Escape Velocity: Ex-People Can Fly Devs Break Orbit with New Game
Yesterday, we learned of a forthcoming PC game called The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, a “weird fiction horror” game that puts players in the role of a detective with supernatural abilities. The game is the first project to come out of Polish developer The Astronauts, comprised of three former managers from People Can Fly, the studio behind Bulletstorm and the forthcoming Gears of War: Judgment.
After yesterday’s announcement, Adrian Chmielarz was kind enough to answer some questions about the new game, his young studio, and what we can expect from Ethan Carter when it launches sometime this year.
Machinima: What inspired you to create The Vanishing of Ethan Carter? I see that “weird fiction stories and other tales of macabre of the early 20th century” are a big part of the game’s DNA. So what specific influences and works are you building off of for that project?
Adrian Chmielarz: The key is in the difference between weird fiction horror and other subgenres of horror. I think that terror, gore, slash, etc. – they’re more or less represented in the world of video games, but there’s very little of weird fiction there. And when you read these stories – be it Blackwood or Lovecraft or Howard – you realize they’re not as old fashioned as one may think. Yes, they do rely on the imagination a lot, but at the same time they’re not afraid to reach for shock or macabre. So I think it can be quite interesting to explore this kind of experience – both intimate and spectacular – in a video game. However, we’re not trying to be an extension of any particular author or mythos. We want to do our thing. We’re very respectful, but we want to speak in our own voice. That’s one of the reasons what we went indie: to take full responsibility for what we do.
M: Ethan Carter seems like quite a departure for people who formerly worked on a game called Bulletstorm. Can you go a bit into the transition from that project to this one? What was it like to switch gears to such a degree?
AC: Actually, the first three games that I’ve done were adventure games. I do love shooters – five years of QuakeWorld every single day – and I’ve made three, but I’ve always wanted to come back to the world of exploration and discovery one day. There’s that chance now. Other members of the team feel this way as well: we simply think that games can do more. Just…more. If The Walking Dead or Journey did not open our eyes, then I don’t know what will. So, mentally it wasn’t a challenge at all. We were more than ready and were thinking of making a different kind of game for a very, very long time. What was and still is challenging is making a high-quality game and marketing it when your team has seven people. But the Bastion guys showed us the way, and they’re great inspiration to us and a promise that it can be done.
M: Was a desire to work on this project specifically what led to The Astronauts’ departure from People Can Fly last year? Or was this project what the three of you came up with after you’d already departed? How long as development on Ethan Carter been going on?
AC: Will it further cloud the sky if I said it’s both things at the same time? We were thinking of making a smaller “love letter to the genre” kind of game for a very long time, but had we stayed at PCF, we’d probably never have had a chance to do that. When we started PCF we were all about working hard to grow the studio to the AAA level. When we achieved that – I don’t mean the founders, I mean every member of the team – it now seems that big, spectacular AAA is exactly what the studio wants and should keep on doing. You just wait and see what these guys have accomplished with Gears of War: Judgment. But with The Astronauts, we’re telling ourselves from the start that, this time around, we’re aiming for something different. Even if we grow, we’d rather be doing five smaller games at the same time rather than a single big one.
M: What kind of role do the protagonist’s supernatural powers have in the gameplay mechanics? What kinds of unique or different mechanics can we look forward to seeing in Ethan Carter?
AC: I think what we have is unique, but to be honest we are not chasing after that. Let me actually quote a tweet that Greg Kasavin sent to me the other day; “Uniqueness is not a goal in itself, I think. It can be a positive side effect of being specific and personal in the work.” I could not agree more.
M: Is the game going to be from a first or third-person perspective?
AC: For me, personally, the first-person works a bit better for immersion, and since the escapist factor of video games is crucial for The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, we went with FPP.
M: Do The Astronauts have any other projects planned at the moment? What kinds of projects will The Astronauts be tackling as time goes on?
AC: We could be making ten games right now if we had resources. Every single one quite different from another, but all united by one goal: to take players on a journey that will make them feel and will make them think. We want to entertain, but we also have something to say at the same time.
M: Is Ethan Carter going to be self-published, or do you have a publisher lined up?
AC: I don’t know. Despite the fact that we’re doing the game for PC, it’s not because we have anything against consoles. Quite simply the PC is the only platform right now that can handle our game. Not because we’re eating up processor cycles, but because we’re building detailed worlds that require more than half a gig of memory space. So we’re platform agnostic and we will see what happens in the future, and if we go for the next-gens is it going to be us or is it going to be through a publisher. All we care about, really, is that we have our freedom to make the games the way we want them to be made.
M: What are the roles of your fellow ex-People Can Fly colleagues on this project? How big is the team working on the game?
AC: Here’s a funny thing. The three original founders of PCF are all exactly 194 cm tall. That’s weird fiction right there. Anyway, *cough*. Sorry. Well, I design and generally I’m the face of the studio, while Andrzej Poznanski is responsible for the visuals behind the game, and Michal Kosieradzki is the graphic wizard that can make anything happen. We also have a programmer and three other graphic artists, so the core studio is seven people strong. Of course we’re going to be using quite a bit of outsourcing – that’s the only way this game can happen.
M: Besides just entertainment, what do you hope gamers will get out of your new project?
AC: I believe that games have the potential to be the ultimate from of art and entertainment. But that’s the problem; for a long time it’s been nothing else but the potential. We were inside this big room of awesome fun and we thought we had video games figured out. However, lately a few brave creators who gave us Dear Esther and Journey and To the Moon started to hit the room’s concrete walls with their pickaxes. We want to join them and start discovering new places we can take video games to. We hope that gamers will agree it was the effort.
For more information on The Astronauts and their ongoing progress on The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, check out their website.