December 19, 2013 3:00 AM | Lena LeRay
Angry Engineers Entertainment is working on their first big project together, Centration. They're aiming high, too, trying to create a game in which players inhabit space station environments that are highly interactive but also require player management and fixing to remain safe for humans to live in. They want to top that off by making it multiplayer, both on their servers and on private ones, and giving players the means to use the environment against each other if they so desire. If you've ever fantasized about playing a part in a sci-fi epic set in deep space, it's worth hearing what the devs have to say.
Centration is currently in alpha, and Angry Engineers is running an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for continuing development of the project in addition to taking pre-orders on their own site. Their Indiegogo pitch is not the most clearly written, but Angry Engineers co-owner Aaron Challis has answered some questions for us that shed some light on the direction they plan to take the game.
Your Indiegogo pitch calls Centration a first-person survival horror sandbox, but it also talks about rounds/shifts and missions. When I think of a survival sandbox, I don't think of time limits on gameplay. Can you tell me how a round of play goes, exactly, and what goes into it?
We call it a sandbox survival game because it's essentially surviving on board in a space station with simulated airflow, electricity, and realistic behaviours for everything. There are no gameplay limitations, only nudges and guidance. A round or "shift" in Centration essentially consists of three main parts, which are only guidelines to enjoy the round mode or plot. However, players can opt to play a no-plot round.
[In] the beginning, everyone settles down and figures out who's who and what their role is in all this madness. Then there's the middle, which is where the protagonist (whomever that may be; it could be a gameplay chosen protagonist or it could be just some player who's decided to do something crazy/stupid) makes himself, his intentions, or the fact that he exists known. The end of the round is usually the most chaotic -- many parts of the space station at this point are destroyed, damaged, or otherwise not working. A lot of the players have probably already died off or are hiding or off doing their own devious things, and the protagonist is usually coming to the culmination of his or her plans. That's the basics behind how a shift works in Centration. However, in the future we plan on expanding the concept into an MMO-style persistent sandbox environment.
You plan to have character leveling in the game, which implies some sort of experience point/skill up system, but what about playing successive rounds with the same people? Will players be able to set up a sort of campaign-style game with multiple rounds?
As I briefly mentioned previously, we actually plan in the future to expand the concept of Centration into an MMO-style persistent environment. This will take the shift-based system and replace it with a persistent gameplay type, where players will train and acquire skills over various sessions working for the same crew. We plan on making each "space station" (or server in real world terms) interact with each other with the ability to send players for visits (or raids), trade, and participation in a global player-controlled economy by producing, consuming, and gathering materials.
Your pitch talks about rounds lasting anywhere from 5 minutes to several hours. Will players be able to set a time limit if they wish?
Every server can set a time limit for the game, which dictates when the player's "shift" ends and the round is over. This is recommended but not a requirement, as server hosts can opt to just let the games play out until everyone is dead or the protagonist gets his wicked way.
Will there be a single player mode at all?
Centration is primarily an online-multiplayer game, [though] we do not plan on including any type of forced DRM. The only requirement is that they at least once authenticate with their accounts to prove their ownership of the game, after which they are more than welcome to stay offline and play LAN-games until the world ends. There will be offline-training and a 'sandbox' gameplay mode at release, and in the future we do plan on introducing some story-driven single-player/coop campaign episodes.
It sounds like you plan on having a very interactive environment. Will players be able to sabotage the station?
Yes, almost every part of the environment will be interactive in some way, you can pull up the floor tiles, rip the walls apart, destroy entire sections and even repair and rebuild them. Home-made bombs, traps, and sabotage are all a core requirement!
If everything is potentially a weapon, how do you intend to make them more than just bludgeons and projectiles?
The ability to combine items in certain creative ways, with constant updates and content additions... by release we intend to have well over a few hundred thousand ways to kill someone. There's the obvious bludgeoning with objects, then you can get a little bit creative by attaching, say, a shoe to the end of a pipe for that extra bit of reach and humour. Moving on from boring blunt-force trauma, however, the environment is your weapon. Reprogram airlocks to open and decompress once your target goes near them, pump poison gas into your co-worker's science lab, hook up a pressure-plate under a floor tile with an air-horn (or bomb, that works too)... the possibilities will only grow with our community's demands and wishes.
Part of the Centration pitch calls it a psychological game. Will the psychological effects come mostly from the environment or mostly from player interactions?
Both, almost equally. The environment is naturally a big psychological factor here. You're in space, surrounded by cold nothingness that'll kill you within 2 minutes and severely injure you within seconds. Things will break, things will explode, and there's almost nothing you can do to prevent that from happening at times. That's a big psychological weight. Interacting with other players could have the usual enraging effects that most online multiplayer interactions do, but with the environment in question, the gameplay, and all of the other players that could be out to get you, your mind will start to play tricks on you... was that a shadow around that corner? Who made that noise? Why does she have that bone-saw?
It sounds like the game has the potential for people to troll, since you give players the choice of doing their assigned jobs seriously or goofing off. Would you consider that a feature or a potential issue?
It's a feature. We want to give the players and servers a full compliment of tools to be as serious or as relaxed as they wish. If a server wants to go in for the hardcore role-playing, they've got the tools to enforce that, but at the same time, other servers can just let everyone join in and have as much crazy destructive fun as they want. That, along with an online black-flag list where server hosts can choose to flag potential players [for] other players [to] vote on [that] servers can choose to use or ignore, means that the community will be able to (with guidance) police their trolls.
What games or other media besides Space Station 13 have influenced the design of Centration?
When designing Centration, I was very big into sci-fi. I read books such as Ender's Game, watched movies like Star-Trek, Star-Wars, all the usual sci-fi fan fare. Big inspirations that go into our design include Stargate SG-1/Atlantis, Ender's Game, I, Robot, Blade Runner, and the Fifth Element. A lot of the environments, military structuring, social-equality and corporate global ownerships in those back stories played quite a large part of the design process.
What games would you compare Centration to and how is it different from them?
The closest games we could think of would be Space Engineers and Space Station 13. We differ from the former in that we're taking a more immersive approach to the social constructs of crewing a space station and the potentially destructive results that could yield, and Centration differs from the latter by taking a much more realistic, grime-grunge approach to the look and feel, along with expressing what I had hoped Space Station 13 could turn into at some point.