Sometimes, schedules don’t quite go according to plan. We’d intended to bring you this Interview Q&A with Grant Towell (one of the lead designers on The Escapists 2) ahead of that game’s release on 22 September. That, of course, was right in the middle of Gamescom, so for various reasons the answers didn’t make their way back until now.
Towell has plenty of interesting information to share about the game and its production, but do bear in mind that these questions were asked with an eye on publication ahead of launch. With that caveat in place, read on for more about the design of The Escapists 2.
PC Invasion: Sequels are always prime opportunities for refining mechanics and adding features. Putting aside multiplayer for the moment, what do you consider to be the other most important changes from The Escapists to The Escapists 2?
Grant Towell: Wow well… as you know the sequel is pretty packed with new content to please existing players of The Escapists as well as changes which will ensure a smoother lead in time for new players as well. Firstly let’s talk about ‘Prison Security’. Essentially this is a global variable which I designed as the answer to help remove the whole ‘insta-bust’ system which players of the first game were not too keen on and felt was too punishing.
Prison Security applies to all players within the game and the security level will rise if certain actions are discovered by the guards and security cameras. A higher security level makes the prisons harder with more guards on the daily patrols, dogs that will be released to help assist in keeping would-be escapists at bay… Best keep yourself in line and cover your tracks the best you can to avoid such responses!
The second thing to talk about is the ‘Secret Compartment’. Essentially I came up with this idea that giving the player a number of desk slots for their ‘juicy’ items would mean that in the result of a desk shakedown or a stint in solitary happens, the items within the secret compartment will be untouched by the guards. What it means is that if the player makes use of this they will never really get sent back to square one, they’ll have themselves at least a few goodies to hit the ground running once they resume their escape plans!
Transport prisons are an all new feature to The Escapists 2, these offer up players a break from the traditional long-term planning that comes with the classic prisons. The transport prisons play out as timed, frantic, stealth ‘em up levels set across three gorgeously drawn scenarios which are on land, sea and you guessed it ‘Air’! In terms of the transport prisons I wanted to offer up to players a different option than the traditional gameplay and these are what I came up with. They are a *lot* of fun and yep, they are all available in all game modes be it single or multiplayer including the ‘versus’ variety of this mode…
In addition to this there is also the new feature of multiple floors within the prisons which makes for fascinating gameplay, we also have the in game crafting recipe book, all new much more in-depth combat system with its lock-on functionality, contraband containers where all the naughty unearthed items wind up to give players a chance to try and get them back… And much, much more, but I’m going to shut up now – some things will be best unearthed by players of the game themselves!
PCI: The crafting system is now a bit more up-front about what you need to create the various objects in the game, what prompted that particular change?
GT: Well I’m glad you asked me about that and we felt the enhancements we made to the now in-game ‘Encraftopedia’™ – and YES I just came up with that, but it’s pretty neat right? Well, I felt that such a system would come with the added bonus of total immersion without players needing to search for crafting recipes help via other means which meant taking the players away from the game. Essentially, after fine-combing through the original Escapists we looked in-depth at each area of the game and where we felt we could improve on things, we then tweaked, reviewed and tweaked some more until we were happy with the end result. So regarding this particular system, this was a natural evolution and direction for how crafting would work as the final design.
PCI: Some of the crafting recipes are still hidden (blacked out in the preview build). Are there any even-more-secret recipes that don’t even get a silhouette on the crafting UI?
GT: Currently no there aren’t – so what you see is what you get OR reveal through various means *cough* payphones *cough* excuse me. But further down the line we may look back at it and add more new and exciting recipes which players of the game will ‘buzz’ from. As always we have player interests and excitement levels in the forefront our minds, which then helps drive the direction and end result of the games which we develop. And why not?
PCI: Was it difficult to design the same maps around single player and co-op possibilities? How much emphasis were you putting on keeping things ‘balanced’ versus just having an entertaining sandbox space?
GT: Ooh, good question! Well… Quite early on in development when we initially got our hands on the in-house tools used for making these maps, we did throw around the idea that we’d need to create the same maps for each prison twice – and then for version 2 of this map this would receive treatment to then allow for multiplayer set pieces and such. But then, we had a good long talk about it and thought “Well actually, we can work in the multiplayer aspects into the single player maps” so we would just require the one map then which would be fit for purpose in all game modes. A nice side result of this would be that these set pieces act as multiplayer game mode advertising for those who would ordinarily opt for just the solo player game experience. So that is what we did. In addition to this though we did decide that for the ‘Versus’ game mode this would use a different configuration file which entails aspects such as item spawn rates, toughness of inmates, toughness of guards etc… Which would in turn would then alter how the game would play out within this mode of The Escapists 2.
PCI: Like Prison Architect, The Escapists series deals with an oppressive setting in a way that’s often pretty whimsical. Have there been any challenges in sticking to that tone when the subject matter is so different in real life?
GT: Well, I’m glad you asked me that and again that’s a good question… Really, for the game we push the more silly angle of daftness as the driving force to steer clear from such sensitive subject material. I think that the main thing is we didn’t push the gender aspect of the game one way or the other; we just lovingly created a lot of customisation elements and ultimately put the decision making of the prison inmate and guards setups into the players hands.
PCI: What’s the most creative escape method you have seen in the original Escapists game?
GT: In the original… I once witnessed a tester get lucky with the items Chocolate, Lighter and Cup… Essentially they went bananas with the Molten Choc and took out a string of guards to then activate the Prison Takeover escape method… I had never seen or don’t think I will see such a lucky escape again!
PCI: Is it conceivable that players will be able to break out of levels in The Escapists 2 in ways you as developers haven’t even envisaged?
GT: Absolutely and this is something we long for… We want to see YouTube videos of people doing crazy things to get their con on the outside of prisons and free. Ultimately we want the sandbox nature of the game pushed to its limits and to be entertained by players of the game through such mediums. We’re chomping at the bit to seeing what players can do and how they choose to ultimately pull off their escape plans! And why not?
PCI: Is it too late to incorporate this improbable peanut butter escape method into the game?
BREAKING: Alabama sheriff: Escaped inmates tricked guard into opening door by covering its number in peanut butter.
— The Associated Press (@AP) July 31, 2017
GT: Let me see this link. Right I’ve had a look at that… Wow… No, no way would be able to incorporate that now – In fact I think our in-game A.I. would be able to spot such a ludicrous escape attempt a mile off. Oh actually, thinking about it, the prison dogs in game would sniff that out and lap it up thus revealing the door number so we have that escape attempt sorted – it would be sussed in no time!
PCI: In the final version will there be toggles in the options for things like guidance arrows and the markers for inmate quests?
GT: Currently there aren’t any firm plans for such toggles but if we see lots of player requests for this feature then it’s something we could consider incorporating. We’ll be keeping an eye out though on the Steam forums for all feedback, ideas and suggestions.
PCI: Will the pre-order level be available separately after release, and do you have any other post-release support plans you can divulge at this point?
GT: The Glorious Regime will be available separately as we want to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to play it, no matter what time they join us as inmates. Just like with the previous game, there’s a long life ahead of The Escapists 2 and I can assure you that we’ll keep thinking up of new places for your con to end up in.
If you need a hand getting out of The Escapist 2’s fiendish new prisons, have a read of the PC Invasion Beginner’s Guide to Escapology.