Turn-based tacticals connoisseurs know that: a good tactical is hard to find.
The perfect recipe is difficult to nail down, a fragile balance of challenging encounters, team management and exciting narrative.
And that’s where Othercide comes in: beautiful, violent, hard and highly tactical, promising to test both our skills and our sanity.
Instead of just a pretty wrap around a polished gameplay, Othercide’s artistic direction is tightly intertwined with the game mechanics. Together, they tell the story of those maidens, re-imagined Valkyries, keeping us safe in this in-between world painted black, white and with dashes of crimson red.
And behind this vision, one man, one orchestra conductor: Alexandre Chaudret, former artist at Spiders and Gameloft, leading now a team of 10+ people at indie studio Lightbulb Crew tasked of creating the visual voice of such a game.
So how does one create such a world? Well, let’s just ask the man himself!
Hi Alexandre, and welcome to our Coffee Break!
The first thing one sees when looking at Othercide is its bold art direction.
Black and white, with touches of blood red, make it look both dangerous and seductive.
What were the inspirations/influences behind it?
Hi and nice to meet you!
I hope you will forgive my English writing… At least you won’t have to support my frenchy accent!
Thanks for the compliment on the art direction, I’m really pleased and blushing…
To understand the choice of “black, white and red tones”, I must go back in time a little… back to when I started working on Othercide one year ago. When I was hired by our CEO, Anders Larsson, I accepted a very clear mission: give to Othercide a “look & feel” that will stand out from other tactical-games in the market, as well as creating a new art “branding” for Lightbulb Crew.
The mission was huge for a young art director, so I translated it into my own words:
“Find a way to give a soul to this project, Alex.”
I even remember the precise moment when I took the decision to bring the black/white/red idea into the art direction. I was working on the first in game mockups: there were saturated colors everywhere, a true Christmas tree.
I selected the bright red color and scratched a line on one of the characters (this red line will become our heroines “red scarves”), stood back on my chair, watched the image and said “You know what? F*ck it.”; three seconds later the image was in black and white, with the scarves as the only red colored part.
It was the first stone of a long “art direction journey”.
After that, the influences came popping out: from the incredible black and white comics of Sean Murphy to the gigantic Blame of Nihei, I took everything that could feed this “Lovecraftian” universe emerging from behind the mirror. Beksinski, Olivier de Sagazan, Toppi… so much artists out of the usual “video game” industry.
The funny point is that everyone associates Othercide to Miller’s Sin City, or at least to the movie that was inspired by his comic. But, actually, it was not my first thought at all! I am a Mignola’s Hellboy fan ha ha!
When I brought the idea of the black/white/red direction, many told me straight: “This? In a tactical? Are you crazy?”
Well, yeah. Deal with it!
The environment, as the story, is dreamlike: between reality and nightmare.
How do you make graphics be an element of narration?
Did you know that some people actually dream exclusively in black and white?
Personally, I do remember some of my scariest “fiction” dreams to be in black and white.
This little insight is just a glimpse of how I am thinking in terms of art direction: for me, a project sails its own path, like a fearless pirate ship, and at one point I’m simply asking the project itself “does this fits your universe or not, Othercide?”
Usually, the answer is very quick and expeditious.
Graphics in a video game is the first “direct” link between the player and his emotion. That’s why I’m trying to get as much as possible “meaningful” elements in the art direction as possible.
There is a rule in Art I try to stick to: be honest with what you are creating. Therefore, even if you get criticized, you can stand your ground and say “yes, but that was my choice”. Of course the rule can’t apply to everything: you must live with budget and constraints. But sometimes constraints bring a greater good.
That means that each creature, character, monster or environment has a small “piece” of our artists’ souls. A lot of the nightmarish creature designs came out of my personal fears and traumas at a specific moment in my life.
The horrible life of the Child, our main villain, is based on a painful moment of my own youth, a disease I had in my 18’s. I extended the feelings I remembered of this period, pushed them to an extreme level, and extracted what I needed, in order to feed my inner demons and those from my team…
Othercide has what we call an “emergent narration”.
A bit like in a Dark Souls, you can just pass through the game and enjoy its mechanics, by just “feeling the universe” without taking time to find the subtle elements of the lore. But if you start digging… then there is a complete story that “emerges” from the darkness, in backstage of reality.
While you’ve previously worked in the game industry, it’s your first time being the art director for a game.
You have a whole team under your management, which emotions do you ask them to transcribe in the game?
Ha ha, yes, let’s say I am a junior art director!
I lead a team of 10ish people, with different specialties and domains, from characters to environments, or even sound-design and UI.
I think there is no perfect rule to get the best of a team of artists: you need a strong direction to help orientating each choice, and you must listen and jump on each good opportunity when one shows itself.
I mean, literally, I sometime leave almost full liberty to the team on some designs or choices. I let the artist develops his own trauma, mindset, enjoyment or fear. I try to recall their own anxiety, moments of their life, or ask them to project themselves in my nightmares… Then, I step back, listen and stay hidden in the shadows…
And when I suddenly feel the good idea coming by, a perfect match for Othercide or a dark exploration to unknown lairs, I strike like a ninja and say “This one! That’s what we need!”.
But if you ask the members of my team, I think they will just say I feed them with twisted figures, horror films and sexual human traumas.
Naaah, never mind, a ninja knows what’s best!
Turn-based tacticals were quite a niche genre on PC. The latest X-Com’s brought it back in fashion these past years, while it’s always been a consistent genre for the consoles market.
When I look at the Othercide, I see a blend of what works in the two sides of that genre: challenging, demanding gameplay found in X-Com and the likes, and handmade levels, focus on narrative often found in Japanese tacticals.
How did Lightbulb Crew bring those together?
I think the answer lays in the sentence “the project chose its own path”.
I personally think you can’t make a strong creative project without extracting a piece of soul out of the people crafting the project.
Othercide is the reflection of a team, within tactical lovers, JRPG’s fans, and so much more.
The thing is to give a strong direction that everyone can follow, with their preferences and tastes.
We never attempted to bring a revolution to the genre. We are just humble and passionate independents, and our only goal is to propose something different to the fans of the niche.
See it like this: we are taking your hand, inviting you in this cold corner over there, and showing you that there is dark, challenging, meaningful journey to discover.
Will you stand with us?
On an even more personal standard, I must say I pushed a lot for a part of Japanese-games “soul” into Othercide. It came from my own artistic influences, that merged smoothly with the rest of the creative direction. I have a great admiration for the Japanese creations, in games, animes or mangas. They always find a way to bring a media further than what it was supposed to do, and therefore create masterpieces.
Games like Nier: Automata or Silent Hill 2 have been a blast for me. And a great source of inspiration.
Personally, I prefer my turn-based tacticals to be chess-like.
Meaning less RNG, and a lot about planning and position.
Can you describe a combat fight we’d encounter, and mechanics that make Othercide special?
As you probably noticed, we keep saying that Othercide will be quite a challenge. We want players to encounter high difficulty, very dangerous enemies, deal with no healing in mission, perma-death, a notion of sacrifice…
You represent the last spark of light in front of a sh** load of darkness, it is a living nightmare!
Of course, through this journey, we give the player all the tools to survive and succeed the ultimate challenges (kept secret for now).
The main tool for the player is our Initiative Sequence System. Like in a Final Fantasy X’s turn order, each action you pursue will determine the order of events of the fighters engaged in battle. You can influence the Initiative Sequence, react to enemies’ attacks or interrupt their skills, chain your own skills… And of course, you must manage your position on the battlefield as well!
Let me describe a simple action sequence:
You move forward with your Knight, and a terrible Reaper comes toward you.
This creature can literally shred your character in pieces with his giant claws, even though the Knight has the highest armor within your crew.
Hopefully, it is now your Gunslingers’ turn.
You then set a break skill that will protect the Knight for the next round of any melee attacks. And you buff the initiative of your Blademaster, in order to “pull her” in the Initiative Sequence, bringing her to act sooner.
Let’s see what happens:
The Reaper attacks the Knight but gets interrupted by the Gunslinger’s skill. The monster’s turn ends with no damages dealt!
Now it’s time for the Blademaster to play: we move her in the back of the Reaper and gain an incredible bonus from attacking from behind. One giant slash with her blade and it’s one creature vanished to the abyss!
This is a very simple example of a round of actions in our game. You can imagine how deep and complex it can get when the enemies themselves manipulate the Initiative Sequence, or are immune to some skills.
In Othercide, you must plan what is happening spatially and temporally, and each action is a matter of planning, or rethinking the battle when surprises pop out from the shadows!
When I asked you, in preparation questions for this interview, to name me some games that had an impact on you, you had me at Vagrant Story.
This incredible tactical j-rpg from the PSX era had an immersive universe, dark story, complex and challenging mechanics.
But what I remember most from it (been quite some time ^^ — Ed.) is how rewarding every fight felt!
This is something you want the player to feel when playing Othercide?
Ha ha, you couldn’t resist to the Vagrant Story call!
This game was such a blast. I have to confess, young me got a PSX just to purchase this game, after reading reviews in console magazines.
Even though Othercide is very different from Vagrant Story, there are some similarities in their “concept” (or “soul”, as I keep saying all the time). What I really loved in Vagrant Story is the alliance of an emergent story that you could discover through the game and different runs, and very high-level gameplay mechanics that needed investment to understand all the subtilities.
Each fight could turn to be very difficult, and bosses were super challenging and rewarding. When you finally finished the game, you felt a feeling of accomplishment and relief, but couldn’t wait to see more (and Vagrant Story 2 never came, and that breaks my heart…).
You have this kind of feeling in the Dark Souls series as well.
I think a game like Resonance of Fate also brings this alliance of strong mechanics and emergent story: if you never tried this game, it has one of the best and original tactical gameplays I know. (We did and urge you, dear Readers, to give it a try, especially since a remaster version just came out on PC+ consoles — Ed.)
Without following the exact same recipe, Othercide tries to bring the same feelings of reward and accomplishment to the players that survives our “in between two” realities.
In the description of the game, there’s an emphasis on the idea of sacrifice.
With the little we know about Othercide’s lore, I understand it makes sense narratively.
Which mechanics are those, and how do you design them so they’re still fair to the player?
We based Othercide on two main pillars: Surviving and Sacrificing, and how those two notions work together. What are you ready to sacrifice in order to survive the longest? Can you survive without sacrificing anything?
Something very important for Lightbulb Crew is keeping lore, art and gameplay tied up together. In Othercide, there is this idea of representing “the last stand” in a tragedy, the small spark of light against an ocean of darkness; but we crafted also some very specific gameplay mechanics to push those emotions in the players’ mind.
For example, you probably heard in our Gamescom presentations that there will be perma-death and no healer in Othercide. Meaning each of our warriors could fall permanently in combat, if you don’t pay attention or rush things out. But there is actually a way to “heal back” one of your heroines… with the biggest sacrifice of all: offering the life of another one.
I personally like to question players with the stories and mechanics of a video game: yes, you can detach yourself and see a tactical game like a simple “metric evolved chess game”. Or you can question yourself on your proper actions: who am I sacrificing? What are the consequences? Who am I by doing this?
Of course, we are cautious not to create unfair difficulty for the sake of it. We are in a logic of “falling forward”: each step, each dreadfully painful step of this nightmare journey is for a greater good.
You can succeed.
You will get stronger.
You will get better. Stand up, even when the world smashes you to the ground.
Isn’t it a philosophy that Life learns you anyway?
And we have a very nice mechanic that will prevent you of losing everything in a great chaos of injustice. I can’t tell you too much about it yet, but here is a little teaser. It deals with one of our main themes: Memories.
As of now, Othercide’s release is planned for spring 2019.
What’s the next big thing yet to implement in the game?
That’s secrets from behind the mirror, my dear…
More seriously, we are in production time, creating content and connecting everything together.
But since we are passionate game crafters, and that each detail matters, we can’t keep ourselves from refining again and again.
Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions, Alexandre!
A bonus one before you leave: coffee, tea, or beer? ☕???
I was trying to find a good and fancy answer, but everyone told me to just note: Ice Tea.
For your information, I have three boxes fulfilled with empty Ice Tea cans…
For some behind the scenes, head to Alexandre Chaudret twitter’s account: @Eyardt
I’d also like to give a huge thank you to Margaux Proust, head of Marketing and Communication at Lightbulb Crew, who’s also really good at communicating a smile through emails, despite the thousand questions I kept sending her!