Subaeria is resetting the rules of roguelikes — kill or be killed — to focus on tricks and traps.
The first original title from Montreal-based studio Illogika, Subaeria is a top-down, procedurally generated 3D game for PC set in a futuristic dystopia. Water levels have risen drastically, forcing people to build their cities higher and higher; while the elite enjoy the world's floating cities, the lower class has been shuffled into the water's depths. That social divide is where much of the game's tension resides.
As players explore the game's narrative-heavy world, they'll build skills to trap and destroy their enemies. Each room will feature a puzzle players must solve by sneaking past a robot or defeating it, whether by tricking it into attacking its comrades, falling into traps and so forth. Levels only get harder as you go.
"You don't have guns," designer Elie Charest told Polygon. "You don't have direct weapons. The character has to use the environment to make sure that the robots that are there either destroy themselves or deactivate themselves."
Charest acknowledges that the approach is inherently non-violent, but adds that enemies are certainly violent toward you. The idea was to create a game more about puzzle elements, he said, than a straight-up action shooter.
"It's cheerful to the point of being creepy. Death by bubblegum."
Key to the game as well is its heavy focus on narrative. Subaeria will include play sessions that will range from several minutes to a few hours and include multiple storylines with four different characters. Charest describes each character as having a different — but important — view of their world.
"They all come from different backgrounds," Charest said. "This was really one of the big things we've kept: diversity, the idea that we're not trying to present a single view."
According to Charest, the NPCs have been made to be as diverse as possible, whether that involved gender, sexual orientation or disabilities.
"We're really trying to put the microcosms of society in [the game]," Charest said.
"I think games are opening up. We're not doing games for one type of demographic anymore, so it was important for us that the characters of the game represent this diversity as well."
As players progress, they'll run into specific rooms or characters that will advance a character's story. Philippe Blouin, who worked on the game's scenario, explained that events and other information are recorded in an in-game comic book the player carries with them; this is the only element that will cross over play sessions.
When crafting Subaeria's story, Illogika drew inspiration from dystopian literature, with team members citing influences such as Philip K. Dick and George Orwell. It's a game that pokes fun at consumerism and brands while exploring class troubles, but does so with a light, colorful artstyle.
"It's cheerful to the point of being creepy," Blouin said. "Death by bubblegum."
Illogika is not a developer known for original games. The studio's portfolio includes programming consultant work for projects like mobile game Happy Feet Two: Erik's Adventure or porting Disney Action!, a mobile app for Disney Infinity, from iOS to Android; other works include Cretascope, programmed by the company for the Heritage Center of the State Historical Society of North Dakota Museum.
However, co-founder and CEO David Fugère-Lamarre says the company is ready to step into original game design because it can finally match the right skills and the right energy within for bigger projects. The choice to create a roguelike game, a notoriously difficult genre that feeds on the determination of players, grew out of projects the team found interesting; games like The Binding of Isaac and FTL.
"We felt that we could make a difference within that genre, and that we could make something different," Fugère-Lamarre said.
Subaeria doesn't have a set release date yet, but is expected to launch in mid-2015.