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Sir, You Are Being Hunted Alpha Opens 19th August

The Monocle Wars

EXCITING DISCLAIMER: Sir, You Are Being Hunted is a game made by Big Robot, a small studio which I help run. I am also a founder and editor of this website. Had to mention that. Just so you know.

Anyway! I was just thinking that I should probably mention the release date of the PC game I am working on, on the PC games website I work for. That just seems to link up somehow. So here we go: it'll be available to download and play on Humble Store and Steam on the 19th of August. Holy crap that is soon! It's an 'alpha' though, so it still has a few months to go before completion, as we're only about half way through implementing all the robots that hunt you, and have two more biomes to set up. There may be minor glitches, too, but on the whole we're really rather pleased with it.

You can be hunted, you can be horribly murdered by robots, you can drink tea, and you can escape from the islands. It works. And I think it's beautiful.

Just in case you've not been following my witterings about the project, let me tell you a bit more about it, below.

The Game

Sir, You Are Being Hunted is a procedurally-generated stealth and survival game set in a British landscape. You are a human being, either Sir or Madam, and you are being hunted by the well-dressed robot inhabitants of the archipelago you find yourself in. The aim is to rebuild the strange device that brought you to this sinister dimension, and escape. But the robots have no intention of letting you do that. The whole thing is brought to you with a wry smile, but our playtesters all tell us it's completely terrifying too, which was the idea.

The moment-to-moment game is about fleeing from robots, hiding in bushes and long grass, scavenging for tea and biscuits in the abandoned villages, watching out for patrols, dogs and sentry balloons. You can stealth it all, or you can fight back with stolen weapons. It's a wide-open sandbox, and from the very first moments you can go wherever you pleased on the five island archipelago. Freedom is key.

The Handsome Developers

What's most exciting about all this for us is that it is proof of concept of some ideas that really excite us as a development team. There are only two full-time members of the Big Robot team: James Carey and Tom Betts, and they both have extremely potent visions of what they want games to be. Both of those visions are realised in Sir.

James' vision of games comes from an ardent simulationist background. It's telling that he worked for Bohemia and The Creative Assembly, two distinctly PC game developers that like to do big, heavily simulated systems for their games. His vision of games has meant that Sir is a huge sandbox with lots of moving parts: there are dozens of systems in there which work with and against each other, particularly in the AI, and getting that stuff conceived and produced has been one of his main accomplishments on the project. He has an uncanny ability to map out design consequences in his head, and has worked hard to keep us faithful to our philosophy of freedom and simulation. We want the world to run by itself, unscripted, and for events to emerge organically from that. James' design work has been crucial to that. Given the small size of the team, it's helped that he seems to have almost supernatural amounts of energy to apply to any given problem. All indie dev teams should get themselves a James.

Tom meanwhile has handled the bulk of the programming work and is responsible for building 'The British Countryside Generator', which is the procedural system we've bolted into our development platform – Unity – to create large, randomised chunks of British landscape. Tom has talked in detail about this elsewhere, but essentially it's thanks to his interest in letting the mathematics do the work that means that all of our level design is automated. He's spent the past few years focused on procedural creation of levels (and even built himself a procedural Wipeout-style racing game in his spare time) and has consequently become quite the expert in applying these systems within a game framework. When you start a game of Sir it generates a densely detailed and meticulously balanced 5km archipelago in a couple of minutes. Once that process is complete, everything in the game is ready to go. That's all down to Tom.

And where do I fit in? Well, I've been working all my spare hours to help to guide the whole thing to fruition. I've been providing James and Tom help with design and production, as well as doing things like writing this essay. With many, many years of writing about games behind me, and endless conversations with Tom and James logged in my headmeat, I've been able to make sure everything coheres, as well as providing the occasional neat design solution or art concept. Mostly importantly, I've been able to work quite precisely with Tom and James, because we've all shared this same vision of a living world in which you are lost, and have been able to follow the implications of that to a complete and engaging game.

What's Happening On August 19th?

On August 19th the game will appear on Humble Store and Steam. Anyone who backed the Kickstarter or pre-ordered will instantly get the game at that point. Anyone who buys the game on Steam or Humble store will get immediate access from that date. They will also get all future updates of the game, of which there will be quite a few.

Right now the game is in an 'alpha' state, which means that it's fully playable and stable, but missing a few intended features. You can play through the game, and right now you face the base level hunter AI, their dogs, their sentry balloons, and also The Squire, which is a large middle-class robot who guards villages. This set of NPCs provides a decent challenge on its own, and you can play through the game to completion against them and have a decent experience, even though we plan to add much more . You can use traps, distractions, and even guns and bombs, to get past them and get the pieces of the device you need to get off the island.

The idea for Sir is that it is entirely replayable. You will generate another archipelago and have an entirely different experience. The landscape will be different, the distribution of items will be different, enemies will be in different places and patrolling different routes. As development continues we'll be exposing more and more tools to you guys so that you can tweak and alter your experience. Plenty of options ship with the game on the 19th, but there are more to come.

What Happens After That?

It's this continued 'live' development phase that we're entering now. While we're quite pleased with the state the game is in, it's by no means finished. We're aiming to add two completely new biomes, or environment sets, one based on the post-industrial north of Britain, and the other a huge procedurally generated castle which will dominate an entire island. We're also introducing some of the NPCs promised in our Kickstarter: the riders (who pursue you relentlessly across the island), the poacher (who invisibly lies in wait with a blunderbuss), and the landowner (a horrendous giant thing which stalks you across the landscape). We've also started making another NPC: the scarecrow. He is pretty much my favourite. More details on him another time.

There are also some systemic updates in the pipeline. We want to introduce a couple of new weapons and toys, and introduce some better equipment handling and controls. We're planning to do a lot more work on the audio – so regard what you hear in there as placeholder! - and there are a few tweaks and additions we'll make to the biomes themselves. We're planning to add a customisation system so that you can change your experience for a repeated playthroughs, and that will also tie in to the planned multiplayer aspect. Instead of a single player versus the islands, we're looking at putting four of you on the same map. Only one person will be able to get off the island, so you'll have to choose how much you want to co-operate with your fellow humans...

So Yeah

So yeah, theres a lot going on. I hope that you guys will come along for the ride, because this is a game we've made to almost entirely suit our own tastes and therefore, by extension, (I hope) the tastes of a majority of RPS readers.

I've personally learned a lot over these past couple of years, too. Like how much work making a game really is. Developers spent the past decade telling me that, and now I can say for certain that they weren't kidding.

Sir, You Are Being Hunted is available to pre-order, and the alpha will go live on Monday 19th August 2013.

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