A while back I wrote an article, When science and gaming mesh the world becomes a better place. The article is about a new game in development by Broken Crown Games called Escaping Titan. It is a post-apocalyptic space fiction, single-player role-playing game…yeah, it’s all THAT. What makes Escaping Titan uncommon is the incorporation of science and the usage of input from various scientists into the core features of the game.
To my utter delight, Tyler Yohe, CEO and Creative Director for Escaping Titan agreed to do an in depth interview about the game. Please keep in mind that I have an unhealthy fascination with both science and gaming, the interview is therefore lengthy, with stacks of science lingo.
Before we jump into Escaping Titan, allow me to introduce Tyler Yohe – scientist gone gamer ;) This genius of a man has not one, but three degrees; Nanofabrication, Life Sciences, and Biomedical Material Science and Engineering. As if that doesn’t satisfy the need for learning to the brim, he also knows three different programming languages, four different 3D art programs, and learned “all I could about game engines.” He shall henceforth be known as the Nutty Professor of Gaming ;).
Escaping Titan was birthed from questionable origins, “I began this game as a joke with friends, saying we could improve on all the mistakes that other games we have played in the past”, says Yohe. Hey, who can blame them; they probably have the combined brain power of The Large Hadron Collider.
Impressed? If not yet, then read on, I hope you will enjoy his passion for science and gaming as much as I did.
Astrobiology forms the backbone of Escaping Titan. How are you making sure you incorporate the many layers of the science accurately into the game?
I actually started this project when I was applying to PhD programs in Astrobiology, so accurate astrobiology has been a focus from day one. As a narrative-RPG, the backbone of Escaping Titan is its story, so when I’m writing the backstory, it draws heavily from my knowledge of modern research in astrobiology and astronomy fields.
However, I don’t claim to be an expert, so instead we decided to go find some! We created the ‘Science Behind the Sci-Fi’ panel, which consists of four regular panelists, all with PhD’s in science fields found in the game, as well as a featured guest each month to fill in any knowledge gaps. Our development team has been working closely with the panel to make sure everything from story to artwork to gameplay are all realistic and scientifically accurate while still making sure to maintain an entertainment focus.
What will Escaping Titan offer gamers that are unique?
The first thing that players should notice is our focus on player immersion. Everything we do is focused around drawing the player into the story and the world we create. Obviously one of the key factors, we’re focusing on to build immersion is realism of the story and environmental artwork – which we’re able to achieve by working with scientists. Players will be able to run around in a world that could actually exist one day since we’ve basing everything on modern research and science theory.
Another thing players will notice is our rework of the modern RPG vitals system (health, mana / energy). Instead, we’ve decided to focus all of our player’s vitals around the human mind and how it works (which is why one of our panelists has his PhD in Neuroscience). We’re fairly tight lipped on our in-development gameplay, but readers can stay tuned for more on how we will be using this to create a unique gameplay experience!
And finally, the most unique feature of our game is the hidden science value! For instance, most of the main NPCs you’ll run into when playing Escaping Titan will be modeled off real-world scientists. We’re currently in the progress of reaching out to prominent scientists to get permission to use their likeness.
The first scientist we’ve worked with however is Phil Plait, who runs the blog ‘The Bad Astronomer’. Here he is in real life and as a character in Escaping Titan (early NPC concept art)
So we’re really doing our best to hide science everywhere in the game, without forcing an ‘educational’ experience on the player. Our first goal is entertainment, but education a close second, so the game is jam backed with science Easter Eggs hidden around every corner if you know where to look!
Can you tell us more about the gameplay elements of Escaping Titan?
Aside from the rework of the RPG vitals, when we started working out Escaping Titan’s gameplay, we decided to focus on two things: Immersion and Replay Value.
The first step to creating player immersion and replay value came in the usual forms:
- Dynamic main plot, with multiple side quests
- Intense, real-time combat mechanics
- Unique combat mechanics and associated ability trees
- Player-NPC relationships and romantic trysts
We hope to throw some surprises your way on how we use these common elements, but there are some other gameplay elements that really drive home the immersion and replay value of Escaping Titan. These special features are our:
Pride vs. Humility system – a customized personality system that allows your character to slowly grow a personality of their own, and will have an effect on both non-combat AND combat gameplay!
One Save Mechanic – Just like in real life, all the big moments matter and there is no going back. We the players to feel the same way in-game, so to increase immersion, we have an autosave after major events. If you get knocked out in combat or piss someone off in dialogue to a point where they won’t talk to you anymore, there is no going back, so you’ll have to search the city for another way to complete your objective.
In-Game Encyclopedia – This element has less to do with replay value, and more to do with immersion and science education. Our in-game encyclopaedia (much like Civilization, will provide a ‘sci-fi’ definition of the item being observed, as well as a ‘science behind the sci-fi’ definition. These entries will allow players to get as much richer backstory on particular items, as well as see how plausible it is to come to fruition based on current science.
The ‘Science Behind the Sci-Fi’ project was launched in order to bounce ideas between scientists and gamers for the development of Escaping Titan. How has the project been doing since launch?
We’ve actually had a great time with the ‘Science Behind the Sci-Fi’ forums. As I said earlier, the scientists have been crucial to the accurate development of Escaping Titan. So far the science community has received the entries well, and there have been a few short science debates. Our forums are a bit bare for our liking, but we hope that will change soon!
As part of our plan for the ‘Science Behind the Sci-Fi’ project, we are giving gamers a behind-the-scenes peek at the game’s production and how the science has affected our choices by updating the scientists posts with game content (concept art, screenshots, gameplay video, etc). So far, we haven’t done this, but now that we’ve had a full month of development since the forum’s inception, we hope to begin adding this content and hope it will provide the spark needed to draw more interest from both the science and gaming communities.
When do you plan to release Escaping Titan and on which platforms do you plan to release the game?
We have a tentative release date of Q4 2014 from a PC / Mac / Linux version. We also donated to the OUYA and Oculus Rift Kickstarter projects, and would love to make ports for those some point after our initial release. The idea of an Xbox port has also been thrown around, but we’ll have to wait and see what we’re looking at with the next gen consoles.
Finally, since there has been fairly strong interest in our story and our science twist, we’ve decided to create a Kickstarter campaign to fund the release of an Escaping Titan Sourcebook Collection. The sourcebook collection release will give fans a chance to start immersing themselves in our world before the game even comes out! All funds we gain from the campaign all is put toward making our community experience better for the fans. The campaign will go live on March 15th.
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When word got out about what this team is attempting with Escaping Titan, multiple volunteers joined in to share in the journey. They now have three artists, another programmer, a game designer, and four science-consultant panelists. The passion of this team, their combined knowledge and the unique features of Escaping Titan makes my toes curl with anticipation.
This is one game that holds the promise of delivering a gaming experience that is truly unique. I hope the graphics and gameplay will match the intellectual genius of the game. We wish Broken Crown Games all the best; we will keep a close eye on the development of Escaping Titan.
A massive “thank you” to Mr Yohe for the time he took to do this interview. It was an honour great sir.
Why don’t you go check out the ‘Science Behind the Sci-Fi’ forum and drop them a comment.
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