In the last part, we met Caracal Games Studio, the Italian indie team behind post-apocalyptic parkour adventure Downward.
Now it’s time for more new details, lifting the lid on Downward’s mysterious biblical-inspired world and Unreal 4 powered gameplay.
OUT OF THIS WORLD[divider type=”thin”]
Set in an alternate history, Downward’s world diverged from ours in around AD 1000. Drawing inspiration from the juxtaposition of the familiar and fantastical in fantasy and sci-fi art, Caracal Games Studio aim to create an ethereal and interesting word for players to explore.
“Downward is an ambitious indie project, developed around parkour mechanics,” they say. “You leap around in a post-apocalyptic alternate-middle ages universe: what could be better?”
“It’s inspired by our younger years as gamers, so we’re trying to make Downward a really old school game, that’s both difficult and rewarding,” they continue. “In the videogame world, one big reference for us would be Prince of Persia, from 1989 onward. Outside of videogames, we’re looking at the unreachable masterpieces of Frank Frazetta and Roger Dean, who’re both brilliant artists that produce absolutely majestic paintings.
“With regard to the structures in the world and the different types of architecture, we’re building on the experience of our designer, who’s approaching the end of his studies in the field of archaeology.”
Downward’s experienced from a first person perspective, which Caracal hope will give players a better view of the environments they’re trying to pack with as many layers as possible. History and lore are central to the world that Caracal are trying to build, which brings together elements of many classical cultures with original ideas.
“In Downward, the narrative is developed in two levels,” they explain. “On the surface we have a basic set of events, which involve the protagonist and make up the essential storyline that’s necessary to enjoy the game. Then in side-quests and optional puzzles, you’ll find a lot of deep, complex and interrelated events and pieces of extra information, which complete the puzzle help to solve all of Downward’s mysteries.
“In Downward we don’t feature the geographical Est, but its mythical counterpart. Around the year AD 1000, in the territories of the old Roman Empire, there wasn’t much reliable information about the many different regions and cultures around the world. Fueled by fear, superstition and curiosity, the public’s collective imagination transformed these unexplored territories in a series of fantastic lands, with otherworldly landscapes and the strangest monsters and creatures possible. You can still see this depicted in the beautiful Christian churches of that period. Our protagonist will emerge from this mist of reality and fiction, and his actions will have strong repercussions on the world of Downward.”
They continue: “Some of [the characters] have been borrowed from history, some from the Bible and some are the product of our imagination. Our policy is that we prefer to focus on a smaller number of core characters and give them real depth, following the example of the Dark Souls series. The actual number of NPCs in the game depends heavily on the number of secondary missions and puzzles that we’ll be able to insert into the final game.”
Downward’s Est is an open-world which Caracal Games are hoping to build with enough variety to encourage players to discover for themselves, with a number of planned distractions and diversions aiming to keep the gameplay fresh and involving, building on the tried-and-tested exploration formula by building interactivity into Downward at every stage.
“The world’s composed of a central area, from which you’ll have access to the other, sometimes interconnected, secondary zones,” they say. “We’re putting a lot of emphasis on the different environments and landscapes we’re developing. Without having to rely on fantasy, there’re incredible scenes and landscapes out there on Earth that haven’t been used before and are just waiting to be used in something like this.
“We want to add lots of different activities that aren’t necessary for progressing in the main story. Some will help you discover new details and the world’s secrets, some are just for fun. At the moment, we’re planning on adding time-based challenges, mount sections and other mini-games, but we’re keeping quiet about them right now.”
FIRST PERSON PARKOUR[divider type=”thin”]
A first-person parkour game is always going to draw comparisons with EA’s Mirror’s Edge, but Caracal feel that Downward’s pace and feel will set it apart from competitors.
“In Downward we alternate between platform or parkour moments and exploration, collecting items, solving puzzles and engaging in dialogues with the NPCs,” they explain. “Since so many details are still being discussed, at this moment we can’t provide much more than we’ve already shown. The quality of the parkour mechanics is one of our major concerns; all we can say is that we’re working hard to make it the best it can be.
“With regard to Mirror’s Edge, we want to clarify that, even if some parkour mechanics are similar, Downward’s reflective and contemplative spirit will contrast with Mirror’s Edge’ action and dynamism, so it’ll be very different.”
Caracal are aiming for around 10 hours of gameplay in Downward, and are committed to delivering a worthwhile experience without unnecessary padding. Downward tries to engage the player with challenge, choosing to foreground fewer, more complex tasks, rather than lots of easy ones.
“Our 10 hour estimate is based on the average ability of a standard player,” they say. “The longevity of the game will rely a lot on the diversity of the different environments. Also, as we said before, unlike many games of the current and past generations, Downward’s parkour mechanics will be difficult, and will require some observation and analysis in order to be cleared.
“The protagonist will fail and die quite often, actually; at least until the player familiarises themselves with Downward’s dynamics. The main storyline isn’t divided into missions, but unrolls naturally as you unlock and discover new areas. In every moment of the story, we’ll have side missions and things you can do, but we won’t have a Skyrim-esque ‘quest journal’.”
All of this is made possible by Unreal 4. Epic’s engine has been a revelation for indie devs, and Caracal felt it was the best choice to give Downward a unique and eye-catching look, as well as solid core mechanics.
“We believe that Epic Game’s policy towards independent developers is the most successful of the options available on the market; more so than its competitors. Epic are attentive to the needs and objectives of independent developers, providing them with a great variety of customizable tools. At the same time, the Unreal Engine 4 is extremely versatile and can be used to develop games for all budget levels, from simple projects to AAA games.”
“Our objective is to completely immerse the player in the environment, which is made possible by levels that’re interesting and awe-inspiring, but at the same time, practical and natural-looking. To build the most interesting levels possible, we follow a two-step procedure, developed by our designer. For starters, we decide what environment we want to create. Then, we define what natural characteristics of that environment we can use to develop parkour mechanics and the other puzzles, and we build on our basic idea from there.”
Downward is slated for a Winter 2016 release on PC, with Mac and Linux versions soon after. There’re no plans for console, and even though they’re open to the possibility, Caracal aren’t focussing on porting Downward before it’s finished. The team are aiming high with their first project, and want to deliver something with the quality they believe Downward deserves.
Summing everything up, they say: “At this point in our lives, Downward is our absolute priority. We’re pouring our blood and soul into this project. For us it’s more than a game and more than work: we see it as a challenge.”