Reset. Teaser images surfaced on its official blog partway into February. “That’s real time?” someone asked in the comments. The game’s writer, Alpo Oksaharju responded. “Yep, real time…” Looking at the screenshots, it’s easy to see why people were surprised.
Two months later, when the trailer released, people still wondered how a two man indie dev team could be building such a gorgeous game from scratch. “This Game’s Trailer Is Too Pretty To Be Real,” read one headline, partially joking.
Oksaharju has spoken in fair detail several times about the game’s engine, which is set to feature dynamic weather and day-and-night rotations, among other things. But as usual, skepticism is still abound. Good looking game trailers have a sort of infamy surrounding them due to the popularity of pre-rendered footage with promotional divisions. Trailers for Killzone 2, Dead Island, and Call of Duty 2 have received criticism for looking better than actual gameplay.
“Can’t really say anything to set peoples minds at ease,” Oksaharju told me. “We’ll just have to show everybody, won’t we.” It’s a practical outlook, unconcerned by people’s expectations or predictions of failure. The trailer itself is representative of this attitude: made entirely with in-game assets. The duo at Theory Interactive figure that their work will stand for (and advertise) itself. As of now, with views on the trailer edging towards 400,000, their approach doesn’t seem naive.
Why build an entirely new engine for the game? Why make that investment and take that risk? There are plenty of existent engines for PC games to select from: nobody would be surprised to see such high quality if it were running on Crytek’s Cryengine. “We wanted to create something new and we wanted to achieve a specific atmosphere and mood for the game,” Oksaharju said. “Mikko Kallinen [Reset's Programmer/Composer/Designer] is a world class coder and especially capable in the field of real time graphics, so building our own tech was really a no-brainer. If you want to do what everybody else is doing, use the tools that everybody else is using. If you want to create something new, use new tools. After this ramble it really boils down to that we think that cool graphics is cool.” His comment hints at a distaste towards the massive presence of games that run on licensed products like Unreal Engine.
It also hints at a yearning to stand out. Indeed, while Reset does have a post-apocalypse setting, it steers clear of the popular interpretation of brown, desert wastelands; instead opting for a more realistic depiction of overgrown ruins. Could it be that the verdant art style was chosen in reaction to the grim color palettes of games like Fallout 3 and Gears of War? “The art style chosen is not a reaction to anything. I played Fallout 3 a lot and really like the wasteland vistas. It’s nothing new, but the contrast between glass and steel towers and the overgrowing nature is something I find very peaceful and soothing.” A peaceful and soothing mech game- that might be a first. Reset‘s trees may also serve a purpose for the gameplay: the trailer has a timelapse of them growing from tiny sprouts to something you might find in a parking lot. “Timelapse won’t probably end up in the game in the same way as it in the trailer. We chose to have an artistic take of the passing of time in the trailer,” he says. But: “Different temporal places will be in the game though.” It sounds as if we may get to see the city in different stages of decline, and therefore, overgrowth.
“Reset will have a lot of environmental storytelling. And probably not a lot of dialogue.” I said.
“Quite correct. The place is quite empty, so no one really to talk to.” Oksaharju danced around the real question: will we meet anyone else in Reset?
“Your game is called Reset. Do you think it will teach us something about how to make amends?” I said, prying from a different angle.
“There are many levels to Reset and its story. Without giving away too much I can say that it doesn’t pass judgment or criticize what should be done or shouldn’t,” he said. What does it avoid judging? Past (future) mistakes? War? Pollution? What lingers in the past of the world of Reset that has destroyed civilization? If the game will not judge, perhaps it will mourn.
“What’s the story behind the mech and the person inside it, Zero-Two? Will they be all alone, forced to ‘play with their self?’ (That’s got to be a marketing tagline right there).”
“Hah, good one. The story of Zero-Two is something you will find out once the game is out and you get to play it.” Unsurprisingly, he didn’t spill the beans. But this is important: Zero-Two has a story. We will learn who he is, or who he was, or what he did. He’ll be more than a mute, faceless robot.
“On your blog, it says that Reset will have, ‘…a smart storyline diving into the deep end of a non-linear storytelling medium,’ and that it’s based off of, ‘…a short story with temporal play written a few years back.’ How much do you write? Are there any books that inspire you?”
“I don’t write a lot, but when a story emerges from the outer limits, it has to be dealt with. I’m inspired by stories, music, nature, art, whatever sparks a feeling. From writers, I really dig Kurt Vonnegut.” Stories, music, nature, and art. Eclectic, but perfect for a game designer. It’s no surprise that Vonnegut, famous for his postmodern ramblings, could inspire a man working on a 4th dimension end-of-days puzzle game. Vonnegut’s most well-known book, Slaughterhouse-Five, skips around history seemingly at random, and his final novel was aptly titled ‘Timequake.’ Vonnegut has also dealt heavily with the apocalypse and what lies after in his books Cat’s Cradle, Slapstick, and Galapagos.
Final thoughts bubbled to the surface. Would the rest of Reset have music similar to the music in the trailer? “We’re going to have a mixed plate of music in the game, with the trailer piece being one course.” You heard it here first: you can look forward to rap in Theory Interactive’s debut title.
Some games with quantum action puzzles had a heavy reliance on timing. In Braid‘s World 5, it was necessary to pause at certain points in order to synch your present actions with your past actions. With a larger scale, 3D puzzle game like Reset, that could border on tedious. “We’re really digging into the game design at the moment, and trying to find a balance where it’s more about wits than timing.” Comforting, but we’ll have to see.
And it’s not very likely that Reset will show up on consoles, is it? “Even though we’re concentrating fully on the PC version, we’re not totally ruling out the possibility of next gen consoles after the PC version. We’ll have to see. Current gen consoles are definitely out.” If there’s one good sign that this console generation is at the end of its cycle, it’s that now even indie developers are waiting for more powerful hardware.