The following is an exclusive interview with Nico Grupp, one of the developers of the PC/Steam game Highrisers by Solar Powered Games.
1. Could you give a brief description of the story within Highrisers?
The story of Highrisers takes place in the near future. The human population has kept growing and the process of urbanization has continued, so large metropolises where a common sight all over the word, not just in emerging nations. Those proliferating cities concentrated all of the available jobs onto them, as well as all other services: education, medical treatment, culture and entertainment – the wide countryside became very much depopulated, and the widespread usage of genetically heavily modified plants for food production that could be grown in urban vertical greenhouses enhanced that rural exodus. As a result, the incredible concentration of inhabitants in the cities brought their administrations to the limit of what they could handle.
Failure of municipal services all over the world became quite common, while global corporations were quite willing to jump in – for those who could afford them.
This disparity sparked much local unrest, demonstrations and strikes, and in some places the protests turned into outright riots.
And in this situation, the calamity began…
2. So, it’s been a month since this ‘apocalypse’, right? What can you tell us about it?
It is not yet totally understood what actually happened. All kinds of theories have circled on the networks, ranging from a mysterious disease, an alien invasion, prehistoric parasites freed from the arctic ice through the global warming, a failed secret government experiment, the result of the widespread consumption of mnc-food (multi nucleotidic cells, cells which were genetically manipulated to contain multiple nucleoli for enhanced ribosomal protein production), the wrath of god, the end of the world… you name it.
What actually happened was that basically all around the world, people went to sleep, never to wake up. They just remained sleeping – alive, but unconscious. And their bodies transformed, black tissue starting to spread all over their body, their inner organs converted, their blood becoming black.
And then, they rose.
3. What can you tell us about the Dreamers?
Those creatures, though their human origins still visible, have nothing much in common with the individuals they have been before their transformation.
Thousands of theories, reports, rumors and legends circulated during the infection, so it is next to impossible to tell where the truth begins. But some things are sure:
They shy away from the light – it seems to hurt them, so they prefer the dimly lit safety of the lower floors and the streets in the cities. Their eye sockets seem empty, so it is not known if they remain any visual perception. However, they do react hostile towards not-yet-transformed humans.
4. Why are they called Dreamers?
They have literally hundreds of names, depending on the subgroup asked. The collapse of humanity happened to fast before society could agree on a common terminus.
The common denomination as “dreamers” has their origin clearly in the fact that sleep was inducing the metamorphosis. Also, their swinging, wobbling movements and their engrossed, moony expressions made it a fitting name.
5. How did the main characters survive during that first month?
That will be revealed later during the game. But it seems as if each of them had previously acquired some skills that helped him survive the outbreak. It is also known that Ike was piloting the HC-27 helicopter when he crash-landed it on the first building.
6. How did the characters come together?
We will learn about that later, too. We know that they did not know each other before the calamity. In our first designs, Jes was already older and working as a photo journalist or news reporter, and the plan was that Ike was the pilot of their news helicopter and the crash-landed together. During a tutorial mission, they would meet up with the other two.
We scrapped that design towards a younger, wilder version of Jes; but we still might be doing a tutorial mission where they meet up. So in the beginning, the player can learn the controls with one player, before having to manage all 4 of them.
7. Is there a leader of the group?
No, not really. The prominent position of Ike in the Kickstarter release trailer made many people think of him as the “main character”, but actually, they are all equal.
Ike is a bigmouth, and he has been in the military, so it might look like a natural fit. Jes is too young to seek the responsibility of a leader role and Mo isn’t looking for that position, either.
For those familiar with the Star Trek universe: Ike would mostly be a Scotty-like character; Ann a mixture of Spock, Data and Dr. Crusher; Jes would be a bratty version of Wesley Crusher and Mo has most similarities to Worf, with a twist of Tuvok from Voyager.
But you see – there is no captain material in our little group.
8. Is there anything you can tell us about Mo?
We will release the final character Introduction trailer hopefully next week. Mo is a craftsman of native-American origin. He has learned many of the old ways of his tribe during his youth from his grandfather, but later he moved to the city like so many others.
9. Is there any character development?
Yes, there is! Highrisers is a Survival-RPG. While we do not intend to use a classical attribute system with strength, dexterity and the likes, there are certain differences that depend on the skills each character learns.
Each character can develop different proficiencies and abilities.
An example: Mo is a real giant of a man. He can focus on his bodily features, which make him tougher, stronger and more muscular. With the “Heavy Blow”-Skill, he can perform an extraordinarily deadly Blow whenever using a blunt melee weapon. But it also lets him smash in locked wooden doors, crash furniture for building materials (which yields less useable loot, but is much faster), and if he has also learned forging, the heavy blow will significantly improve his work at the anvil.
Other skills have less direct influences and rather let you craft or research new or better equipment.
10. Do the characters also grow food? How does this work?
While scavenging, they might encounter preserved food, or canned stuff, which they will gladly take. Through the widespread usage of the mnc-food they will also find those genetically enhanced plants, which will grow incredibly fast – provided the survivors can give them light, water and minerals. Mnc-food is not very robust regarding diseases or pests, so unless one of the characters specializes in growing food, they will always have a hard time.
11. When scavenging, is there a limit to how much stuff you can carry?
Yes, there is! The amount of items you can carry is limited. Jes can specialize in scavenging, which lets her find and carry much more stuff, and she can also disassemble furniture faster to get to the valuable resources. When Mo puts his focus on his physical attributes, he can also be a valuable looter: He can also carry more items, but he is the only one who can then lift and carry heavy equipment that they find. The other characters would have to slowly pull this over the ground or disassemble it first, which can be quite a task for complicated machinery.
12. Is there a map to see where you’ve been?
We haven’t decided on that yet. We will see how much need there is for such a feature. Floors not yet visited will lie under a fog-of-war, so it will be impossible to tell what treasures they might yield.
13. How do you see all four characters if they are in different levels of the building? Do you just scroll up and down to see everything?
Yes, that’s pretty much the idea. There is a shortcut to immediately jump to each character, and when something important happens (like an attack), you can also jump to that place of interest at once.
14. In the game, the Dreamers come during the night. This means the characters would sleep sometime during the day…so how much time do they have to prepare each day?
The dreamers are also in the building during the day – the deeper down you get, the more lurk there also when the sun is still up. But they are much more passive and less aggressive.
Nevertheless, the players will have all day for preparations. The short answer is: They don’t sleep. We will reveal the reasons for their sleeplessness later, but it can be said that it is connected to the story. Once people figured out that sleeping leads to the transformation, many tried to stay awake for as long as they could, for fear of never waking up again. But the human body cannot exist for a long time without sleep.
15. Can all four characters fight? How does the fighting work?
Yes! All of them can fight. Once ordered to attack, a fight runs pretty much on its own – they just continue to hit their target until it is dead. Compare it to an RTS like Starcraft – you want your zealot to destroy that Hydralisk? Select the zealot, click on the hydralisk and he will engage and continue the fight until one of them is dead.
With ranged weapons it is the same, but unless specifically ordered to do so, they will not auto-engage to preserve ammo.
Certain skills of the characters can encourage a certain way of fighting, and every character has some of them. It is up to the players, which of them he wants to develop.
While it is a totally viable build for Ann, the scientist, to keep her safe in the lab, researching and tinkering; with the right skills (I’m thinking of “surgery” and “xeno-anatomy here, for example”), she will become very deadly with any blade weapon, and she will know exactly where the weak spots are, so you expect to see lots of critical hits!
16. Is there a plot to the game other than survival?
We started with the idea of an endless, procedurally generated city, where you just see how many days you can last. During the production, we realized how many players would like to see some story progress. So we now consider the main story arch to be leaving the city for real. It is really vast and stretches to the horizon – but it does have its boundaries, of course.
Maybe outside, in the wilderness, they can be safe?
17. Does the weather affect the Dreamers, allowing them to stay out during the day?
Dreamers do not like the light. That’s why they keep hiding on the lower floors. Still, some of them linger on the medium and event the upper floors during the day. On a cloudy or rainy day, when there is less sunlight, you can expect to encounter more of those stray dreamers in the building; so those are dangerous days for exploration.
18. Do you think there will be a sequel to the game?
Haha, no idea! We don’t plan that far – for now, we just want to complete the game.
19. When do you think multiplayer and console versions of the game might be developed?
Those are both things that we would love to see, but it all depends on the success of the game in the first place. After the release, we plan to spend the next month with the inevitable bug fixes and further feature development. We liked the way Klei has approached this with Don’t Starve – continuously bringing new and free features to the game to keep the players entertained.
Console ports and multiplayer expansions – if they come – will definitely come after that. Again, Klei is a good inspiration with Don’t Starve Together.
20. What else does Solar Powered Games have planned?
For now, we are just sailing the ship through the Kickstarter waters. 😀
Haven’t been doing much else for the last month. Regarding other plans besides Highrisers, we have to admit – we don’t have any yet. We will have to see how this develops and what we can do to keep our community happy. If this means more features, Multiplayer, or a sequel or something completely new – we shall see.
21. Is there anything else you’d like to talk about or tell your players?
The important thing we wanted to achieve through the skill tree design was to get as many viable builds as possible.
There are several “tasks” the player has to achieve. Repair the helicopter. Get food. Keep them healthy. Defend through the night. Research better stuff.
And different characters can contribute to that goal. Ike as the pilot and mechanic might be the obvious choice for repairing and upgrading the helicopter, but if you basically were forced to use him for that, you could never explore his military skills. Therefore, other characters have abilities that can contribute to the “helicopter-transportation”-problem. You could make Ike a toughened and seasoned soldier, while Mo could equip the helicopter with a lightweight wooden frame. Ann has several ways to contribute – be it through the balloon-solution hinted in her trailer, but she could also synthesize fuel for the main engines. Even Jes can provide help, as she could build cargo drones to carry smaller stuff over to the next building, thereby reducing the pressure to squeeze everything into the helicopter.
But the player could even choose to completely neglect the helicopter at all and just make it barely fly over and over again. They won’t be able to carry more than the absolute necessities, but with the freed skill points, they might excel in all other fields, which might outweigh the disadvantages of limited helicopter cargo capabilities.
Copyright 2018 Ammon Hansen
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