All Walls Must Fall Interview with Project Lead David Hassel

All Walls Must Fall Interview with Project Lead David Hassel

Inbetweengames, a studio started by former Yager (Spec Ops: The Line, an ill-fated version of Dead Island 2) developers, are Kickstarting All Walls Must Fall; an intriguing tactical title based around a series of Berlin nightclubs. In this world, the Cold War never ended, and time travelling agents engage in music-driven missions via a set of real-time-with-pause mechanics. The Kickstarter is already funded, but has another couple of weeks left to run and some interesting stretch goals to pursue.

In order to learn more about this whole project, and go further in depth with some of the mechanics of All Walls Must Fall, we sent over some questions to inbetweengames’ project lead Jan David Hassel (who opts to go by David Hassel). Here’s how the Q&A went.

PC Invasion: Before we get into All Walls Must Fall, the short bio for Inbetween Games notes that your formation was prompted by “yet another” AAA project (Dead Island 2) being cancelled. Dead Island 2 made the news, but what other projects are you referring to here?

David Hassel: We worked on a few other pitches, concepts and pre-productions for various publishers that unfortunately we can’t talk any more about. All in all it were 4 years of work after Spec Ops: The Line that all lead nowhere. This then led to us deciding that something needed to change.

PCI: Yager’s version of Dead Island 2 always looked pretty far along in E3 presentations and similar demonstrations. Can you talk at all about the difficulties that project had, and why it was apparently cancelled so far into development?

DH: No not really. Sorry. I wish I would know more or would be allowed to talk about it. This is again part of the reason of why we went indie. Now we can talk about everything at least regarding our own stuff.

PCI: On to more cheerful topics; at the time of writing the All Walls Must Fall Kickstarter is off to a strong start [it’s now funded]. How does it feel to be pitching directly to players rather than at the whims of a publisher?

DH: It certainly feels more immediately rewarding. When you pitch to a publisher you have to convince them that lots of people will like this. When you’re pitching to players the only thing that matters is whether they themselves like it. It’s ok to do weird or niche things then which aren’t necessarily for everyone and that’s very liberating. I think that with the amount of games that we have now it’s important that we branch out and do more different things in all directions. As long as enough people like it games will continue to grow that way. I think that’s awesome.

PCI: Music and time seem to be central pillars for All Walls Must Fall. How are you making sure than the ability to bend, pause and manipulate time doesn’t affect the flow of the beats?

DH: Basically, everything just adheres to the beat of the music. So there are a few pauses and such in the features were we will wait for the next beat or even bar to complete before doing something, like rewinding time. We also do some snapping to previous beats if they’re still very close. It gets pretty complicated with a lot of edge cases, that hopefully no player will really ever notice, but that took some time to figure out.

So for us keeping the beat of the music continuous is the most important thing. Everything else then kind of abides to that, including our time manipulation.

PCI: Regarding Kai’s time manipulation abilities, what restrictions (if any) are there to prevent continual use? Are there cooldowns, or will each ability in All Walls Must Fall have a limited amount of uses per level?

DH: Right now all the time abilities are depending on a single time resource. This resource is also used to calculate your score at the end of the mission, which you then use to buy new equipment and upgrades. So right now the only limits are the maximum amount of time resource you are able to carry at any time, how much the time abilities cost when you use them and that when you run out of time resource the next shot might just permanently kill your agent and fail the mission. Between those players are free to use and experiment with the different time abilities as they see fit. Using time abilities less will preserve resources but also using time abilities can help unlocking new ways to fulfill the mission. Time is there for players to explore just like the rooms of the clubs in which the missions take place. Uncovering those rooms also gives you time resource along a few other things that we would like players to do. Balancing is still early and we will have a few more additions to the mix before it settles but so far we’re pretty happy with it.

PCI: You’ve mentioned that diplomacy can be an option in some situations – are diplomacy checks going to be based on stats, or saying the right thing at the right time?

DH: Pretty much everything in the game is deterministic. So it will depend on what you say to whom and how they feel at that time. This means you can also experiment with different approaches when talking, going back and forth in time to see what works. We want to introduce additional clues and dialogue options that you can take back in time with you, but so far haven’t implemented those yet. We also need a lot more dialogue content itself. But what we’re happy with is the system how our dialogues work now. You have to influence 3 different emotion pairs of positive and negative emotions during the dialogues. These also influence each other in a bunch of ways and can determine what dialogue options and NPC replies happen next. This part we think basically works now. We just removed 2 additional emotions just weeks before the pre-alpha some journalists and streamers are playing now. We think that removing those made the whole system a lot clearer from our previous tests. Sometimes less is more but now we can begin really filling it up with story and content! I’m looking forward to building that up on a solid systematic foundation.

PCI: How about hacking, how will that work?

DH: Right now hacking is proximity based and either gives or cost you time resource, similar to Invisible Inc. for example. We will probably just introduce a lot more objects to interact with and those objects will then influence more other objects in the levels. Also guards, drones, surveillance equipment and such will start picking up more on when you hack things or cross their line of sight. I think this will be an elegant setup.

We also had some prototypes already for having a completely overlayed ‘hacking world’ mirroring the real world but have deactivated it for now since we didn’t feel confident yet that we’ll be able to fill it up with meaningful gameplay and content. If things go well we might bring it back later, especially if our second player agent Alev gets into the game because she’s a hacker.

PCI: Since music is so important to All Walls Must Fall, how have you gone about sourcing the kind of tracks you need?

DH: We tried out a few different things. Almut [Schwacke] has been with us pretty much since the beginning helping us figuring out the music system together with our coder Isaac [Ashdown]. She is taking care of everything audio. She also composed our first tracks and continues to do so. We then also tried giving our music system to a few other composers. It has been a bit hit and miss to be honest since the system has some barrier of entry compared to just playing a finished song. Our music system really dynamically chooses which loops and layers of a track to play at any given moment based on a few different variables and modes connected to the gameplay and time state. This requires some additional work on part of our composers that is not easy to wrap your head around at first and can be pretty intimidating. But we are very happy with the end results we were able to achieve together with our composers so far.

DH: We think the soundtrack is already pretty killer. It offers a lot of diversity in style and people seem to like it so far. Personally I’m super stoked to have Jukio Kallio and Ben Prunty on board too – at least provided we can still reach our current stretch goal. I’m a huge fan of both the Luftrausers and FTL soundtracks so having those guys contribute to our soundtrack with their own style is just unbelievable. We also have a few composers from the local Berlin techno scene on board to provide that authentic Berlin sound. It’s an ongoing process but we want our music to reflect club and DJ culture also in that it sources from a variety of different influences and styles. I think so far this has been successful and I look forward to what we can still add to it.

PCI: With actions being linked to the music beats, will higher BPM tracks create higher difficulty levels?

DH: Technically no as the pause meter during combat will still roughly have the same time length regardless of BPM or at least it does currently. All our songs have a constant BPM right now. However we are prepared to have our systems dynamically adept to about 20% of BPM variation between different songs, which will then also influence animations, action timing and so forth. More speed variation than that just makes animations and effects look broken in our experience. It certainly feels a lot more energetic when you’re playing with higher BPM but there are also a few other synaesthetic influences like that which we want to play with. For us this is more of an emotional game feel thing rather than a systemic gameplay thing. But we’ll see how it goes. If this is something that turns out to be super rewarding then maybe we’ll wind up doing more with it.

PCI: Will the Berlin nightclub levels all be hand-crafted and deliberately designed, or somewhat procedural?

DH: The rooms of the nightclubs are hand-crafted. We then also have a set of manually defined rules on how to choose, position and connect those rooms dynamically to fill up a club’s outer shape by our Disco Generator. So between that we can have a lot of control over how we want a club to look or have more recombinations of the elements provided. We think that by adding more club shells, different types and shapes of rooms, connections possibilities between those and club generation rules we’ll be able to create a lot of procedurally recombined content that is suprising every time but still feels meaningful. At least that’s what we have setup our tools to achieve. Now we have to start adding content to it and see how it works out. But from working with the systems I think it’s pretty promising.

PCI: We’ve seen a lot of tactical/isometric projects use Unity, but you’ve opted to use Unreal Engine 4 – what aspects of that engine were better suited to All Walls Must Fall?

DH: I think the answer is us. When you’re going indie with a small team you have to look very critically at your own strengths and weaknesses as a team. We have more than 20 years experience of working with the Unreal Engine. So we know what we can do with it and are able to incorporate new features into our workflow as well. If we would pick up anything new we would need a lot of time to reach that same stage of expertise and productivity. Besides that 3D, shaders, UI, FX and destruction are all things that Unreal does very well especially when you have an artist like Rafal [Fedro] using it that knows the ins and outs of everything. Another thing to consider is that a tool will always influence how your outcome looks so we think there is some inherent merit in going the path less well travelled, at least in the indie realm, to make something that has a unique look and feel to it.

PCI: Are you able to say anything about the types of skills the potential stretch goal characters, Alev and Glenn, would bring to the game; and how that might change the style of approach to missions?

DH: So our first character Kai is focused on the past. That’s his theme in everything including his abilities. We started out with the Undo, which undos an action and all of its consequences for you and the world, and then varied that up. Rewind only turns back the world but not yourself. Surprisingly this effectively allows you to teleport anywhere you can actually go in the time you can rewind – at least when seen from everyone else’s perspective. Trace Back on the other hand only returns yourself to a previous state. You can use that to teleport backwards the way you came, heal or revive yourself, instantly reload your weapons and a few other things. The important thing here is that all of these possibilities are the result of very simple rules that have emergent consequences based on how players use them.

So for the additional time abilities we will have to actually implement them and experiment with them to really understand what they will make possible, especially when you combine them with each other. It’s a new frontier for us as well.

All that being said Alev is themed around the present moment. She’ll be able to ‘Freeze’ time for everyone else while still moving and ‘Split’ into multiple possible versions of herself that then act at the same time. So while you will only steer one agent at any time there will be other timelines of her that you commanded previously still in the world. That way we will get our version of a squad into the game hopefully, besides other friendly agents we might introduce.

Last but not least Glenn is from the future. They will be able to switch identities with other people in the environment as well as teleport back and forth from a very far future. At least that’s our current idea for them, but things might change as we get closer to implement them.

All of this also depends on how our Kickstarter goes, whether we’ll be able to hit those stretch goals and continue development through Early Access later on. The more time we get with the game the more things we will add.

PCI: As a supplementary question – did someone have Prince in mind when they came up with Glenn’s silhouette?

DH: The concept was made in 2016 when a lot of great artists left us including Prince and David Bowie. It would make me happy if people will be able to see some of them in the final character. But Glenn also has more contemporary gender bending influences than that.

PCI: Finally, do you have other stretch goals in mind for All Walls Must Fall beyond extra characters?

DH: The additional player characters for us really frame the acts of the story since they are the protagonists. Each act comes with its own features, missions, clubs and narration. We’re also announcing smaller stretch goals for themed updates now. Each update will probably take us something between 3-6 weeks to complete and ship. The first stretch goal which we have already reached now is called VANDALISM! and will introduce an extended cover system, more environmental destruction, the ability to knock down walls with your cybernetic fist and a new music track from Jukio Kallio to the game. Our second stretch goal is called DRONE WARFARE! and introduces mechanical drone enemies, guard quarters, group elimination missions and the new track from Ben Prunty. Each update will be a small themed package like this and a few of those will then build up to adding a new act to the game.

If you want to see more of those and help us make it happen you should check out our Kickstarter! Thanks a lot!