Coming out on PC, XBox One and PS4 later this year (as well as on Vita, Android and iOS platforms in 2016) Neon Chrome is an upcoming top-down shooter with a cyber-punk aesthetic that aims to fuse the mechanics of rogue-like games with top-down shooters. Celebrating games like Syndicate, Shadowrun, Hotline Miami and Smash TV, Neon Chrome aims to distinguish itself from the glut of indie games coming out on the market with an art-style that imbues its crisp in-game environments with a cutting edge science-fiction look. Featuring both hand crafted and procedurally generated levels, Neon Chrome aims to take the developer 10Tons’ love for cyber-punk, science fiction and top down shooters and combine these to “create the ultimate cyberpunk top down shooter with memorable futuristic gunfights, fascinating environments and cool boss battles“. And to talk a little bit more about the game, as well as to find out more about 10Tons, I got to speak to Sampo Toyssy (10Tons, CEO) about how he aims to do this.
How many people comprise 10Tons?
We are currently 9 people and 4 of them are working on this game (Neon Chrome), and we have another game in development which we can’t talk about now.
How long has 10Tons been established for?
We’re actually quite an old studio. We started as a hobby back in 2003 and we established the studio in 2006. Since then, we’ve been around making games, so over 10 years.
Given the size of the studio, it’s safe to regard 10Tons as being an indie studio. You started in 2003. What platforms have you predominantly been releasing your games on? Is it mainly PC or have you looked towards exploiting consoles as well?
We started on PC with occasional games, and then we moved on to Mac. We had PC and Mac, and after iOS and stuff like that, we were also on mobile. So, first we had the PC then Mac and then mobile, and now we are moving into console. So, currently we are releasing games on all major platforms including consoles, PC and most of the mobile platforms.
Given the fact that 10Tons is essentially a “9 band studio”, what are you doing in terms of resource management and ensuring that Neon Chrome is able to come out on all the announced platforms? Is it is going to be a simultaneous release, and if so, what are you doing to ensure that the game meets the quality standards, as well as the time that’s needed?
Well, that’s always a challenge. But our own engine is created in a way that [allows us to be] efficient in creating multiple versions on multiple platforms. We are also using this automatic testing system where we create a virtual automatic player which plays through the game, so we can accelerate technical testing a bit with those automatic playing systems. Of course, you can’t do everything with those play testing systems and everything is different, but technical stuff you can find out with this automatic testing. So our own very efficient technology – automatic testing and things like that – help us with the technical stuff and of course there are lots and lots of other areas in game development, and you can’t really predict most of it super accurately. So we just try our best and try to meet our deadlines and see where it goes.
Is the engine that you have a modified version of an existing engine or…?
No, it’s a completely original engine by people at 10Tons. We’ve been working on engines for our whole existence and we first created a 2D engine, but now we’ve extended the engine to include 3D. We’re implementing features as we need them. Of course, we are still 9 people, so we have to be really conservative with the features we implement. We want to select the features which will benefit the game the most, so we have to be careful not to over-extend ourselves with the engine. But so far, it has been good because we’ve been able to reach platforms with our own engine faster than with other solutions. That has been quite nice for us. That’s why we are also doing it now, because you can’t really know what happens in like 5 years, but with our own engine, we’ll be ready to tackle it whatever it will be. Of course, Neon Chrome has to set an art style which fits well with our own engine. It has way less features than any Unreal or any Unity
See, that’s the thing… engines like Unity and Unreal have basically cemented themselves as being the go-to engines for indie development studios – just because of the lack of resources that these studios have in terms of manpower etc. Now, you consider these 200 person studios, and the thing is they’ve got their own engine which they’ve been able to acquire through another studio as part of that massive publisher, like Frostbite by DICE for EA for example. With that being said, EA still has had problems in ensuring that its products have been finished to a certain level, as well as being bug-free, when they’ve hit the market. You are a 9 man studio and you’ve got your own engine. Surely that must mean that even though the engine may be semi-robust, you’ve just admitted yourself that the engine is lacking features in comparison to Unity and Unreal…
Yes, it has much, much less features than Unity or Unreal, that’s for sure.
But if you are taking the time to create your own engine, even though it’s tailored to your needs, ultimately that means that people are working on an engine and there’s less people and less time being devoted towards making a game like Neon Chrome – not only in terms of testing and ensuring that when it comes out it’s a fully payable game that stands out in an incredibly congested market and that it doesn’t crash…
We need to test it a lot, and as I said, automatic testing will take care of some of it. With randomly generated content, this also requires quite a large beta test because of the play testing involved. It’s our job to make sure that [the game] stands out and that it checks all the boxes. One thing that we think we benefit from our own engine is it gives us certain focus. We use the features that we have to complete something, and then we just focus on all these things very thoroughly so that we are efficient. Also, this might lead to some out of the box problem solving moments when doing things our way, and that might reflect in the gameplay in a positive thing, so that you might complete a level in a more efficient way.
Neon Chrome is a top down cyber-punk shooter in the vein of Smash TV. Obviously all the levels of procedurally generated as opposed to having all the levels set in stone. What difficulties have you had in ensuring that the procedurally generated levels are able to live up to player satisfaction and that they have the right amount of enemies, the right amount of loot items, and that the levels make sense where if there are any puzzles that they’re all logical?
Basically, we have a set of rules which a level must adhere to. There must be a certain amount of certain things there and these will spawn in random places, but not completely random because there are these critical paths through the level, and that means that that that is the path that the player would most likely take. It is not certain, but it’s most likely. Then we’ll set the difficulty curve on that critical path to a certain level, and then we’ll try to populate it. We try to imagine a good experience and then try turning it into an algorithm which would generate that experience. That’s a challenge. That’s for sure. There are a lot of things to take into account and of course, it requires a lot of iteration for the level generator and lots of testing to have it in a good form. At this point, when the game is in an alpha stage, it feels good to play but we are still missing some polishing.
What inspired Neon Chrome?
There are lots of sources of inspiration. First we went “Okay, we should probably make a cyber-punk outline” and it was our first idea. But then we went “well, maybe we could make a top down cyber-punk shooter with this rogue-like twist”, and that’s what started Neon Chrome. There were lots of sources for inspiration, like for example, Hotline Miami, Rogue Legacy, Deus Ex, all the cyber-punk movies like Blade Runner and stuff like that. It’s a synthesis of many, many genres focused in this adrenaline packed top down shooter in a cyber-punk world.
You mentioned Hotline Miami and Blade Runner and both of those products are celebrated for their excellent soundtracks. Will Neon Chrome be taking the same path as your inspirations by also having a really great soundtrack, or will the soundtrack be more functional in nature?
I think we are aiming for this really atmospheric soundtrack and we have this composer called Jonathan Geer who’s been working with us on several games in the past. So far, he has created some awesome tunes for the game. It’s like a fusion of retro wave ’80s and some modern stuff. The ’80s comes from the fact that most of the cyber-punk stuff was, in a way, invented in the ’80s, so the game isn’t like as ’80s as for example Hotline Miami but it has a certain ’80s cyber-punk atmosphere in it. But it’s a modern take, so it’s maybe more like “future retro” or something like that. So the soundtrack is more like future retro, and you can hear some of it in the videos for Neon Chrome.
Is there a storyline to Neon Chrome, even though all the levels are procedurally generated? Obviously if there is a storyline, there must be certain “checkpoints” told via narrative. How are you ensuring that Neon Chrome is able to establish a story, and do it all within a procedurally generated world where ultimately the player and the developer has no real control of what is contained in the actual levels?
Well, even though most of the content is procedurally generated, the generation has this manner of making the layout and then filling the room with a kind of hand crafted furniture layout so that it looks like a room. So, basically it’s kind of like a combination of procedural generation and then hand crafted settings. So you might have a room with some vases, there might be a table, and then there might be these chairs, and maybe a vending machine in a corner. That all gives us a feeling of being somewhere real. But we also have hand crafted boss fights which are completely hand crafted, and the environment is completely done by hand, because the bosses require a certain kind of environment for them to function correctly because they have special movement abilities or special skills and phases during the boss fights. So we need to have a certain environment for them. Those are hand crafted. Then we’ll also have these story points which are also hand crafted and you can access them by opening a door somewhere and go in there. Usually those special locations including bosses and special rooms have something to do with the storyline, or they will have some story content.
The idea behind Neon Chrome‘s story is that there’s this Overseer in this huge mega structure, the arcology, that has gone a bit mad and the player, as the hero, will try to save the arcology from certain doom. The mad Overseer can control some of the robots or the population of the structure and will always speak to the enemy. They can have a storytelling function, and you might meet an enemy whose role it is not to shoot you but to talk to you. Maybe you can shoot him afterwards, but he might tell you a tiny sliver of the story. The story isn’t linear, but in a sense you can see bits of it and then form an image of it in your head from these shards.
You’ve obviously mentioned story and also the notion of procedurally generated levels, even though these levels will have certain frameworks and safeguards in place. I assume that one of these will control level length? Generally speaking, how long would it take for the average person to complete the game?
Well, it depends… There will be around 25 levels where you play from start to the end in one session. Of course, this would probably be impossible because you have to die many times and improve your character. You have to be strong enough to be able to survive in later levels. But if you were to play it in one session with a fully developed character which would have required some playing [and levelling up] already, I guess you could play it from start to finish, all 25 levels in one session, in an hour or so. But to be able to do that, you would have to have played for several hours. We are targeting around 10 hours of prime game time, but you can continue in some sense after you have beaten the final boss. It’s possible to continue playing even if you have played through the main story stuff in the game.
Thank you very much.