Space combat game Chorus splashed onto the scene in December, delivering an epic journey across a universe packed with lore-driven mystery and tense dog fights. VG247 called the game a delightful end-of-year surprise and GamesRadar said Chorus “conjures the feel of a good Star Wars battle scene.”
We chatted with developers Deep Silver Fishlabs about how the company made the leap from creating the beloved mobile spaceflight sim series Galaxy on Fire to an entirely new sort of space game on Windows PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Stadia, Luna, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S. The studio also chatted about the inspirations for their new creation and how Unreal Engine breathed life into their new concepts.
Marek Berka is a battle-scarred creative director of video games. Over the past two decades or so, he has led video game projects of all shapes and sizes through many development cycles. Berka has served as a key lead on several game projects from concept through post-production and contributed to many more. He’s on a mission to share and celebrate human emotions and world culture through original and meaningful video games. Under his belt, Berka has accumulated experiences at Madfinger, Exient, Vatra, 2K, and a slew more. Currently, he is Studio Creative Director for Deep Silver FISHLABS.
Tobias Severin is an industry veteran with an impressive breadth of experience with prior roles at InnoGames and Gameforge, to name a few. Currently serving as development director at Deep Silver FISHLABS where he spearheads development efforts and game experiences across multiple platforms and constantly pushes the boundaries of production to squeeze out that last bit of performance. His interests and experience span all technical areas of game development. When not catching waves, he aims to bring video games greatness to the unwashed masses.
From where did the idea for Chorus come?
Marek Berka, creative director at Deep Silver Fishlabs: The original idea was connected to the legacy of the Galaxy on Fire games for which our studio is known. At the same time, the initial intention was formed with the transition to the console market in mind. As we were thinking more and more about the setup, we realized that we needed to make some fundamental changes as to how we were approaching gameplay, and we needed to find our authentic expression for the next game. At that moment, the first shapes of Chorus were created.
How did it evolve from initial concept to its current state?
Berka: Every game development cycle is marked by evolution. We were trying to come up with something that plays great, feels great, and can provide some audio-visual satisfaction. We shaped something we are proud of, and the whole team did a great job in achieving that.
Specifically, we focused very early on the game's core, its second-to-second gameplay interestingly mixed with mysterious “space magic.” When that was set right, and we really liked that, we knew what we were trying to achieve, and we steadily moved in that direction.
Image courtesy of Deep Silver Fishlabs
Deep Silver Fishlabs is best known for its work on mobile games and specifically for the excellent Galaxy on Fire mobile games. How did that previous work shape and inspire your work on Chorus?
Berka: It helped us to build upon that legacy. Inspiration-wise, there were many lessons learned from previous flight models and general structure of the game, which we used as a solid foundation.
What made you decide to develop your game using Unreal?
Berka: To develop with Unreal was a question of practicality and quality. We love Unreal Engine and its intuitive environment for creating something beautiful. We believe we tapped into the deepest corners of its technological advance and, combined with our awesome engineering team, we achieved one of the most aspirational goals: having a beautiful, polished game running 60 FPS in 4K resolution.
What challenges did you face when transitioning to a cross-platform game, and how did Unreal Engine help solve those challenges?
Tobias Severin, development director at Deep Silver Fishlabs: Engines like Unreal help significantly when bringing your game to a large variety of platforms. A lot of the technical requirements for platform holders are usually already addressed. This is especially true for the more established ones. For the latest generation of consoles and PCs, the team at Epic provided support very early on, and it helped that we have access to the source code, giving us the possibility to fix issues ourselves or apply hotfixes from different UE versions.
From where did you draw inspiration for the game's story of Nara and the sentient starfighter Forsaken?
Berka: We wanted a tainted, dark hero. Someone with a believable motivation to do what was ahead of her. There is no specific source of inspiration, just similarities. In general, dealing with and accepting darker parts of our human nature and healing it in the process is probably closest to what comes to mind.
Forsaken is closely intertwined with the theme, and at the same time, we were looking for someone who could become a trusted buddy for Nara when deep in space. As parts of the back story have metaphysical touches, combined with an AI-driven companion, this creates an interesting situation and provides a fresh perspective in such situations.
The game features a deep story set in a rich new universe. How will players explore not just the story of Nara and Forsaken but the history of the fictional universe in which all of this takes place?
Berka: Exploration is part of the game, but not every bit is mandatory. We wanted to give the player freedom to roam a bit and look for interesting sites and places on their own. When they do, they can find side missions and side stories, and all of them are soaked in the backstory of the game world and the location where they are being placed.
Those interested in more details will find them, but we believe that there are also action-focused players who may not be that interested in it. For those, we have unique and rare rewards hidden between stars and asteroids. For example, most of the upgrades for Rites of Powers are not in the main storyline, and neither are the most interesting equipment sets.
Image courtesy of Deep Silver Fishlabs
Are there any particular challenges you overcame in developing the game that you'd like to walk us through?
Severin: We wanted to provide the best possible gaming experience for all our players, making sure it runs well on older hardware as well as bringing benefits for the latest machines. In general, Unreal Engine brings a lot of options in terms of adjusting the visual quality depending on the hardware. I think the Epic team brought forward a lot of learnings from Fortnite and made it accessible to all developers, for example, dynamic screen resolutions, which we use a lot.
On our side, we heavily invested in automated performance testing and tracking, which saved us in the late production stage.
Besides more technical challenges, it was the first time the team created cutscenes on that quality level, and the reveal trailer set quite high expectations. Finalizing the cinematics during a pandemic kept us busy: actors could not travel or needed to stay in quarantine when changing jobs, and the teams needed to handle huge amounts of data from a home office. But in the end, I am very proud of what our small team has achieved together with our outsourcing partners.
Space combat video games have a long, complicated history that stretches from the early examples of titles like Star Wars to influential '90s games like Wing Commander and SubSpace to modern creations like Eve: Valkyrie and the Everspace games. What approach and elements from this history are you drawing from to create your game?
Berka: Some bits I am going to mention are not exclusively related to the space combat genre, but those are not less important. We were going back and forth when looking for specific and original Chorus expressions into the genre. In the end, a deep lesson learned from titles like Privateer and Freelancer was the believability of the space and game world. Not talking about empty spaces or beautiful vistas, every game has those, but the way the world is constructed, the way backstories are told, the way factions are introduced and used all helps immersion tremendously.
Also, the latest trend is more aimed towards the simulations and huge, generic space, which because its size very often feels shallow. That's what we wanted to change, to have soul in a location, to have handcrafted parts, which speak on their own what is happening there when the player is not looking.
Image courtesy of Deep Silver Fishlabs
How does Chorus set itself apart from such an eclectic mix of space combat titles?
Berka: Chorus is a space shooter game and aims to provide very quick and adrenaline-rush-driven gameplay. Accent on speed and dangerous maneuvering set us apart from any strictly simulation-driven titles. We also treat space more in a space-opera style so that you can hear many sounds and effects, but that's because we wanted it to be that way, not because we don't understand how a vacuum works. There could always be interfaces in such ultra-tech ships like Forsaken, which transform any sensor stimuli from outer space into audio inputs. Why not? It helps you stay aware as the pilot. Star Wars was an obvious inspiration there.
Another important aspect is the story and narration. We do not aspire to be recognized as a story-driven blockbuster, but we added a lot to have a reasonable, nice looking and consistent context between missions, to have an explanation as to why Nara is doing something, why Forsaken is like that, how they evolve, and what are the mystery clues to understand where Nara's powers are coming from. That's what we found interesting, and we believe players will too.
Are there any particular elements of Unreal Engine that you found particularly useful in bringing your vision to life?
Severin: We heavily use level streaming and world composition. That allowed us to create large worlds with very dense and detailed environments. This is pretty unique for a space game, I would say.
What PS5 and Xbox Series technological advances are Deep Silver Fishlabs tapping into for Chorus, and how is it making use of them?
Severin: First, the sheer processor power gives us better resolution, frame rates, and loading times. A semi-open-world action game like Chorus benefits a lot from that. If you ever have played in 60FPS, you do not want to go back. And the game really shines on a UHD TV Screen.
Besides that, we introduced physical debris fields to use the additional CPU power, and we are finally wrapping up ray-tracing support and will share specific details in the coming months.
What do you think about the upcoming advances coming to Unreal Engine 5, and how might you use them in future games?
Severin: The team is really excited about Unreal Engine 5. We are currently dipping into prototyping, and we cannot wait to get the first results.
As Chorus is a semi-open world game, we will benefit from world partitioning and the new workflows.
And of course, Lumen and Nanite are game-changers for game development in general. In Chorus, we used a mixture of baked global light and dynamic lighting. Having the possibility to achieve a full real-time workflow sounds very intriguing to me.
Image courtesy of Deep Silver Fishlabs
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Berka: It does not matter whether you are a fan of space combat shooters, a video games connoisseur, or just a curious casual gamer; Chorus is an experience that will hype you up, have you immersed in the story, and will leave you dazzled with the gameplay, soundtrack, and graphics! It’s an experience not to miss.
How can people find out more about Deep Silver Fishlabs and Chorus?
Severin: You can learn everything about Chorus on ChorusTheGame.com and stay up-to-date with the latest news on twitter.com/ChorusTheGame. The easiest way to find out more about Fishlabs and what we're working on is to get in touch! You can find Fishlabs on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, our website, and of course, a lot of our colleagues frequently participate in-game events and conferences all over the world! We love chatting to all sorts of folks about all sorts of things, so come say, “Hi.”
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