testing).
Were there any challenges you had not predicted when developing an immersive simulation?
BBV: These types of games can have an awful lot of bugs and usually players have a lot more tools at their disposal to break the game, tools that we, the developers ourselves give them. So, by definition, developing a game like this involves a lot more prototyping, testing and planning. We knew this from the start when we started development (and we started anyway because we are crazy!)
These types of games take time to make, at this point, does the team feel like they are making good time on the project?
BBV: So far we’re making good progress, which has resulted in the announcement, the steam page and our trailer. The game as a whole will still evolve a lot, but we felt we’ve reached a stage where we can confidently announce the project because we can deliver the vision – and that’s what we felt was most important in the early stages.
Would you feel comfortable giving a general idea about when you were hoping to release the game, or some kind of demo?
BBV: The development will take a long time. We don’t have an approximate release date yet, but we will release a public demo soon and then possibly an Early Access too before the full release.
Aside from RetroSpace you tease on your personal Twitter page that you are working on another project, would you feel comfortable sharing any details about that project?
BBV: Unfortunately, we can’t tell you anything yet, but after Chicken Police our team has more than tripled in size, which allows us to afford to work on several projects in parallel, or in smaller, separate teams. It’s a very exciting and busy time, but unfortunately we can’t talk about further projects just yet. (but soon we will!)
If you want to stay up to date with The Wild Gentleman and their upcoming titles, be sure to visit their website, and to see the latest about RetroSpace, you can follow the Twitter page for the title. And as always, if you are absolutely fiending for more nightmarish news about the latest and greatest in ghoulish, gruesome gaming, then head back to DreadXP.com and read more of our frightful features!