Let's start with the bittersweet news; Frogwares, the team behind The Sinking City, announced today that they are pushing back the release of the game to June. The decision reportedly comes not from being behind schedule, but because of the AAA overload of the original release-month, February.
So rarely do we get such an in-depth look at unreleased games. I’m always suspicious a lack of information is down to a lack of substance, which is exactly why the sheer amount of information that Frogwares has released about their forthcoming release is just so promising, if they can let this much information on Sinking City’s lore, game-play and mechanics leak before its release without completely ruining it, there must just be so much more packed in. But that isn’t the only thing they are doing differently….
How Frogwares can Build a City (and Sink it) in Mere Hours
Frogwares is an independent video game development studio based in Dublin and Kiev. Since 2000, the studio has become renowned for its vast catalogue of games, ranging from RTS to action-adventure games.
To aid in creating the flooded metropolis in The Sinking City, Frogwares created their own city building tool in Unreal Engine 4. Creating cities is a huge undertaking for developers, with a huge amount of detail needed to create something lifelike. We imagine the overlap in trained architects and level designers isn't huge, but Frogwares have managed to find one such multi-talented woman in Katerina Frovola, who helped design the tool. Her design allows users to set a few urban planning variables inside the tool and then city districts can be generated at the click of a button. Something that normally takes weeks, can now be done in hours. To flaunt (okay, test) the new tool, the team asked their social media followers to vote from a list of iconic cities, which they would then try and reproduce using the tool in just one working day (8 hours). Armed with buildings created earlier for The Sinking City and a Google Maps overlay of the winning city, Istanbul, the team got to work trying the speed and layout accuracy of the tool.
The coolest thing about it? After The Sinking City releases, the team plan to give the tool away for free for others to use.
“Hopefully once The Sinking City comes out, we can release the tech for free so other devs, educational institutions or even hobbyists can use it. The tool has been invaluable to our game's development so I can only imagine what others could potentially create with it.” – Wael Amr, Frogwares CEO
About the Sinking City
“We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of the infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.” — H.P. Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories”
The Sinking City is a story-rich game of investigation and mystery taking place in a fictional city inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Step into the shoes of a 1920's private investigator, Charles Reed, whose mind is slowly being devoured by terrible insanity.
In pursuit of a cure, the detective finds himself in Oakmont, Massachusetts: once a trade harbour known for its lucrative smuggling business, now lives in secluded isolation from the rest of the world under a flood of supernatural origins. A city suffering from unprecedented floods of clearly supernatural origins. A city trembling on the brink of madness, just like Charles. In this place of decay and superstition; players will have to deal with the dregs of mankind, follow clues they wish they had never found and unveil a cosmic horror threatening the world itself. Can you survive this beleaguered town and untangle the mysteries responsible for its tragic situation or will you be driven beyond madness yourself?
Across the board in culture, many successes root themselves in Lovecraftian lore, notably Game of Thrones, Stranger Things and Dark Souls. The Sinking City doesn't try and diminish and water-down their inspiration, trying to pass it off as their own, but instead embrace, build on and use the already established elements on H.P. Lovecraft's iconic universe as a treacherous playground.
In the faithful imagining, familiar characters, institutions, locations, cults and abominations of the Cthulu Mythos are all present.
Horror Through Suspense
It's music to my ears that The Sinking City will favour eeriness over jump scares and gore. A world rich in lore and detail creates enough atmosphere that cheap tricks like jump scares aren't needed, instead focusing on tension-building through story and setting.
Cults, fish-people, witches, and weavers. Bloody rituals with human sacrifices, experimentation on monstrosities that came from the sea, competition of criminal families and much more – all just a routine in Oakmont as the unknown forces of the flood slowly entwine themselves into the very life and fabric of the city and the minds of those left behind.
Free to Investigate
Another aspect that developers have chosen to lean more towards realism is the game-play itself. Straightforward quests, map objectives and magic way points have all been thrown out the window in favour of more immersive and organic investigation. You'll have to learn to live in Oakmont to get ahead of the game, learn your way around, take note of what the locals say and explore a whole lot.
Realising that taking away all tools that aid players in progressing the story might alienate people who aren't well-versed in game-play, or those who are just drawing a blank on where t turn next, Frogwares have introduced a couple of new methods of doing this. Using their 'minds eye', players can re-imagine the events that took place at a crime scene with 'Retrocognition'. Further encouraging players to explore every inch of their environment, facts learned from Police records, library books, and city archives can all be cross-referenced within the 'mind-palace' to aid your investigation.
Charles Reed: Private Eye
Some interesting tid-bits appear in the bio for main character, Charles Reed. It will be interesting to see how strongly, if at all, these traits will manifest themselves in the actual game play, alongside the narrative elements (such as cut-scenes/dialogue) of the game. I find the aversion to violence of particular interest, will objectives be less focused on killing foes? How far will players be able to bend Charles against his own proclivities?
Even before the great flood, residents of Oakmont could be perceived as peculiar. But after the disaster, the level of insanity raised to incomprehensible levels - thoughts and actions unimaginable in ordinary society are now the norm. Charles' bio sets up the main antagonist as the mysterious ''source of the insanity'', but here are some of the other adversary's and character's that have been shown so far:
The Sinking City is now set to release June 27th of this year, giving players time to come up for air after the crowded release schedule of the previous months. Frogwares have said that they will spend the time making minor improvements and 'polishing' the game, hopefully adding even more details to what promises to be an intriguingly comprehensive world.
Watch the Game-play trailer here: