It’s a brave new world for Starward Industries, and the young studio is charging forth into the unknown with their first game: an adaptation of Polish novel, The Invincible. With a small team comprised of veterans from the likes of Witcher, Dying Light, Cyberpunk 2077, and further dev teams, the game will be an atmospheric journey in which astronauts land on and explore an unknown world. Themes of puzzle-solving, exploration of the unknown, and isolation will come into play as player seek to connect with their fellow spacefarers and discover secrets of the planet that may have been better left to rest.
The Invincible has sounded intriguing since its announcement, so recently we caught up to Starward Industries to talk about it. CEO and The Invincible Project Lead Marek Markuszewski took the time to speak with us and share a myriad of details about the development of The Invincible, adaptation from its source material, and much more. You can check out the entire interview below. We’ve even brought along some mood music for it!
Shacknews: You mention Alien: Isolation as one of your influences. There's a notable bit of resource collection for equipment improvisation in there, as well careful interaction with a very volatile AI. Are these things we should expect to see in The Invincible?
Marek Markuszewski: This is a very good trait. Making progress in the game will strictly involve gathering and managing inventory. Available equipment will vary throughout the game, as well as their available modes and options. Foremost, gamers are going to face a fair dose of improvisation, as the carried equipment won’t be exactly fit for the purpose of unexpected missions. However, this won’t involve gathering and managing resources. We got rid of this part as eventually it was more of a distraction than value. Finally, interaction with a very volatile AI is spot on! Still, there’s much more you can expect, as Alien: Isolation and any game for that matter are just references.
Shacknews: Being stranded from your crew and facing unknown threats sounds terrifying. Would you say The Invincible is a horror game at its core, even psychologically, or is it built more as an adventure in which horror themes naturally come into play?
Markuszewski: It’s not a horror experience per se, neither being jumpy or scary. The term "thriller" I think precisely represents the emotional positioning. The game touches on subjects such as fright, danger and death, but we’re very careful to not be too graphic. Severity, violence and demise have to be used with respect to bring an appropriate tenor to the atmosphere. Seriousness of the vibe is rather owed to believable sceneries, meaningful narrative and suspense built while uncovering the facts about the planet.
Shacknews: Having come from such diverse background projects as Witcher, Cyberpunk, Dead Island, Dying Light, and more, what has it been like to work on this as the studio's first sort of "indie" project?
Markuszewski: Switching from working in a dispersed team sized in hundreds to a focused team of a dozen is a big change. There’s much less firepower on one hand, but on the other we have a much stronger punch, being i.e. more effective in communication thanks to cutting down complex processes and workflows. No side tasks, no reporting, no large meetings, but full focus on being creative and productive. A direct, face-to-face contact makes all the difference. The time spent in a large organization was great, but here and now we’re in a truly agile team, which we always dreamed of.
Shacknews: You also mentioned Firewatch previously as one of your influences. That seems to imply to me that there might be as much ponderous exploration as there might be intense encounters. What's the balance there? How does the team balance the solitude with the encounters in The invincible?
Markuszewski: As for Firewatch, I think its strongest contribution is to show how to be engaged in a conversation with multiple options without pausing gameplay events. We picked this up and developed further, facilitating more activity and freedom during dialogues than just walking. Both exploration and face-to-face encounters are very strong pillars on which the gameplay, narrative, and interactions are established.
Shacknews: As much as The Invincible might be influenced by so many different things, the goal is ultimately this unique retelling of a popular novel. Would you say that the story itself has directed elements of the game design? Has the original work directed the team towards designing any certain mechanics for the game?
Markuszewski: That was indeed the original plan, but we’ve evolved to deliver much more than a copy-and-paste adaptation. The novel has delivered a broad range of descriptions, from relationships among the crew, to machines, devices and equipment, to the planet’s environment. We also decided to adapt the feeling and pace of how the story unfolds. From there, we’ve come a long way to develop mechanics supporting storytelling and engaging gamers, which the novel for obvious reasons missed. So at the end of the day, I am certain we’ll deliver an innovative, unique and original game, with emphasis on the latter.
Shacknews: What, specifically, about The Invincible inspired the team to the degree that you wanted to explore it so thoroughly in a game?
Markuszewski: The Invincible is a great read, as if written with adaptation in mind. Once I decided on launching a new studio, the idea had been planted in my mind for quite some time already, I knew it would be a strong starting project for a new ambitious studio. The novel has quite a deft theme related to space exploration, yet expanding as you read to the extent which exceeded the imagination of characters and readers alike. Lem, in his brilliance, proposed a fresh and startling scenario of meeting different species on the far end of the universe. The encounter is directed in an incredibly credible way, leaving no doubt that we’re experiencing true science fiction, not a naive fantasy.
Shacknews: What are some examples of tools and equipment that you'll get to use?
Markuszewski: We have very neat and exciting details to reveal at later stages, so I must keep my lips sealed for now.
Shacknews: How does a typical mission play out in The Invincible?
Markuszewski: The gameplay isn’t broken into classic missions. Tasks, quests and goals are embedded into the flow of events in the story. There are changing environments and ambiance, diversified tempo, and various features available to the gamer are also varying depending on the context. In terms of themes, there’s search and rescue, survival, getaway, escaping, as well as investigating, activating tools and instruments, radio communication, steering drones and robots, driving vehicles etc.
Shacknews: How will drones and robots play into your adventure?
Markuszewski: Each and every element of the game - be it machines, robots, drones, or vehicles - contribute their own small stories to the overall story of the game. Sometimes they’re obstructive, sometimes helpful, or they may just be tools for a particular purpose. But apart from their mechanics and visual features, they have carefully designed roles as props if you will. How they actually function and are built is intended to hint on the actual stage of human civilization development in terms of form and function. Moreover, some objects or devices are custodians of events they witnessed, and some of them may even be evidence of influence of unknown forces.
The Invincible has no launch date at this time, but rest assured, we will be watching this one closely as Marek and the crew at Starward Industries continue their work. Be sure to check out the studio’s website and the game on Steam and follow along with us as we await further information on The Invincible.