Revving the Engine

Research and Destroy

This feature is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #102. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.

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This series of articles is made possible through the generous sponsorship of Epic’s Unreal Engine 4. Every month, we profile the recipient of an Unreal Dev Grant. While Epic puts us in touch with our subjects, they have no input or approval in the final story.

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One of many lessons that decades of popular culture has taught me is that the supernatural doesn’t get along with science. Whether it be proton packs or the power of the Scooby Snack recipe, humanity’s best bet for dealing with ornery monsters almost always comes from a laboratory. Just so in the post-apocalypse of Research and Destroy, where the last line of defense for humanity against a near-triumphant supernatural invasion is a bunch of ray gun-toting quantum untangler-toting scientists.

RAD is the work of Implausible Industries, a five-year-old studio of four developers who previously worked together at Grasshopper Manufacture. Members of the team have worked on games as diverse as Driver, Fatal Frame, FIFA, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon, No More Heroes and Final Fantasy. “Since 2013, we’ve worked with a number of large Japanese developers including Valhalla Game Studios, Platinum Games and Square Enix as contracted Unreal Engine experts,” says design director Chris Willacy. “This allowed us to self-fund the development of a prototype of our pride and joy – Research and Destroy – with a view to eventually landing a development/publishing deal.”

Research and Destroy combines turn-based and real-time tactical action, wrapped up in a strategy layer, mashing together 4X gaming with third person action. While already unique, one of the goals of the development is to provide the option of playing the campaign co-op with up to four players, both on the couch and online.

“Players and their enemies still take turns like in your everyday, orthodox tactical battle game, but instead of pointing your characters to where you’d like them to go and at whom you’d like them to shoot, you take direct third person control,” explains technical design director Daniel Markiewicz. “Each of your three characters has a limited amount of time each turn, but in that turn you’re free to do whatever you want. Run and gun, stand still and aim for headshots, or just flee like crazy because seriously you’re not equipped to fight that troll, what were you thinking.”

“It can of course be played entirely solo,” he adds, “if you don’t think your friends are RAD enough for this game.”

Daniel, Chris and art director Kees Gajentaan were kind enough to chat with us about the best ways to use science to teach those dirty monsters a lesson they won’t forget.

RAD looks like good fun and kind of looks like a cartoon from my childhood that never was. What inspired the game’s concept?

Kees Gajentaan: The game’s setting and visual concept came during a brainstorm shortly after we’d created a very rough demo with a very different setting. We all liked the idea of having a meta-game with research and developing new weapons in it. Going with a cartoon look would give us the freedom to come up with really crazy weaponry and would also make it easier to develop the game with a small team.

The visual style is inspired by numerous cartoons from Disney, Warner Bros, Hanna-Barbera, MGM, American and European comic books, as well as the paintings from the artist known as Shag. Certain series of mystery-solving teens who always run into supernatural-looking beings of course also come to mind.

Chris Willacy: From the gaming side, it was originally conceived as a cooperative multiplayer game in the style of XCOM in a future Terminator world where men are locked in an eternal war with machines (but with Titanfall-inspired wall-running). The Scientists versus Supernatural re-imagining came later.

We’re fans of all different sorts of stuff and there’s a wealth of different visual inspirations that we’ve been drawing from. For me, Ghostbusters (both the original films and the cartoon) are draws for the theme and visuals. Of course, there’s a pinch of Dexter’s Laboratory, Rick and Morty and Hammer Horror in there as well.

In addition, and speaking personally, I find actual science hugely inspiring and while our game isn’t in anyway realistic, I’d like for it to be thought of as a love letter to the men and women who’ve made it possible for me to watch videos of rocket launches and cats on my phone while I’m sitting on an airplane and other scientific marvels.

Daniel Markiewicz: We stumbled upon our gameplay conceits well before the setting. The Scientists vs Monsters thing kind of came about naturally as we brainstormed for something interesting, not-too-serious and in line with our tastes. We all dig science and spooky stuff here at Implausible Industries.

What did those poor monsters do to deserve getting shot with ray guns?

C. W.: Aside from casting the world into darkness, consuming the souls of (nearly) all mankind, and laying waste to civilization as we know it not that much. Also ray guns are for noobs – we prefer to quantumly untangle via a Higgs boson tau-antitau pair. Or something like that.

D. M.: They had the temerity to not only crush humanity, but also to cast reason and logic into the dustbins of history. Not cool. It took a long time and a lot of hard work for our heroes to relearn how to science properly and those monsters should consider themselves lucky if all they get is a ray to the face.

Why did you settle on a turn-based tactics game for RAD?

C. W.: We are big fans of the genre, and we wanted to bring something new to the table and put some things that mechanically you just don’t find together in other games. I recently played Superhot and I thought it was really neat and brought something fresh to the FPS genre – a similar mindset drives us at Implausible Industries – it’s not interesting for us to do the same thing as everyone else. We want to make something familiar but twisted a little bit, you can pick it up and play it but you have to learn something new, experience something new. Of course, we also want it to be fun and interesting – we also don’t want to make weird for weird’s sake. We love turn-based tactics and we wanted to bring something new to that.

D. M.: We didn’t settle on a turn-based tactics game for RAD. It was the other way around: a turn-based tactics game settled on RAD.

As far as I recall, we were lamenting the lack of verticality in the turn-based tactics games of the day, and how amazing it would be to have one where your squaddies could wall-run, rappel and whatnot (these actions fell away eventually, but the focus on verticality and movement never did). The lack of co-op in the genre was also a sore point for us. We had a bit of time, so just started hacking away at a prototype. We discovered early on that for co-op to work without players succumbing to acute boredom, they would have to be able take turns simultaneously. As “funny” as the characters running around each other and trying to get into the same cover point could be, the traditional “go here/do that” control scheme really wasn’t working in the co-op context. From there we tried direct character controls and liked it. Eventually the Science vs. Supernatural theme came around and we started to incorporate it into our design.

Variety in squaddies is an important factor in games like this – can you run them down for me?

K. G.: While the squad members in our game will have some unique traits, most of it will be down to the weapons and gadgets you develop and equip. So rather than having a “heavy” class, you can have a scientist equip a heavy weapon, which will slow him down a little, for example. But by equipping that scientist with rocket boots you can give him greater mobility. In a sense, you’ll be creating your own classes by equipping different combinations of weapons and gadgets.

D. M.: Except for the hazardous materials disposal specialist. They have teenie-tiny legs and can’t run very well. That protective suit and a low center of mass help make up for it though.

I can’t help but think of the XCOM series when I think of turn-based tactical games. What kind of influence did those games exert on RAD?

C. W.: Yeah, we love XCOM. Personally, I’ve played most of them all starting from Enemy Unknown and Terror from the Deep back in the day as well as the new ones, I’m very excited for Phoenix Point as well. Subconsciously XCOM is probably at the back of our minds more than we know, but we make room for other stuff as well. Shout outs to Jake Solomon and Jullian Gollop – huge respect.

D. M.: My Amiga was a basically a dedicated XCOM machine for about a year in the nineties, so yeah. I think its influence lay more in making us want to make a turn-based game than in any of the mechanics of the game itself.

What’s the meta game like?

K. G.: In RAD, the main objective will be to liberate all the territories in Europe and northern Africa from the Supernatural horde. This is done through playing a number of tactical battles in each territory. Once a territory has been liberated, you’ll be able to build a university from where you can research the supernatural enemies further and develop new gadgets and weapons. From time to time, you’ll need to defend your universities from supernatural invaders.

C. W.: So the meta game is where you utilize the fruits of your tactical labor. Obviously, in a post-apocalyptic world, cash money has no value – hard scientific data scraped off the floor of the battlefield is much more useful in the war against the supernatural. This data is a virtual currency that’s used to upgrade and fortify captured territories in a Risk-style meta game. As well as researching enemies for tactical advantage your can also develop new technology in the form of weapons and gadgets. You attack and defend territories when necessary – this takes you back to the battlefield of the tactics layer.

D. M.: You collect $cience, spend it on research and gear, and then go suit up and shoot ‘em up. Universities are your bases where most of the magic science happens. They make for juicy targets though, so make sure to defend them. Reclaim Europe (and bits of Northern Africa) from the supernatural hordes and you win. Easy, right? Just remember though: for each action, there is an equal and opposite Supernatural reaction. They’re not just going to sit there and wait for you to take their land.

Oh, and it’s all playable in co-op, with resources and responsibilities shared among the players. Don’t let Barry spend all the $cience building universities in tough-to-defend areas again. Barry always does that. Quit it, Barry. Seriously.

Why did you choose Unreal Engine 4? Are there any unexpected benefits or challenges to using the engine?

K. G.: All of our team members had worked with Unreal Engine before, and by now, we all have over a decade of experience each with the engine and toolset. We absolutely love it and it only gets better with each release.

C. W.: For us this was a no-brainer. We’ve all been using Unreal for years and years (Kees since version 2!), and it’s been our primary source of income since we started our studio. There’s plenty of demand for skilled UE developers in Japan, which has kept us going and exposed us to a number of interesting projects and talented studios. In doing so we’ve gone deeper and deeper into all the tools and systems of UE4 to the point where we are very comfortable with it – although having said that there’s always something new to learn, it just keeps getting bigger and more comprehensive. That’s both a benefit and a challenge – it takes some time trying to keep abreast of all the new features going in. Obviously, the wealth of documentation is a benefit but there’s some areas where this could be expanded upon.

Has the Dev Grant allowed you to do anything you otherwise would not have been able to?

K. G.: Yes! In our application, we specifically wrote what we wanted the Dev Grant for, which in our case was to improve the animations we had in our demo at the time. After receiving the grant money, we worked with a number of talented freelance animators who helped us significantly improve the game for the next time we showed our game.

C. W.: For sure. The dev grant money we received was used to polish our prototype substantially which allowed us to present it much more confidently at pitch presentations. Without it, it would have taken longer to get it to that stage. It’s a great initiative by Epic and we were over the moon to receive that money – it was a real shot in the arm at a time when morale was a little flat.

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Research and Destroy won the Popular Selection Award at Bitsummit in 2017. While no release date is yet available, you can learn more about the game on the Impossible Industries website and YouTube channel, and keep up to date on development on the Facebook page and by following their Twitter feed

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