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We’ve talked with James Witcomb and Nick Gomersall about their recent project The Escapists 2.
The Escapists 2
James Witcomb: The Escapists was one of the first games to be released through our games label, and it was a successful game with a big following. It became apparent that the community really wanted multiplayer, but in order to make the multiplayer work effectively many of the game systems would need to be re-designed from the ground up. This gave us the opportunity to work with developer Mouldy Toof to not only add the much-requested multiplayer, but explore other ways to improve and build upon numerous features of the first game. We invested time into looking at forums and reviews, and even invited members of the community to complete surveys so we could build a picture of exactly what people liked or disliked about the first game. We collected any suggestions they may have had for new mechanics, prison environments, or even escape methods. It really helped being able to work so closely with fans, it created a game that combined the ideas of both the developers and community alike.
JW: The goal of the Escapists 2 is simple… all you need to do is escape! There’s just the little matter of an army of guards, attack dogs, electric fences, guard towers, and riot guards between you and freedom. Each prison has multiple ways of escaping, with plenty of opportunities to experiment with different tools and contraptions. The all new multiplayer allows up to four players to aid each other in orchestrating an escape in co-op, or beating the proverbial out of each other whilst racing to be the first to escape in the versus mode! The Escapists 2 supports both local split-screen and online drop-in/drop-out multiplayer, the experience of players joining and leaving in multiplayer is completely seamless, and allows for complete freedom in inviting friends as and when you feel you need help in breaching the prison defenses.
Nick Gomersall: When designing the visuals for The Escapists 2, it was very important for us to retain the original charm of the first game. Initially the process involved researching and trying out different pixel art styles, to see what takes and then evolve that further in an iterative process. We wanted the second version of the title to be a big step up, whilst still feeling familiar, and this was the trickiest aspect of developing the art style for The Escapists 2. We wanted to find a style which was sympathetic to the original game, whilst being fresh and new.
NG: Pixel art is a real challenge to work with! It take time to learn and understand the techniques and workflow, but once you’ve got it down the results are there to see and enjoy.
With The Escapists 2, we utilize a fake sense of perspective where the front profiles of objects and buildings are leant over, rather than strictly top down. This allows for more variation in what you can portray and detail, but can lead to the art being a bit more challenging to create due understanding the angles.
Colour-wise we wanted to retain the vibrant palette from the original whilst making sure we kept colours sympathetic to each other. This helps keep a softness to the look of the game, and this along with the limited tones for each asset create consistency which is really important with such a limited resolution.
Talking of resolution, the game of The Escapists utilised 16 x 16 pixel tiles for all of the assets. Part of our thinking for The Escapists 2 was that we wanted to lift the look of the game by making it appear to be at a higher resolution, so going to a 32 x 32 pixel tile-set really helped. It’s the perfect resolution for a game like this!
How long does it take you to build this whole thing?
JW: The process of creating a prison begins with a paper design, a rough playable in-editor version can then be produced in only a couple of days. After some initial testing, the white-boxed shell of the prison can then be passed onto the artists to apply prison specific textures to the building and objects. The artists will then go over the whole prison adding individual cracks in tiles, pieces of litter, puddles of water etc. to make each room really feel unique and alive. The process for making levels involves lots of iteration, as the sandbox nature of the game opens up plenty of opportunities for the QA department to find ingenious ways of breaking the prisons! There is a lot of back and forth between design and art in response to emergent issues, but the close nature of the development team means issues can be resolved very quickly. Depending on size, a prison can go from rough sketch to fully dressed in about a month.
NG: With the lighting for The Escapists 2 we wanted to create a better sense of atmosphere over the original game, with a more dynamic ambiance. To achieve this, each area had a series of soft lights applied, and along with some careful placement per room, we were able to achieve a more atmospheric appearance as a result. Combined with the daytime ambience, the dynamic shadows help to lift the game to what you see now. We’re really pleased with the results!
JW: It can be very easy to over-dress an environment. With the first few prisons we found ourselves having to remove decorative items as we had several rooms where there was simply just too much to take in. In a game like The Escapists 2, where rooms contain desks that can be looted and floor vents that can be entered, it was all too easy to dress a room to the point where there was simply too much to visually read and understand what was and wasn’t a dressing item or something the player could use.
Pixelated text is something which in theory sounds like a great way to incorporate the pixel aesthetic to user interfaces, but in reality it is actually quite hard to read (especially with larger bodies of text). Early on we decided to go with a more legible font for the sake of the end users being able to quickly read and understand information on the UI.