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RPS Interview: Love

Following on from the recent trailer, I decided to see if one-man-studio Eskil Steenberg would answer a few more questions about his city-building MMOFPS. Below we find out a little more about what we can expect from his strange indie project.

Jim: So, my first question is about the visual style of Love. Was it something you envisioned, or did it come about via experimentation?

Eskil: I had an original vision, but it has taken a lot of experimentation. Being a graphics programmer means that I never really stop tweaking it and testing new things.The graphics look has already moved on a bit from the trailer, even. I have clear inspirations, like Craig Mullins, Syd Mead, and Ralph McQuarrie.

Jim: So how close is what we see now to your original idea?

Eskil: I would say fairly close. There are things I want, or wanted to do that I won't do because of performance considerations. Making a good looking game is much easier when you have system specs like a game like Crysis has. When you are making a game that can run on a cheep laptop, you really need to think about how you conserve cycles.

Jim: Does it surprise you that so few developers opt for more abstract, painterly visual styles?

Eskil: Yes and no. I would say that it surprises me that fewer game developers aren't trying to develop games that don't require huge amount of graphical assets. Making it stylized is not just about standing out, its also about saving time. Having said that, any game you make should clear the "flick through a magazine" test. When you flick through a magazine you should instantly recognize the game and it should stand out from all other screen shots.

Jim: Are there any games you've taken particular inspiration from for the visuals in Love?

Eskil: Not really, but rather the opposite. I want it NOT look like a game. Most games today have highly-detailed surfaces, with textures and bumpmaps, but straight edges. So I made my edges non-straight and my surfaces flat.

Jim: Okay, let's talk about what players are going to get up to in the world a little more. Some people who read my initial account of you showing me the game were surprised to see combat in the trailer - is that fair? Should they have expected to see something else? I was expecting to see combat, but I think from the name of the game people were expecting it to be more about building, peaceful activities etc.

Eskil: I cant speak for expectations, but my idea has always been to make an adventure game, and part of that will be combat. My feeling is that a specific type of combat in games have disappeared.
Early games like Doom and Quake, although first person shooters, have in many ways more in common with 2D scrolling shooters then with modern games like Gears of War, or COD4. So in a way I wanted to get back to that. Talking about the trailer, its also about showing something that is true to what i have at the moment and not try to fake something that I may create in the future. I want to do may things with LOVE in the future, but I don't want hype things that I haven't done yet.

Jim: So what sort of activities does the current build of the game support?

Eskil: Right now you build and explore, and get in to some combat. The building system can do a lot cool things, but it doesn't lend itself too well to being in a trailer. Like how do you make a trailer for a game that has a amazing inventory system, or where over a long period things slowly evolve? Many very good games don't make for very good trailers. So you show what can be shown, and you just hope that over time once the game is out people will discover and appreciate the other stuff.

Jim: Can you tell me a little bit about your plans for exploration? I love worlds that I can explore, how will that work in Love?

Eskil: First of all, you have this wonderful world that is just fun to explore, but beyond just looking at the land scape there will be many things to find. You will among other things find powerwells that can be directed at power reflectors that can beam energy in to your city, or you can find teleporters that will let you fast travel to different parts of the world. Then you will find cities and dungeons where you will find valuable objects that can be used in the building of your city.

Jim: And you'll encounter monsters/enemies?

Eskil: Yes there will be different types of enemies, either protecting an area, or roaming around. Right now though I am in a "clean up phase" where all code in the game is being cleaned up and bugs are squashed. The main effort after that is generating more things in the world to find, such as enemies.

Jim: can you tell me a little about the player cities? Do you build them up from nothing? What happens in them?

Eskil: You build them up from nothing, [as seen with the walls raised from the ground in the trailer] and you can build them where ever you want. The main use for the city is to store the things you have found while exploring. You could say its a communal inventory that players share. One of the most interesting things about the building mechanics is how you can configure things. In the world early on you will find a radio that will let you communicate over chat in one of 250 channels. These can be picked up all over the world. This lets people communicate with each other, but it also lets players communicate with machines. So you can for instance rig a bomb outside the gate of your city, and then set that to a specific frequency and a specific key word. Now if you chat this specific key work in to that channel you will set of the bomb.

Jim: Ok!

This lets you remote control objects. But there are also objects that can broadcast on channels, so rather then standing around waiting to trigger the bomb, you can set a sensor next to it and tell it to broadcast the key word when an enemy approaches. You can even set the keyword to the name of a specific enemy to only set of the bomb for the right target. The system of radio messages, is used by many things the players can build like doors, elevators, radars, turrets and so on. So players can build some pretty interesting defence systems. Once you start to learn this system you will notice that the enemy uses the same system, so that means you can analyse it to try to figure out how you can trick it, by for instance intercepting their radio messages. You may understand that you need to trick a sensor to open a door, or cut the power-supply to kill a turret.

Jim: So a kind of electronic counter-measures plus city siege system?

Eskil: Yes. The idea is that everything that the player can find in the world, follows some simple rules, and are mostly things you can build yourself. If players are going to be truly immersed in the world they need to be able to understand it. A door wont just open because the game designer scripted it to do so, you will be able to find the mechanics in the world that caused the door to open.

Jim: Okay, let's wrap up with two final questions. First: how do you feel about the response to the trailer?

Eskil: It's been very good. There are naysayers, but there always are. I'm somewhat surprised about the talk of "HYPE", since I don't feel I have tried very hard to hype the game and that I keep writing on my blog about how I'm not yet convinced it will turn out good.

Jim: No, don't worry, the hype is all me. I'm such a ludicrous demagogue, I must be stopped.

Eskil: Okay, then I know where it comes from!

Jim: Finally, one of the IGF judges asked me if I thought you were going to enter Love to the IGF competition, and I said it seemed unlikely - how would the judges be able to judge an MMO? Is that the case?

Eskil: I actually spoke to them briefly. I'm big fan of them. But: First of all their rules aren't set up for my type of game, and entering costs money and time, both of which I have very little of. Second, I'm not sure I need more hype, and frankly I'm afraid I might damage what is so good about IGF. The IGF is about creativity, not about making something epic with cool graphics. I would hate it if the indie scene started trying to make "the next LOVE" - that's not the point of IGF, the point is to make fun games, and there is nothing that says my game will be more fun then a 2D IGF game. Making a big graphically-intensive 3D game is missing the point of indie games, and people shouldn't miss that point just because I have. Maybe that makes me sound like jerk for thinking I would have any influence over the IGF people, and hopefully I wont, but I just don want to risk it.

Jim: Okay, interesting stuff. Eskil, thanks a lot for talking to me.

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Jim Rossignol