Starbreeze Studios: Syndicate plays different ‘compared to other shooters’

Starbreeze Studios has tough competition in the shooter genre with their upcoming game, Syndicate. We at PSU have played a lot of shooters, so we asked Starbreeze Studios some questions in regards to how the studio plans to make Syndicate feel like a fresh shooter and how it balance its co-op experience.

PSU: “After playing the multiplayer demo, the HUD seems to have a lot going on, but it also maintains a very clean and easy-to-follow look. How hard was it to obtain the fine balance between the two?”

Andreas Gschwari, Senior Designer Co-op: “It took us a few iterations to get the balance right. Co-op always means that you have to have certain elements on the screen on top of just ammo for example. As a player you need to know the status of your team members and in our game we also felt it was important to communicate the breach applications each member of the team had selected. We started very minimal and then added elements that we felt we had to get on – we overshot our target a bit, and then removed some elements again. As it is we are very happy with the UI. It might take a bit getting used to, but we feel we have achieved a good balance in the end.”

Tommy Johansson, Lead Level Designer: “Displaying the three teammates at the top section of the screen is also a legacy from the old Syndicate games. It fits into the lore with being directly chipped into the information network, seeing the status of your team is a big tactical advantage in a combat situation. We tried to have your own health bar and icons up there as well, but it became cluttered. In the end it was more readable with only your three teammates displayed and your own health communicated via on-screen blood effects and sound queues.”

PSU: “How do you feel about the several comparisons your game has been getting to Deus Ex?”

AG: Most people seem to forget that Deus Ex and Syndicate were pretty much developed in parallel. By the time Deus Ex came out, we were already closing in on our finish line. So it’s brilliant to get comparisons, as Deus Ex is an outstanding game, but in reality we were not influenced at all by it. It is obviously also inevitable that both games get compared simply because of the cyber-punk futuristic settings. But I think even there are clear differences. Syndicate portraits a much darker, much more sinister future in which governments and government agencies are largely superfluous. It’s all about corporations.

PSU: “There are a lot of difficulties in making a modern first-person shooter unique and interesting. What were some of the steps Starbreeze took to set Syndicate apart from other games in the genre?”

Viljar Sommerbakk, Lead Combat Designer Single-Player: “We developed the breaching mechanic as an additional gameplay tool, as well as the "IPA overlay", or DART vision. Giving the player these powerful tools meant we could increase the difficulty as well, making full use of our advanced AI. If you try to play Syndicate as a regular FPS, you’ll most likely be overwhelmed, but by mastering these mechanics, you’ll soon feel how differently Syndicate plays compared to other shooters. You’ll be more engaged, and you have to perform more actions per second than what you’re used to.”

AG: “What Viljar mentions here is also very true for Co-op. Four random people can probably get away playing co-op as a regular shooter on our normal difficulty setting, but when trying on hard or expert, the additional mechanics really come into play. Breaching, breach applications and DART vision are key tools that need to be used. The great advantage is that it allows us to be more open in the combat encounters and allow for different outcomes and scenarios.”

PSU: “How does a studio turn an isometric top-down game into a FPS? I would imagine that it would be rather difficult, plus I would wager that there are quite a few fans of the original at Starbreeze.”

VS: “I think you have to distill the essence of the original game, understand what it was about, and extrapolate from that. The original Syndicate was very hard, brutal, and fast-paced, set in a world of corporate warfare, literally. We’ve taken all those elements and wrapped them in an updated visual package and control scheme. Our main goal was to make a great game, with those elements in mind.”

PSU: “I’ll end with another co-op question. Are all of the co-op maps made specifically for four players, or are there any that are rated for less players?”

AG: “It’s always tricky to design co-op missions, taking into account the vast range of skill the different players bring to the table. Our normal difficulty rating is balanced in such a way that four average players can go through without any real upgrades and have a fun gun-and-game experience. That does mean though that people who are just really good at shooters will be able to do these maps alone or with a friend. Hard and Expert modes are definitely geared for four players though, but then again I am sure a few people (with enough upgrades) will be able to beat them eventually with smaller teams. At the core, we want players to work together as a team, have fun and beat some tough encounters – we leave it up to the player how much of a challenge they want to create for themselves.”

Syndicate is releasing Feb. 21 in the US and Feb. 24 in Europe. Will you be picking up a copy?