Far From Home's Mateusz Majda and Tomasz Borowiecki have told us about the development process behind the studio's upcoming game Forever Skies, told us about the world they try to build, and explained the idea behind the game.
80.lv: Please introduce yourself and your team. Where did you study? What companies have you worked for? What projects have you contributed to?
Thanks for inviting us to talk with you. Today Far From Home is represented by two artists: Mateusz Majda, Art Lead, and Tomasz Borowiecki, FX/Tech Artist.
Prior to joining FFH, Mateusz had led animation teams at several studios such as Bloober Team, Artifex Mundi, and The Farm 51. His current role involves leadership of the art team with a focus on quality assurance, animation, and level art. Tomasz has been involved in gamedev since 2011. At Far From Home, he designs procedural effects.
Mateusz Majda, Art Lead: I think it's worth mentioning the studio’s background as well, as it has only operated for a few years, and has the first game in the making.
“We exist to create games that will make a significant mark in the history of the medium” – Far From Home’s Mission Statement.
Far From Home is an independent AA+ studio founded in 2020 in Poland by a team of senior developers previously working mainly for Techland. There were three drivers which led them to this venture:
- To create a great work environment that will allow people to grow, nurture ambition, and have a footprint on the projects and on how the studio is managed.
- To serve players. Our role is to listen, watch, analyze and bring the best possible experience for the gaming community.
- To start a discussion about the future of the Earth and humankind. We believe that games can be a tool for enacting change in the world and with this in mind, we want to bring up important topics in the context of gaming.
Tomasz Borowiecki, FX/Tech Artist: These three goals set the scene very well for Far From Home. Our team has grown to 20 people, working remotely across the world on the debut title: Forever Skies, officially revealed in January. The company attracted senior developers, who brought years of experience from working on highly successful, multiplatform games such as Dying Light, Dying Light 2, Dead Island, The Medium, Chernobylite, and the Divinity: Original Sin Series to name a few.
In Forever Skies, players are stepping into the role of a scientist returning to Earth long after a global ecological catastrophe has left the planet uninhabitable to humans. One of the main activities is building, expanding, and controlling a high-tech airship that will act as a transport, shelter, laboratory, and workshop for researching various substances and crafting tools for survival. Players will scavenge, find ways of obtaining food and resources, and explore the ruins above and below the thick, toxic dust layer which now shrouds the Earth’s surface.
Mateusz Majda: It’s an FPP survival action game, with a strong emphasis on base building mechanics. We are aiming to release it in Early Access this year. It will start as a single-player experience, with plans to upgrade with cooperative mode a few months later. The game uses Unreal Engine 4 and is being developed in parallel for PC and consoles.
80.lv: How did you get started with Forever Skies? What’s the story here? Could you tell us about the game’s world?
Mateusz Majda: The story of Forever Skies was loosely inspired by the observation that in the last few years, several Polish cities were repeatedly listed among the top 10 polluted in the world. In fact, staying healthy in Cracow, Wroclaw or Warsaw is increasingly difficult. Mobile phone alerts advising to stay indoors became a sad norm recently. It’s easy to get used to it and ignore that any map of worldwide air quality shows more red and dark red spots than green ones. We started wondering as a team what may happen if this won’t change course at large. What if mankind will pass the point of no return.
The actual game takes place a few hundred years after an environmental collapse. Earth has been covered with a layer of toxic dust unfit for life as we knew it. People tried to escape to towers, building up to reach breathable air, but it was all too late. Only a few managed to escape the planet. Humanity has vanished.
The main thought here is that we need nature more than nature needs us. This powerful notion shaped the artistic vision of the project. The player ends up in a desolate world where there is no physical human presence – yet remnants and the footprint of humanity are seen everywhere. The world is also by no means deserted. Quite the opposite; it evolved in a new direction, with new inhabitants able to survive what humans could not.
As artists we met a challenge here; how to present a completely changed world, which at the same would tell a story of what happened. The game’s design allowed for several biomes, which could easily lead to information overload and difficulty in communicating what surrounds the gamer.
We also needed to present the new, alien world in exciting and immersive ways. It interacts with the player’s progress of the player in the game, sometimes helping, some other times pushing back. The key solution was to create zones including the gamer's flying base for the start, then explore the abandoned post-apocalyptic world over the dust, to finally descend into the alien world towards the surface. Thanks to this approach, the player is introduced to a complex world in stages and can control the pace at which they accommodate all the information thrown at them.
80.lv: You mentioned using “procedural destruction” to create a diverse post-apocalyptic world. Could you elaborate?
Tomasz Borowiecki: Procedural generation is the main approach to creating a variety of diverse assets that populate the world. It does not just help us to accelerate production, but also allows for a unique and one-of-a-kind experience for each gamer. I believe this is a step towards delivering stochastic worlds if only to result in a great viewing experience on Twitch and YouTube; the same games each time feels different and always new.
Mateusz Majda: Let's dive into some detail. We use procedural generation on different levels, not just the game’s world. It goes down to the layout of specific locations, how the interiors look and feel, as well as to resources and elements of storytelling. We also randomize the degree of damage of buildings, and overall arrangements of elements making up boundaries of locations.
When it comes to destruction though, we didn’t want it to be completely random, but rather be a final touch to art design of levels. Otherwise, it would be too easy to fall into a trap of large-scale repetitiveness, which the human brain is very good at detecting as something unnatural. As an example solution, we've developed a cut-out technology using spherical objects which naturally bend, break and grind through buildings when colliding.
To allow for this effect to flourish, each wall is defined as several internal zones that allow us to determine the position and diameter of the sphere, how much damage it should draw from a specific pool of models. It sounds quite simple it actually isn’t, yet it allows us to create extremely complex structures very fast. And because damage generation occurs during gameplay, we can create extensive and radically different variations of the same rooms in a very short time.
80.lv: Please tell us about the main hero and the tools players can use. How did you come up with your gameplay mechanics?
Tomasz Borowiecki: The main character is a scientist and, perhaps, a planet explorer. This description serves as a key point of reference when designing mechanics and tools in the game. We always start by asking ourselves: how would a scientist approach a particular problem, and what tools would they need?
This approach greatly reduces the need of creating excessive mechanics for the game, imposing a lot of constraints that may be uncomfortable, but keep the game coherent. For the most part, the tools I’m talking about are not weapons, rather parts of the futuristic equipment of the largely peaceful scientist. Hence the idea of attaching tools by way of a universal interface to the suit. While weapons that will be used for defense or attack, are traditionally held in the hand, to underline that open combat isn’t necessarily the player's preferred option.
I can also hint at the concept of viruses as a scientific approach to gaining an upper hand in the game’s world. The player researches viruses as a part of gameplay and is able to self-infect to utilize positive effects to deal with more difficult situations.
80.lv: There are several famous post-apocalyptic titles out there. How did you approach your vision? What influenced the world? What would you say are the main pillars of your world?
Mateusz Majda: The main pillar is the exploration of the world which every time will surprise as not predictable. Procedural generation applied on many levels is not just a catchphrase; it is not only making every passthrough awkwardly different. It is also not limited to how the world’s elements look but directly linked to the player's progress. I can cautiously say that this creates a bit of discomfort, as the game is not predictable. You can’t fast-forward on autopilot, because different things may happen each time.
I’m also convinced that it’s quite unique to deliver three realms in one game: the modern mobile flying base in the form of an airship abandoned towers where remains of humans and elements carrying stories of the last survivors are scattered for you if you’re interested, and finally, the completely alien and hostile world below the dust, where gameplay is vastly different.
Central to all this is the exploration of these diametrically diverse spaces. While designing these environments, we connected them by a subtle narrative, trying to imagine how people would live on isolated archipelagos in the midst of an environmental disaster. We assumed an ultimately utilitarian environment and proto-cities, focused on very specific functions, where recycling of virtually all resources is a central process to survive. We also concluded that rapid specialization of certain structures is a reasonable notion; these could evolve i.e. as complexes focused on food production, energy generation, or workshops repairing airships, the only means of transport in the dying world.
80.lv: How did you use colors to set up the right mood? How did you mix warm and cold tones? How did you use colors to make environments more readable?
Mateusz Majda: The colors in the game are designed around emotions we wanted to deliver to the gamer in specific contexts. For instance, the airship is a place of safety and peace, so we surrounded it with strong frames and created a solid, compact structure. Secondly, locations in towers sticking above the dust revolve around the nostalgic exploration of a desolate world once populated by humans, now long gone, so we tried to convey the feeling of decay and entropy, filled with memories of former inhabitants. The color scheme in the world above the dust changes in a day-and-night cycle, led by melancholy and freedom of exploration, traveling between bright, airy violets, to warm evening hues tipped into orange, designed to build interest, to encourage a journey towards the setting Sun.
Finally, there is the world below the dust; dangerous, yet still full of flourishing nature of a new, unknown kind, hence the mix of toxic, warm greens with strong accents of colors, reminiscent of the warning colors of many animals.
80.lv: What are your plans now? When can we expect to play the game? How difficult is it to find and attract the right audience?
Tomasz Borowiecki: We are progressing very well with pre-production. The next milestone is the Vertical Slice, requiring a few more months to reach. Afterward, we’ll move to work towards Early Access release, largely polishing and adding content.
With the title being revealed in January the team was reenergized in a fantastic way. We saw enthusiastic reactions from virtually every corner of the gaming world. Even non-gamers wrote to us to show support of the concept which resonated with them immediately. It's a great time, as we’re still growing, raising money to develop the project on one hand, and recruiting on the other. If anyone is interested, we are currently looking, among others, for a Concept Artist, 3D Artist, and Level Designer. For more information please visit our website. We’re not only looking for employees but for potentially lifelong partners to further build and deliver our vision of a responsible, sustainable gamedev studio.
We were also able to make a mark among the community of gamers specifically focused on survival games. Gaining their reactions and feedback was invaluable, as we’re naturally aware of how many sub-genres and niches exist in ostensibly homogenous gaming. Thankfully we were able to start direct, frank interactions both on forums, Reddit, and on our Discord servers where new gamers are signing-up every day. There’s much more planned in due course, involving i.e. dev diaries, live AMA streams, or even more sophisticated ways to include players into the development process to basically action their feedback by implementing the best of concepts, let alone to quickly fix any reported bugs.
The next objective is to finish the ramp-up of Early Access scheduled to launch later in the year. In the meantime, we’re building the community in daily interactions related to everything that comes up, from the game’s specific details, to how the studio operates, to bigger things that we all share such as responsibility for the planet. The next step would naturally involve playtesting. We will be inviting our Discord community to play early builds of the game, and discuss any and all details of this experience. This will launch a feedback loop resulting in ongoing improvement and development of the game, and ultimately will lead to an Early Access launch which I believe will make a mark not only on the survival genre but also will be a mutual success of everyone involved up to that point. And we will continue from there. This is just a starting point of something that we hope will never end.
Mateusz Majda: I would like to mention that we are searching for devs and invite those looking for work to check our current openings here. Also, if you are interested in the progress of work on Forever Skies, feel free to wishlist our game on Steam and follow us on Twitter where we are discussing features and updates.