Interview: Uppercut Games chats with us about what into creating City of Brass and what to expect
The following will be an interview transcript between myself and representatives from Uppercut Games who delve deep into what not only inspired their upcoming game City of Brass but gave insights into what we can expect from the final game as well and how working on a mammoth of a franchise such as Bioshock previously helps them out.
Push-Start: First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to answer some of our questions. I absolutely like the direction that you are taking for City of Brass and cannot wait to get my hands on it. To begin, I’d like you to introduce yourselves to our readers and perhaps explain in your words, what the game is about.
Uppercut Games: City of Brass is a first-person “palace crawler” – it’s like a dungeon crawler but set in an opulent, fabled city, full of treasure and infested with traps and ghoulish foes. You’re equipped with a multipurpose whip which can grab, trip, disarm, stun or shatter as well as swing; and in the other hand you carry a blade, initially a scimitar, but both will get upgrades as you play. At the core of the game are its interacting systems – fluid movement which can be combined for example with swordplay to slide blade-first into an enemy; or using the whip to snatch an enemy and drag it into a spear trap – this is why we’ve likened it a little to BioShock, which some of us worked on, a game where you could combine the systems to overcome obstacles in a number of different ways.
Push-Start: First thing that absolutely stood out to me was how interesting the game’s premise was, especially to someone growing up with most of the fables and tales from Arabian Nights as this is not a very common setting you see in games. Being a unique premise, what inspired you to pursue a game and setting such as this?
Uppercut Games: When we first set out to re-imagine the rogue-like as something we wanted to play ourselves, we had a few different settings in mind. I had actually been reading one of my daughter’s Arabian Nights books for a while before it hit me that it would not just be a great setting, but also one that fit well with the game we were making. We knew we wanted to set things in a city that you could loot treasure from, and the tale of the City of Brass is one of such terrific greed that it was perfect.
Push-Start: What were the major challenges involved with designing your world?
Uppercut Games: Definitely wrangling the procedural generation system. Because we are making something that needs to support the core game loop of learning from death and repeating often, the only way to make that without the game becoming stale was to use procedural generation. That requires, in a lot of ways, a much more systems-driven but hands-off approach to level design. We’re used to hand-crafting every facet, and now we had to instead turn our knowledge into rules, spin the wheel and see what comes out – there’s been a lot of trial and error, but we’ve now reached a place where we are happy that the quality level has reached what we could have done by hand.
Push-Start: In your opinion, what is the main aspect of your game that sets you apart from other rogue-like games?
Uppercut Games: We wanted to build a challenging game that really needed you to build up skills and learn to manipulate all its systems in order to progress. We knew we wanted procedural generation and perma-death, like a dungeon crawler, but for us the real core of the game is in the interacting gameplay systems. We think City of Brass pushes the boundaries of the genre that little bit further, blending the freedom to overcome enemies and get to the exit loaded with treasure in just about any way you can imagine, depending on how your skills as a player develop.
Push-Start: I really like the enemy designs of the game, they really blend in well with everything around them and the overall setting. Genies also as we know are very popular these days with stereotypical images of them in people’s head. In that regards what was something you wanted to stay away when designing these enemies and how they function, especially with the Djinns themselves?
Uppercut Games: The Genies and other creatures of the Arabian Nights stories served as a jumping off point for us – we had very clear ideas for how we wanted Genies and the denizens of the city to function. We’ve added our own twist, of course, but it was never something we wanted to shy away from.
Push-Start: Looting is a very important mechanic in games such as these so much so that it can dictate whether or not players want to keep returning to a rogue-like game. Looting is a very important mechanic in games such as these so much so that it can dictate whether or not players want to keep returning to a rogue-like game. Is loot only going to function as high score or will there be weapons and other cool stuff the enemies will drop?
Uppercut Games: Loot will mostly be treasure that increases your score, but there will be the occasional drop of blade / whip upgrades and relics of power to be found. For the most part, your upgrades are bartered from the genies – trading your precious score for boosts that will help you survive.
Push-Start: What would you say takes the most amount of work when creating a loot based system?
Uppercut Games: Besides actually implementing everything, ensuring that every item has its own purpose, and is balanced within the overall structure of the game, takes a lot of time. Everything must feel valuable, but also not over-powered. It’s a fine line, and I imagine we’ll be tweaking and tuning for a while yet.
Push-Start: Also will there be more weapons in the game, or are you keeping it simple with just those seen in the trailer like the blade and whip.
Uppercut Games: City of Brass leans heavily on combinatorial play – discovering how you can combine different whips, swords and relics. To that end, we have a large variety of all those items, but which ones you encounter in a playthrough can be different every time.
Push-Start: Arabian Nights which (or part of which) seems to have inspired the game, was a lot based around storytelling, and how a compelling one can hook you in. Arabian Nights which (or part of which) seems to have inspired the game, was a lot based around storytelling, and how a compelling one can hook you in. Will the game have emphasis on story-telling and lore elements?
Uppercut Games: There is a back-story to the City of Brass, which we introduce during the tutorial of the game and via some cut-scenes. There is also hidden lore that you can discover by unlocking things in the Journal. But the story takes a back seat to setting the stage for the player to engage in some whip-and-sword play.
Push-Start: Music is something that I am a huge fan of and I can see good music potentially uplifting your game and especially its mysterious but fantastically mythic setting. What direction did your team want to take with the music?
Uppercut Games: We prefer to use music pretty leanly – the soundscapes that we’ve created for the environments tell part of their story, and while there are some tracks that help set the mood, we don’t want that obliterated with music tracks that are playing at all times. Instead, we’ve integrated musical elements into the gameplay – every door you open, chest you unlock; even the buttons in the main menu, all have a musical component to them.
Push-Start: One of the coolest thing for me is, that this game is being made by the same people who have worked on Bioshock, and you can see that creativity rubbing off here. One of the coolest thing for me is, that this game is being made by the same people who have worked on Bioshock, and you can see that creativity rubbing off here.
What would you say are the benefits on working in a smaller less AAA budgeted game?
Uppercut Games: Smaller teams definitely have a focus that is difficult to replicate at larger scales. We loved working with our friends at Irrational back in the day, but we’ve also really enjoyed the flexibility that our small studio has.
Push-Start: If there was one aspect from working on Bioshock that you would say really helped you in this, what would it be?
Uppercut Games: Regarding BioShock, the one aspect I also enjoyed was the combinatorial play that they set up between weapons, plasmids and the environment. Definitely something we’re leveraging in City of Brass.
Push-Start: Any information on when we can expect to try out this game?
Uppercut Games: The release date is 18th September for PC players. City of Brass will benefit from lots of iterative testing, tuning and feedback to make it the best game it can be, so it’s headed into Early Access to balance the gameplay finely with feedback from a group of self-selecting people who like the concept to begin with. The initial Early Access version already has a core experience in place: a 12 level campaign with hours of replayability, in which players can reveal new enemies in each level, unlock new gear and relics, encounter new traps, develop evolving tactics and meet new genies, with solid, fun gameplay featuring combinative whip, trick and trap combat mechanics. Once the PC version is finalized, the console versions will be close behind – in 2018 if all goes according to plan.
Push-Start: And now, to get to know you guys a bit better, some light questions. If you had one existing game/movie/book license to choose from, what project would you love your team to take on?
Uppercut Games: I’m an old super hero fan, and working on Freedom Force back in the day was a lot of fun. I’d love to have another crack at a super hero game…
Push-Start: What genres would you love to tackle in the future?
Uppercut Games: So many to choose from! I wouldn’t mind trying out a full-on Myst-style puzzle game some time, but I’m also really enjoying the rogue-like genre so maybe there’s more there to be done.
Push-Start: What are some of the games that you are looking forward to this year and are currently playing?
Uppercut Games: Earlier this year I played a bunch of Astroneer, and of course Breath of the Wild when it came out. I’m actually keen to try out Mario + Rabbids, but it comes out this week and I don’t think I’ll have time!
Push-Start: On an ending note, what advice or message would you like to give new and budding young teams? Furthermore, anything you’d like to share?
Uppercut Games: Make something! Don’t sit on your ideas, and don’t bother other people and ask them to make them for you: make your idea, and prove that it’s worthy.