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BUILDING A WORLD OF CRIME - AN INTERVIEW WITH RESISTANCE GAMES
I got a chance to speak with CEO Anna Salomaa and Creative Director Jussi Autio from Resistance Games about their first title: COMPANY OF CRIME.
Set during the cultural upheaval of 1960s London, the massive and sprawling strategy game sees you taking control of gangland territories as you build a criminal empire. Or alternatively take it down as a member of the not-quite-good Scotland Yard.
The game is now out on Steam and a review will appear on Monday. But now, the stage is set for Anna and Jussi to spill the beans.
How was Resistance Games formed?
Anna Salomaa: The company has been around for two years now, but before that we worked together in different phases of bootstrapping. All of us have worked in the game industry for a number of years before this, most even together under different companies in the past. I’d say the average experience for our employees is around 15 years in gaming.
In putting together the company, Jussi has been the central driving force bringing in people who have similar interests and likes. Over the last two years we’ve expanded and are now 13 strong.
Jussi Autio: In the beginning we pitched a number of different concepts, which we then took around the world to different events and festivals to sell before COMPANY OF CRIME began to get traction. It was around then we realized it was time to put together a company. We sold the game entirely on the basis of a game design document and a PowerPoint presentation. There was no demo involved.
Why did you pick the strategy genre for your first game?
JA: As Anna said, we had a group together that likes the same things, which is the emotional response to why we picked strategy. The business side is that strategy games are really gameplay heavy titles, which are a lot harder to flood the marketplace with. A one person hobbyist crew can’t make dozens of clones as they could with other genres because of how involved these are.
If you look at other types of games released in the past 20 years, you’d find tens of thousands of variants and styles, but with strategy games that can be combed down to a few hundred. From those we can easily parse the design pillars and see which ones appeal to audiences. That helps immensely in the design process.
AS: Strategy is also an old genre that’s been in gaming for ages. It’s a stable platform that has always had a fanbase. Those that like these games as kids will like them when they’re older. It’s not just a passing phase, but something that will stick around long into the future.
JA: Anna is referring to the study they made which showed that while certain genres lose interest in gamers as they age, strategy is the only one that retains interest over time. It also helps that much of the fanbase for the genre are in their 30s and 40s, which means that they have more money to put into the games. I hope that in 20 years we’ll still be here making games, and that the same players who now are joining in are still around too.
The game has a very distinct and evocative visual identity. What was it about 60s London that attracted you so?
JA: London in the 60s is an iconic era that everyone recognizes, even if you’re not a history buff you have at least an idea or mental image of what that time and place was like. You had the rise of the youth and countercultures, Bond and The Beatles, films finally got color, and usually that color was tinted by the styles of either San Francisco or London. I’d argue that this was the last time in history that London was the culture capital of the world.
But once you look under the surface you realize that it goes even deeper than that. The subcultures in the city were vastly different. You had the skinheads, which at the time weren’t the racists they became, but a working class movement against the upper class Mods, who rode around in custom scooters filled with mirrors. The Mods were also hated by the Rockers, who rode actual motorcycles and listened to Rock’n’Roll. There were huge fights and riots between the cultures, and pirate radio became a thing.
But at the same time it was right after the Second World War, and Britain wasn’t as socially progressive then. Dated attitudes and relics of the nobility era still hung around. There was a lot of unemployment, and out of that poverty were born the Kray Twins, who served as the basis for our game.
At a time when people like Michael Caine and others were rising from working class to worldwide stardom, many were making a living on the streets through crime, violence, or boxing. The Kray’s, Ronnie and Reggie, of which the former was openly homosexual, rose to the top of the elite for a time by doing just that. Ronnie would sleep with lords, which caused quite the scandal back in the day, and they both hung out with movie stars and the elite, despite that everyone knew they were gangsters.
When Anna and I visited the site of (rival gang member) George Cornell’s murder, we found that there was an altar that had been made for the Kray’s. They’re like folk heroes, something that’s probably not understood in Finland. We also met with two women who knew so much about the details of the murder that I had only read about in books. They showed us the original bullet holes, now framed at the location, and told us about all the ways the film got history wrong in its depiction.
One of the most iconic elements of the era is the soundtrack that everyone associates emotionally to the 60s. How do you get that connection without spending vast amounts of money on licensing costs?
JA: We have a brilliant in-house sound designer who is one of our founders. He also has one of the longest career out of all us, some 20 years in the industry in different capacities. He’s worked on music and sound for films and commercials, and he’s been in charge of creating the soundscape for COMPANY OF CRIME. Apart from him we reached out to the one of the leading blues composers in Finland, Seppo Kantonen, to create an authentic sound for the game.
Then in editing, Janne has worked on the sound to make it play like it was recorded on original 60s gear, which gives it more life. We’ve put a heavy emphasis on this aspect of the game, more than a typical 13 person team usually would.
AS: Of course we dreamed about licensing real 60s music for the game, but that will have to wait until at least COMPANY OF CRIME 3.
The game also allows you to play as a member of law enforcement in a quest to stop the Kray Brothers. Was this something that you planned on from the beginning or something that came up during development?
JA: It was in from the very beginning when we pitched the project. We wanted to show how there were these two worlds to London right off the bat. Of course during development we often thought of how we really shouldn’t have pitched that, because it meant at least 50% more work for us in the end. But that’s on us!
AS: It was also important to show that the cops of the era (or any era) weren’t completely innocent and clean. There was a lot that happened in Scotland Yard at the time, and we wanted to accurately portray that in the game.
JA: And as luck would have it, three days after we announced the project, the man who was responsible for arresting the Kray Twins passed away from old age.
Can you play as a truly dirty cop in the game? Someone who bends the rules for the ‘greater good’ so to speak?
JA: Not yet. Of course you’re capable of taking things into your own hands, beating suspects and even killing them – which will result in penalties and repercussions – but as far as playing a truly dirty cop we’re not there yet. Hopefully it’s something that we can explore further in DLC.
What turned out to be the most difficult part about development?
JA: There wasn’t any one thing that stood out. We’ve been remarkably good with finishing on schedule, and only in the end have had to consider cutting things, if any.
Certainly some things have been streamlined and not everything is as in-depth as we initially dreamed of, but I’m at that age where you get used to not getting everything exactly as you want it. But for the most part this is as close to the original design document as possible.
If there’s one thing we would have loved to include, but couldn’t, it’s the action camera from XCOM. The idea was that in true 60s cinema style, the camera would film the punch from one angle, freeze, and then cut to the reaction shot of the one being punched in a highly stylized manner. That would have been really cool to add in, but it’s probably something we won’t see this year at least.
How long is the campaign?
JA: That’s a good question that we get asked a lot, and we don’t have a definitive answer right now. It’s still very much in testing as there’s a lot of ways to play, but an estimate is around 15-20 hours for the criminals, and much less for the cops at around 5-10 hours.
The game utilizes a lot of familiar mechanics from strategy games over the years. Was there a particular favorite that you loved implementing?
JA: It’s very clear that we’re hugely inspired by the XCOMseries, almost as much as we are by the 60s. In the beginning we really set out to merge the two. But where XCOM places an emphasis on guns and gunplay, such a thing wouldn’t be possible in 60s London.
Had the Kray Brothers been murderers, wielding their guns around without care, they’d have been arrested much sooner. So instead we made sure to make the melee combat as ballsy as anything you’d experience with guns in the XCOM series.
So one of our main goals was to implement even more tactics that gunplay couldn’t bring. Because characters are often locked in battle face to face, their field of view became an even more important point to emphasize. There’s a thing called Zone of Control in the game, which means that if you or an NPC tries to leave the immediate vicinity of the fight, the other gets an attack of opportunity before you can fully leave. But say that you blind or distract your opponent, that control is lost, leading to entirely new possibilities.
The levels are also far more cramped than those in XCOM, leading to effective bottlenecks that players can use. Say you want to provide shelter or block the approach of someone, you can move your tank class between shelves or counters, causing the way to be inaccessible. Bottles, ash trays, and glasses can be picked up and thrown at others, each giving a unique experience with the combat.
Another way to distract and repel opponents is by taunting them, which can lead to them becoming enraged or frightened. In this case an enraged opponent will attack the taunter blindly, leaving others free to escape or get an attack of opportunity in turn.
What does the future look like, do you already have another project in store?
JA: Our next project is a grand strategy game which takes place in a historically influenced, but not real world. Right now that’s about all we can say.