The Surge is a science-fiction Action-RPG released last month on PC, PS4 and Xbox One, created by German development studio Deck 13 Interactive who previously worked on games such as Ankh, Jack Keane, Blood Knights, Venetica, TransOcean and more recently, the acclaimed fantasy Action-RPG Lords of the Fallen.
Now The Surge features a protagonist with a customizable mechanical exoskeleton and several robotical enemies, and is designed to be a challenging Action-RPG. It also tackles themes that will resonate with fans of hardcore science-fiction, so we wanted to know a little bit more about the game’s development.
Jan Klose, Managing Director of Deck13 was kind enough to answer our questions.
Where did the inspiration for The Surge come from? Can you maybe even name a few books / movies?
There was a wealth of inspirations leading to The Surge. For one, we were really keen to tell a tale that is connected with our world of today, projecting current trends into the future. So we took a close look at things that are important today and likely to shape our future, like technology and AI but also capitalism, governments, and the environment. Of course we love sci-fi books too, and movies, like for example District 9, Edge of Tomorrow, and Elysium to name but a few. Add some comic books like Akira and lots of different games from Batman to Half Life and Bioshock. Well, it was a bit of everything.
The Surge takes on themes like technology, society and environmental disasters – are these themes difficult to translate to video games? Does The Surge have an important central theme?
The central theme is „What will happen to our world if things will just go on like this?” And our answer is not an overly positive one. But we think that every theme can be translated into a video game if you don’t annoy the player with it. You can play the whole game and not give a damn about these questions, or you can dig deep and you will be rewarded for it.
Looking at your previous works, it seems that your games have detailed worldbuilding… do you have a lot of writers? Does worldbuilding start with character / lore or rather with concept art / tone at your studio?
We do care a lot about writing, that is true, but not in a traditional sense. Even though we have the support of external narrative designers, it’s the whole team that influences the story and world. Some parts are added by artists, some by game designers and some by engineers. It’s up to a smaller group of people that we call the Vision Group to forge this into a coherent experience. In a way, we feel that we’re all writers.
Was it hard going from a fantasy setting to a science-fiction setting? Which one is tougher to create? What are the problems you encounter when working in these settings?
They both have their difficult parts. Fantasy games follow very strict genre rules and people are sometimes very pissed if you don’t obey them, but at the same time everyone wants new, creative stuff. That’s sometimes hard to achieve but as we do like those rules ourselves, we were able to understand them and craft the world of Lords of the Fallen accordingly. A near-future world needs to be grounded and have lots of assets that are realistic and understandable and at the same time developed further so that they fit into the future. It is cool and a bit of a relief if you can place coffee mugs and comic books into your game world, it feels good to craft a world that is not so unlike our own. But that’s the difficult thing on the other hand: It needs to convince the player that it could be real.
Most players seem to agree upon the fact that Lords of the Fallen and now The Surge are very reminiscent of Dark Souls… what do you think, does this comparison help the games, does it hold them back, or is it just a matter of an emerging new genre? How do you see From Software’s influence on game design in general?
From Soft did a great job with their games. Creating a game in that space is extra tricky. Some people say we’re too close to Souls games and they don’t like that, others say we’re too far away from a Souls game and they don’t like that. But every game is a unique thing, and it should be judged as a standalone item. If you like The Surge or not should not be connected to whether you liked a similar game – unless, of course, that other game just did everything so much better than this one so that you can’t enjoy it. We hope that that’s not the case!
There’s always some risk bringing new IPs to the market, yet Deck13 keeps inventing fresh new worlds to the players… is this a deliberate choice? Are there a lot of ideas tossed around in the studio?
Yes, we like to do something new. There’s a million ideas in our heads and in our drawers and we could go on forever creating new worlds. If only it wouldn’t cost two to three years to bring a single one to life…
What’s your priority when designing and developing your games? Did you have to make any hard decisions, sacrifices with your games that you regret?
Yes, we need to make hard decisions almost every day because we have a strict budget for our games, so we always need to decide what to keep and what to throw away, and that also means throwing away tons of great ideas along the way. But no, it’s not something we regret because in the end, if we threw away the right things, and if we kept the things that matter, then it’s kind of a distilled prouct, something where only the coolest stuff survived, which can eventually lead to a much better game, a game that’s the essence of all our ideas.
We’d like to thank Deck 13 for the interview! If you haven’t tried it yet, The Surge is now available on PC, PS4 and Xbox One.
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