Richard Cowgill has been a longtime veteran of the video game industry. He served as lead level designer for Battlefield 2 and Frontlines: Fuel of War, before more recently working for Gearbox as content architect for Brothers in Arms: Furious 4 and Borderlands 2. He has since left mainstream gaming to work as CEO and co-founder of indie studio Sunside Games, where he talks to Shacknews about their next title, an episodic adventure game called Abducted.
"Abducted is an adventure game that draws from many different inspirations, including action gaming, puzzles, RPG-lite elements and horror," begins Cowgill. "The premise is simple: You are a normal lone human taken to an extremely alien, hostile environment. Your one goal is to escape. But how you got here, who took you and why is a mystery. What I like about this idea is that it's very easily understood. People get it without having to go too far into the particulars. The concept of alien abduction is so ingrained in our psyche and collective modern mythologies that this sort of thing happening is a given. It's a bit like zombies and terrorists as far as gaming subject goes, it resonates automatically. I think that's an important consideration if you intend for your game to be popular."
Players control a human named Eve, who awakens with a mysterious attachment on her arm. Appropriately called the "Arm," players must learn to understand what the arm is and what exactly it can do. It can fight off enemies, but there appears to be more to it than that.
"The Arm is a key mechanic of the game," explains Cowgill. "It doesn't just do the obvious things you'd expect, like have a database and log, let you look at your character attributes, modify your ability point allocations, and so on. It's also something you can interact with and have a conversation with. There are practical gameplay tie-ins to this, like if you get stuck somewhere, you might want to consult the Arm to look for answers. But it's really meant to be nonlinear and organic, you can have deep conversations with it, go down rabbit holes of information, or just talk to it. Other games have had NPC's before and conversation trees, but this is one NPC that stays with you, and as I said, the conversations can be as deep as you want. You can, in effect, pick its mind. Find out what it knows, then apply that knowledge to improve your survival chances. Or if you're more the go-it-alone type, you can ignore the Arm and focus on the action. That's up to you."
Abducted appears to thrive on emotionally heart-pounding story. Fortunately, Sunside appears to have the 3D rendering technology to support such a narrative and are calling it Radiance. Built entirely in-house, the Radiance engine has been fully refined, following Sunside's debut title, an iOS game called Crow. Working together with a rendering company called Surface Mimic, Sunside has been able to motion capture an actress's movements and apply them to Eve. Players will be able to notice a full range of expressions on Abducted's main character.
That's assuming players manage to stay alive, of course. Cowgill says that the mysterious spaceship is filled with hazards and they will often kill you. "So much of the environment is hostile that without warning the player can be killed instantly in many cases," he added. "So we aren't pulling any punches with this game. Our intent was to make this a true survival horror adventure and that means death can come quickly and in many different ways."
Abducted will be an episodic affair, an approach Cowgill says will allow this single-player adventure to grow and evolve over time. "Episodes will allow us to craft an evolving story over time. It's not just the game that's planned out, each episode is planned with its own focus and arc. Our model is a modern TV show like Dexter or the Sopranos... where it begins and how it ends will be somewhat unexpected. But it's all figured out ahead of time and certain details are flexible enough that we'll learn from the community and evolve the game that way."
Though its Kickstarter is likely to fall short, the first episode of Abducted is expected to be ready by September (with new episodes estimated to arrive every two to three months) for PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, and Ouya.