In this week’s installment of Indie Spotlight, we’ll be talking with another small group of industry veterans who decided to walk away from the bright lights of AAA development in favor of the smaller, yet no less luminescent, endeavor of developing indie titles. The team is 5 Lives Studios: A group of, you guessed it, five guys who decided to take their long history of partnering up on previous projects that include Darksiders 2, LA Noire, and GTAIV, and consolidate their efforts working together on a dream project.
That project? Satellite Reign: An open-world, real-time, class-based strategy game that takes place in a fully simulated, cyberpunk city. Satellite Reign is the spiritual successor to the massively popular Syndicate series, with co-creator Mike Diskett on board as a programmer on Satellite Reign. Players will have the option to customize their squad of four agents as they attempt to bring down powerful, corrupt bureaucrats in a world where democracy can be bought by those who can afford it. Take a look at the announcement trailer for Satellite Reign:
Pretty cool stuff. I admit, I’m a sucker for cyberpunk so it didn’t take much to peak my curiosity. Still, there wasn’t a lot to go on in terms of scope and gameplay specifics. So to find out more about the game, I spoke to designer Chris Conte about what fans can expect to get out of the spiritual successor, and to learn a little bit about the 5 Lives team as well. Here’s what he had to say:
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IGX Pro: Is there a fun story behind the 5 Lives Studios name? Or was it just a numbers game, considering the team size?
Chris Conte: We were throwing around ideas for the name of the company for a while. We were almost called ‘Bearded Monkeys’ but someone suggested 5 Lives. Dean did up the logo and we all thought it fit perfectly. There are five of us starting the company and as Mike likes to put it, ‘we are all putting our lives on the line,’ so here we are.
IGX: Most of you guys have worked together before, and combined you have plenty of experience in the industry. Can you talk a little bit more about the projects you’ve worked on together in the past, and how that has benefited the experience of creating Satellite Reign?
Chris: Obviously Mike’s work on the Syndicate series will have a big impact, as well as his work on GTA4. In addition to the big budget titles, we have also worked on a number of small budget games, so we really know how to get the most ‘Bang for Buck.’ But I think our experience working together is of even more importance. We all have all been working together for years now and we know how to get things done. So many teams in the industry waste time and money redoing work because of miscommunications, internal politics or whatever reason. We know each department’s limitations and are all eager to help each other out to make sure we are all moving in the same direction and making the best game possible.
IGX: You’ve dubbed Satellite Reign as a ‘spiritual successor’ to the Syndicate series. With all the Kickstarter projects and loose reboots/revivals/remakes as of late, the term seems to have a much more ambiguous meaning than I imagine was originally intended. What can fans of the original series looks forward to in terms of parallels or Easter eggs?
Chris: Satellite Reign is set in a dystopian cyberpunk future where corporations have taken control. The player is in command of a group of four agents from a new organization that is fighting against those corporations. The game is a real time, top-down strategy game where the player customizes their agents and fights in a fully simulated world. Satellite Reign is set in its own universe and is its own game, but we are big fans of the Syndicate series, so we want to have quite a few nods to the old games we love so much. But most of the fun of those Easter eggs is finding them yourself, so we will leave them for the player to discover.
IGX: When Satellite Reign launches, it will have a DRM-Free option available to all backers. Outside of the obvious offline freedom this provides, will there be any other gameplay incentives to those who support the project pre-launch?
Chris: We will be providing a DRM-Free version of the game for all gamers, not just the backers. We are planning to have the game available on GOG and Steam at release. We have many tiers for the backers that will give them something in the game: From naming a civilian in the city or naming a street or location, all the way to creating and naming weapons or becoming the boss of the big bad corporation ruling the city (sorry.. that one’s already taken). Backers can also back at the tier that gives them a ‘Support team,’ giving them a boost at the beginning of the game, or get their hands on the Elite Backer-only agent skins. We are also on our forums talking to the backers and will be opening our backer-only dev diaries soon that will give the backers a real opportunity to help shape the game.
IGX: Offering a DRM-Free version of the game may have a lot of folks wondering why there’s a need for DRM at all. From your perspective as a developer, is DRM just a proactive anti-piracy measure, or are there additional benefits to using it?
Chris: Personally I don’t really have a problem with DRM as long as it doesn’t affect my game at all. I have no issue with Steam’s DRM as it provides an easy place for me to purchase games, keeps them all stored in one location on my drive, automatically updates all of my games and even emails me when a game on my wish list is on sale. It also lets me play the game on any PC I register on. The good far outweighs the bad. I do have issues when it starts to affect my experience. I was one of the many people who had problems logging into the Diablo 3 servers when the game launched and was quite annoyed that I couldn’t play the game offline on my own as I intended. Does DRM really work? I don’t know. It sucks, but we expect Satellite Reign to get pirated at some point, with or without DRM. Lots of gamers don’t like DRM and are still willing to legally purchase our game so we don’t really see the point in excluding them by forcing it on them.
IGX: A real-time, class-based strategy game that takes place in an open world teeming with activity sounds like an incredibly tall order for a small development team to tackle. In terms of scope, what can gamers expect from their time with Satellite Reign?
Chris: We are about to go into full time pre-production at the moment. We can’t give the exact size of the city or how many people will be on screen yet because we just haven’t gotten to that part yet. Usually games are announced to the public when they are pretty much finished so all of these types of questions can be easily answered. Letting everyone in this early means they get to see how things really get done. We want to deliver a big city teeming with people, all with minds of their own. We want create a game that can be played multiple times and still be an exciting experience each time. We want the player to have control over the fate of the city, its population and agents they use to enforce their own morals and ideals. We have a talented team (albeit small) that are the best I have worked with in my career and we have a network of amazing artists, coders and sound composers that we intend to enlist to help make Satellite Reign everything we know it can be.
IGX: You’ve released a few trailers and video diaries updating the status of Satellite Reign over the past couple months, but nothing that really details how combat plays out. What types of upgrades/enhancements are being made to the original Syndicate formula?
Chris: The combat in RTS games has come a long way since the early days where units would just stand opposite each other and shoot until one of them just falls over. The behavior of the enemies will take advantage of advances in gameplay over the years and will be a lot more sophisticated in Satellite Reign. They will hide behind cover, try to flank you, call in reinforcements, or even retreat if you scare them enough. Basically, they behave as much like independently thinking people as possible. Also, the idea of an open-world RTS is something that hasn’t really been done before so we are really excited to see what other elements of gameplay emerge out of the development process.
IGX: From what you’ve detailed about the Assassin Agent, the character classes in Satellite Reign seem to offer a bit more versatility than the typical tried-and-true archetypes most gamers are used to. Will the remaining three classes offer ‘similarly unique’ – if that makes sense – playstyles?
Chris: The idea between the different classes is that they rely on different skills and abilities from each other, but can all be tailored and customized to whatever playstyle the player wants. For example, the Hacker is the agent that has mastered electronics and drones. The Hacker can be customized to use those skills to either be a stealthy agent that disables alarms and silently breaks into facilities, or to be the digital puppet master that controls several drones all armed to the teeth blasting their way to their goal.
IGX: How deep a level of customization can players expect from each of the four distinct agents?
Chris: Very. The player is going to be able to choose what augmentations they give their agents and what gear they equip them with. They will be able to choose what abilities they earn as they level up each agent and what weapons they carry, and even be able to customize the weapons themselves. Our ‘respawning/cloning’ system will even allow them to choose what bonus stats they want to give each agent by simply picking the right bodies to harvest from the city’s population.
IGX: Satellite Reign takes place in a rather rough neighborhood. But for those who’d rather not engage in firefights or use brute-force, can you offer a bit more detail about the non-lethal options available to players?
Chris: The world the game takes place in is a ruthless place, but for those who want to take a more subtle approach there is an alternative (although you will still need to get your hands dirty at some point). Rather than bursting into facilities, guns blazing, to steal weapons and technology, the player could disable automated defenses, bribe security guards and sneak in to collect their prize. Or if you are enough of a business tycoon and have enough funds you could simply purchase what you are after.
IGX: Cyberpunk has seen quite a resurgence this generation heading into the next console generation, with titles like Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Remember Me, and CD Projekt RED’s upcoming Cyberpunk 2077. For your studio in particular, what is it about that setting that’s so appealing?
Chris: For me, Cyberpunk is all about the breakdown of society: Oppressed people, overly dense cities infested with old, broken, and subverted technology, all wrapped in a thin veneer of consumeristic happiness. It’s a house of cards waiting to fall, and what better way to make it all crumble down than with four agents armed to the teeth with rocket launchers, miniguns and plasma cannons?
IGX: You’ve previously mentioned the possibility of a boxed version of Satellite Reign. Any status update on that?
Chris: We have a limited edition backers-only boxed copy available for backers who pledge at the ‘2 Discs 1 Box’ tier or above, via Paypal, on our website now. We are still discussing a boxed version of the game for the final release.
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If all goes according to plan, Satellite Reign will be ready for release late-2014. Up to this point, the game has been announced for PC, Mac, and Linux users; but the team has not ruled out the possibility of bringing the game to console platforms. Satellite Reign was recently greenlit by the Steam community, as is expected to be available to download via GOG as well. Anyone who’d like to stay in the loop about production updates can follow along on Twitter and Facebook, or simply head on over to Satellite Reign’s homesite.
Since Satellite Reign is still in the very early stages of pre-production, there isn’t a whole lot to show off aside from concepts and intended goals. But in speaking with the team, it’s easy to see the folks at 5 Lives Studios are dead-set on making a true successor to the Syndicate series that fans can be proud of. They’re working with the latest technology for the Unity engine and even at such an early stage in development, things are already looking good for the game. Factoring in the depth and variety of character customization and tactical options, with sophisticated enemy AI that should offer a rewarding level of challenge, and Satellite Reign quickly becomes one cyberpunk experience that no fan of the genre should miss. Be sure to check out the gallery below for the latest screens and artwork the game has to offer.
Are you guys ready for another cyberpunk-themed RTS from the mastermind behind Syndicate? What do you look for in an open world game to heighten the level of immersion? Is there a specific customization aspect you feel must be included in Satellite Reign? Share your thoughts in the comments section, and don’t forget to like IGXPro on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and give us the ‘ol +1 on Google+. And if you can’t get enough of my shenanigans, (who could blame you?) you can check me out @GamingsNirvana, or add +VinnyParisi to your circles.