Updated: July 29, 2021 8:15:35 am
“When you finish the game, you may get a feeling of participating and doing something in your country… maybe let’s get together and do something because things are not going in the right direction,” Yoan Fanise, creative director and co-founder of DigixArt, opens up on the political theme explored in ‘Road 96’ where you play someone attempting to flee a country under authoritarian rule.
“If you don’t like where you are, if you don’t like the country or whatever the situation is, just do something. It could be fleeing, it could be trying to change people’s minds, it could be political, at least do something to address the issue,” Fanise tells indianexpress.com in a video call from Montpelier, France.
Fanise started the indie studio DigixArt with his wife Anne-Laure in 2015, after a long stint at Ubisoft where he worked on several projects including Beyond Good & Evil, Raving Rabbids and Assassin’s Creed. Fanise promises that Road 96 is more than an adventure game and will make players think about what happens when their country falls apart and feeling is the only option left.
“We try to have politics [in the game] but not judgment. In the game, you have a freeway of playing… maybe you don’t care and try to flee every time with many teenagers or you can decide to be more revolutionary and try to fight,” he explains.
Fanise’s indie DigixArt studio is known for story-driven games where he tries to show the impact of war and conflict on individuals. For instance, Valiant Heart focuses on soldiers surviving during WW1, while 11-11 Memories Retold tells the story of soldiers on opposite sides being trapped together.
Road 96, in a way, is a departure from Fanise’s previous games and themes, but still has many similarities including the political backdrop and emotional narratives. But Road 96 is essentially a road trip adventure game about hitchhiking across a country. Set in the summer of 1996 in the authoritative land of Petria, the game not only lets you play through several runs but also allows you to switch between characters in a group of friends attempting to make their way across the border to freedom. Fanise calls ‘Road 96’ the most ambitious game his studio has ever made.
“We started the project three years ago with a lot of prototyping because the system was very complex and we needed to do some research, and to find all the prototypes and constraints for the story. And when we had the script working with simple text, then I really started to create a story,” he says, adding that the “game has the flavour of the 90s, like the classic Tarantino movies…”
Although the concept of road trips has been explored in movies before, Fanise says the genre has not been a part of the narrative and storytelling in video games. “When you travel, you have the freedom of where you want to go, and you don’t know who you are going to meet,” says Fanise, who has co-written the story of Road 96 along with four team members. “The idea came from a lot of people in the team, and this is why you saw the game is pretty diverse — it starts very funny and ends very serious.”
Take any good road trip movie, and you will find the music is central to the storyline. Road 96, is no different. The game features 28 tracks in total, a mix between deep electro and pop-folk. “Each music is attached to a specific character, and will evolve depending on when you are going to have this sequence,” he says, explaining that the team has nine composers, including the band that did the Stranger Things intro theme.
But the journey of developing Road 96 wasn’t that easy for a 15-person indie game studio, that too in the middle of a global pandemic. Now, the game is ready for launch, while many other high-profile games have been delayed by the pandemic.
“The conception and the prototyping phase was finished when the pandemic arrived,” Yoan explains. “We all work from home, but we had very strict planning and our schedule was very tight. So we couldn’t afford to delay anything because we had a very small budget.”
Because the team is small, Fanise helped make decisions quickly and that is how the game was completed during the pandemic. “I think it was more difficult for big companies as they have a lot of security rules,” he says.
Ever since the trailer of Road 96 was revealed at The Game Awards last year, Yoan Fanise‘s award-winning indie DigixArt studio has been praised for experimenting with different storylines and themes that are often seen as “risky” in the mainstream video games market.
Fanise agrees to the point that a small indie studio like his has complete control over the material, the story, the characterisation, and whether to talk about politics or not. “I think maybe this is why video games like indie games have started to be more popular, because they are more diverse than just the same open world where you always do the same thing. It’s basically sometimes a reskin of a game,” Fanise expressed his happiness at having the total creative freedom to show the subject in the game the way it has been envisioned.
When Road 96 launches next month, it will be available on Nintendo Switch and Steam. “I was very lucky because Nintendo contacted us, and after the game was revealed at The Game Awards, they said we want the game on the Switch. They also showed the trailer at the Indie World Showcase, because usually, Nintendo doesn’t really care about small companies,” he said.
But, according to Fanise, there is a reason why Road 96 is coming to Switch and not the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S. “The decision is based on different factors. The numbers show that indie games sell very well on the Switch. For now, they don’t sell well on the PlayStation 5 because since the console is new and expensive, people buy this device to play AAA games and not smaller indie games. Maybe in one year or two years, it will start changing.”
For this project, Fanise got funding from HP, the brand behind Omen gaming PCs, and Google Stadia. Initially, Google helped with the funding, but then they stopped after having troubles with the Stadia. Google is no more associated with the project anymore.
Fanise is very excited by the initial feedback he is getting for the game. Sharing one of the development stories while making Road 96, he remembers how the team came up with the idea to buy motion capture suits to complete all the sequences that involved animations. “We bought these [motion capture suits] and every Monday, we used to do a lot of motion capture. Everybody in the studio was a character in the game. For the face, we bought an iPhone X because it has a specific camera that can track your face very well,” he said. “We did the recording of all the lines, the 9000 lines of dialogues with the tracking,” he adds.
For someone like Fanise, who has spent his entire career in developing video games, India is still a mobile-driven market but he expects users will gradually move to PC in the next five years and eventually start spending on consoles.
Road 96 is still not out yet, but DigixArt is already working on the next big title. “We have already started a little bit on the next project, and it will be related to the world of Road 96,” Fanise though declined to reveal more about the plot and storyline.
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