I Am Alive is finished.
Ubisoft’s oft delayed post apocalyptic survival title has been subject to years in the shadows, concealed from view with many actually believing the game had been shelved and canned. It hadn’t been. I Am Alive lives.
With its XBLA debut just weeks away, TGL caught up with Ubisoft Shanghai’s Creative Director Stanislas Mettra to talk about all things I Am Alive. Stanislas tells us about the uncertainties that underscored the project’s refocusing, why it’s important to think before you act in the game’s unforgiving post apocalyptic environment and why I Am Alive is best suited as a digital only release.
Here we go……
TGL: Given the protracted and drawn out scheme of development that I Am Alive has been subject to, was there ever a time during the development process where it seemed the game would never actually see a release?
SM: There were indeed a few months of uncertain future for this project. We realized it needed a reboot, but it seemed very risky to go for one more full development cycle. But we finally had a proper team; we had to find a reasonable way to make this game happen. This led to a series of tough but needed decision, the toughest one being to refocus the game for the digital market. The choices we did next for the design, art direction, and story were all deeply influenced by this refocus. But these constraints really helped us a lot to push the unique aspects of the game. We had to choose our battles and we believed the priority with this title was to give to players something that felt like they didn’t play it before.
TGL: How different is the final version of I Am Alive by comparison to the original vision of the game when it was first announced?
SM: It is hard for us in Shanghai studio to tell about the original vision of the game as it was handled at a different time by a different team… But at least we were very intrigued by what we saw in the first version, realizing there was something there, it just needed to be pushed further with some more radical choices.
TGL: What is it about I Am Alive that differentiates it from other similar survival themed titles? Or is it the case that I Am Alive is unlike those games and offers a completely different experience?
SM: Well most existing survival action adventure games go together with supernatural and horror elements. Our challenge was to try to bring a similar tension (which is key to put player in a “survival state of mind”) in a realistic setting, without aliens, die-hard zombies, or ghosts…
SM: It is really important to save stuff as much as you can. Food, medicine and weapons are critical for exploration, climbing and when dealing with enemies. You will quickly realize this as you play through a couple levels, as danger comes from the exploring the environment as much as from possible dangerous encounters. If used properly, one single bullet might save your life when dealing with a group of 3 or 4 opponents. Even your empty gun can impress your opponents as long as they have a lesser weapon. But if threaten them and never shoot, they will eventually call your bluff! So you better make a good use of this window of opportunity.
TGL: In many respects, I Am Alive sends players into the unknown. We don’t know why or when the apocalypse happened and we don’t even know the name of the protagonist that we play. Why was the decision made to keep players guessing from the word go?
SM: We give away only the information that matters to the main character. We think it’s much more interesting to make the player wonder and make his own speculations as he starts to care about the protagonists he meets and the places he visits. Then we drop some hints along the way that will feed these thoughts. We include some precise hints of what happened here and there, but not necessarily pointing the camera at them. This can make the experience more personal and two players won’t necessarily have “catched” the same details.
SM: While the game is an adventure that unfolds in a linear way, you still can choose to explore thoroughly the areas or not. There are dead-ends and side areas outside of the central path. You can try to locate where that weak voice is coming from, or try to reach that moving silhouette in the fog, or just head towards your destination shown on your map without taking any extra risk. The central story and objectives won’t be affected, but the other survivors you might encounter will give you more back story, and you might find useful resources on these side paths.
TGL: Can you tell us about the “retry” system and how it actually works?
SM: It is an adaptation of the classic system you found in old games with “lives” and “game over”. You have a limited number of retries. When you die, you lose one and return at the checkpoint which tends to be pretty close from where you died. If you run out of retries, then you have to restart the level from the start, so basically when you are farther inside a level with very few retries and low health you start to really think twice before taking risks. By helping victims you will get an extra retry. It takes its full extent in “Survivor” mode where you start with no retry. Searching for retries in the hidden areas and rescuing victims become really important in this mode. That’s how we push the player in that “survival” state of mind!
TGL: Why choose I Am Alive as a digital only release? What is it about that release format that best compliments the game?
SM: This was a way for us to mitigate the risks linked to the creation of a new IP with a more focused scope. Nowadays, successful boxed games tend to need a huge amount of core and side content with multiplayer, extra modes, unlockables, online features, customization etc… We couldn’t afford all that. On the other hand we knew that players would come and get this game mostly because they want to try something new. So we focused our effort on building this single player experience and make it refreshing and worthwhile, and still featuring a lengthy and immersive experience.
TGL: Is there anything to be said for supporting the game after its release with additional content or some kind of DLC?
SM: We can’t say much about this right now. For now we are really eager to put this game into player’s hands and see if there’s a good audience for it, which we really hope of course. People have heard about this game for a long time without being able to play it, the time is finally coming and we want to thank the people who kept us on their radar for such a long time!
I Am Alive release this March 7th on Xbox Live Arcade. A PSN release will follow thereafter.