We continue a series of interviews with the team of developers behind For the People — the gallant trio of comrades from the indie studio Brezg!
A brief recap for those who have missed the previous article: in “Dev Diaries part one” we have discussed the challenges the studio had to face during early development, the difficulties of building a strong team, and finally answered the question of why a crucial milestone in the process of releasing a new game - finding a reliable publisher - oftentimes feels like looking for a needle in a haystack.
In the second part of this series, we’re going to find out why Iron-1 is a lookalike of the Russian city Vorkuta, what served as the starting point of For the People’s story, and how a delayed payment of pensions can change the course of history.
Answering our questions today are the studio’s co-founders Artem Murtola, Pavel Mavidi, and Nickita Birukov — lead scriptwriter and the author of the original concept.
How did you come up with the idea of the world showcased in For the People? Why did you decide to go with this exact kind of narrative and lore?
A game’s “lore” is a fusion of backstory and worldbuilding elements complementing its principal narrative.
Creating a compelling urban narrative was one of the most interesting yet challenging tasks that our scriptwriters had to face during the development process.
We were always huge fans of political and historical games, especially those where the story was set in an alternate history scenario and the player’s choices directly affected the outcome of the game as well as the protagonist’s fate.
After repeatedly playing through many of the strategy titles by Paradox Interactive (large video games developer and publisher, makers of such popular franchises as Crusader Kings, Hearts of Iron, and many others - Ed.) we decided to make a game in this genre ourselves.
That’s how the concept for an in-game universe, in many ways similar to the one we currently live in, was born. It would be perfectly suited for simulating a variety of events akin to those that happened during the real-world XX century: revolutions, world wars, economic crises, and many others, but with different results. When we later came up with the idea of For the People, this setting proved to be the perfect match for the kind of game we had envisioned.
What was your source of inspiration while working on the game’s lore?
While working on the prototype of Iron-1 and describing a society it existed in, we mostly relied on our own knowledge as well as numerous recollections by people who had experienced first-hand the life in Russia some half a century ago.
We had a lot of things to process — the legacy of the Soviet era encompasses movies, songs, art pieces, landmarks, and memories from the people who lived in the USSR.
We also had to study the Western culture, borrowing elements typically associated with the ’80s and trying to look at them through the prism of contemporary socialist worldview.
For instance, the noir detective questlines found in-game were mostly inspired by the famous comic series Sin City.
How did you come up with the Unity of People’s Orange Communes (UPOC)? Is it also a reference to the USSR?
Indeed it is, but it’s important not to think of UPOC and USSR as the same exact entity. Our goal was to create an alternate history scenario where the Perestroika took on a different route. The game has nothing to do with real-life politics and political organizations. Keep in mind that it’s a different fictional world.
The ruling Orange Party has its own goals which diverge from the interests of the “proletariat”. This confrontation is at the cornerstone of the story presented in For the People.
How much time did it take to work out all the details of the lore?
The part of the in-game universe we had to work on the most was figuring out its political and socio-economic structure, as well as conceptualizing the interconnected roles of the state, the Iron-1 city, its history, and inhabitants. All of that took us a better part of six months and we kept on deepening, transforming, and adding to the lore until the latest stages of development.
It was sometimes difficult to stick to a civil discussion while coming up with all of this — we argued a lot and often weren’t able to find common ground. Each member of the team suggested his or her own interpretation of the game’s events, had their own completely different vision of how the game’s story should progress (all three smile).
Is Iron-1 a real city or a fictional one? Have to admit — it looks pretty real.
If you were lucky enough to visit some of the remote Russian cities like Surgut or Vorkuta than the environment of Iron-1 would seem instantly familiar to you (they smile).
We wanted to tell the life story of a government official ruling a small upcountry town in the middle of nowhere, that’s how we came up with the concept for a small industrial city with the name that speaks for itself — “Iron-1”.
What about the main characters of the game and especially the young mayor of Iron-1 Francis River? Did he have a real-life prototype?
Surprisingly we had the least amount of questions and disagreements regarding our protagonist. Francis came to be at the very first meeting we had about our future game.
This is how it went: we have gathered at a small cafe to discuss the concept for the game and its core mechanics. The venue was located near a subway station called ‘Chernaya rechka’ which means ‘Black River’ in English. And that’s how we came up with the last name for our hero — River.
The name Frank was suggested by one of our screenwriters. Back then he was binge-watching another season of the House of Cards (an American TV show widely popular outside of the US as well), where the main character was called Frank (Francis) Underwood.
And thus Francis River was born.
As your colleagues, we have already gotten our hands on the playable demo of For the People. We noticed that it’s full of secondary and episodic characters. Are you afraid that the players might get confused at all?
The main treasure of the glorious Iron-1 is its citizens. While we were working on For the People we tried to populate the city with realistic and believable characters. Each of them has their own personality, desires, and problems.
Each of the characters the player will encounter should add something to the story. Behind a minor bummer, such as the delayed payment of pensions, a whole new story may be hidden — sometimes funny, sometimes sad, or even outright tragic.
One way or another the majority of characters in the game can affect your decisions and their stories tend to intertwine. Some would help the player, but others, on the contrary, would throw sand into the gears of your well-oiled state machine.
Please tell us more about the mystery elements in the game. Frankly speaking, they are quite unusual for a simulation game. Or maybe you don’t define For the People as a typical sim game?
We experimented with genres a lot. Perhaps adding a bit of detective fiction into the mix was not the most obvious decision according to classic gamedev conventions, but in our opinion, it will help players immerse themselves into the game’s storyline to better emphasize with the characters.
Playing a private eye in-game is like watching a murder mystery — the viewer always tries to predict the outcome. But in comparison to a lot of detective stories, For the People’s finale ain’t going to be easy to anticipate. We don’t want to hear the players say ‘I knew it from the start!’ when they have finished their playthrough.
The suspect must be sent to the gallows by the player, not the screenwriter.
We have added quite a few false traces and tricky plot twists with the aim of helping the player explore the world of Francis River rather than confuse them. The game is meant to be as honest as possible with the person who plays it and we hope they will appreciate this (all three smile).
To be continued...
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Free demo's coming out on Steam on the 16th of June, 2020 - feel free to try it and leave us a feedback!