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Bossa Studios talks about going bigger with Worlds Adrift

In the second part of our sitdown interview with Bossa Studios, co-founder Henrique Olifiers and game designer Luke Williams talk about their upcoming procedurally-generated adventure Worlds Adrift, the studio's change in their development approach, and their partnership with tech company Improbable.


Yesterday, Shacknews posted the first part of our talk with Bossa Studios. Among the topics raised were the Steam Early Access hit I Am Bread, the studio's update plan for the game, virtual reality, and Valve's Meet the Medic video. However, there was still another major topic to approach and that was the upcoming open-world adventure game Worlds Adrift.

Worlds Adrift takes players into a wide-open world filled with adventure, but Bossa will not refer to it as a single-player game. Players can make parties with their friends, but Bossa will likewise not call it an MMO. This game is for the co-op crowd and it promises to be the studio's most ambitious project to date. To learn more, Shacknews continued our conversation with studio co-founder Henrique Olifiers and game designer Luke Williams.

Shacknews: I'm actually flying blind into the concept of Worlds Adrift. What can you tell me about the game?

Luke Williams: It's like our big ambitious project, a bit more in-depth than the other ones. It's kind of a Wind Waker/Skies of Arcadia-inspired cooperative exploration game. We basically dump you on this island or ship and then your goal is to go out and see the world, interact with other players, and discover secrets and treasures. It's all about building a ship good enough to survive the weather, survive encounters with other players, and even team up how you want to build this airship using parts you find with schematics you find. You start small, it doesn't really have any kind of decks to it, but once you discover these frames, you build bigger and bigger ships.

It's all aboard this physics-driven world. You have this grappling hook that's useful to swing and traverse the world, kind of Spider-Man style. So it's like taking what we've learned with the physics of other things and applying them to a more ambitious game.

Henrique Olifiers: One of the trademarks of our game is the physics. [I Am Bread] has it, [Surgeon Simulator 2013] has it, and that creates a situation that we've never envisioned as developers that the players create and come across. The next natural step for us was, "How can we make this huge? How can we make this multiplayer?" Not only can we put players in this environment, but we can use an open world where they can make much more.

The physics in multiplayer was never something that has been done before. It is very difficult to do. Then we found this partner, Improbable. They were just a startup. We started working together and created this platform that enabled to do this. We would not have been able to do that by ourselves. It's a whole new way to develop games and enable us to do crazy stuff that we had never seen in multiplayer games.

Williams: The big thing is, the synced multiplayer physics. We can have ships crash into each other and the panels will fall off and roll down the decks and stuff. That'll be visible to everyone. The whole crew of the ships will be able to see those things happening. But also, the systems… we want to have the world sort of tell a story as the player is playing it. So if you have this huge ship that is taken down and is a wreck, months down the line, someone will come across that wreckage on an island and might know there was some sort of fight there, because this Improbable technology, which persists everything that happens.

Shacknews: So with that dedication to physics, will players be able to find that wreckage throughout the entire world? It'll stay there the whole time?

Williams: Obviously, it's a world of floating islands, so a majority of the stuff will fall below and players won't be able to see it. They'll die if they go that far. But on islands, yes, that will happen. Little camps you have to set up to construct your ships, those will just remain there. So you'll get players coming around and maybe they'll find a little cave where there's an old campfire or rusted old crates and they'll know that at some point, some players set up camp here. That's where they can build their ship and maybe they'll find some spare parts laying around that they can just pick up and attach to their ship.

Olifiers: But because it's also very physical, when you find a part of a ship, you have to drag that part. You don't have an inventory that can contain an engine or anything like that. So if you have two or three friends, use your grappling hook to drag it around.

Shacknews: That's interesting. There's no inventory system?

Olifiers: There is, but for smaller stuff.

Williams: Yeah, it's the kind of stuff you'd put in a backpack. But because you'll be building giant airships, the engines, the wings, the panels, and all of that stuff, it'll be too big to put in your pocket. All of that stuff will remain in-world and to move that stuff, you'll have to latch onto it and drag it around.

Olifiers: And when that happens, it leads to unforeseen scenarios. You have two ships fighting each other and, all of a sudden, someone gets a heavy object and drops it onto the other ship. The other ship will take a hit and if there's someone under that object, they'll get smashed and die. Suppose you're flying a ship with two engines and four or five guys run over to an engine, they can rip that engine off and the ship will start to sputter and so on. All the possibilities of gameplay are endless. Every time we play, we find a different way to do something we've never thought of.

Williams: Someone will find a new way to take out your ship. Like someone will sneak up and take off a panel that will reveal the engine of the ship, so you can fire into it. Because what you're doing is building a shell and you can basically choose where you want to go with your new ships. That thing that keeps you flying? You might want to put it deep in the heart of your ship and coat it with metal. But also, if you're going to place the pilot, you've got to think of where he has to go. If you want to put him in the ship and surround him, but he can't see, unless the other crew members are telling him where to go. But if you put him on the deck, where he can see where he's going, he runs the risk of getting shot at. And if he dies, you're really in trouble.

Shacknews: How much does co-op mean to a game like this? What can you get out of a co-op experience here that you wouldn't be able to get if this was single-player or an MMORPG?

Williams: The coolest thing I've noticed is that if you form a little crew, the world is always changing. There's a sense of persistence. You can come back from work or whatever and log in to see that your mates have been playing for a while. Suddenly, you're in a frozen wasteland and just that feeling of knowing you could be somewhere different, just because your mates have been playing. You could wake up with a whole new ship!

Olifiers: And it was, traditionally, that you were always in control of your experience. In this game, you and your friends, whoever they are, you share the same ship, and that can take you to places you never expected. Things can happen that you never expected. Someone might decide to empty the trunk where you keep all of your valuables to buy something. Then when you come across other players on another ship? What happens next?

Williams: Maybe somebody will just take a grappling hook and hang below your ship and wait until you land on an island and you're unaware you have a stowaway. He can rife through all your stuff and call his crewmates over to take an engine or something. We imagine that the piracy potential is endless.

Olifiers: We want to be open-ended in that regard and let the players create their own ways of defending themselves and enforcing the rules that they've set for the world.

Williams: The ownership in MMOs, it's always like you've got your mountain or something. There's no kind of fluidity there with the ownership of things. Whereas with these airships… you don't look after these characters in the survival sense, but if your ship gets lost, you have to make a new one. So you could be building a ship for weeks. It could be huge and have all this amazing stuff on it and that's your attachment -- keeping that thing alive and keeping that thing going as a collective. If you want, you could go solo. You could build a smaller ship, because trying to build a huge one and make sure that no one gets on board to try and take it away from you could be quite a big task. So ownership-wise, you just have your respawner, which you attach that to a ship and assign yourself to it. But someone else can jump down, take control of your helm, and ram your ship into a mountain or something. All these kinds of things can happen, so it's going to be quite interesting once we start getting players in to see how they use these systems. MMOs are very strict and rigid with what you can and can't do, whereas we approached this openly.

Olifiers: And the lack of physics make them very artificial, as well. You're standing there and I hit you with a sword, a number just goes over your head. If you hit me, it's like it's turn-based. And in this, it's like if I'm on top of a hill and I see a giant rock, I can roll that rock down the hill and it's going to hit you and anyone else in its path. So the combat is very physical and tactile.

Williams: If you're on the deck of a ship and a cannonball comes flying in, it'll send you flying.

Olifiers: These are physical objects, so when they hit you, they literally hit you. It's very different, just because it's so tactile.

Shacknews: How big are you planning to make the world?

Olifiers: The world expands with the amount of people playing, so right now, we have it so that it's procedurally-generated.

Williams: It's an early stage of world generation, but it allows us to do ice, desert, and forest. It allows us to do more unique shapes, because I think the key is seeing some of those silhouettes and being like, "Ah, that's cool! I want to head up to that one!"

Olifiers: Right now, the world is a cube of six kilometers.

Williams: We're kind of testing it and then we'll expand.

Olifiers: The best answer to that question is, how often do you want to find other people in the world? And we want that to be very sparingly. With your friends, you're always there, because you build the ship together and you will be adventuring together. But other players? We don't want you to run into players all the time. When that happens, it should be an event full of tension. Because you never know, they could be up to no good, they might be friendly, you don't know. It's the kind of experience you get from Day Z, in that you don't know what they're up to. But if that happens all the time…

Williams: We don't want a big multiplayer airship deathmatch game. We want these to be chance encounters. And you don't want to run the risk of losing all that you built. These should be memorable moments. They should be dangerous moments. That's great with the persistence, because you could be playing a few weeks down the line with a new ship and go, "Hang on, isn't this where we had that big fight?" And then you can see the wreckage of your old ship still there and that's kind of a cool little history that's being built.

Shacknews: Given the grander scope of what you're planning to do with this game, how has your approach to development changed, as opposed to I Am Bread and Surgeon Simulator?

Olifiers: We went open with it much earlier. We probably worked four months on it, which by our standards is a very long time, before we announced it and got feedback. As soon as we had something playable that we could show people, we did so. And we have been releasing videos every week, making updates, blog posts, telling people what we are going to do next. And it helps a lot, because we already know that we can make a few mistakes when we see those videos and see what people aren't so interested in, like resource gathering. And we said, "Okay, fair enough," so this should be something more basic than we were expecting to do, so we should focus more on something else that players are more keen on.

The reason being, we cannot work on a game like this for a couple of years, release, and be a flop. We are a small studio. We cannot afford that. We are funding the games ourselves. So we have to open up the game to get it right, to understand what the players actually want to see in the game, what they like, what they don't like, even before we are halfway done.

Williams: This game, because it's much bigger, it's harder to show it all. With 'Bread' and 'Surgeon,' you can show the game in 30 seconds, whereas this is much bigger. So we're trying to be careful not to oversell it. We're being cautious about what we show and how we talk about it.

Olifiers: We only talk about the stuff that we have already to some extent and we know it can be done. We have much more in store, but we haven't gotten there yet. And before we do that, we won't talk about it, because we don't want people creating this image of a game and then, suddenly, it doesn't work, it's not fun, or we can't technically do it, and we have to drop it.

Williams: We don't want to overhype it. That's quite dangerous. And that's what kind of difficult for this game, because it is a much grander scale, and I guess when we talk about it, you go, "Yeah, that sounds pretty insane."

Olifiers: There's some stuff that we've been trying to be clever about. We don't want to generate thousands and thousands of assets and hire people to do art and so on, so what's the solution? Procedural generation, systems that create and populate the world, base it on the matrix that we created. We couldn't do an MMO-engine platform or that multiplayer high-scale stuff, so we partnered with Improbable, because they wrote up the platform. We're not as up to the platform that we needed for the game, but they are so cool with us that they changed the platform to suit the game that we were creating. We wouldn't be able to do this on our own. This is why we can't have a small team. We've got about seven or eight people from Bossa on this and probably the same amount of people from Improbable, if not more. And even so, we hope we can create stuff that's much bigger than what 100 people could do in a much more traditional way.

Shacknews: You talk about not wanting to be in development for a couple of years, so when do you hope to have Worlds Adrift finished?

Olifiers: Well, we don't think we'll ever "finish" it, but we hope to have it open for early tests around June or July. We will not get past the end of the year without having released, but that's just the start. Much like 'Surgeon' or 'Bread,' where we release and add 7-10 times more, this is even more so, because it's a multiplayer live game. It's something that, if it works, we'll be working on it for the next ten years.

Williams: The game is built to be expandable, so we hope to see if we can pull it off.

Look for more information on Worlds Adrift as Bossa Studios continues the game's development. The game is being developed for PC.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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