A stunning new indie game that looks like Monument Valley and plays like Grand Theft Auto set in the world of Blade Runner is in the works. It's called Tokyo 42, it's an isometric shooter, and a demo of the game that dropped late last week looks killer. You play as an assassin either sneaking around to kill targets quietly, or bursting into massive shootouts in a meticulously-designed rendition of a futuristic version of Tokyo in both single and multiplayer modes.
Tokyo 42 is being developed by designers Maciek Strychalski and Sean Wright, in cooperation with Mode7 and Smac Games. They've hidden a veritable Where's Waldo? map of sci-fi and gaming references and in-jokes throughout each level. "This is a passion project, we really needed to make something that expresses what we've loved about all these games and films," Strychalski tells The Creators Project. "It's a fan project in many respects."
However, they're trying out a lot of original concepts in Tokyo 42, combining the dearth of affordable technology available to today's indie designers with interests marinated in the spices and oils of internet culture. We spoke to Strychalski about the nature of Tokyo 42 and their plans for the game in the next year.
The Creators Project: Before we dig in, wondering if you can give me a little insight into the story of the game? What does the title mean?
Strychalski: Well, the game is set in a cyber/culture punk future Tokyo, something that came from a love for the city, it's people and particularly how it handles space and color. Everything's layered in Tokyo, with colors and styles blending in the most awesome/intricate ways.
The number is actually an unlucky number in Japan. If you say the words for 4 and 2 it sounds the same as 'to death'. This is one of the themes in the game and it is also, of course, the answer to life the universe and everything, so that was handy.
How long have you been working on Tokyo 42? This demo kind of came out of nowhere.
We built a multiplayer prototype at the beginning of last year which secured us a publisher (Mode 7 who made Frozen Synapse) but we have been working on this full time since October 2015. It's been a hard push since then to get to this demo.
The gameplay looks like Grand Theft Auto, but the worlds look like they could be Monument Valley's cousins. Who were the game's biggest influences?
Well, there's a host. One of our main starting points was this design group called eBoy who do these Where's Waldo?-style illustrations of cities but they fill them with hip characters, so you may find Daft Punk chilling next to some nudists in Paris. We really wanted to find a point somewhere half way between the color and madness of their work and the visual control and legibility of Monument Valley.
Gameplay-wise, we're also drawing from a lot. We really wanted to take something like GTA 1 and infuse it with physics based weapons and movement, to give it a random edge and skill based gameplay. From a physics perspective, we played a lot of Worms, so you'll see a lot of mechanical choices drawn from that game. The big difference being that we are more real time and fast paced. It moves a lot more like Sensible Soccer than Syndicate, but Syndicate is obviously one of the ultimate games in the isometric genre and something that we have taken a lot of gameplay and thematic guidance from. The last major influence is Assassin's Creed and it's crowd stealth especially in multiplayer where we've taken that hiding-in-plain sight approach that that game and games like Spy Party have pioneered.
Are there as many homages and nerdy references hidden throughout the game as I think there are?
Yeah, it's basically chock full of references. We've got a flying version of Kaneda's bike from Akira. There are skins of Corben and Lilu Dallas [from The Fifth Element], as well as Ripley [from Alien], R2-D2 and a bunch of others which we won't spoil. There's blatant Blade Runner stuff in there—the main marketing campaign being run by the megacorp in the game is pretty much a variant on the advertising seen in Blade Runner. The basic coat the player starts with is Deckard's coat. And so on.
In terms of references, the main one is obviously Tokyo itself. It may not be directly visible all the time, but the way the city handles color and form is something we're striving for. And this is not in the Blade Runner neon-lit dark streets sense, but the actual clean, white-green forms of the city by day and it's accents of vivid madness.
Is Waldo hidden somewhere in the game?
Yup, it was one of our first single player mission prototypes, we made a dude with the hat and glasses and everything. We're not too sure about the legality of doing a literal Where's Waldo? mission in the final game, but there will be an achievement for finding 'that character that looks an awful lot like Waldo.' We may even get the Wizard and Wilma and the cats tail in. But there's a lot more besides to find.
Why did you need to make this game?
Where to start. Most importantly this is a passion project, we really needed to make something that expresses what we've loved about all these games and films, it's a fan project in many respects. So we didn't really have much choice in that matter. Beyond that I think bringing a game with this perspective/style up to date with the tech we have access today really puts a new spin on things. We're doing some of the things that the makers of some old classics would have done if they had access to the computing power and the engines we have today. With the physics simulations and the AI that Sean has written, this is like those old titles but with the emergence of todays titles.
Lastly, and this is hard to see unless you play, but full 3D combat from an isometric perspective is something that people stay well away from. Mostly you end up with twin-stick shooters. But we've got a control scheme that really works and, well, it's not been done like this before and it's pretty rad.
How far is the game in development?
We're on a fairly strict clock pushing to finish this year and release early next year (dates not finalized). Our core mechanics are in place so we're now building out a big, varied world to mess around in with loads to discover and do. There's some devious AI types in the works and our game's nudist faction, 'the commandos,' is getting a whole section of the city to itself where the buildings have been covered in greenery. It's looking epic.
What's next for you guys after Tokyo 42? Tokyo 43?
We've got to finish this first, so were not rushing too far ahead, but if Tokyo 42 does well we'd love to expand on it as there are a bunch of ideas that we just can't fit into the schedule right now. Beyond that there's a few games in the sketch book, one involving group dynamics in a combat environment being the most promising.
Learn more about Tokyo 42 on the game's official website.