One of the more artistically inspiring indie games to be revealed in recent times is a little known game called FAR: Lone Sails. Not out until next year, the game has already been making waves in the press as a result of its unique style and atmosphere. Created by Zurich-based studio Okomotive, the development team is actually comprised of university graduates who all came together to work on FAR. And with the game being described as “a vehicle adventure game”, I decided to interview both Philip Stern (Lead Level Designer, Okomotive) and Martina Hugentobler (Lead Animator, Okomotive) to find out a little bit more about the game where “the player needs to maintain and upgrade their unique vessel to traverse a dried-out sea”. Enjoy!
How big is Okomotive as a development studio?
Philip: We’re very small. We are four people working there, plus one intern and one musician and sound designer.
So four people plus two outsourced individuals. How long has Okomotive been going for?
Philip: Okomotive was founded this year, 2017. But development has already been going for two years.
Did you guys meet at university?
Is that how you formed?
Martina: Exactly. The project started by one student as a Bachelor thesis. After he graduated, he assembled a team of university teammates.
Is FAR: Lone Sails your first project?
How long has the game been in development for?
Philip: Two years.
When is the game due?
Philip: Early 2018.
Do you have any funding for the game? Or is it something you’re doing entirely by yourself?
Philip: We have a small publisher who is helping us out.
Is that Mr. Whale’s?
Philip: No, it’s Mixtvision. Mr. Whale’s is more of a collective of game studios in Switzerland.
What platforms is the game coming out on? I assume it’s Xbox One and Steam?
Philip: Yes, and PlayStation 4. In early 2018, we’ll be on Steam, and then later on XBox and PlayStation.
So PC initially, consoles afterward. What about the Switch?
Philip: We have a problem with Switch. In this game, the character is really small the landscapes are huge. Switch is a handheld device. At the moment, as the game is right now, it won’t work because the character will get too small.
What about those people who have a small TV?
Philip: That’s also an issue. But a small TV would at least be as big as a normal computer screen, so that probably will work.
Martina: You can play it on a 13-inch laptop. That’s not a problem.
Philip: It works for 13 inch, but smaller, it gets problematic. We would have to make a special version for the Switch…
What inspired FAR: Lone Sails as a game?
Philip: There were a lot of inspirations. In game terms, FTL would be one. Journey was a big inspiration. Also a lot of movies. Theo Jansen, a Dutch artist who makes very creative sculptures that are moving through the wind on the beaches. They are walking with wind power. It looks really amazing. That was one big inspiration.
FAR: Lone Sails is your first project and you’ve been getting quite a bit of media coverage. Most people don’t get that sort of recognition for their first game. How overwhelmed are you by the response that the mainstream games media is showing towards your game?
Philip: It’s amazing for us. We didn’t expect that we’d get this much attention.
How are you coping with your newfound fame?
Philip: Fame is a bit of an overstatement.
Do you get recognized yet?
Philip: No, they don’t recognize us. And we’re happy about that sometimes. At the moment, we are just really humbled and happy that it’s possible for such a small company to be able to be covered by big media.
Philip, you’re the level designer. Are there any conventional levels in this? Or is FAR just one big Journey-esque level?
Philip: There are points of interest. You reach certain houses or structures. Within them you have sometimes puzzles, sometimes just events that happen within them. It’s one, big level, yes. But there will be some points of interest where you have a smaller level within the level.
What sort of design challenges did you have to overcome in order to make the game the way you are making it?
Philip: Several. One big problem initially was how are we going to do the seamless journey of the vehicle. The scenes will be really, really big.
Could it not be like a steamboat?
Philip: Yeah, steamboat. We say it is an “okomotive”, like the company. One point was that if we put all the stuff in one scene, it would have been a really, really big scene and impossible with loading times and stuff like that. And we wanted a really seamless experience. So what we do is we load and unload scenes dynamically where the player is. Goran, our Lead Programmer, has a very interesting talk about that. You can look it up on YouTube.
Martina, I really like the washed out colors. The fact that you both are university graduates, I am impressed by just how good it looks. Why do you think it’s drawn such a strong reaction in terms of aesthetic? What inspired you to come up with the muted greyish sort of colors?
Martina: We draw inspiration from different artists from movies… from all sorts of places.
Black and white?
Martina: As well, but there are also artists that paint harsh landscapes that are desaturated. And we really wanted a color palette that makes you feel lonely and only highlights what’s important for the gameplay. So it’s all a mix of getting the right feeling, getting the right scene.
Is it pretty much black-and-white throughout the entire game?
Martina: There will be some patches of color, but it’s mostly the color palette that consists of grey, some red, and some blue highlights.
How much of an influence did the aesthetic of Limbo have on the game in terms of your artistic choice to make it the way you’re making it?
Martina: Limbo is a lot darker, which is also reflected in the gameplay. You die a lot in Limbo. In FAR, you can die, but you have to try hard to do that. We tried to make it not a happy scene, but something in between dark and bright.
Are you all situated together in a studio? Or do you have to work remotely?
Philip: We are situated all in Zurich. We work all together in the same location mostly for the time. Sometimes we do home office but mostly in the same location.
FAR: Lone Sails is coming out in 2018. Do you have any ideas for any future projects in mind?
Philip: Yeah. Of course, we have a lot of ideas. But there’s nothing concrete at the moment. We are discussing things. We are hoping that when the game is well received, maybe we will do a sequel. But there’s nothing definitive right now. We are talking lots of ideas.
Do you have any plans for supporting the game post-launch with DLC?
Philip: We honestly don’t know. It’s our first game. There’s seriously nothing planned at the moment because we’re just struggling and working very hard to get it finished. And afterwards, there might be patches. There might be DLCs. We just can’t say at the moment. We just don’t know.
What about when it comes out on consoles? Do you intend to have a physical box release?
Philip: I guess not. I actually don’t know.
Martina: I also don’t know. But I guess it’s the publisher who will see if it works or not.
Philip: It will be a financial decision. If the sales are very good, there might be, but I don’t know.
Any final words?
Philip: Thank you very much for this interview. And we’re really looking forward to shipping this game and look how it’s received by the community.
Martina: Thanks for interviewing us. It’s just very cool to work on a new game and do what you love. And we want to keep doing that.
Did you guys always intend to be level designers and animators? What inspired you to want to join, and at what point did you want to join the games industry?
Martina: I just see a lot of creativity in games. When I was younger, I did play a lot of games. And I always thought that this is kind of a dream. In Switzerland I didn’t know about any game schools. And when I got to know there is one, I totally went there because games combine everything I love, which is music, animation, visual arts. You learn to program, you learn how to make sounds, and you learn how to make games, like game mechanics, how they work. All of this fascinates me. I really wanted to learn how to make games.
Philip: Making games for me feels like playing games in a sort of a way because you have this creative process. You have this puzzle you have to solve. How am I going to do that? Will it work or will it not? It’s one big thing for me. I loved to play games as a kid, obviously. Afterwards, I worked as a graphic designer. I always felt there must be more than just doing visuals. So I got into game design. It was amazing. It was a eureka moment.
Favorite game of all time?
Philip: The first Gothic. It was developed by Piranha Bytes way back during the ‘90s.
Martina: When I was younger it was RollerCoaster Tycoon. And right now, it’s Journey.
Philip: Journey is amazing.