The Surge is the latest effort from Lords of the Fallen co-developers Deck13. With a novel dystopian sci-fi setting and a prominent hardcore hack and slash vibe, The Surge is a bold step forward for the German developers. We sat down with Deck13’s Managing Director Jan Klose to talk about their ambitions with the title leading up to its May release.
Do You Even Game Bro?: So the last time we spoke was about a year ago. Has anything major happened in terms of development since then, or is it a series of small tweaks getting to the final product?
Jan Klose: Oh what a wonderful thought, having a year to tweak a game… especially when you have about two years to bring it from zero content to release! I think there’s about two companies worldwide that can afford such a luxury. We’ve been working full steam with the complete team for the last year, so now we feel rather exhausted but also we have the strong feeling that we’ve accomplished something.
DYEGB: You’ve mentioned before that The Surge is one of Deck13’s most ambitious titles. What sort of man/womanpower do you have behind you and how does that compare to Lords of the Fallen and Venetica?
JK: Our internal team is around 60 people strong, and that amount is easily doubled by our outsourcing support. That’s more than we had for Lords of the Fallen, especially because we now had the opportunity of having a large team ready to go when we started the game. With Lords, and with Venetica too, we had a rather long ramp-up time where we got a lot of new people every month which of course distracts from the actual development and also it means that we had a smaller workforce in the early months for those titles.
DYEGB: The sci-fi setting is interesting and hasn’t been done before in a game of this ilk. Are there any games/films/literature that inspired The Surge’s setting that might indicate the sort of tone you’re striving for?
JK: A lot, and actually a bit of everything. We started off as fans of movies like Elysium and Edge of Tomorrow but we’re also Cyberpunk fans and some staff read a lot of sci-fi literature. Not to mention the Alien movies. And mangas like Akira and Ghost in the Shell. Plus a lot of different games. As I said, there’s a bit of everything in there!
DYEGB: The world you’ve built seems like it has more than one story to tell. Do you hope that The Surge can be become a series, or is it designed around the singular story?
JK: We’d certainly love to make it a series. But, as always, that strongly depends on the success of the first part.
DYEGB: Will The Surge leverage the extra power of the PS4 Pro and upcoming Scorpio and if so in what ways (HDR, 4K etc.)? How do you feel about mid-gen upgrades in general?
JK: I really don’t know if I like mid-gen upgrades or not, and I’m very curious to see how that plays out. From a developer’s point of view it’s not bad because you can continue to work on the platform that you already know well, so your risks are lower and you can learn from your experience and generate better effects and performance. Whether it’s good for sales and for console life cycles in general, that I’m not so sure about.
In any case, The Surge does support those new consoles in a number of ways but I can’t go into all the details yet because some haven’t been officially confirmed. But we’re looking into all of them, be it more resolution, a higher framerate, or HDR.
DYEGB: Lords of the Fallen had a class system where you were locked in at the start to a certain magic type which couldn’t be changed. Will there be more player freedom to create builds this time around?
JK: In fact we have a very flexible character building system this time. Apart from weapons and armor which you can freely mix and match (and none of them are bound to classes), we have the Implants system which is basically a microchip that you implant into your Exo rig which grants you special abilities, so they’re our new take on a skill system. You only have so many Implant slots you can fill in an Exo rig (which is upgradeable though). So you need to decide which Implants to use at any given time. You can take them out and swap them for new ones, so you can actually re-skill your character to adapt to critical situations in the game (e.g. a boss fight or new environmental hazards).
DYEGB: I noticed in the latest vid that enemies have a blue bar over their head in addition to their health bar. What does this signify?
JK: We’re still experimenting with the UI for enemies, I’m not sure that we’re still showing a blue bar right now. By the way, the information you get about enemies is also connected with the types of Implants that you have equipped.
DYEGB: It seems one can’t go far in gaming these days without encountering DLC and Season Passes and the like. Do you already have plans in the works for DLC or do you plan to leave it all out there with the initial release and worry about DLC later?
JK: Right now we’re focusing on the main game but I’m sure that there will be some extra content available at some point.
DYEGB: In terms of weapon class proficiencies that were shown to a small extent in the extended gameplay vid, what is the effect of levelling these up? Does increasing a level just increase the stats of weapons in that class or are there other perks? Are there weapon rarities within the classes? How many weapon classes can we expect?
JK: There are different ways to improve your weapon abilities. First of all there’s the weapon proficiency that you mentioned: The longer you use a weapon of a specific class, the better you get at it, giving you more attack force. Also, you can level up weapons by collecting corresponding “tech scrap” and using a crafting station to bring your weapon to a new level. This can improve your weapon in a variety of ways. And finally, you can use Implants to use perks with your weapon. As for weapon classes, we have five base classes and a lot of weapons that offer different behavior if you use them in the right way, we consider those “sub classes”.
DYEGB: Games like Nioh show that the hardcore action-RPG genre seems to be opening up and becoming less about just comparing everything to Dark Souls. What drew you to create games in this space? What’s your favourite game in this genre?
JK: Actually we saw “Lords of the Fallen” as a modern version of our game “Venetica” where you were already able to lock onto enemies, dodge their attacks, perform combos, and where the shape and weight of the weapon already had a strong impact on your fighting style. The biggest difference was the stronger focus on tactical fighting, and from the “souls-like” games we took the difficulty level that we loved and embraced, having grown up with tougher games. We do have a lot of Souls fans in the company but I think everyone has a different favourite. I’m currently playing Bloodborne, and I like it much, and hate it much, and like it much.
DYEGB: Will The Surge be open-ended or is it like LotF in that once you finish it you are straight into NG+?
JK: Well, there’s NG+ and there’s an end to the story of The Surge, so I guess it’s more the latter.
DYEGB: Are there any stealth options where I can get the drop on the enemy by sneaking or attacking from above?
JK: Yes, there are lots of them. An attentive player has a lot of advantages. You can use your environment, your position, and of course the behaviour of your enemy to start a battle out of a favourable position.
DYEGB: You mention that the vertical and horizontal attacks are used in order to target limbs. How exactly does this work? Can arms only be targeted with horizontal strikes for instance? I see you have to perform a finisher to sever the limb, does it always sever the targeted limb?
JK: Yes, we have these on two different buttons, so you can quickly perform a horizontal or a vertical strike. It’s basically about the shape and position of your enemies and the way they attack. There’s not that one attack for that one enemies. It’s about combining horizontal and vertical strikes at the right moment. Drones, for example, might hover above a horizontal strike but have almost no chance to escape a vertical blow, but you need to combine both to quickly defeat that enemy.
DYEGB: Just by-the-by, are you aware of the Australian saying ‘Not happy, Jan’? If not, you’re welcome.
JK: No worries, mate!
The Surge releases May 16th for PS4, Xbox One and PC. We’ll update you with anything we hear about the title in the meantime. Big thanks to Jan Klose for taking the time to answer our questions about The Surge, there’s a few of us at the office that are deadly keen on this one.