Interview / Spiders Games’ CEO on Mars

Mars, an action RPG set on a devastated planet Mars, has been flying under the radar for most of its existence. Developed by Spiders Games and not due to hit shelves until late 2010, the game leaves us with more questions than answers, as the most we have seen are some screens and a sound-free video. Several of those questions were answered today by Spiders CEO Jehanne Rousseau who filled us in on what Mars is all about and why Spiders chose to develop for the PS3 first, among other things.

That VideoGame Blog (TVGB): What’s the basic plot of Mars?
Jehanne Rousseau (JR): The game takes place about 200 years after Mars colonization and 130 after the Tumult, a huge cataclysm that changes the face of the planet, plunging the Earthmen enclaves into chaos. A part of them turned into mutants after their contact with the sunrays, and the others, isolated from earth and missing a lot of resources, have seen their way of life sink into a technological decadence. The water companies, that are now governing Mars, are fighting each other for the supremacy, and The Ashes, as the mutants are named, have been turned into slaves, and used as soulless beast of burden by the True People, but recently begin to rebel.

In this context, the two different characters you can choose are not coming from the same Water Company (one is from Abundance and the other from Aurora), they have their own goals, and their own ways. They’ll be enemies first, then, they’ll fight in the same camp even if they’ll not be truly allies. But I don’t want to give too much of the story : it would spoil the scenario, the only thing I can tell is that Seth story is more an identity quest, and Pandora is more political. These two stories will really gives two different points of view on Mars universe.

TVGB: Is there something new you’re hoping to bring to the table with Mars?
JR: We want to bring something new to the Action/RPG type on console. Actually most of the RPGs you can find on console are not very action oriented, while on PC the Hack’n Slash type of game is very popular. The goal is to find a recipe that mix pure action with a strong story and a progression system that will give to the player a real feeling of character improvement without beginning as a powerless guy. Some elements of this recipe have been used here and there of course, but I don’t think any other game managed to balance this new kind of action RPG on console before.

TVGB: Is Mars trying to go in a different, more distinctive direction than the typical hack n’ slash method of combat? If so, in what way?
JR: To just port the usual mechanics of the Hack’n Slash on console seems inadequate. So we took inspiration in the console action games to create the combat system of Mars, using direct controls of your actions, with combos, QTE, fatalities and so. It’s very more instinctive, fast-paced and you’ve got very early in the game a real feeling of power while keeping the progression and immersion of the RPGs.

TVGB: How much of an indication of the final product are the visuals you’ve shown thus far?
JR: Each new screen we’re showing is getting a little closer from the render we want, but we’re still far of it : we’re just finishing the preproduction and we still have nearly one year and a half of work on the game. But it gives at least indications on the universe, ambient and feeling of Mars.

TVGB: Mars looks like an industrialized environment, does that mean there will be something other than melee weapons?
JR: Mars is post apocalyptic: the bullets, powder and so exist but are so rare that it’s very difficult to find some, and nearly no one still knows how to use them. You’ll encounter different type of weapons, even flame throwers but you’ll keep your old sword, knives and so as you will not be able to use the guns for long…

TVGB: Will the player’s character in game be customizable in any way?
JR: At the beginning of the game no, but all along your progression you’ll be able to choose your equipment and skills of course.

TVGB: What skill sets/classes are going to be available?
JR: Seth is a warrior: he’ll be able to choose between three types of combat style, from a very quick and close combat to a slower and farer combat style (each of them gives access to a lot of special attacks and can be used in alternation), and Pandora will have access to three type of “magic” from electricity, rapid but that deals few damages to biological attacks that target zones and bring a slow death to enemies. Of course both of them have access too to more social or utilitarian skills.

TVGB: Will Mars have multiplayer of any type?
JR: Yes, you’ll be able to fight with up to three other players against random creatures or directly against three other players in different arena modes. But the whole game will not be playable in co-op or so, because of the structure of the two scenarios.

TVGB: Has Mars found a publisher yet?
JR: Not for now.

TVGB: Is there any plan to offer downloadable content? If so, what kind and will it be console exclusive at all?
JR: We would like to offer downloadable content: new arenas, some equipment etc, but it will depend a lot on the publisher we’ll find so I can’t give you for now the final details on this point.

TVGB: In a previous interview you said you want Mars to be “a great PS3 game” “first and foremost,” citing the lack of RPGs on the system as the reason. Do you mean to say that PS3’s RPG library is so thin that it would affect the decision of which system to put the most effort into in any major way?
JR: In a way it has played a role in our first choice, thinking in all the PS3 owners waiting for a good RPG, but the main reason of our effort in developing a great PS3 game first is because the PS3 is a very complicated platform that is most of the time not used to its best, and we know that if we concentrate now on all the difficulties and strong points of this console and if we can go over them, the other platforms should be more simple to approach.

TVGB: In relation to the previous question, can Xbox 360 owners expect equal quality from all aspects of the game?
JR: Of course, we don’t want to cheat the Xbox 360 owners in any case! But once again the details concerning the release on the different platforms still depends on the publisher we’ll find, even if, if the game goes 360, it will be as good on this platform.

TVGB: Why do you think there are so few RPGs on current gen systems?
JR: RPG is a difficult genre that needs a huge effort on balance, story and universe development. A lot of publishers are a little afraid of this type of game that needs hours and hours of test, a good knowledge of this type of game, a lot of marketing and so. It’s an important investment that publishers don’t always want to do because all RPGs are not always successful and are still consider as a niche, even if when it works it creates strong IPs that can be used on different games and sequels. We took an important risk choosing this genre, but it’s our favorite and we know the public waits for good RPGs, so we really hope a publisher will follow us!

TVGB: What do you think it means to be a developer producing RPGs today?
JR: Whaou! A difficult question. I’m sure I’ve got the answer. For Spiders even if it was sounding risky for a young and small studio, our main experience as a whole team was in RPG, and it was our favorite type of game. We had a lot of ideas coming from our past experience and from all the games we played to do a great game, we had a good universe in mind, so it was a difficult adventure, but the one we truly wanted to go for. So we did!

TVGB: What do you think of where action RPGs currently are and where are they lacking?
JR: On console there is not a lot of action RPGs, and the few I’ve seen didn’t have a good balance and mix between action and immersion. The combats are often lifeless, complicated or boring, or the three together and the story is often weak, even if they can have some very good ideas on the progression aspect for example. That’s where I think the existing games are lacking and where we want to bring a change.

TVGB: Where do you see the genre heading in near future?
JR: It will depend a lot on the publishers, they’re the one that really decide which game will go on the market or not. But I think that the story telling oriented RPGs will become stronger and stronger, and that the action RPGs will have to change to answer to the public expectations. But I think that the general quality of these games should grow (and I’m not only talking about the technical aspect of the games): people now want deep scenarios, with good universe and interesting characters, they want to be the heroes of real epic stories. Not just to explore caves, kill dragons and collect gold. They can find that in the MMOs where the fun comes from playing with millions of other players: if they play RPGs on console in solo or limited multi it’s not for the same reasons.

TVGB: Which games, either current or in the past, have provided inspiration for Mars?
JR: On the scenario aspect we like games like Final Fantasy 7 and Planescape Torment (one of my favorite RPGs) or even KOTOR. The way the cut scenes and dialogs are directed are inspired by more recent games like Mass Effect, and as we already told it before, the combat system comes more from games like God of War or Devil May Cry.

TVGB: Did anything else lend inspiration to the creation of Mars?
JR: In fact a lot of books, movies and even songs have inspired the world of Mars. The Philip K.Dick novels, and the movies done from his books like Total Recall or Blade Runner, The Martian Chronicles from Ray Bradbury, the Mad Max movies etc were all in our mind when we created this universe.

TVGB: What is it about Mars that would make us come back for more?
JR: The universe of the game is very particular; we worked a lot to create a deep and immersive world, and two strong stories that should give a very special feeling to this game. And if we manage to have the cool combat part we want, I’m sure you’ll come back for more!