At PAX East 2020, OnlySP had the opportunity to sit down with Erwin LeCun from Ape Tribe Games to discuss Disjunction. We talked about other games that influenced the title, as well as his experiences growing in New York City.
OnlySP: Were there any games that influenced Disjunction? I definitely see a Hotline Miami influence here. The game also reminded me of Deus Ex and Metal Gear Solid.
LeCun: Those are definitely the big ones. There are also games like Gunvolt. In terms of the story, we’re inspired by a lot of classic RPGs like Fallout or Baldur’s Gate, games that have dialogue choices and narrative choices. We also love Shadowrun, as an example, for the aesthetic and RPGs elements.
OnlySP: So you guys released an alpha for Disjunction a while ago. When compared to this demo at PAX East 2020, what kind of feedback did you implement and how has the game changed since?
LeCun: The game has changed significantly. Back when we released the alpha demo on our website, we didn’t have a publisher. Since we signed, it’s given us a lot of freedom to make the game bigger and better. We revamped most of our art. All of our environment and animations have gotten much better since last time. In terms of mechanics, all of our abilities used to have quantities, and you can run out. It didn’t feel fun at the time, so we replaced it with an energy system. You can pick up energy between levels. It’s mostly the scope of the game that has increased since last time and the way it looks.
OnlySP: What were the inspirations behind your three protagonists? I noticed that they were all distinctively different from each other. You have Frank, a detective, you have Joe, who’s an black ex-con, as well as Zhi Zhu, an Asian hacker. With NY being as diverse as it is, it wouldn’t be surprising to see those types of characters in a cyberpunk setting.
LeCun: We knew that we wanted the game to be in New York because that’s where we’re from. For a cyberpunk setting, it’s cool to set it in cities. You have big urban landscapes. New York is a very diverse place, so we thought it was important to have representation in our game. It fits the setting very well and it’s good to have characters that are noticeably different from each other, both narratively and physically. They have different personalities and backstories. Their mechanics are very different and the way they look is different. It’s important for gameplay as well as narration. You can tell at a glance who’s who and what abilities they have that set them apart.
OnlySP: So Disjunction is a cyberpunk version of New York, and you’re from New York! Did your experiences in the city help shape the setting for Disjunction?
LeCun: The setting we invented was definitely inspired by our experiences living in New York. Every project we’ve seen with the city we multiplied it by a thousand in Disjunction. That’s what cyberpunk does! Pollution is a problem in New York, so in Disjunction there’s awful pollution with fog clouds. There’s a homelessness epidemic in New York which is a huge problem. In Disjunction there’s a shanty town where Central Park is currently. Every inequality and problem we see in New York we put in Disjunction and magnified it by a huge factor. We tried to make it dystopian but also grounded in reality that New Yorkers will feel.
OnlySP: Can you tell me the history of how Ape Tribe Games got started?
LeCun: The studio is just me and my two brothers. This is our first game. Before this, we didn’t do anything involving video games. One of us was a lawyer and I worked for the city of New York as a data scientist. Everything here is a brand new experience. One day we all realized that we didn’t like what we were doing. You know, we always wanted to make a game and we weren’t getting any younger. So it was now or never, and we quit our jobs to do this full time.
OnlySP: I want to ask a little bit about you actually. So you’ve worked at other places outside of games, like NYU, and the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development. How did you transition from doing that, and then going into game development?
LeCun: It was hard because it was different. I went from working a pretty normal office job. Now I don’t go outside during work hours and I’m my own boss. Going from a traditional job to being your own boss is super different. It was difficult only because I didn’t know how to make a game three years ago. I kind of just made it up as I went along. I don’t think the transition from normal job to game development wasn’t too difficult, but game development in general is difficult. It was challenging, though, for sure.
OnlySP: So when is Disjunction coming out?
LeCun: The game is slated to come out at the end of the summer.
OnlySP: What’s next for Ape Tribe Studios after Disjunction?
LeCun: There’s nothing concrete yet. We would love to keep making games. We love RPGs where your choices matter and you have player agency. We would love to keep making those types of games!