Reviews - Updated on April 6, 2022

 

The Game Awards announced Road 96, the upcoming game from the French studio DigixArt, which gave us the military drama 11-11: Memories Retold. The creative director of the studio is Yoan Fanise, who worked at Ubisoft until 2015 and became the author of the much-loved Valiant Hearts. One would think that the next game of the team tells about the war, but no – this is a road movie adventure inspired by the films of the Coen brothers, Quentin Tarantino (Quentin Tarantino) and even Emir Kusturica (Emir Kusturica). We talked to Faniz about this curious project last week.

From the horrors of war to travel

When I first heard about Road 96, I was immediately reminded of an interview with the developers of Spec Ops: The Line – studying a ton of material about the horrors of war exhausted them so much that after the release they decided to go into a more soulful game about spaceships. Here, too, judging by the debut trailer and screenshots, there is little to do with the team’s past games.

“We had exactly the same feelings,” Faniz answered with a laugh. “We created two games about the First World War that were very serious and sad, and they are very important to us – it is important for us to offer something of value to the industry. But after these releases, which we spent many years on, we wanted to do something fun – so that the gameplay was enjoyable, and the ending still meant something, had some kind of message.

A dangerous escape from the country - the main thing from an interview about Road 96 from the creator of Valiant Hearts
Road 96 tells the story of a teenager who is trying to get to the border of a fictional country, mired in corruption and experiencing an economic crisis. Or rather, about teenagers – the path to the border is very difficult and dangerous, so the hero can either be arrested, or die, or get into some other trouble, and the next day a new character will come in his place. The action of the game takes place between June and September 1996 and ends on election day – there the players will find an ending in which much depends on the decisions made during the passage.

“There is a lot of gameplay here, it’s not just a story-driven game where you just choose answers in dialogues. These mechanics are also there, but this is a full-fledged adventure, ”added Faniz. According to him, it may be possible to cross the border on the first attempt, but it will be difficult – you will have to monitor the amount of money in your pocket, fatigue, overheating from the hot sun, and thirst. The character is a loner traveling all over the country, who has to rely on himself in many ways.

A dangerous escape from the country - the main thing from an interview about Road 96 from the creator of Valiant Hearts
You don’t have to start every playthrough from scratch. Firstly, with each new attempt, the player acquires knowledge and begins to roughly imagine how to behave in certain situations. Secondly, it unlocks abilities like quick wits, energy, etc., which will remain active for all future attempts, much like in roguelites like Hades.

The unknown lies ahead

What decisions are to be made?

There are many situations in the game that will affect the passage. For example, you see on the wall portraits of two candidates who ask to vote for them in the elections. You can take a spray can and paint over one of them. You can destroy or destroy something. You can talk to people and convince them to vote for this or that candidate, or even dissuade them from voting and offer to organize a revolution. There are very, very many such decisions, and the game remembers everything (without informing the player about it), as a result of which the ending somehow changes. I’m not even sure how many possible endings there are in the game.

A dangerous escape from the country - the main thing from an interview about Road 96 from the creator of Valiant Hearts
The narrative in Road 96 is procedurally generated – according to Faniz, the game has a very complex structure, which makes each playthrough unique:

A character can get into a huge number of situations, and one will smoothly flow into another. For example, you get on the bus – the next scene will be on the bus. And one of the passengers will be this hero, because you have previously performed some specific action. That is, not only the order of the scenes is procedurally generated, but also what happens in them. In addition, a lot depends on other factors – during the day and in the evening the scenes can be different, in the desert and in the mountains they can also differ.

There are many heroes in the game, but among them there are several main characters that are especially important for the story. They can be seen in the trailer: these are loser gangsters trying to make money, a boy who loves slot machines, a reporter girl and some other people, among whom there are closely related to each other. Thanks to all of them, the game combines serious and comical themes – the beginning in Road 96 is “very funny”, and then everything gets darker, like in the movie “Parasite”. The testers of the early version were “shocked” by the resulting endings precisely because of their seriousness.

A dangerous escape from the country - the main thing from an interview about Road 96 from the creator of Valiant Hearts
The development of Road 96 began immediately after the release of 11-11: Memories Retold, which means that the team has been playing the game for more than two years. Now she is in “alpha” – everything can be passed, work on the structure is finished, and now the authors are paying attention to graphics, animation, dialogues and other elements that will make the game better. Beta testing inside the studio will begin in February – DigixArt tries not to rush and spends as much time as required. The pandemic hasn’t affected development too much – the switch to remote work took only two days, and now a group of 15 people are videoconferencing every morning and solving problems via Slack.

The game is created on the Unity engine, which, according to Faniz, “improves every year.” Moreover, the creators of Unity first saw the project a few weeks ago and were so impressed with the picture that they decided to help the team with development. But at first, Road 96 did not look so good – a lot of time was spent on creating prototypes and narrative structure, and DigixArt did not pay attention to graphics at that time:

We spent more than a year on prototypes, and it was very, very difficult to create such a system. We did not deal with graphics at all – everything was drawn up in the form of text. And only after the creation of a working basis did we begin the visual side. Therefore, for a long time, when I showed the game to the publisher, he was not very interested in what he saw – the project lacked gloss. Now we are our own publishers.

A dangerous escape from the country - the main thing from an interview about Road 96 from the creator of Valiant Hearts

Road 96 will be released next year. While it is planned to release the game on PC and Stadia (the project is being created in collaboration with Google). It’s too early to talk about consoles – the developers are not sure on which platforms the game will appear. But you can already add it to the Steam wishlist.

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