Anshar Studios on making Gamedec, cyberpunk RPG about solving crimes in virtual worlds

Gamedec is an upcoming cyberpunk isometric RPG. It puts you in the shoes of a game detective, who solves crimes inside virtual worlds. The story adapts to the decisions you make, but those won’t come easy to you. Players will have to make their morally ambiguous choices and deductions under constant time pressure, never able to collect enough evidence to piece together the whole picture.

The game, which already has a bunch of prestigious awards and nominations under its belt, is set to release in 2020. The demo has been out for about a month now.

We reached out to the dev team to discuss the making of Gamedec. The good folks at Anshar Studios chose to be collectively identified as “the company’s voice.” So, in the spirit of adaptive RPGs, we’ll stick with their choice and this “company’s voice” persona throughout the interview.

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Anshar Studios

Oleg Nesterenko, managing editor at GWO: Hey guys. Tell us about the studio.

Anshar Studios was founded in 2012, when our CEO, Łukasz Hacura, decided to open his own video games studio after working as a programmer for one of the Polish companies. In 8 years, Anshar grew to be an almost 100 people company, delivering work-for-hire services for some of the most-known video game studios out there [most notably, Anshar has supported the development of Baldur’s Gate 3 by Larian Studios and is co-developing Observer: System Redux with Bloober Team — Ed.].  

As for the name: when we were thinking of a name for company, we were going through the Internet dictionaries of extinct languages, and we came across the word “anshar”, which in Sumerian means “gates of heaven.” We believe in the principle of “sky is the limit” and we believe that we will achieve a lot in the future, so the “gates of heaven” are a good reference point for our goals.

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Gamedec art

Earlier, you made a couple of games for VR (Detached, Telefrag VR). Are you using any learnings from those experiences right now?

We were fascinated by how VR made it possible to achieve the next level of immersion in some genres, but after two projects we decided to give it a rest and focus on games we always wanted to do — RPGs. Gamedec is our first project in this genre, but given the experience we gained through various work-for-hire gigs, we’re full of optimism.

What is the synergy between your first-party and third-party projects?

We’re in the luxurious position to decide which project we want to work on and can decline offers we’re not feeling ok with doing. Most of the workforce of the Anshar Studios is focused on the third-party orders, so we’re keeping the cash flow at a stable level, which makes a considerable budget for our first-party projects like Gamedec.

Working with Larian Studios and other top-league game companies is an honor in itself. Seeing how some games are constructed and how they approached certain issues is a profit we can’t have underappreciated. Every third-party project helps us expand our know-how in a considerable way. thus, as a result, makes our games better.

Gamedec gameplay

Where do you want to be as a studio in five years’ time?

Our dream was always about making high-quality RPGs and constantly expanding our portfolio. Hopefully, Gamedec will prove our worth in this field and we will be blessed with a chance to make another game in this genre. Even beforeGamedec’s release, we already know what features we would love to show you in our next project.

You self-funded your previous games. Why did you decide to run a Kickstarter campaign for Gamedec?

A Kickstarter campaign for Gamedec had two purposes. First was to gather feedback about our project and to develop it according to community opinions. That is why we decided to reach out for community support.  We were hoping they could help us make a great game and show us where it can be improved. The Kickstarter campaign also had an additional impact on how much more we can add to the game before its release. Marketing, recognition and press presence were also taken into consideration.

Let’s talk about the game. How did you decide to make Gamedec?

There was a time when our CEO approached Marcin Przybyłek, the author of the Gamedec saga, and offered him a chance to deliver a game based on his books. Long story short — they agreed it would be beneficial for both sides, as we felt the Gamedecverse is great, and Marcin is a big fan of video games and a gamer himself. He was delighted by the vision of making a Gamedec video game. We had a few takes on different genres before we all decided an RPG would be the best one to honor the source material.

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The covers of the Gamedec book series by Marcin Przybyłek

How involved is Marcin in the game development process?

Marcin Przybyłek works as an in-studio consultant and a dialogue writer. He makes sure we’re in-sync with his lore and the world he created. If something wasn’t shown in his books, he’s the one to come up with the ideas on how it might be solved and he’s in constant access for the designers team if they need to consult on any aspect of the Gamedecverse.

Non-linear writing in games still boggles my mind. Can you tell us how you design your quests?

Every case was played as a Pen & Paper RPG session within our core team so the outcomes might be surprising even for hardcore RPG veterans. Decisions made at the start of the case might impact the result of the case. You’re shaping your story, and you are the sum of your choices. If you’re interested in the technical aspect of branching, we made an article about it, and you can dig into it right here.

Detroit: Become Human, for example, kind of punished players for choosing certain options by killing off characters. So, in a way, there wasn’t all that much freedom. Any good or bad endings in Gamedec?

There will be consequences, for example killing a character you were supposed to help will antagonise his family or cut off a branching in next cases (since the character died), but there are no right or wrong solutions, just morally challenging.

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Gamedec

Your game autosaves, and not all that often. Did you go with that feature to specifically prohibit save scumming?

We will be adding additional save points and checkpoints in the final release, as well as manual saves. For gamers who seek more thrill, there will be a mode unlocked via Kickstarter, where loading a game won’t be an option. A decision you made once, will stick with you till the end of the game.

In August, you ran a survey among your backers on Kickstarter to get feedback on the demo available to them. What are you going to do with the insights you gained?

The build we shared with our Kickstarter backers was a pre-alpha build, and many things already changed or will be polished before the full release.

One of the things that came out in the survey is that many players (including myself) found the Deduction mechanic somewhat clear as opposed to making perfect sense. Are you going to tweak it somehow based on the feedback?

We will be having an additional tutorial on how the deduction system works, as well as an additional marker to show the players that what they’re supposed to do now is to make a deduction to push the investigation further.

There is an episode where a car blocks a way out for the gamedec in an in-game world. One of the options to get out is to kill your character and get respawned elsewhere. The postmodernism of it totally blew my mind. Will there be any other instances of the character taking advantage of the fact he’s just a playable character when he is in Virtualia?

Of course 🙂 Having multiple virtual worlds set in different genres and themes makes it very easy to implement many easter eggs or video games references (trolls, cheats, exploits). There will be many more of these to discover while playing the full game. We’re players as well, and sometimes we make fun of games, gamers and industry just because the world and the system allows us to. Harvest Time, a second virtual world we showed you is an attempt to deal with a 22nd century free-to-play games in an unusual approach.We’re sure some players will see it as a fun way to play with genres and themes.

Thank you for the interview! I look forward to playing the full game when it comes out.

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