Exclusive: An interview with SMAC Games

Tokyo 42 cover

A few months ago, our fearless leader Dane wrote an article about an “eyeball-grabbing” game called Tokyo 42. After returning my eyes back to their sockets, I reached out to SMAC Games, the developers, who were kind enough to answer a few questions. Besides being awesome people in general, SMAC Games’ founders are orignally from Cape Town. Hit the jump for our exclusive interview with them.

Just a spot of background; SMAC Games is a two-man show based in London. The two in question are Sean Wright (S) and Maciek Strychalski (M).

NAG: Tell us a bit about yourselves? How did you guys get into game development, and how did you meet?

S: So we’re actually brothers – though many can’t tell at first glance, and then there’s the whole different surname thing which is also tricky. This is the first foray into game development for the both of us, unless you count the years and years of “research” that we’ve been doing since childhood. My first games were on the Amiga Commodore 64 back when I was a few feet tall, and I’ve been going steady since.

M: Funny thing is, we have both worked in various forms of app development and internet stuff and there’s not too big of a leap into games dev. With the engines being so user friendly and so powerful, it’s easy enough to get started with prototypes and such. When we discovered that our prototype was actually playable we decided to push it.

NAG: What engine are you working in?

S: Unity 3D, we’re a big fan.

NAG: How did you guys end up in London?

S: Until 3 years ago I was working as an iOS app developer for News24 in Cape Town and feeling a severe case of itchy feet. So I cashed in my savings and mandatory retirement fund for a ticket and a good 6 months of travel. After that I decided to visit my bro in London (not because I was broke I promise) and haven’t left.

M: Came here because the internet was faster.

T42 Shooting

NAG: Why ‘SMAC Games’?

S: It’s really complicated. Jokes, it’s basically Sean + Maciek. Someone the other day said that they thought it was Sean, Maciek And Company, which I thought was cool. So maybe it’s actually that now. Next time someone asks I’ll say it’s Sean & Maciek Are Cool.

M: When we came up with the name we were filling out a form that needed a company name. We didn’t have one so just chucked SMAC in. It stuck.

NAG: Why the name ‘Tokyo 42’? Is it a secret in-joke or are you Douglas Adams fans?

S: So it’s a bit because of Hitch-Hiker’s Guide has made it a cool number, but it’s also a bit of a play on an old Japanese superstition. Basically in Japanese you say 4 like “shi” and 2 like “ni”, so together it sounds like “shi ni”, which out of context could roughly translate to “unto death”. It’s a number reportedly found on the number plates of some yakuza’s cars, to indicate their contempt for death. Also the game is set in the year 2042.

M: 42 is like the number 13 in Japan.

NAG: Besides GTA and Syndicate, what are Tokyo 42’s other influences? Particularly towards its visual style and themes.

M: The whole style came from looking at this design group called eBoy who do these Where’s Wally-like isometric city scenes that are bursting with detail and colour. We wanted to make something like that but moving and living and interactable. Those scenes are super busy so we took influence from games like Transistor and Monument Valley in terms of making the visuals legible and simple enough to actually make with such a small team.

Beyond that we’re set in this bright but dystopian future, so you’ll find a lot of Fifth Element stuff in there as well as Paprika, Blade Runner, Akira, GITS and so on. Basically any sci-fi. Because we’re working on such a small scale, we can cram in a bunch of references quite easily.

NAG: What is the basic story-line?

S: So, it basically takes place after an “event” which has caused many places in the world to become uninhabitable, especially at ground level. Tokyo managed to stay free of the worst of the destruction caused, and as such became a hub of human culture from all around the world.

You, through no fault of your own, end up on the run for a murder you didn’t technically commit, and to clear your name you need to get to the bottom of it by infiltrating the circle of assassins in Tokyo. As your own mystery unfolds, you find that your particular problems are only the tip of an iceberg that the whole of Tokyo – if not the world – seems bound for.

Tokyo 42 Assassin dialogue

NAG: What prompted the decision to set Tokyo 42 on the rooftops?

M: Apart from the back story element, we really wanted this game to be light and airy (probably because we’re Capetonians living in London who just need some air man…) so we took to the roofs. Also if you go to Tokyo, so much stuff happens if you go up into the high rises, especially in areas like Akihabara, so it’s pretty true to form.

Another major consideration with the rooftops was the production overhead. If we were to be on the ground, we’d need to fill in all the space with something. This way we just drop in some clouds and we’re done.

NAG: Who’s doing the music?

S: Vicente Espi, a master of his art and long time friend of mine is doing all the game’s music and sound design. He’s actually based in Cape Town at the moment.

NAG: What platforms do you hope to launch Tokyo 42 on?

S: Can’t confirm anything on this front for various reasons, but definitely PC.

NAG: How did you partner with Mode 7 as your publisher?

S: We met them at an interesting event hosted here in London called Interface, where basically you sign up as wanting to meet game publishers, stating your preference and intention, then they give you a schedule for the day which consisted of speed-dating style 15 minute meetups which each respective party.

We met Paul Kilduff-Taylor from Mode 7 towards the end of the day when everyone was tired, and after 10 minutes telling him how much we love Frozen Synapse, and how delicious our ribs at lunch were, he eventually asked us why we were talking to him. So we showed him our multiplayer prototype as we had it then, which got the ball rolling.

NAG: What kind of multiplayer modes will there be? Will there be local VS, and are there any plans for co-op?

S: Currently the only multiplayer mode is an up to 8 player arena-style stealth and combat deathmatch. With elements of Spy Party, where any one of the civilians on screen could be an enemy player stalking you, and all out action with physics-based weaponry, kind of like a real time, 3D Worms. Co-op is definitely on the cards, and we’re excited to add some other rad multiplayer modes.

Local-Play is a bit trickier because of the stealth stuff and the shifting camera perspective, but if we can think of a way for flatten the parameters without losing the fun stuff then we would definitely consider it.

Multiplayer T42

NAG: When you go home after a long day of game development, what is the first game you boot up?

S: Well considering we work from home… usually T42 itself. But honestly I struggle with that question, I play everything and my wallet hates me for it. Tonight I’m going to play the last episode of Telltale’s Walking Dead (S2) and then I’m going to try out World of Warships with a homie in Cape Town. We also just got Stronghold Crusader 2 on sale for everyone in the house so we’re due a silly castle building session soon.

M: ARMA 4 lyfe. Currently also Hitman and Magic Online. But yeah, we play all the games.

NAG: In your honest opinion, is Blade Runner’s Deckard a replicant?

S: Definitely… Not…  Maybe.

M: Yes.

NAG: When can we expect a demo of Tokyo 42 or more game footage?

S: That’s a good question, we’ve got a load of really cool new content coming in really soon, so we’ve been planning another trailer and working with Vicente on getting some epic tunes together.

NAG: What is SMAC Game’s dream project?

S: I think Tokyo 42 is it, for now. It started out as a project to make a game that we really wanted to play, and hopefully we can keep doing that.

NAG: Have you considered exhibiting at one of the local rAge Expos?

S: Not really, but until now I hadn’t heard of it so that sounds like a pretty cool idea actually. Obviously the commute would be a bit of a mission so a bit of careful planning would have to be involved.

NAG: What release window are you shooting for?

S: Q1 2017

NAG: Lastly, do you call your meetings ‘SMAC Talk’?

S: We do now.

Thanks again to Sean and Maciek for taking the time to shed some light on Tokyo 42, and SMAC Games. Hopefully we’ll have more to share about the game soon, it certainly seems like one to watch.

Official website: Tokyo 42.com

PewDiePie donates $50,000 to anti-hate org and his fans are mad