Tokyo42 Interview With SMAC’s Sean Wright: Everything You Need To Know

Tokyo42-headerTokyo42 was announced a few weeks back and it made waves, not just for its classic Syndicate-inspired gameplay but for its unique aesthetic. Putting players in the role of an assassin, players roam through a futuristic and brightly-colored open world environment, seen from an overhead, isometric viewpoint. Being a huge fan of the original Syndicate, and totally taken in by the game’s look, I decided to hit up Tokyo42‘s developers at SMAC to ask them about the game.

Please tell us a little about yourself and what you do at SMAC.

I’m Sean Wright, the younger brother and coder for SMAC games.

Every studio has a story. What’s yours? Would you mind shedding some light on your team?

SMAC Games is two brothers – One does graphics and one does code. Two years ago while I was in France on an extended sabbatical from my job in Cape Town, Maciek phoned me a few days after my birthday to catch up. In that conversation we spoke semi-seriously about making a game together as an experiment. Three months later I had run out of cash and decided to come to London to crash on my Maciek’s couch and find a job.

Maciek had taken a few weeks off work to chill with me, and after catching up we started looking at Unity3D with the idea for Tokyo42 in mind. Maciek had a little bit of Unity experience and taught me what he knew until we had to start learning together.

Eventually I found a job and moved out but we had already overcome some what I feel were major hurdles in technical understanding, so it was easy to continue work on T42 in our spare time. After about 8 months of sparsely distributed after-hours work we had a prototype of the multiplayer together and were ready to see what the industry was like.

Maciek heard about an event called Interface, where various games industry representatives make themselves available for meetings in an organised speed-dating format, and bought us tickets. Part of the application required us to specify our company name, so amidst a noisy bar around the corner from Maciek’s place, SMAC was born.

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The initial reveal of Tokyo42 mentioned that the game bears some similarities to the original Syndicate and the first Grand Theft Auto, at least in terms of controls and gameplay. Tell us about how the game handles, exactly.

The camera in Tokyo42 is locked into an isometric (almost orthographic) viewpoint, with a twist – at any point you are able to rotate by 45 degrees around the focal point. You then can move the player in the horizontal plane relative to your current camera angle. You can jump, crouch, walk, and aim anywhere on the screen that you can see.

A big challenge for us was getting the aiming mechanics right. In our world we really wanted to have varying heights in the terrain and environment, so we needed to find a way to effectively target things that may be higher or lower plane than your character in the game while letting the player know that they may not be actually able to hit wherever they are aiming. We went through a number of iterations to solve this while keeping it as readable as possible, and have settled on what I think is a really unique and effective solution.

Are there any progression systems in Tokyo42?

At the moment, our primary tool for progression is wrapped into what equipment and weaponry you accrue as you play the game. We have a number of interesting mechanics we will be introducing as you progress along the main storyline, as well a diverse set of enemy types that will become easier to deal with as you unlock new tools.

We also plan to introduce buy-able cybernetic upgrades for the player’s character, which will potentially allow access to previously hard-to-reach vantage points, or negate enemy assassin’s tracking abilities etc.

Tokyo42 has a very unique isometric aesthetic with bright colors and a distinctly “Japanese” look. What inspired the game’s art direction? It seems very different from the usual dark, noir, cyberpunk fare.

Our initial discussions when we first conceived Tokyo42 centered around creating a busy, crowded world for the players to use crowd mechanics against each other. The first visual reference for this was a design group called eBoy, who do these beautiful isometric cityscapes, packed with activity and color.

As the idea for the game developed and we started planning the world as a full 3D experience, Monument Valley became a big reference for us – their visually clean approach to the orthographic-isometric space is gorgeous, and we seek to keep our spaces as clean as theirs whilst packing as many beautiful hand-crafted little details as possible.

An important thing to note here I think – as we are almost definitely going to be accused of gross cultural appropriation – is that Tokyo42 is set in a future earth where there has been an “event”, leading to the de-habitation of most of the world’s cities, especially at sea level. Tokyo was one city that managed to avoid total desolation, and so it has become a hub for many of the world’s cultures. That is why even though there are clear allusions to Japanese culture, many things you see in T42 are a result of this forced cultural mash-up.

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Besides hunting down targets, is there an overarching narrative? Tell us a bit about the game’s story.

I don’t want to spoil anything but, in Tokyo42 you are forcibly embroiled in a conspiracy that pushes you into a criminal underworld of assassins. As you work to uncover the figures behind your indenturement, it starts to become clear that there are greater forces at work, making big moves in dangerous realms that affect everyone in Tokyo, possibly the whole of modern civilisation.

One of the biggest draws in games has always been the music, and Tokyo42’s music—at least from what I’ve heard in the trailer—has that great ‘80s synthwave vibe going for it with a mix of EDM. Who’s behind the soundtrack, and when can we hear more of it?

Our music and sound guy’s name is Vicente Espi. He’s a long time friend of mine, and a total genius. We grew up playing games together and it’s always been a dream of mine to work with him. Since we got him on board, it’s been so great to hear how spot-on his interpretations of our aesthetic have been, and going forward we will be working closely with him to integrate his prowess into the game design.

We hope to be teasing more of it as time goes on…

The game is set to offer an arena-based multiplayer mode. How does that work, exactly?

The multiplayer in Tokyo42 is what we see as a rough mixture of Worms, Assassin’s Creed, and Spy Party. It essentially has three main phases – Stealth, Stalking and Full blown action.

To begin with, you enter this crowded level with the camera fixed on the center of the map, where you can rotate as per normal to see all civilian AIs. The twist however, is that not all of those civilians are AI. Up to 7 (currently) of them could be other players pretending to be AI.

As you trundle around the map trying to stay inconspicuous whilst collecting weapons, your enemies may have spotted your strange behaviour and be stalking you. What we’ve noticed in players so far, is that at this point people start playing very differently:

  • Some, like myself, break under the tension and start running for cover and shooting imagined suspicious characters (invariably revealing myself).

  • Some will calmly enter a doorway hoping another player isn’t watching and change their appearance, emerging as a totally different character hoping that they’ve shaken their tail.

  • Then there are the supremely confident, who run when the crowds run, amble when they amble, and stalk quietly with the hope of a sneaky melee kill.

We have a number of mechanics in place to prevent stealth-campers from having the advantage, our favourite of which being TrackaCat™. Everyone has a TrackaCat™ that powers up as you play, allowing you to deploy your very own feline player-spotter. They’ll slowly make their way to an enemy player, only walking slightly faster than a player can walk, and follow him everywhere until they scare it off with a close-range weapon discharge.

The other mechanic in multiplayer we use is something we call “Juice”. Essentially each player is an android capable of changing their appearance at anytime, but doing so is not only sonically and visually loud, it also uses up your Juice faster than it’s constantly-decaying normal. The only way to recharge your juice is to kill a player or die yourself, and when it runs out your character lights up like a multicoloured beacon, buzzing openly for every other player to see.

Are there any plans for co-op?

Definitely. And other Multiplayer modes too.

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When is the earliest we can expect to play Tokyo 42?

We aim to have it finished this year, with release being sometime in early 2017.

Would you like to share any words of wisdom to aspiring game developers out there?

Not sure if I qualify to deal in wisdom, but I guess from my experience I could say that if you have an idea feel strongly about, don’t wait for someone to tell you it’s good one, just go and make the thing in whatever time you can spare. If you need more money and time to make it a great thing, the people who would give that too you can better see that you’re capable of it if you have something to show them.

Thank you for granting us this interview! Have you any closing thoughts for our readers?

It is a pleasure!  And likewise, thank you very much. I would like to express my deep sense of gratitude for our publisher Mode 7 Games, without whom we would not be able to have done any of this. Since we first met with them at the Interface event, they have been instrumental in delivering us through all stages of Tokyo42’s development. Whether it be technical or business related, they have been generous with sharing their experience and industry expertise toward solving any challenges we’ve faced.

Then lastly, we are immensely happy with all response we’ve had since our announcement, so a big thank you to everyone who’s seen the game and is looking forward to it (future fans included), we are looking very forward to getting it to you.