In the eight months since startup developer Camouflaj successfully funded its ambitious stealth-adventure game République, the studio has been "ripping the guts out of everything" we'd seen from the game, readying the iOS game for a new public showing.
Camouflaj founder Ryan Payton tells Polygon that his studio has spent the better part of a year "doing all the really ugly work" to make République more than just a prototype. The iOS version is now playable, Payton says, but notably different from last year's Kickstarter pitch presentation.
République's 11,000-plus backers on Kickstarter have been informed of the game's evolution through backer updates, but Camouflaj is now getting the word out to everyone else.
Gone are the pre-rendered, Resident Evil-style backgrounds used in the game's original incarnation. They've been replaced by real-time rendered 3D backgrounds.
"We ran into a lot of [gameplay] issues with that over the summer and we abandoned them," Payton explained, "thinking that as long as we can make it look just as good or even better than the pre-rendered backgrounds, our backers are going to be okay with that."
"People say 'We can't believe what you're doing on iPad and iPhone,' so I actually feel pretty good about the decision."
Camouflaj has also been hard at work developing République's AI systems and its one-touch controls since May.
"We spent probably three to four months over the summer creating a highly complex AI system that drives the guards and Hope," Payton said. The work has paid dividends, he says, with "people who are very knowledgeable about the subject" telling the team that République may have "the most advanced AI system ever created for a mobile game."
"The most arduous feature we've been creating has been trying to solve doing 3D navigation with one touch," Payton said. "It's an incredibly complex problem, but it has to be just one tap. Getting the game to work like that, to be able to control Hope, send her to cover, have her change her weapon, take down a guard, hack a system, change cameras ... doing all those things with just one touch is an incredibly difficult problem. It's incredibly subtractive design, but it's where we need to go."
"The past eight months have been trying to make the game fun again."
Payton says he's been looking at Blizzard's work in developing Diablo 2, a complex game driven largely by single mouse click interaction, for guidance.
The team at Camouflaj, which has about 20 full and part-time developers on République, has also tapped some of the art talent behind Halo 4 to flesh out the game's artwork. Payton says we'll see a new vertical slice of gameplay at GDC in March, where he expects to have République playable for media outlets.
République will ship sometime this year, Payton says, hopefully at the tail end of summer. Immediately after the release of the iOS version, Payton says the Camouflaj team will focus its efforts on creating a unique, cool and different PC version, specifically tailored to the platform.
"We're actually going to scale [it] depending on how well the iOS version does," he said. "So if it does poorly, we're going to do whatever we can to make it optimal on PC, but we won't be able to invest a ton of time and money into it. If the game does really well, I know the team has a huge list of features they want to do specifically for the PC version.
"I would look at it as going from a Metal Gear Solid 3 to a Subsistence version of the game," Payton said.
In addition to building new gameplay systems, complex AI systems and making République look beautiful on iPhone and iPad, Payton says he's spending a great deal of thought on how to price the game. He's looking at premium pricing models, games like Minecraft — Pocket Edition and Infinity Blade, and considering in-app purchases in an effort to recoup République's development costs.
"We're trying to figure out a way to price it right," Payton said. "What degree of in-app purchases are acceptable? I feel like Infinity Blade is a great example of how to do it properly, but then again I don't want to sell gold. We didn't design [République] around that and I think we're designing to the platform in terms of just having one-touch gameplay.
"But sometimes I wonder if we're designing the right kind of game, structurally, that's not optimized for what is making the bulk of the money on that platform."
Payton sounds sure about one thing, however.
"We're going to deliver a great playing iOS game that looks great," he said.