Starward Industries: Creating a Story-Driven Hard Sci-Fi Game

Starward Industries' Marek Markuszewski told us about the concept of the studio's upcoming game The Invincible, spoke about the difficulties of turning a book into a game, and revealed the core mechanics the team designed to keep the player engaged.

Introduction Please introduce yourself and your team. Where did you study? What companies have you worked for? What projects have you contributed to?

Marek Markuszewski: My name is Marek Markuszewski and I have been working in the game dev industry for ... a very long time. I believe it has been more than 15 years. However, every day I wake up believing that we are developing our skills and learning something new.

We are a team of independent talented individuals with both artistic and technical rooted education. Many of us previously worked for well-known studios such as CD Projekt Red, Techland, and Bloober Team. We were pleased to work on AAA productions such as The Witcher 3, Dead Island, Dying Light, Call of Juarez, and loads more. 

Starward Industries How did you form your team? How big is it? What are your main strengths? What makes your team unique?

Marek Markuszewski: Currently, there are about 30 people working at Starward Industries. When I was selecting the team, I wanted the people who will be working on The Invincible to be ambitious, open to discussions, and willing to further develop their repertoire of skills. In my opinion, our greatest strength is that we aim high and focus on quality. Saying all that, our experience with big titles helped us with organization and planning. After all, all, to create a grand vision, you need a step-by-step plan on how you will get there.

I understand this model isn’t unique just to us, but we made this model our own by being determined to always listen to each other and change points of view if it brings a better solution. We are open-minded to the means of achieving our goal. This means we do not stand in one place with our "creativity box".

The Invincible Could you explain what The Invincible is to people who missed the announcement? How would you describe the game?

Marek Markuszewski: The Invincible is a highly immersive, story-driven philosophical adventure set in a hard-sci-fi world created by Stanisław Lem. You will be playing as a scientist named Yasna, traversing the eerie planet in search of a lost crew. During your experience with the game, you will have the chance to uncover mind-boggling scientific phenomena and face the biggest human threat we as a species have seen. 

Turning a Book Into a Game How did you work with the novel of the same name? How difficult is it to turn a book into a game? Does it limit you in some way?

Marek Markuszewski: Working with the source material as an iconic book is always a great positive for the storyline and a challenge at the same time. The world presented in the book has many undefined places which must take shape and form in the game.

Translating the "spirit of the book" into the gaming medium requires the creation of an individual and original visual language, which in the case of The Invincible it’s based on atompunk. I feel that our Art Director Wojciech Ostrycharz perfectly coped with this task. I don't think that the process of adaptation is a limitation. I see it rather as a set of possibilities. The game creator's job is to choose those best suited to the medium.

The Game's Landscapes Please tell us about the game’s landscapes. What tools do you use to set them up? Do you implement Houdini or other procedural toolkits to save time?

Marek Markuszewski: The game landscape is handcrafted, element by element, combining the components into intended compositions. We care about every attention to detail, which gives us greater control over the effect. We edit items in a tool called Worldmachine. In it, for example, we developed erosion on the masks.

The Game's Assets Could you also discuss rocks and different small assets? How do you approach the production and then scatter them to get an organic look? How do you approach buildings and different machines? 

Marek Markuszewski: We use scanned objects, but also our own designs from scratch. We make the elements more consistent by applying appropriate effects: sprinkling sand, and blending it with the terrain. We add a detail map to the material, thanks to which the quality of the texture of the rocks allows them to be scaled. The same goes for the creation of retrofuturistic machines.

Game Mechanics Making the game beautiful is a tough challenge but making it fun to play is the whole other level. What core mechanics did you design to keep the player engaged? What were the challenges here?

Marek Markuszewski: In our game, we focus on the total immersion of the player with the story. All mechanics are linked to the storyline of the game. We are determined to deliver for the players the most authentic, unforgettable experience. However, an important element of the game is the mechanism of choices that determines the sequence of events. The Invincible also has an extensive dialogue mechanism, thanks to which players can feel even more connected with Yasna, the game's main character.

Starward Industries' Roadmap What is your current roadmap? What turned out to be the most time-consuming tasks? Also, how difficult is it to promote the game and attract the right audience? 

Marek Markuszewski: We are currently working intensively on the Beta version of the game. Before we started working on the project, we had a specific target group, people who appreciate both thought-provoking stories, immersion, and deep character structures, like to break away from reality and move to another world ... into an unearthly one.

Our target is of course also fans of Stanisław Lem, the author of The Invincible novel. The promotion of the game itself consists of many complex elements and milestones. We plan on doing many communication beats in our campaign, with a few marketing goals in mind as well. The final effect, if we succeeded or not on the marketing front will be known after the premiere. However, so far we are really pleased with the interest in the game and the everyday growing community. We hope that players will be happy with our end result and that they’ll love spending time outside of our galaxy and inside Stanislaw Lem’s world. 

Marek Markuszewski, CEO at Starward Industries

Interview conducted by Arti Burton

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