An Interview with Metrocide Developers

Metrocide logo

Metrocide Steam screenshot

I had the opportunity to play Metrocide before it was released just before Christmas and I liked what I saw.  Great cyberpunk visuals, a well-built city as your concrete playground, and game mechanics that couldn’t be more suited to the genre; highly recommended.

The game has been out for a few weeks now and is currently doing well on Steam.  It has scored overall ‘Very Positive’ reviews from players commending its “brilliant” concept and “steady-paced and calculated” action.  One reviewer labelled it as “top-down stealth action at its hardest and finest.”  High praise indeed.

I had a chance to catch up with the developers, Flat Earth Games, post-launch (and post-Christmas holidays!).

Metrocide has been out for a little while now and reviews started to spring up since the week before launch.  What do you think of the games reception so far?

Leigh: We’ve been pretty happy with it! We’ve got reviews which vary wildly. I think the spectrum ranges from a 3.8 on one site to a 9.4 on another, but the consensus appears to be positive. We’ve been spending these first few weeks ironing out bug reports from players on Steam and other forums, so there are very few of those left.

I think, for us, the biggest lesson came from trying to release our indie game in December. The Christmas period is always a chaotic time for games, largely dominated by huge blockbusters, so it’s often hard to get a look in. We definitely found that to be the case, so it’ll be interesting to see if a few more reviews drop now that we’re in early January.

Player feedback has also been great! There certainly is a group of players out there who really do covet a seriously challenging game, and it looks like Metrocide is finding its audience.

Going back to the start, where did the idea for Metrocide come from? 

Rohan: It began with a 10-day Cyberpunk game jam, and it was much more of a vague ‘feeling’ I wanted to evoke from a game. I wanted to see if I could put together a top-down game sort of like a half-way between one of the early Grand Theft Auto games and ’90s cyberpunk fare like Syndicate or the Sega Megadrive/Genesis Shadowrun game. I didn’t get it playable in a gameplay sense in ten days, but I was happy enough with the ‘feeling’ of the little living pixel-art city I’d created – and how good it felt to shoot things while avoiding drones overhead – that I threw it at Leigh saying, “I think I might have the beginnings of something fun here”.

It was him that brought the core ‘escalating series of kills’ premise in and streamlined it into the game it finally became. I tend to just get stuck in a cycle of “Wouldn’t this feature be cool?” for a long time when I’m playing with game ideas, so that kind of direction was sorely needed.

What are your personal cyberpunk influences?  In what way did they make it into Metrocide?

Rohan: I’ve been a Blade Runner fan since very early on, and had a fixation with technology and how people react to it changing their lives. Pen and Paper Cyberpunk 2020 games also made up a huge part of my early ’20s. I guess the biggest thing for me though is the humour – it’s tough to make Cyberpunk really serious. Blade Runner is a rarity. Most movies that try to take themselves too seriously often fall a bit flat for me – so the humour was very important.

Transmetropolitan is probably as close to perfect as I can think of when it comes to Cyberpunk with a sense of humour – using Cyberpunk to poke fun at and analyse the way we relate to technology and the way technology and connectedness are changing society is very cool, and it was something we had a lot of fun doing with the text & in-universe ads in Metrocide.

Leigh: Blade Runner was of course seminal for me too, but I also had a soft spot for some of the more twee stuff like Johnny Mnemonic, and the pseudo-serious nature of Metrocide made that seem like a good fit from my perspective. As far as games go, Shadowrun (the Sega Mega Drive / Genesis version) was penultimate. Evoking it was what made us decide to go top-down and the grit and grime from that game was paramount.

Metrocide artwork

You’ve said before that it started with the seeds of stealth-action and the increasing difficulty of an endless runner – in your opinion, did you stick with that? 

Leigh: Yes and no. We ended up overlaying the game with a more conventional structure so as to assuage some of the feelings players might have had that not only was it difficult, but that they just weren’t getting anywhere. So the mission variants, weapon types, game modes and other such stuff became unlocked in stages rather than just all being open at the beginning. This didn’t force a tutorial on people per se, but gave them an early few kills where they were forced to focus on just how other pedestrians would act and react to their bad behaviour – no distractions by bodyguards, paranoid targets, additional cop drones or any of that jazz.

Rohan: I think additionally, the stealth mechanics ended up being far more fast-paced and reflex-based than the more strategic style of gameplay your average stealth-action enthusiast is used to. So we ended up calling it an ‘arcade stealth-shooter’ to give a better indication of what the stealth gameplay actually *was* rather than to mislead anyone with the more traditional ‘stealth-action’ moniker.

I suppose where that original endless runner meets stealth genesis *did* make the final cut is in Score Attack mode (unlocked on a per level bases when you complete it in normal mode). That is just pure old-school high score boards and exponential difficulty – exactly like that original idea intended.

From early reviews there’s been several games mentioned in relation to Metrocide; Syndicate, Hotline Miami, and Hitman are just a few.  Can you see the relationship there and is it conscious or unconscious?

Rohan: Certainly with Syndicate and Hitman, because they were our influences very early on. I wanted to play something which had a Syndicate feel, but with specific targets like Hitman, and a more free-form approach to the way you take out your target.

Leigh: I think the relationship to Hotline Miami was more born of avoidance than anything else. After the basic building blocks were in place, we realised that people were making direct comparisons both to it and to the original Grand Theft Auto. While I had no problem with being compared to such marvellous games, the comparisons weren’t really doing a great job of describing what our game actually was, so I suppose they influenced us in that we avoided vehicles to distance ourselves from the chaos of a rampage game like GTA, and melee combat to avoid the brutality of Hotline.

How has the whole development process been for Metrocide?  Flat Earth has developed and published a game before – how did Metrocide compare?

Rohan: This was wildly different. Our first game was carefully planned – our design documents were several iterations in before we even began to write code. This was a much more “Does this feel right?” seat-of-our-pants endeavour. In some ways that’s made it better, but it’s also made it more challenging. I think there’s merit to both styles, really.

Leigh: I’d be less inclined to develop the game in the latter way again. The uncertainty just doesn’t work as well for me, both because it’s much harder to see a trajectory between the game’s current state and its finished product, and because I’m the sort of person who’d just keep on going even when people told me it was done. Scoping a project I think is hugely important for me at the outset, or at least knowing at the start of development which features, if any, would be candidates for the cutting room floor should time work against us.

Regardless, this game took the better part of a year to make. TownCraft, our first title, took two and a half, and was arguably not that much more complex a title. Experience gave us a much better idea of what to expect, but most if not all of those gains were lost by our compellingly ludicrous decision to make the game a totally different genre and for a totally different platform.

Metrocide screenshot

Are there any plans for the game to be available on other platforms in the future?  Will you focus on more content for Metrocide or move on to your next project?

Leigh: Not at the moment. The game *could* work on tablets or handhelds, but we’ve been bashing our heads together for quite some time and without at least a controller, it just wouldn’t work on a touch device. So with that said, controller support was already very nearly done when we released, so that’ll be coming out soon. And further again to that thought, there’s no reason it wouldn’t work very well on a Vita or as a Playstation, Xbox or Wii downloadable title. It’s just a matter of waiting and seeing at this point as to whether we’d do a port or not. The success on PC will determine any future plans in that department.

Rohan: We’ve had a lot of great ideas for what to do with Metrocide. In fact, mid-way through development we came up with an idea (which now even has a partial design document) for what I’d call, uh… a “side-quel”? Something else quite different that we could do which would add new gameplay elements on top of the existing cyberpunk city. But, y’know, it really depends whether that becomes an option for us.

In the mean time? I’ve been prototyping a very different game, quite different in scale. It’s a turn-based game where you are the administrator of the first Mars colony. Something we’ve both been talking about on and off for ages, and after a huge, tough real-time game like Metrocide, it’d be yet another totally new challenge!

If you haven’t grabbed it yet, I suggest you go and do so right now!

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Written by Zymepunk
Zymepunk was drawn into the world of cyberpunk by Deus Ex and Blade Runner and now looks both back and forwards in time for anything that may come close to those masterpieces.

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