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RPG Codex Interview: STASIS, 2D Isometric Adventure Game Now on Kickstarter

RPG Codex Interview: STASIS, 2D Isometric Adventure Game Now on Kickstarter

Codex Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 4 November 2013, 18:13:21

Tags: Chris Bischoff; STASIS; The Brotherhood

[Quick Kickstarter link: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/bischoff/stasis-2d-isometric-scifi-horror-adventure-game]

If I had to name one point-and-click adventure game currently in development that could be called the most anticipated one here on the Codex, that would have to be STASIS, a gorgeous and uniquely atmospheric horror-themed 2D isometric game by the one-man powerhouse Chris Bischoff. The dedicated thread in our Adventure Gaming subforum attests to no less.

About halfway done already and having just launched its Kickstarter campaign, STASIS is looking for contributors to help raise $100,000 -- or even more. To celebrate the campaign launch, we've asked Chris to answer some questions about the game, contributed in part by RPG Codex readers. If the interview piques your interest, be sure to check out the Kickstarter and also play the free alpha demo!

You can also supports STASIS on Steam Greenlight.


RPG Codex: To begin this interview, please introduce STASIS to our readers. What is the game about, what kind of world is it set in, and what is the gameplay like?

Chris Bischoff: STASIS is a 2D Isometric Adventure Game, set in abandoned research ship in a decaying orbit around Neptune.

STASIS is born out of a love for Science Fiction horror, drawing heavily from worlds like Alien, Sunshine, and Event Horizon. But at its heart, its a classic Adventure Game. Finding items, combining them in various ways, and using them to solve puzzles to move through the world.​

What is your background (both professional and as a gamer) and how did you get into video game development? When and why did you decide to make a game like STASIS?

Professionally I am an architectural artist, running a company called BURN, with my brother.

I have always been interested in game development, from making my own boardgames as a kid, to trying to create clones of my favourite games! If you were involved in the Star Control community a few years back, you may remember a game called Outworld, and later changed to AlienME, which was a game heavily inspired by the mechanics of Star Control 2.

Graphically, I have always loved 2D isometric games. There is something just magical about a highly detailed 2D world that I feel just can't be matched by 3D real-time engines. Working on a project like this would be a dream for me as an artist - but living a continent away from any large game development studios meant that I had to go at it myself!

STASIS started off as a side project during my December break, and slowly evolved into what it is today. It really is a story of 'accidental development'. I never intentionally set out to create this story, but as it grew and grew I fell in love with the project and the world.​

What sci-fi books and video games inspired the game's concept? And since you have an account at the RPG Codex, are there any pen-and-paper or computer RPGs among the inspirations?

The RAMA series had a big influence on me when I was younger. I loved the idea of exploring a truly alien world, which is why my stand out games tended to be focused on that concept. When I started development on STASIS, I read quite a few books that focused on the themes of the story. Greg Bears 'Hull Zero Three', Michael Crichtons 'Sphere' (still, in my opinion, one of the best opening acts to a SciFi story ever written), and even Orson Scott Cards novelization of The Abyss.

I've been a massive lover of Science Fiction ever since I saw Star Wars at the tender age of 4, so to pick any specific influence is very difficult! STASIS is the amalgamation of all of those experiences.

As far as RPG's go, their biggest influence on me has been less thematic, and more visual. Fallout was the first CRPG that truly captured my imagination from a visual standpoint. The entire world is so beautifully crafted in that game, I would spend hours and days just walking around, hunting down new areas. From there, I moved onto the rest of the Infinity Engine games. Icewind Dale is one of my favourites graphically!

Crusader No Remorse was also a huge influence on me as an artist. I remember playing the game, and taking screenshots of it frame by frame to 'rip' the explosions and characters and use them in my games.​


Apart from telling a story, video games often explore a particular theme or set of themes. What are some of the themes you aim to explore with STASIS?

I am a very family oriented person. My brother is my best friend, and we are partners in a business that we have run together for close on 11 years. The theme of familial bonds is something that is very tightly wound into the fabric of STASIS.

On top of that, I have looked to the 'classic' Science Fiction themes of corporate greed, and the evils of humanity. I have a rather morbid fascination with how humans can dehumanise each other. If you look at Nazi war crimes, and the horrific events of Japanese experimentation during World War 2, its difficult to wrap your mind around the fact that people are actually capable of doing that to each other. At what point is someone considered 'evil', and do the ends REALLY justify the means?​

Tricky puzzles have always been a staple of adventure games. What is your approach to puzzle design in STASIS and what types of puzzles will there be? On a scale from Sierra adventure games to The Walking Dead, how difficult and "oldschool" do you intend to make your puzzles?

Puzzle Design has changed so much over the years. In the older days of hint books, long weekends, and 'limited' choice (of available games) , getting stuck on a puzzle was almost a pleasure. I spent about a week on the Homing Beacon puzzle in Space Quest 6, and it was far from a frustration. But recently, when I played Dear Esther, I felt cheated because I didn't actually 'do' anything to move forward in the game.

I think that modern day Adventure Game designers have to balance a very fine line between those two extremes.

What I have tried to do with the puzzles in STASIS is to keep them very grounded in reality, and make certain that the solutions are things that John himself would be able to do. For instance, if he is trying to stop a conveyor belt from moving, he isn't going to remove a panel from the control box, and rewire it - he is going to jam a wrench into the machinery.​

Would you say non-linearity, choices and consequences, and multiple solutions are important to the adventure game genre? How big is STASIS going to be on those things? In particular, can you choose what area of the ship to explore next, or will the game rather open up as the story progresses?

I think that they are very important, and I wish I could have more of it in STASIS, but as this game has only one person working on it, I have had to make the game into a more linear experience. Where the game does open up, is that in each chapter the areas you can explore are relatively large, spanning multiple rooms and areas on multiple levels. How you move through these spaces is up to you. There are areas in the game that narrow you down to a more linear path, but these are few and far between.

I would love to experiment, as a designer, with multiple endings, and more choice and consequence - but for my first large scale game, I thought it better to go with a well thought out and planned story. The game is very much rooted as a linear narrative - with multiple story threads being tightly woven into the ending.​


One of our readers is particularly concerned about inventory management and NPCs. Could you tell us more about the game's inventory and NPC design? Also, are there going to be logs like in System Shock 2?

The inventory should be very familiar to anyone who has played an Adventure Game. In the game world, the inventory is actually an Emergency Medical Kit, which was created to be deployed to soldiers in the field of battle. The kit can store multiple objects, and combine them together (the idea being that medicines could be mixed 'on the fly' when needed).

There are NPC's in the game. Your main ally throughout the story is another survivor, who is trying to get off the ship. Te'ah Hensley is a young botanist, working in the BioMe labs on the other side of the facility. She will help guide you through the ship, as long as you help her with her preparations to get out of the Groomlake!

As you move through the ship, you will find audio logs, and lots of written diaries detailing the crews life on board the ship. You will browse through medical reports, photographs documenting the experiments being carried out on the ship, and uncover what exactly happened that lead to the Groomlake being (mostly) abandoned. System Shocks influence is definitely felt in the security recordings: holographic re-enactments of certain events can be accessed, and watched.​

Visually, STASIS is looking awesome already. What video game artists (or artists in general) inspire your work on the game's visuals?

HR Giger is my favourite artist. My home is like a creepy museum of his work. But generally, I have a large collection of 'art of' books, from Halo, to one on Pixar Short films. The production artists and concept artists that work in AAA games, and Blockbuster films amaze me.

Of these, I would have to say Feng Zhu, Ryan Church, and Raphael Lacoste are right on the top of my list - but its a VERY long list!​

Not only does STASIS look gorgeous, but you also recently did a quick beautiful mock-up of how Bioshock Infinite would look in an isometric perspective. How are you able to do such amazing models and artwork in such a short period of time?

My profession is currently an Architectural Illustrator. It would probably be seen as a marriage between the best and worst parts of Architecture and Advertising, and as anyone who has worked in either field can attest to, deadlines are soul killing things!

You have to be able to produce top quality work as quickly as possible. I've been running a company doing that for 11 years, and in that time we have created a very effective pipeline for creating work quickly.

In my personal work, I take a very similar approach to my professional work, even including a very similar server style setup in my home office.

Working fast, with good results is something that I deal with day to day, so applying it to something like an awesome fantasy project is a dream!​

How much text does an adventure game need, in your view? In light of that, how text-heavy is STASIS going to be?

I think that text is very important to Adventure Games, especially ones on a tight budget. The old adage of a picture being worth a thousand words doesn't really ring true in the world of micro development!

With Adventure Games being so heavily focused on story telling, to not put attention onto the most basic form of story telling we have is criminal!

That said, as an artist, there are things that I can 'show, not tell' much easier than some other developers, so I use that to my advantage. STASIS really provides a happy balance between the two. There is a fair amount of reading in the game, but the text generally serves as a way to augment the story, not necessarily tell it.​

What about voice acting? How important do you believe voice acting to be in an adventure game like STASIS?

I think that voice acting in RPG's can be rather restrictive, because you often have multiple writers working on those large scale projects, who's scripts have to be locked in at a certain point - sometimes before the game is even in a playable state.

Something like an RPG should allow the designer to remain as fluid as possible, throughout the story - allowing for story changes and switches as the game design progresses.

For characters though I think that there is something magical about having a voice actor bring written words to life. In Adventure Games, where you take control of a character, and not an avatar, this can serve as an additional bond between the player and the character. Where in RPG's you can create that bond through customisation, and really making the character 'your own', I think that Adventure Games have an issue with creating as strong a bond - so having a voice actor can really help in that regard.​


Could you also tell us about the game's music and sound design? How do you approach it?

When I first started STASIS, I fully expected to hand the sound design and music on to someone else, but through production I have found that the sound design process is by far my favourite aspect of the experience!

Sound, specifically in the horror genre is extremely important, and I have treated it with the utmost care. I often 'listen' to movies while I work (www.listentoamovie.com is just awesome!), so I know just how powerful sound can be.

Sound also has huge advantages as a small developer. I can add in sound to a scene, adding in detail that isn't really there. Instead of actually having to animate the bones being broken on a cadaver, adding in a sound paints that picture MUCH more effectively than a few extra pixels.​

How traditional or innovative do you want STASIS to be? Are there any ideas from earlier adventure games or CRPGs that you believe are underused today and want to introduce to STASIS?

When I started STASIS I never wanted to put a new spin on the Adventure Game genre - I wanted to create something that truly was in the traditional mould of the games I grew up loving to play.

One thing that I have tried to bring into the game is that element of maturity that I feel became lost with many Adventure Games. The current adventure revival seems to be more focused on capturing the more 'light hearted' aspect of the genre. The players of the genre grew up, and not many of the games grew up with them. I loved Day Of The Tentacle, but as a 30 year old, something like The Dig appeals to me more.​

How far into development is STASIS already, and to what extent does the game's final scope depend on the success of the Kickstarter campaign?

STASIS is well over halfway complete, with a good chunk of the remaining pieces of the game completed graphically. The final scope of the game, in terms of story and core gameplay won't change with the funding. The game's story, and the environments have been planned and remained locked for a long time now, and I don't want to fall into the trap of 'feature creep', or bloat the storyline for the sake of it.

What will change is the overall polish of the product, as well as how fast I can get it out. Currently, I spend most nights and weekends on the game after a full work day. As I own my own company, sometimes those work days extend into work nights, and weekends are usually only 1 day, or even a half day off. Being able to put all of my energy in STASIS would accelerate the project massively!

The addition of a professionally composed Sound Track is also something I am looking forward to. Having another artists take on the world will be a very interesting experience for me!​

Do you believe crowdfunding will prove to be a viable and long-lasting alternative to publisher-driven video game development? Do you see any limitations or downsides to the Kickstarter format?

I think that crowdfunding for smaller projects will be around for a long time, but I can't see publishers ever going out of business as a result of it... at least I hope not!

If you look at the size of games like Grand Theft Auto, or Assassins Creed, there is no way that a crowdsourced game could get to that scale - and those are the games that really drive the technology forward. If it wasn't for publisher funding, we would never have the technologies that are now common place in engines like UNITY or Unreal - technologies that allow small developers to keep pushing their craft forward.​


What is your take on the current state of the adventure game genre? Are there any trends that are worrisome to you or that you particularly appreciate?

People have been talking about a resurgence of the genre, but I don't know if the genre ever truly 'died'. I think it just didn't grow as rapidly as the others. It still has a HUGE support base, and this has definitely come to light in the past 18 months.

I appreciate the fact that small teams are getting together from all over the world to create these games! Artists from all over the world getting together online, and with just a shared vision, creating something amazing. It really is an awesome time to be involved in game development!​

What are your thoughts on the future of the genre? What is the direction that you see it evolve at the moment -- and where do you believe it should evolve?

I would love to see a more open ended and fluid way of actually playing the game. I know that its rich coming from a person who is creating a very linear game, but I know that other designers and teams have the means and manpower to really embrace the open ended nature of story telling that I think Adventure Games offer.

These games are much less reliant on technology, but I would love to see the same level of production design that goes into a game like Mass Effect, or Halo in an Adventure Game. Those concept and production artists are essentially on the same level as major film production, and to see that level applied to an Adventure Game would be amazing!

As for where it 'should' evolve, Adventure Games are almost like a shark... they haven't really changed because they are at the top of their evolutionary life cycle! The minute you begin to incorporate other genre ideas, they get muddied, and start to lose a bit of the 'magic' that makes them. While I don't think that its a bad thing to cross elements of different genre's, it mustn't come at the expense of what makes Adventure Games so special and unique, and that's their almost singularly focused vision of 'Story'.​

Finally, this being the RPG Codex, I have to ask: do you happen to have any plans for an isometric RPG if STASIS is successful enough? If so, what kind of RPG would you like to make?

Oh man, making a fully fledged CRPG would be amazing! Currently I don't think I have near the experience needed for something like that, but I would love to create some experimental Adventure Games with the same level of freedom that an RPG gives you.

But, if I had the experience, time, and balls of steel, I would definitely visit one of my favourite genres... a Post Apocalyptic world, and then mix it with something strange, like ancient Japan. Roaming Samurai in steam punk style armour, swords and cross bows instead of machine guns and plasma rifles.

But let's first get off the Groomlake... ;)

Thank you for your time, Chris.

STASIS Kickstarter campaign this way.

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