STAGGER: to cause or feel great surprise or shock.
A love letter to the System Shock games as well as the games it inspired, STAGGER aims to revitalize the immersive simulation genre with complex RPG elements and a dark world based on Native American folklore and slavery of colored people within the United States in the 1800s. The project has been several years in the making, beginning as a game entitled RUIN and evolving into what it is today.
The game is currently in development in Unity 5, ambitiously beginning steps toward a powerful emergent experience through lush realistic environments with SpeedTree and deep character class evolution in a nightmarish and unforgiving habitat.
This game has been through a lot, as we begun developing the game in 2013 and we are now approaching 2016 in just a couple of weeks. Not many people know the story of how difficult this game has been to produce, so I'd like to explain our evolution and focus on the project as time has passed. I also want to stress how difficult it is to be an independent game developer in this market, when so much competition is vying for the spotlight, easily pushing aside games that are not as far along in their evolution. It is for this reason that I am posting what I am posting today.
In 2014, I played and completed System Shock 2 for the first time. I was previously a fan of Bioshock, Thief and Dishonored, but I found that this game exceeded the quality of those franchises in almost every way. We started our first prototype in the Unity Engine, and while it established a core framework for our game's ideas and gameplay, most of the team who worked on it soon left the project afterwards, and the design of the game changed immensely as a result. At first, the designs for our monsters were something of an alien creature, but this was something that we found seemingly more common and lacking in depth, especially when we could not describe the reason for the creatures to exist. In order for something in a virtual world to immerse the player, it is my opinion that all aspects of the game should serve a purpose and fulfill a greater goal; for us, the gameplay, the story, everything, all tied into a strong central narrative that would not be compromised, and that alone is why the project is still alive, albeit in its weakened state.
The player assumes the first person perspective as a man named Marcus who has been spirited away to a swamp land surrounding the Preble Plantation, a civil war era sugar mill that fell into despair of ancient Native American evils. The skin of man can walk to another's bones, and you are the only one who can decide if you are next. Use arrowheads as tribute to the spirits and be blessed with their power, evolving the strength and skill set of Marcus in ways unique to the player. No playthrough will be the same, and the game will not take shortcuts to teach you how to survive. You are expected to do whatever it takes.
What started in a similar fashion to some of the other rising horror projects of that point in time eventually grew its own identity, switching the traditional forest setting for something a little more interesting; the swamps and history of the deep south, where cypress trees are iconic in establishing the visual splendor of nature, far removed from the southern deserts of Arizona where we live.
By the end of 2014, we established a very productive team that had begun work on what should have been our alpha build. As things progressed, we were in talks with publishers to execute the project in full and promised to deliver the demo of our game, a simple level in which we demonstrated the focus of our game in all aspects. The team's work was cut short when everything suddenly fell apart, as our lead level designer left the project, which in turn caused the rest of the team besides the core of our developers to follow suit, and the results of this regression hit hard. The game came to a crashing halt, and we decided to take action as best as we could, and we found the best solution was to switch engines. We switched over to Unreal Engine 4 and became seasoned in the use of SpeedTree for realistic vegetation, level design and more. Check out some of our work here: Unrealsevenfold.itch.io . Aside from that small game, our developer has not been able to recover one bit from our history with this game. We have tried to even grow past it, and began work on a sci fi title of a similar nature that just didn't have the level of interest behind it for us to continue working on it.
The future of our game is uncertain. This is a passion project that has become a part of my life. I want to use the narrative of our game to create something that can pay true respects to games like System Shock 2, Thief and Deus Ex, and with the recent announcement of both a remake of System Shock and a sequel on the way, I want this game to succeed and see the light of day. I don't know how to do this, and I want to ask for help, but short of making the game open source, this game may never happen.
I'm tired of playing games that fail to meet the ambition of games from 20 years ago. Our technology has become so advanced, how is it that we fail to meet the creativity and the skill level of development teams from that long in the past? I want to do things differently. I just don't know where to begin.
Adrian, Game Designer of STAGGER
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