Space Noir Interview

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Space combat video games never really went away, but it wasn’t until the last few years and the Kickstarter phenomenon took hold that a lot more of them began to get greenlit for production and prove that there was still a sizable audience for the genre. PC gamers in particular have a lot to look forward to, with big name titles like Star Citizen and Elite: Dangerous leading the charge along with plenty of indie studios trying their hand at various space titles.

N-Fusion Interactive was one of the most recent game developers to announce they were working on a space combat game, but unlike some of the other titles theirs heads in a different direction. Space Noir, due out this summer, was developed for both PC and tablet devices and is an arcade space combat game with a heavy focus on narrative. Players step into the role of bounty hunter Hal Markham, who explores the far reaches of space and is willing to take on black market jobs.  Unity Games has signed on to publish the title.

If the developer name sounds familiar, it may be because you’ve played Deus Ex: The Fall or Air Mail on mobile/tablet devices. Space Noir is their newest original title and arguably the most ambitious one they have tackled yet. The first trailer (which you can view below along with additional gameplay) caught my attention with its sleek designs and arcade combat, and I wanted to learn more about what N-Fusion was striving to accomplish as they finished development on the game. I had the opportunity to send some questions over to Joe Parisi, Studio & Audio Director at N-Fusion to learn more.

Space Noir was only recently announced, but is due out this summer for PC and tablets. How long has the game been in development?

Space Noir actually started as an idea for PC a couple of years ago. We had made this short playable demo that we could share with publishers to shop around and see if anyone was interested in making the full game. A couple of years later, basically by chance, Unity saw the game and decided they wanted to partner with us to bring the full game to fruition. So pre-production on the title started a little less than a year ago and we are getting ready to enter the final phases of development now!

The press release mentions Blade Runner, X-Wing, and Wing Commander which definitely caught my attention. What other sci-fi movies/novels/TV shows do you think players will be reminded of as they make their way through Space Noir?

Firefly is definitely the first one that comes to mind (our main characters are actually fairly similar in many ways, their names even rhyme!). The whole concept of doing a western in space, kind of mixing two genres, is very similar to what we are trying to do with Space Noir. They took the traditional roles and formulas and turned them in a slightly different direction which is something we are also attempting to do. In Space Noir, instead of being the traditional noir detective, our main character Hal Markham is an off the books bounty hunter. Of course, he gets involved in a series of bounties that are more than he bargained for, but similar to Firefly, there are smaller bounties along the way breaking up the main overarching story where you can get some alternative insight into the main characters themselves and delve deeper into the world.

Space Noir will be a narrative driven game. With this in mind, what can you tell me about the presentation of the game? Who is voicing main character Hal Markham, and will there be any familiar voices from Deus Ex: The Fall?

From Hal’s ship to his garage/home to the actual user interface, we are looking to present the game world as used, beat up, and worn. Everything that Hal touches has seen better days. Even though the game takes place in the distant future where sleek modern technology is fairly commonplace, Hal spends most of his money on booze and gambling, so he uses relatively outdated equipment basically held together with duct tape. Hal’s entire life is held together with duct tape, ready to fall apart at any time.

To help bring that world to life, we have got some great actors on board. Hal Markham is voiced by Monty Sauerwein, who has been Hal since the beginning, even voicing him on our initial demo. We can’t imagine anyone else being Hal at this point! Rhonda, his partner and artificial intelligence, is being played by the legendary Lani Minella, which is very exciting as well. We have some other great actors like George Ledoux, Lauren Synger, and Maria Leamon, but I don’t want to get into their characters too much and spoil the story!

Additionally, what type of music can we expect during the course of the game?

The music is being composed by Alexander Brandon, who if you don’t know, has been laying down the tracks and voices to some of your favorite games for the past 20 years or so. One of the main themes, without going into too much detail, involves tech vs. organic, so that translated very well to a concept for music. We are looking to take organic “human” sounds (like tribal drums for instance) and then layer on top of that some synth leads and pads. We’ve also thrown in a little “space saxophone” which kind of adds a cool noir vibe at times. If I was going to compare it to existing music, I would say Blade Runner meets Battlestar Galactica meets Sin City meets Rush. Sounds really awesome, right?

There will be five worlds in the game, and I noticed a good deal of variation between the environments in the debut trailer. What can you tell me about the different worlds, and are they connected by a hub the player can explore or divided up by individual missions?

All the environments are accessed from Hal’s garage, where he lives. From here he receives bounties that will take him to these distant worlds. Each world has both a space and surface environment, so there is a good amount of variation just from that without taking anything else into consideration.

After successfully completing a story mission in an environment, more bounties will come in that Hal can accept that will take him back to those environments. Each environment brings with it hazards specific to that world. For example on the frozen planet of Arghana, Hal will have to deal with blinding blizzards that tear through the environment periodically.

Based on the trailer, the ship to ship combat looks like it will be arcade-oriented, with plenty of fast paced action. How have you taken what you accomplished with the flight mechanics in Air Mail and applied them to Space Noir?

What we’ve learned is no two people seem to have the same preferences for controls! Even within the office there is the great “to invert or not to invert” war that continues to rage to this day. We’ve developed tools that give us lots of flexibility during development to try out new options and then give players the best of those options to tweak how they like without being too overwhelming. We plan on offering multiple control schemes and a fair amount of control customization no matter what platform you’re on. We don’t want anyone to not enjoy Space Noir because they weren’t able to control the game the way they wanted.

Players will be able to upgrade their ships in a variety of ways. Can you expand upon some of these upgrades, and what is one of your personal favorites that can be unlocked?

The ship can be equipped with a primary weapon, secondary weapon, and a utility at any one time. Each weapon and utility can be upgraded in a way that not only increases its stats, but also gives it more abilities. For example, when you upgrade the homing missiles to max level they gain extra missiles and the ability to lock on to multiple targets simultaneously.

Besides upgrading each weapon and utility in the game, you can also upgrade things like the ship’s hull and its thrusters to better suit how you like to play. If you prefer a slower idle and a faster boost you can equip thrusters that do that. Same with the hull. The ship has an auto-repairing hull so if you prefer to be able to play like a tank and take lots of damage, you can do that at the cost of a slower auto-repair speed. Opposite of that, you can reduce the max amount of damage you can take but increase your auto-repair speed.

These are just a few examples, but an important thing for us was that each time you upgraded a piece of equipment we wanted it to be immediately obvious to the player that their investment of credits is actually doing something. In other words, they aren’t subtle upgrades, they make a big difference at every level. Separate from gameplay upgrades you can also change the paint job on the ship, but that’s purely for fun.

My personal favorite upgrade changes throughout development, but right now it’s the Blink Utility that lets the ship teleport. Very handy when playing chicken or doing bombing runs!

The space combat and simulation genres have gone through a resurgence of interest in the past year or so. How do you feel about the rise in the number of titles being developed and where do you feel Space Noir fits into this?

As a gamer, I think it’s great! Within the industry, sometimes it seems space games get a bad rap, so I am glad that we are seeing so many games in this area and for the most part I think they each have something unique to offer. Space Noir is heavily narrative driven and we want players invested in these characters, and we think that is something that seems more of an afterthought for some other action space games and might as well not be included. Our experience in the past with narrative driven games is helping us there.

I think our gameplay is unlike any of the titles out there I have been playing. We have an emphasis on speedy and arcade-y controls, this is NOT a sim. We didn’t focus on just offensive abilities, but defensive maneuvers as well. We want the player to feel like the best pilot in the galaxy, flying circles around waves of enemies. We have both space and surface environments which adds a lot of variety to the gameplay. Oh, and we have boss fights!

I think gamers who are looking for a deeper connection with their characters and ship will be interested in Space Noir. At the same time, I think gamers who want to pick up a game and dive directly into space combat action, this is a game they will want to try as you can skip through any story you aren’t interested in. Don’t bore us, get to the chorus and all that!

Will there be any cross-platform functionality in the game? Would someone be able to start playing on a PC and then continue on a tablet if they had both versions, or will they remain separate?

Cross-platform functionality is definitely something we are looking into. While the overall story and missions will be the same between both the PC and Tablet version, the games are being approached differently, each playing to the other platforms strengths. Neither platform is making a sacrifice for the other. It is more work for us, but as gamers we wouldn’t want a watered down PC game or a clunky mobile title. Both versions are in development, but we are releasing the PC game first and then following up later with mobile.

What is one of the biggest challenges you have overcome during the development of the game?

Ambition. We are trying to do a lot in a short amount of time. For such a small team, they have been great about finding smart ways to get around big problems at a consistently high quality. We constantly re-evaluate the game and rework features until we are happy with them and that turns into lots of extra hours to get the game done in a reasonable amount of time.

Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions and I look forward to checking out Space Noir. Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Thanks for reading and I hope you are as excited to play Space Noir as we are!

 

I’d like to thank Joe for taking the time to answer our questions, and look forward to trying out Space Noir when it launches this summer.  Check out the game’s Facebook page and N-Fusion’s website for more information.

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