An Interview with Deck 13, Creators of The Surge

An Interview with Deck 13, Creators of The Surge - Article

by Evan Norris , posted on 15 March 2018 / 1,729 Views

In this age of social media and online communities, where almost every video game is previewed, dissected, and analyzed to death before it hits store shelves, it's difficult to be surprised. Yet The Surge, flying as it did under the radar in 2017, managed to surprise me — and many others, I imagine — in the happiest of ways. I spent hours and hours in the grim dystopia developer Deck 13 had wrought, slicing and dicing my way through cybernetic horrors. In a year considered by some the greatest in the history of the gaming industry, The Surge shone brightly, and yet many never saw the light.

When Deck 13 announced plans for DLC, I was happily surprised for the second time. It signaled sales were strong and demand for the studio's unique take on the Dark Souls formula was healthy. A Walk in the Park turned out to be just as refreshing and addictive as the base game, and, honestly, I was sad when it was over.

Then, just last month, Deck 13 made yet another surprise announcement: The Surge 2 was on its way. In the wake of that news, I reached out to the Frankfurt-based studio to ask about the future of The Surge, and the game's place among Souls-likes and so-called AA games in general. Michael Hoss, PR and Marketing Manager for Deck 13, was kind enough to respond. 

The Surge

Evan Norris:
When The Surge DLC was announced, I think a lot of fans were pleasantly surprised, in part because it was unclear if the base game had lived up to expectations, sales wise. Can you share sales figures for The Surge, in terms of physical and digital units? If not, can you talk about the business decisions that led to DLC and eventually a full sequel?

Michael Hoss:
While I cannot share the exact numbers, I can confirm that The Surge did very, very well. When The Surge was released, our publisher contacted us the next day and shared the news with us. And it was about two weeks after the game was released that everyone agreed on doing DLC. By that time, it was rather easy to justify. So far, the DLC has gone very well, too.

Evan Norris:
As someone who logged dozens of hours playing The Surge and A Walk in the Park, I'm interested to see where the series goes with The Surge 2. So far, we've heard about "larger and more ambitious level design" thanks to an improved engine. Can you share more about this upgraded engine and what it allows you to accomplish that you couldn't in the original The Surge?

Michael Hoss:
FLEDGE Delta, the new iteration of the engine, comes with new features which enable us to improve on every aspect. A core thing here is improved performance due to heavily modified multithreading support. This additional performance we can make use of in multiple ways, obviously. Something which helps a lot for the bigger levels is a new, compute-based unified volumetric lighting / fog solution which, just to get that mentioned, works seamlessly with transparent objects as well. The engine now also supports DirectX 12.

The Surge: A Walk in the Park

Evan Norris:
Speaking of A Walk in the Park, what inspired the amusement park setting?

Michael Hoss:
When it was confirmed that there would be DLC for The Surge, we had multiple ideas with various settings. One was the amusement park setting. What led to that choice in the end was mostly the feedback from players. While the feedback for The Surge was amazing, people criticized the levels quite often: too many corridors inside the factory. They asked for more outdoor settings. Amusement Park? Check. They asked for creepier enemies. Amusement Park? Check. They asked for more varied design. Amusement Park? Check. I could continue the list here, but basically we took the feedback from so many posts on Reddit, Steam, Twitch, dozens of gaming forums, and in reviews. In the end it all led to the Park.

Evan Norris:
In an industry increasingly populated by so-called Souls-likes, The Surge stands out for me due to its futuristic dystopia and its unique limb dismemberment mechanic. What do you think Deck 13 has contributed to the genre, and where would you like to take it from here?

Michael Hoss:
Lords of the Fallen was our first step into the genre. It got some harsh feedback as it was compared to Dark Souls a bit too much. Even with Lords we already tried to separate a bit from the Souls series with our own ideas but, well, you know, maybe we did not risk enough. With The Surge we did. Take the combat system for example - Souls players dislike it in the beginning quite often, some call it clunky. Then they get into it. It requires a completely different approach, even without the limb dismemberment. Talking about that: limb dismemberment is a thing we will definitely take to the next level in The Surge 2. But yeah, overall there are lots and lots of small little details which do set us apart I think and which make The Surge its very own type of game. Is it a Souls-Like? Definitely. Does it stand on its own feet? Hell yes.

The Surge outdoors

Evan Norris:
On the same note, what lessons did you learn from Lords of the Fallen?

Michael Hoss:
We learned a lot. Until that time, Lords of the Fallen was the biggest project Deck13 had ever worked on. And the whole structure of the company itself was not prepared for the size of the project. That led to some troubles and confusions and it cost quite some sweat and blood to overcome those issues. That sounds quite harsh - in the end it was a learning process. When the production of Lords started, the production was quite efficient. But the project got bigger, more people got involved, more separate teams within the team had to be formed and so on. On paper that sounds rather easy, but establishing new processes in a team which has worked together for years - that's tricky. Lords helped us to establish these structures and The Surge benefited from that. But we then learned so many things from The Surge too.

Evan Norris:
Over the last decade or so, the "AA" space has diminished somewhat, with "AAA" games and indie titles occupying the far ends of the spectrum. The success of a game like The Surge indicates to me that there is still a fertile middle-ground for modestly-budgeted titles. Tell me about operating in the space. What are the challenges, the rewards? Do you see a bright future for "AA" games?

Michael Hoss:
I read that quite often these days. That the market is crowded and that some part of the market is taking away share from the other parts of the market. Honestly? I don't think that this is a thing. The overall market is growing. If your game is interesting and you know your audience and who you are creating the games for and the marketing adds on top of that, you will find your space. I'm not saying that this is an easy task, but it is doable. Personally I find that it is easier to develop games you'd love to play yourself. Why? Because if you are the audience yourself, well, then you just have to find people who are like you.

The Surge 2

Evan Norris:
Finally, when you're not designing, programming, and play testing, what games do you like to play? What were your favorites from 2017?

Michael Hoss:
Personally I'm sitting on a big backlog of shame. So... my favorite from 2017 is Divinity: Original Sin. Yes. The first one. I finally found the time for it! But in the company itself it varies a lot. Some are completely addicted to PUBG these days and celebrate their chicken dinners, others are praising the sun all night long and recently everyone started hunting Great Jagras.

 

I'd like to thank Michael and the entire Deck 13 crew, and Carly Shields of Evolve PR for making the connection. You can read more about Deck 13 on its website.


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5 Comments

AhsMilk (on 15 March 2018)

It was a crowded year but I enjoyed The Surge the most last year. I can't wait for part 2


BraLoD (on 16 March 2018)

Platined Lords of the Fallen, it had a week story and character development, but I liked the combate and specially the design, the armors look sick, I loved them. Now I just bought The Surge yesterday, will take some time to actually play it because of God of War and some other games I got before, but again the combat and design are what look the best to me. I hope you guys can keep making good games, if The Surge is better than Lords of the Fallen I would be pretty happy.


Killy_Vorkosigan (on 16 March 2018)

The Surge is a very good game. Surge was much less frustrating than DS imho, tad more forgiving. I totally digged in the sci fi setup


Machina (on 15 March 2018)

The Surge was my favourite game from last year, so it's very cool to see an interview with the devs on the site. Also some good replies to your questions there, props to Michael.


Bristow9091 (on 15 March 2018)

I never played the first game but it always interested me... it's also REALLY cheap on Amazon right now, and thanks to this article I just watched a Digital Foundry video of it and found out it looks and runs pretty amazing on PS4 Pro... very tempted to just buy it right now, lol.