Michael Westgarth hops to the near future to find out about cyberpunk adventure DEX.
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The fellows at Dreadlocks have been hard at work on their cyberpunk adventure DEX following a very successful Kickstarter campaign. Drawing from the best of cyberpunk media, DEX aims to put players in a living, breathing, dystopian future where huge corporations are constantly at odds with wily hackers. Dreadlocks made their way from the Czech Republic to England last weekend to attend EGX Rezzed. I caught up with DEX's designer and writer Jan Jirkovsky to find out more.
Strategy Informer: Who am I speaking with and what's your role in the development of DEX?
Jan Jirkovsky: I'm the lead designer of DEX and generally we are, like, [a] three man team. It's myself, I'm doing the writing and design, and then there's our artist [Prokop Smetana], who's doing all the art, and one programmer [Michal Cervenka].
And then we have a couple of external freelancers. Karel Antonin who composes the music, then we have a sound guy [Andrej Sinkevic] and an American native speaker [Andrew Wolfendon] who is doing the proof reading. it's not yet in this version - it's not proof read - we're going to do it in the final phase. At this moment he just proof reads all the PR stuff. Yeah, that's it.
Strategy Informer: I just want to say congrats on the successful Kickstarter.
Jan Jirkovsky: Oh, thank you!
Strategy Informer: You've got the funding, but you also aimed to generate a community, and that was one of your goals with Kickstarter. Do you feel you achieved that goal?
Jan Jirkovsky: At the moment the game is in pre-alpha development stage and it's accessible to our Kickstarter backers, and we are getting feedback from them, and it's very motivating. Because there's like six-to-seven hundred people in the early access, and it's very motivating because they are the hardcore fans of the genre, and we are pretty much on the same line, and pretty much the same energy, and it's real nice that the first people who see the game are actually the ones that probably most appreciate the game. So that's great. That gives us power to work and work.
Strategy Informer: And what has the feedback been like?
Jan Jirkovsky: It's been very positive, yeah, there's been some, like, minor stuff with the controls but we're going to fix it. But as to the major, major things, it's very positive so far. So that's nice.
Strategy Informer: So you've gone with hand drawn graphics. What was the thinking behind that decision?
Jan Jirkovsky: It's probably mostly because we wanted to create a living world, [an] authentic world, like, we are real fans of William Gibson, especially Neuromancer, and with pixel based graphics, or something like that, it wouldn't be possible. There would be focus on the platforming, or something like that, but we wanted a bit of a platformer, a bit of a brawler game-- but the main, like, premise is a story driven game which immerses you in the cyberpunk city Harbor Prime 25 years from now. There are slums, there are drugs, so yeah, it has to be, like, everything there is in cyber punk novels – in a small, small scale – but it should be there.
Strategy Informer: And I noticed you have dialogue choices when you speak to NPCs. By how much does that influence the story?
Jan Jirkovsky: It changes the story in minor ways, like, you can finish the missions in different ways, like stealth or combat and hacking. And also, with the NPCs, there's slight differences with the choices you make, and generally the main storyline is branching on several points.
Strategy Informer: I read that DEX's side missions expand on the story i.e. aren't fetch quests. Is that right?
Jan Jirkovsky: Ahh, well, with the pre-alpha it's actually just the fetch quests...
Strategy Informer: But the idea in the future...
Jan Jirkovsky: But the main idea is that-- okay, there is like a third fold division: there's the main story line, which is mostly linear with several branching points, then there are side quests, which are you just finding an NPC in the city and it gives you a side quest, and then there is the third – which I think for hardcore gamers and for explorers would be the most interesting – and that is you find something in the city and you try and figure out what to do with it. It may be an environmental obstacle, it might be some parkour, jumping over the rooftops, and you find some zen master. And there is a lot of these-- they're not easter eggs, they're actually like-- we consider them part of the gameplay, but like a reward. Instead of rewarding the player for exploring by giving them just a hundred experience points to reach a certain area, we reward them with something other players might not see. It's like a reward for the ones who are thorough – who explore in detail.
Strategy Informer: Can you explain how hacking works with DEX's gamplay?
Jan Jirkovsky: Generally there is the physical reality, and on the opposite there's the cyberspace, and in between it's the augmented reality. Most of the game takes place in the physical reality, the combat and the adventuring stuff. Then there's the cyberspace, and it's mostly for the story. In cyberspace there is a a bit of action, but it's mostly about getting to some artificial intelligence somewhere in the cyberspace, and it's just a story NPC which talks with you and you can make some choices. Then there is the augmented reality, which is for the hacking.
We didn't want to use a hacking mini-game – like connecting pipes and stuff – we wanted to make something which is more immersive. Generally how it works – right now it's now in the pre-alpha, we had to cut it for the festival [EGX Rezzed] because it's not yet polished – but it's mainly that you can use skills-- it's very similar to old Neuromancer games and old Shadowrun games. It's like, Sega... 1988, I think. Yeah, it's generally, like, you switch to the augmented reality mode and it's like an overlay on each map, and-- when it's some abandoned streets there are not many obstacles, i.e. not many anti-viruses, not many firewalls, but in some corporate headquarters it may actually be much easier to just hack two cameras and finish the whole map in the physical reality because it's heavily protected.
Strategy Informer: And I read that you're going for a “mature” storyline. In what way is it mature? Is it violent, political, philosophical?
Jan Jirkovsky: I would say it's not-- we don't talk about themes that would be interesting for really young players. It's not about that. We don't, like-- there's not much prostitution, or sex, or drugs, just-- it's a bit like Fallout as to the rating and stuff. Like, there are stimpaks for HP restoration, but it's not a porn game or whatever.
It's mainly because I think the topics and themes would appeal to mature audiences in the same way as cyberpunk novels are for mostly mature audiences. I think most of the cyberpunk stuff is, like, for 16-17 years olds and above-- you know, people start reading it as soon as-- I'm not speaking about rating, but it's an interesting topic for mature gamers.
Strategy Informer: You're developing DEX for the OUYA?
Jan Jirkovsky: Yes, it's one of the platforms.
Strategy Informer: What's your experience been with developing for the OUYA?
Jan Jirkovsky: We use it as a kind of, well, it's the most accessible console right now and we can fine tune the controls and everything, and it's like that. Also, it's good because it's not that big a market and we're gonna release it [on the OUYA] first, and we're gonna get feedback from, lets say, several thousands of people on the OUYA, and that can help us to adjust for the future. I think it's very indie friendly, it's very open, and it's just the most accessible console.
Strategy Informer: And are you also planning to develop DEX for the Wii U?
Jan Jirkovsky: Ahuh.
Strategy Informer: And have you started the Wii U version yet?
Jan Jirkovsky: A bit. We have the complete design and the controls, like, the plans [for] what to do with the touchscreen and stuff, and we are in the process of acquiring the licence from Nintendo, the devkit and stuff, but we [aren't] developing it right now. But on the other hand, we make the game in Unity 3D, so it's mostly about legal stuff, and once we have the gamepad controls-- the game is suited to it, it's' actually pretty easy.
Right now we have Windows and Linux versions, Mac is coming to our Kickstarter backers next week and generally just-- once we have the gamepad controls, and as long as it's multiplatform, the Wii U version is mostly about license and the support for the touchscreen.
Strategy Informer: Since Strategy Informer readers mostly play on PC, is the PC version of DEX different in any way, or is it basically the same between all platforms?
Jan Jirkovsky: It will be a different build of the game, but it's 99% the same.
We allow gamepad support with the PC-- it's also coming out next week with the Mac-- the Mac build with gamepad support, so you can actually plug in the gamepad.
Right now with the pre-alpha there's not that much action, it's more adventuring, but later on-- the gamepad is very good for the combat system. We have the prototype at our office, but not here, but the combat is very, very suited to the gamepad controls. But for PC-- I'm a pc gamer originally, so it's gonna be-- it's gonna work well on both.
Strategy Informer: And when is a full version of DEX due for release?
Jan Jirkovsky: We want to release the game by the end of 2014.
Many thanks to Jan for stepping aside from the craziness that is EGX Rezzed to speak with us. It's not out yet, but when it launches DEX will fill a niche that has been left barren by developers for years. From what we've seen at EGX Rezzed, DEX is quickly shaping up to be the sidescrolling cyberpunk adventure many fans of the genre have been craving.