An Interview With Cyberthreat's Developer on His Upcoming RPG - ArticleAdam Cartwright , posted on 15 November 2017 / 2,155 Views
First brought to my attention via a series of development articles in The Vita Lounge's magazine, Cyberthreat appealed to everything I've loved about Vita gaming - what appeared to be a strong plot and cast of characters, fun turn-based combat, and an interesting world to explore. Yet following this piece I didn't hear much more about the game aside from a few teaser trailers. So I decided to ask the game's developer, Connor McKenna, to tell me more about the project, and fortunately he was more than happy to oblige!
First off, tell me a bit about yourself! Who makes up Cyberthreat's development team and what do you all do?
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to do this! My name is Conor McKenna, and I’m the sole developer of CyberThreat. I do everything from 3D modelling and texturing, to programming and writing. The game has had a lot of freelance contributors for its artwork so far, with most of the artwork coming from freelance artists Rimuu, Rai and Rosuuri. The team is slowly expanding with a newly recruited script editor too, who’s helping to clean up the game’s dialogue script. And of course there’s the large cast of voice actors! I won’t name them here, but they can all be found on the game’s website or IMDB page.
When did you first dream up the idea for Cyberthreat? When did full-scale development begin?
CyberThreat started as just that, a dream. It all started with the idea for EVE’s character, a computer AI that bonds with the party members, and that’s when it started to develop as a modern day RPG. Soon after came the ideas for the rest of the party and location, and most importantly the story! I started working properly on the game towards the end of April 2015, so about 2 and a half years ago now, though a lot of things have been changed or reworked since then.
You've been adamant regarding Vita support ever since the game's inception. What was the reason for this?
Purely personal at first. I’ve always had a soft spot for handhelds, ever since the original Gameboy, and of course with the DS! My favourite type of games are RPGs, from Pokémon when I was younger, to The World Ends With You on DS, and of course Persona and the plethora of handheld RPGs that can be played on the go. I knew that I wanted to target a handheld, and with Sony’s push for Indies at the time I started, I was inspired to bring CyberThreat to my favourite console.
Has that viewpoint wavered at all in light of Sony's public withdrawal of support for the handheld?
Honestly, it never helps to see the manufacturer jumping ship from their own platform, but it hasn’t deterred me overall. There’s a big enough fanbase still playing and keeping the Vita alive, and has been for years now.
Have you any contacts at Sony and have they been encouraging you to bring the game to the platform?
I’ve been in touch, and have been pointed in the proper direction, but no specific Sony cheerleaders so to speak! I’ve been in touch with the big three about porting the game, the trick will be sourcing the funds to be able to publish the game, which I hope will go smoothly whether it’s crowd funding or from other sources.
Vita's fanbase is known for being incredibly vocal on social media and gaming forums. Has this been encouraging for you to keep pushing forward on the platform?
It certainly has, it’s great to have even just a couple of truly passionate fans who are really excited at the knowledge of the port already, and that has probably been the most encouraging for continuing to push for the platform.
You are also very active on social media and seem to regularly take feedback from fans. Has it been difficult taking this on board while continuing to push forward on your vision?
I think developing a game by yourself can be lonely at times, since there’s no one to show your ideas to internally. Twitter always seemed like the ideal platform to share and discuss ideas with others, the sequential nature of tweets certainly added to the appeal as a way of documenting how the game was progressing. I really enjoy being at the stage where I can get feedback from followers, after all I want them to play the game in the end, so tailoring the game within reason to what people really want should help! So far none of this has conflicted with my own vision for the game, and has only actually helped improve things across the board.
Has raising awareness of your game been difficult or have you found coverage on sites like Vita Lounge (where you released a series of development diaries) to be sufficient?
Those development diaries were a lot of fun to write, and I’ll always be grateful to The Vita Lounge for allowing me to feature in their magazine. Admittedly they were really too early in development to really be showing off, but I felt like coverage was necessary from the get go. If you frequent any indie dev forums or groups, there’s always someone asking “How do I market my game?!” or “How do I get people to notice my game?”, so I think that added some pressure early on too to make a name for the game as soon as possible.
Is part of the appeal for launching a game on Vita to service the small but dedicated fanbase that remains active on the console?
Without a doubt, there are games I never would have even looked sideways at myself if not for the vocal community highlighting them in the first place! Games like Danganronpa, or even Persona didn’t seem like my cup of tea at first, but being encouraged to play them turned them into some of my all time favourite games! I’d really love to see that happen for CyberThreat too.
Moving on to the game itself - Cyberthreat seems to take certain cues from Persona. Have you looked at Atlus' franchise for inspiration?
Definitely, though I’d like to try branch out away from the way Persona does things going forward as much as I can. The game actually began as a Persona fan game, since I was actually part of a small P3/4 modding community at the time, where I planned to use what I learned to make a small Unity project. That Persona mindset has lingered since, and it’s something that I’d like to shake, even just a little bit. Really there’s inspiration taken from all over in varying degrees, from Stein’s;Gate, to Nier Automata. I can see while developing it that it’s taking on an identity of its own, I just need to be able to show it off better in future.
The cues taken from Persona in particular would be the Social Link system, Calendar system, and modern day setting in particular. I genuinely believe that CyberThreat’s modern day story actually would suffer without the slice of life aspect, as well as the ability to stretch it out over a year. There’s a big payoff overall after all the constant scattered events throughout.
What steps have you taken to ensure your game stays unique within the genre?
Staying unique can be difficult enough, considering the game is a “genre within a genre”! There are a lot of ways though that CyberThreat stands out in its own way. I think a lot of people will enjoy the game’s premise and setting. The story is totally unique, with characters that haven’t been seen in these sorts of roles before, as well as tackling the topic of cyberbullying in a different way. The way cyberspace and its inhabitants are represented too is a big departure from how other RPGs handle their dungeons and enemies.
Other standout features are included in the battle system, such as the Overdrive system and the Ultra Hacks. The Overdrive system is my answer to speeding up a battle, in that it takes one turn to activate, but doubles the user’s attack while halving their defense for the next three turns. This is great for clearing out enemies, but their adaptive nature means they’re more likely to attack the party member initiating the Overdrive. The Ultra Hacks are one of my favourite parts of the system, where a one of a kind skill is used to defeat your enemies. You can see one on the game’s website in action, “Lights, Camera, Action!”, where four cameras surround the enemies and deal damage. These are unlocked in various ways, and there are a ton to find!
Another big addition is the inclusion of playable minigames. There’s a unique approach to how they’re introduced and used in the game, but most importantly they serve a useful purpose as well as being a fun side distraction. There was a glimpse of the racing minigame in an older trailer, which has been since massively changed (there’s actually a hint about that in the latest trailer!). It’s still undecided how many there’ll be, but they won’t detract from other aspects of the game and manage not to feel out of place.
Are there any quirks to the combat system? Is this viewed from a first-person or third-person perspective?
I suppose I just mentioned two of the biggest ones above! Apart from Overdrive and Ultra Hacks, there are some standout features too that I’m quite happy with from a gameplay perspective. First is the adaptive enemy AI, that’s unique to each enemy. This means you’ll find enemies will focus on different things depending on certain parameters. For example, if one party member’s health is close to zero, some viruses will be more inclined to attack them, though if one of the enemy’s teammates is close to death, some viruses will shift their focus to healing.
The camera is third person view, with the current party member at the center of the screen. I’m working towards making the battle system as interesting as possible to watch, so there are a lot of different angles and camera cuts being used to keep things exciting.
Will exploration of overworlds and dungeons feature heavily in the game?
Absolutely! And all of them are totally unique and littered with secrets. A cool feature is also the ability to unlock different overworld locations, each with their own regional features, shops and things to do. There’s a variety of different things to do in each location, and each can help tailor the party to the player’s liking.
Cyberthreat features a number of characters and appears to have a large number of conversation scenes. Were these fun to write or did you find yourself getting writer's block?
They’ve actually been a lot of fun, almost to the point where I can’t stop creating and adding more and more characters! It should be apparent from their designs that each character is totally unique, but this of course is an added challenge to the writing of each. Still, each spell of writer’s block comes and goes pretty quickly, and the benefit of being the sole developer means that I can take these moments to focus on other areas of designing the game!
Just on the topic of characters, there’s actually a bigger push to integrate them into the game’s main story as much as possible, as well as having their individual side stories. There’s a lot to like about each of them, so it’d be a shame if they were missed completely by players since their side routes are optional. They won’t be overstaying their welcome; the aim is to give the player a taste of each of them and the choice to learn more about them at their leisure afterwards.
Are dialogue choices an option in Cyberthreat?
Dialogue choices are certainly a feature of the game, and actually give the player a lot of power in guiding their story at points. Another goal with CyberThreat is to give the player a sense of immersion by playing “their” story, and I’d like the player to feel like their playthrough is uniquely their own. Apart from being able to spend each day differently, the dialogue choices can steer certain scenes in different directions, which helps achieving this goal.
One of the highlights of the game's trailers - for me - has been the music. Who composed the soundtrack?
I’ve been thrilled with the positive reception to the soundtrack so far, I’m glad that it’s capturing the modern day feeling in a way that people like! I’ve produced almost all of the tracks so far myself, though the latest trailer featured a track by a new freelance musician, who you’ll be able to hear more of soon. There are plans to bring on another musician for some more tracks soon, but nothing set in stone yet.
I’m starting to delegate more of the soundtrack out now, but will be keeping any new tracks to the original theme/style of the soundtrack so far.
What was the inspiration behind these tracks? Any famous games or trailers used for inspiration?
I’ve actually never looked to other trailers much for making my own, which might explain some of the decisions made. I’ve drawn inspiration for the soundtrack from my favourite music producers and composers, though it mightn’t show. Artists like Deadmau5 and Röyksopp have been a big inspiration for the electronic dance music feel of some tracks, and Robert Miles’ music was a huge influence for the game’s main theme, “Reflections”.
As mentioned above, there is a recurring theme that should come across through the soundtrack, any and all tracks are being written with this theme/feeling in mind.
How far along in development are you at present?
Over two and a half years now. A lot of the first few months' work was learning and testing, and very little remains from that time. I still shudder at some of the 3D models… I remember making a city map with millions of vertices that just chugged away like a slideshow when running it! I think the last year has been the strongest for developing. The 3D models have improved, the code feels cleaner, and the profiler has been looking a lot healthier.
What engine is the game developed in? Have you run into any Vita-specific difficulties so far?
CyberThreat is being developed in Unity3D, and so far so good. As I’ve mentioned I’ve been paying close attention to making sure things are optimized across the board, and I know there’s even more that can be done to further improve performance.
Is PlayStation TV compatibility on the cards?
Absolutely, there are no touch specific features planned, so expect CyberThreat to be PSTV compatible too.
Any plans for a physical release if possible?
Definitely, if I’m approached by one of the physical print manufacturers in time I’d love to be able to discuss it. I haven’t actively pursued any at this point, but hopefully in time, fingers crossed!
What are some of your favourite games that you've played on Vita?
Can I say all of them? No? Okay… I’ve honestly enjoyed too many to count! My first ever platinum trophy was Gravity Rush. If I had to choose a top five, I’d have to go with Persona 4 Golden, Uncharted Golden Abyss, Zero Escape VLR, Freedom Wars, and Guacamelee.
Finally - which of the Vita models is your favourite (LCD or OLED)?
OLED all the way! It’s been a faithful companion to me all these years!
I’d like to thank Connor for taking part in this interview with me. You can follow updates on Cyberthreat on his Twitter or official website – there's no release date at present, but you can watch the game's development unfold along the way!
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