While isometric RPGs have made a comeback in recent years, they tend to be defined by classic expectations; modernized throwbacks to an earlier age of turn-based, tabletop-inspired gameplay.
With Seven: The Days Long Gone, Fool's Theory and IMGN.PRO look to challenge classic conventions, giving players the extensive character development expected of an isometric RPG, but also giving them the choice between stealth and real-time combat combined with the freedom of parkour-inspired movement in an open world.
Co-developing Seven: The Days Long Gone with IMGN.PRO, Fool's Theory may be a young studio, but the team's prior experience on The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt means they certainly know a thing or two about creating an amazing RPG.
What was the inspiration behind the creation of Seven: The Days Long Gone?
Quest Designer, Karolina Kuzia-Rokosz - We wanted to pay homage to classic isometric RPGs with a rich, mature, and story-driven world. Two of our biggest inspirations in achieving that were the book series "The Gentleman Bastards" by Scott Lynch and "The Broken Empire Trilogy" by Mark Lawrence.
You also cite Thief as an inspiration. What did that game mean to you and why does it still resonate with people today?
Project Lead, Jakub Rokosz - With its in-depth stealth component, Thief was something of a trendsetter back in the day. Mechanics such as hiding in the shadows, snuffing out lights, being aware of noise propagation, and distracting your enemies are all prevalent in modern titles. Most importantly, the Thief series placed emphasis on stealth over unconcealed aggression.
Tell us about the RPG elements of gameplay. How will players be able to define and develop the main character?
Project Lead, Jakub Rokosz - The protagonist's development is item-oriented. Players will be able to insert special components into the dedicated skill chip that Teriel has in his head. This chip will act as a hub for currently implemented skills, allowing the player to easily switch their skills on the fly. Apart from that, you are able to acquire a plethora of items by any means necessary, and craft upgrades for your weapons and armor.
Why did you choose to use an isometric viewpoint, and how did that influence other areas of the game?
Project Lead, Jakub Rokosz - We're all big fans of the classic isometric RPGs, because we love how the perspective makes it feel like you're looking at a beautiful, shifting diorama. But we always felt that there was more that could be done with the style, and it was about time someone experimented with the formula.
Two things that stood out as being particularly limiting in existing isometric RPGs were the invisible walls and being stuck on a single horizontal place, so we decided to implement multi-layer levels with unobstructed climbing. When we established that as the dynamic we wanted from our movement, real-time combat was the obvious choice, although we did experiment with a turn-based system for a while.
The environments are particularly eye-catching; familiar, yet exotic. Tell us more about the setting and the design influences behind the world.
Art Director, Krzysztof Mąka - We've always had a weakness for stylized graphics in games, and taking that approach allows us to show off our talents much more than a photorealistic approach would. Plus, what is photorealistic today will be outdated a few years from now due to technological progress. Stylized aesthetics age more slowly, so even older games can still look beautiful today. This also gives us creative freedom to establish the rules of Seven's world and how things work.
The setting can be described as "beyond-post-apocalyptic." We draw the most inspiration from literature, because we believe there are only a few games with similar world creation. The aforementioned "Gentleman Bastards" and "The Broken Empire" book series had huge influences on us. Ancient technology in those books is something mysterious and incomprehensible. People are using it as much as they are able, but their beliefs and lifestyles correspond more to medieval times, hence the feeling that the world of Seven is something familiar, yet exotic. We're all used to post-apocalyptic, science-fiction, and fantasy as individual settings, but in our opinion, their fusion is a breath of fresh air.
The combination of open-world design and parkour-inspired movement must create some significant level design challenges. How much freedom do players have to go where they please?
Lead Level Designer, Błażej Zając - The biggest challenge for the level design team was the construction of open, multi-layered levels in a way that will not hinder the camera's field of view. It is imperative that the camera can be rotated 360 degrees. On top of that, the gameplay is characterized by unlimited exploration, a fair dose of sneaking, and dynamic real-time combat. These features required us to take an approach to level construction and camera handling that we don't think has been seen in any other isometric RPG to date.
After experimenting with a lot of ideas like different outlines and vignettes, we implemented a couple of different systems to allow the player seamless exploration and a clear view of the path ahead and below. One of these systems is an integrated, dynamic clip mask that hides any static mesh that happens to be between your character and the camera. The other is a custom building-outline system that handles floor visibility when exploring the interiors of ruins or buildings.
Did you have prior experience using Unreal Engine, and why did you choose to use it for this project?
Project Lead, Jakub Rokosz - We were prototyping for a couple of years on Unreal Development Kit (UDK). Because of UDK's inaccessible source code, working with the engine required a lot of workarounds to make our vision come true. Fortunately, Unreal Engine 4 came out around the time when we secured funding for Seven. We made the switch instantly. Its open architecture, Blueprints, and the ability to prototype quickly were key elements in the decision.
Was there a feature of UE4 that proved particularly useful or even surprising during development?
Animation and Physics Programmer, Rafał Jarczewski - The existing navigation mesh system and its architecture gave us the opportunity to implement a system for advanced climbing mechanics and ledge regeneration. Expanding the automatic navigation building process for additional gathering, and marking ledge-like areas, minimized the requirement for hand placement annotations. Furthermore, dynamic navigation regeneration sped up the whole process significantly.
Seven: The Days Long Gone was recently given the Unreal Underdog award at E3. What was your reaction upon winning?
Quest Designer, Karolina Kuzia-Rokosz - Happiness! We're delighted that all of our hard work is being recognized. We're also very proud. This is a deeply personal project for us, so it's extremely gratifying to receive validation that we're going in the right direction.
Where should players go to follow Seven: The Days Long Gone and learn more?