As the first-person puzzler genre consolidates its form following the genre-cracking aftershocks of Portal, there are now a number of pretenders insisting that they are far more than mere footnotes to the Valve masterpiece. One of these is 3AM's Magrunner: Dark Pulse, which throws its first-person tools into the terrifying maw of a Cthulhu mythos story set in a physics-warping magnetic future. With the game arriving later this month, I knew it was time to speak to the team find out a bit more.
I spoke to "narrative developer" Douglas R Burchill.
RPS: Can you tell us a bit about 3AM Games/Frogwares? What's the background of the studio and what's your philosophy of game development?
Burchill: Well, 3AM Games is a spinoff of Frogwares. It's kind of our "experimental" studio where we get to play with all kinds of dangerous and new game ideas that bigger studios wouldn't touch. We came up with this idea two years ago when Magrunner concepts were being considered, but it wasn't quite the kind of game that Frogwares is known for. Lots of people wanted to work on it, though, so 3AM was born. You could think of our creation as our philosophy – fun, experimental games.
RPS: Can you tell us how Magrunner came to be? Why is this the game you are working on?
Burchill: The game went through several conceptual evolutions. First it was a straight sci-fi puzzle/action game. Then, somebody said "Cthulhu" and it took off from there. This is something that people haven't seen or played before, and certainly something that none of us have worked on before. It brings such dynamic elements to the table that make it a game that we want to work on, and we want to see how players react to it.
RPS: What sort of challenges are players going to face in the game?
Burchill: The main challenge they'll face is in thinking about what they have to do as they do it. We made an effort to make every challenge and level accessible to all players, keeping the controls simple and intuitive, yet offering a range of dynamic possibilities. For example: While Dax is in mid air, he may see another platform that he has to activate to proceed. We want the players to say "Aha!" and make that realization, seeing the puzzle unfold before them. So, it's less about the reaction time and more about solving the level-as-puzzle.
RPS: Why Cthulhu Mythos? It's a refreshing angle for sci-fi game, but what made you choose it?
Burchill: Everything goes better with Cthulhu! Pokethulhu, Cthulhupunk, Cthulhu for President! Seriously, though, Lovecraft wrote such a dark Mythos – the main characters in his stories are the lucky ones if they die. There's something that resonates with people about the Cthulhu Mythos, something about our meaninglessness against the bigger picture of the reality beyond what we perceive. It's a great match for cyberpunk, which already presents a pretty bleak and depressing setting involving the disenfranchised and disaffected in a high-tech society. In other words, it's a great and underused setting to tell stories with.
RPS: Unreal Engine suggests you could support modding - any plans for that?
Burchill: We'd like to, but we need to get more feedback from players once the game is released. If there's a demand, then it's definitely a possibility.
RPS: What sort of state is the game in now, and what's the roadmap to release?
Burchill: The end is upon us! The game is in closed beta, right now, being played and rated by our crowdfunding backers. Once we get a few elements fixed up, we should be heading for release later this month.
RPS: Any plans beyond release that you can talk about?
Burchill: I can't speak for everyone at the studio, but I'm going to take some mostly legal sedatives. Oh, you mean games! Well, Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments is our next focus with Frogwares and it's bringing some major new play elements to not just the Sherlock Holmes series, but investigation games as a genre. I can say that with certainty.
RPS: The "first-person action/puzzle" genre seems to be maturing right now - which games, if any, have influenced Magrunner and why?
Burchill: Portal is the game that everyone who sees the trailers and gameplay videos points to. And to be truthful, Portal and Portal 2 set and raised the bar for the first-person action/puzzler genre. Those games were definitely inspirations for Magrunner, but we had to go our own direction. As much as people might be hoping that we've created some kind of Portal 3 or something similar, Magrunner took on a life of it's own and ultimately forged its own identity, story, and universe. That, I think, is part of what makes Magrunner such a unique game and I hope players agree later this month.
Magrunner: Dark Pulse is set to manifest on various formats at the end of June.