Survival of the fittest gains a whole new meaning on another planet. Darwise Entertainment has teamed up with Nvizzio Creations in an ambitious project that puts players on the face of Mars to battle the elements. ROHK is a multiplayer cooperative (or competitive if you so chose) game that does what Mars-One failed to do: immerse you in an authentic, virtual-survival experience to make the Red Planet your new home. Today marks the launch of the project’s Kickstarter to bring this reality to life.
I had an opportunity to check out ROHK and play through with Darwise Entertainment’s CEO and creative director, Benjamin Charbit at PAX East. Charbit, who is not new to the games scene, coming from Ubisoft where he was a Producer for Assassin’s Creed 3, Content & Monetization Director of Assassin’s Creed 4 Multiplayer and Assassin’s Creed Unity online experience, was excitedly helping someone build a shelter and walking them through some of the extensive features already available to play at this early stage, as I walked up. A vast expanse of highly-detailed, red, rocky terrain under a cloudy pink sky sprawled out across the screen. It was something out of postcard from Death Valley. As the demo ended, Charbit showed off some of the beautiful concept art for the environment that would be experienced throughout the game play.
“That part is Darwise Entertainment,” Charbit explained, proudly when it was my turn to view the game. With a team of five people in Paris, France, Darwise handles the artistic and creative design of ROHK. Nvizzio, based in Montreal, is a larger team of 15 plus developers who handle the production side of the project. I asked him how this style of production worked.
“We’re trying to create a new setup in the industry,” he responded. “Much is borrowed from the movie industry, actually. We have this production house, and then you have people actually producing, making the game.”
“We’re very close. We’re often on site with them,” he continued. “...we all come from triple A development. The guys from Montreal, they are basically the Funcom Canada team. They used to work on The Secret World, and Age of Conan. The game director [for ROHK] in Montreal, Marc Albinet, was the game director for Assassin’s Creed Unity at Ubisoft Montreal. So, we all used to work on productions that lasted four or five years and we were only able to show the game six months before the release. This time we decided to do it different. We started pre-production in September. We did not write any lines of code for three or four months. We focused on concept art and really designing the game for the release, [creating] up to two years of post-launch [content], because this is an online game. We started prototyping in December.”
As Charbit begins to explain ROHK, I can see why they decided to invest so much time in planning. To say it is an ambitious project is an understatement. He explains that the game itself will take place on an expansive 150 square mile map with pervasive multiplayer gameplay. Players will have to work together to survive, using only the materials one would expect to find in a realistic portrayal of Mars. The team used real data from NASA to recreate the terrain, from the gravel that litters the desert expanse, to the craters, to the looming mountains in the distance, to the gravity physics.
“We want to make a very authentic experience,” Charbit explains,” not a simulation. It’s not going to be [completely] realistic, but authentic, so it’s believable.”
In order to survive, the team developed an expansive construction system. Players can use modular tiles to construct shelters that will protect them from the harshness of the Mars environment. They will be able to create tools to manufacture power generators, oxygen systems, pressurization tanks, hydroponics bays, anything a player can think of to build the habitat they need survive. I asked how they would be able to make the creation aspect so in depth throughout the gameplay.
“Let me give you a very quick example,” Charbit begins. “If you look at games like Ark or Rust that are really great games that inspired us a lot, mostly when you think about weapon [creation], ‘three stones and four woods equals AK47.’ You see, the recipe system? So here, it’s a blueprint system. What we want to have is something much more gradual, much more modular. So crafting parts and components and assembling all of them. So you can, in a way, craft your own unique weapons. And that’s really the purpose of it.”
Weapons, building materials, robots, vehicles, anything you might need can be created if you can find the right materials and create the proper tools. And it’s a good thing, since it seems the whole planet is against you. Aside from passive stats such as your suit’s oxygen levels, water and food levels that leave the player in a race against time to prevent sudden death, players must face disasters such as heavy storms and wind. There will be threats from NPCs in the form of former colonists’ abandoned robots who don’t take kindly to strangers. To Darwise and Nvizzio, survival of a hostile environment is serious business.
“It’s very much about being able to overcome the threats of the planet,” he explains. “Mars is a very hostile planet, but it is a place where you can live... It’s like people living in Antarctica. The indigenous people there say it is a place with a lot of resources to survive. But when we, people from a Western society, go there, we think it’s dangerous. It’s not. If you go somewhere, you need to learn how to survive with the local resources.”
Because living and finding a way to live in such a hostile environment is an undeniable challenge, teamwork is an essential aspect to gameplay, Charbit tells me. “It’s a sandbox game so it's very open. If you guys want to kill each other you can. But if you want, you can cooperate and team up and try to build all these things together - like build bases and shelters. We, on purpose, introduced a lot of depth in all the game systems so you cannot master all of them. You will have strong incentives to cooperate with other players and team up.”
Even at an early demo stage, ROHK had a lot to offer, and it had better with the timeline the team has put in place. They plan to release it on Steam Early Access in September of this year, to get it into the hands of players and amass as much feedback as they can get. Part of that initial planning Charbit discussed was for patches and updates to the game that would be released weekly. In order for that to happen, they want to have the content and tools completed before launch.
“We have a lot of work to do to polish this whole thing, Charbit tells me. “And that’s the purpose of the Kickstarter, as well. We want the means to not rush through the production. We can increase the size of the team to deliver, not just a good game system, we will also create a good immersive experience.”
If the team can continue on their current trajectory, ROHK has the potential to be one of the most exciting and immersive survival games to date. Until then, check out their Kickstarter here for more details.