Creating the Hellish Biomechanical World of Inner Chains

By Brian Rowe

Horror and first-person shooters have a long and storied history, but few make a first impression like Inner Chains with its unsettling fusion of technologies, biologies, and aesthetics converging into a bizarre, hellish landscape.

The surreal world of Inner Chains is foreign to the one we know. Abandoned by humanity, both nature and technology have evolved and adapted to each other over millions of years, creating a symbiosis in which the biological and the mechanical have become inseparable.

Oblivious to their own history, humans have once again become a part of the ecosystem. Those that learned to manipulate the strange technologies became rulers, while the rest bowed in submission. With a mind filled with the teachings of the Ruling Caste, you set out to find Last Hope and leave the degenerated, dying planet once and for all.

Behind this tale is Tomasz Strza?kowski, the founder and co-owner of Telepaths' Tree whose artwork served as the foundation for Inner Chains. We caught up with Tomasz to discuss the inspiration for the project and the role Unreal Engine has played in bringing it to life.

Tell us about the origins of Telepaths' Tree and why you chose Inner Chains for your debut project.

TA: The world of Inner Chains is closely related to my career as an artist. Since the beginning of my adventure with gaming I dreamed of being able to transfer my work into the game world. The first materials for the game were created in mid-2014, and appealed to experienced developers, most of whom I already cooperated with, as well as good business partners. This led to the official founding of Telepaths' Tree and our full-time work on Inner Chains.

Horror encompasses an endless variety of styles, methods, and intentions.  What does horror mean to you, and what do you want players to take from the experience?

TA: We are trying to stay away from the mainstream. Our horror game is not about screaming faces and monsters suddenly appearing. We want to hold the player in suspense and anxiety throughout the game and, most importantly, show a deeper story. Tension is built by the entire look and feel of the game. The visualizations and music are important, but so are the numerous terrifying events that make the player even more certain that they would not want to be in a place like this in real life.


The environments of Inner Chains certainly make an impression. What was the inspiration behind the visual design of the world?

TA: A lot of inspiration came from my private artwork. In it I try to tell stories and express my observations about emotions, human life, and their darker aspects. I find inspiration in the works of artists such as Salvador Dalí, Zdzis?aw Beksi?ski, H. R. Giger, Hieronymus Bosch, and others, and each of my works has a unique character and style. Obviously, there's literature and music, which also provide me with great inspiration. The unique look and feel of Inner Chains comes as a result of my vision and, naturally, the contribution of every member of the Telepaths' Tree team.

And how does that inspiration extend to the world's inhabitants? What sort of creatures might players encounter?

TA: In Inner Chains nature is no longer controlled by humans and it has started to adapt to the prevailing conditions, taking back everything that was taken away from it. Mother Nature, in its eternal strive for perfection, has started imitating and adapting itself to the technology left behind by humans, resulting in biomechanical forms of life.

The technology created by humans and now left unattended has also been perfecting itself in an attempt to adapt to the new conditions. Evolution couldn't be stopped, and soon a very strong symbiosis between it and nature forms. In the Inner Chains world it's difficult to tell what is alive and what is mechanical.


It's obvious that you want players to drive much of the experience. How did this impact your approach to designing levels and encounters?  

TA: We put a lot of effort into the design of every location and implementation of the mechanics. Levels are created to allow for a variety of gameplay possibilities. Our goal is to let the player choose how to approach a given problem, whether that's trying to sneak by unnoticed or engage in direct combat and cleansing the world of evil. 

Why did you choose Unreal Engine 4 to help bring the world of Inner Chains to life?

TA: Most people on our team had previously worked with Unreal Engine 3, so it was a pretty obvious choice for us. UE4 is a powerful engine that offers immense possibilities. We also appreciate the good support and frequent updates that meet our expectations.


Were there any specific tools or features of Unreal Engine 4 that you found especially valuable, and how did they improve your workflow? 

TA: Blueprints are simply priceless. They significantly speed up the work on the game and offer nearly the same results as traditional programming with less effort and fewer developers in roughly the same time. Without them, work on Inner Chains would have taken much longer to complete and would have required many more resources.

Tell us about the background of your team and how that experience contributed to the creation of Inner Chains.

TA: I spent 15 years in the gaming industry and for a long time I had this idea for a production of my own. Everyone on our team is experienced and has also worked on many gaming projects. Our team members include people who have worked on, among others, BulletStorm, PainKiller, Gears of War, GodFire, Dying Light, Ancient Space, Hard West, and The Witcher 3.

We're creating something new, trying to get off the beaten track and not rely on the games we previously worked on. Working in a smaller team is a totally different experience in a good sense. We're all very much involved in what we're doing. Very good communication is also a plus. This allows decisions to be made quickly and we don't need to climb the entire organizational ladder to get approval. Our studio also has much more of a "family" atmosphere.


Why do you think Poland has become such an exceptionally dynamic place for game development in recent years?

TA: There are many talented people in Poland and gaming is becoming more and more popular among increasingly younger gamers. The Polish government is also encouraging Polish businesses to invest in the sector and recently launched campaigns encouraging young people to educate themselves in this field. Another important factor is the lower cost of developing games here compared to our neighbors to the west.

Where are the best places for people to get more information about Inner Chains?

TA: You can follow us on Facebook and check out our website.

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