Pathologic: Interview with game creators.

By Kirill Ilukhin

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2070

Kirill Ilukhin:

The winds of Internet bring exciting news. The great and terrible developers, Ice-Pick Lodge, are back on Kickstarter with a remake of their best game, ‘Pathologic’.

Why remake ‘Pathologic’ and what it’s going to feel like – I asked these questions in conversation with Alexandra “Alfina” Golubeva, writer and translator of IPL. The dialogue turned out fun, long and educational.

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Hello, Alexandra!

Greetings!

How long have you been working for Ice-Pick?

Almost exactly a year.

What games do you personally like?

‘My Top-3: Planescape: TormentDear EstherThe Stanley Parable. That should tell you everything you need to know about me, I’m afraid. Although, if you count exclusively based on time spent in-game, I’ve given most of my life to Blizzard games.

Games are a vast area, you know. Small games and big games, entertaining games and serious games, book- games, film- games, going-to-the-shops-for-biscuits-games and game-games. Quite often people like just one or two of these categories (say, only interactive films and cool AAA-blockbusters), and I like variety. I sometimes think that if you want to and are lazy enough, games can satisfy all emotional needs.

Your game ‘Cargo’ raised a very important issue. It said that videogames are a waste of time, they pull all the fun out of a player, not giving anything back, and every game just takes the time which could have been used to achieve something greater. But what about games which are a work of art like ‘Pathologic’? What can it give back to a player, so that we don’t consider it a time wasted?

You shouldn’t take ‘Cargo’ so seriously – it’s a comedy and every comedy pokes fun at itself too. You can’t ever say that all works of a certain genre (or format, or type of art) can only do one thing. They’re all different, and you can find catharsis in a children’s rhyme. As well as in games. A wealth of depth can be found in them, too. A person can get exactly the same things from games as from other arts: laughter, tears, new thoughts, inspiration for cosplay or tunnel syndrome.

And what of that will be included in the new Pathologic?

Everything. Maybe a little less laughter, as Pathologic is a game with a very serious face.

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I know you’re not planning to do physical distribution and have opted for digital delivery only. Can you say, as a translator, will you be making the game in multiple languages and which ones?

‘Yes, of course. I can say definitely that the game will be available in Russian (surprise!), English and German. We’ve already started working on the English version – even before we finished editing and writing the old Russian script! It’s all very serious, the English version will be constructed alongside the Russian one (but fear not, the Russian version will be the primary version). Plus, we have wonderful German translators and actors; they say that the German version of ‘The Void’ can compete with the original thanks to their skill. But we’re also looking for artisans capable of translating our game into other languages.’

The Kickstarter campaign said that the game will take 70 hours, and that two real hours will equal one day in-game. That means that each character’s campaign will take approximately 23 hours or 12 days in-game. Does that mean that the game’s duration has stayed the same, or will there be options to prolong the fun?

To be honest, we simply copied ‘the old ‘Pathologic’ timing for Kickstarter, because it’s impressive in its own right. And I don’t think that the game will become any shorter than that. As for longer – who knows. On the other hand, if we make a day last longer than 2 real hours, we might turn it into a real torment for players.

Personally, I wouldn’t mind being tormented for 100 or 200 hours, you know. But will you keep the coffee in-game? Going to sleep in the original ‘Pathologic’ was too scary – everything got even worse in the mornings.

It’ll be there (laughs). And yes, ‘Pathologic’ is designed to torment and tire out players to a certain degree, but it’s good to know’ one’s limits. The tormenting stops working after a point.

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You’re re-working all old quests and even making non-linear ones. Will players have enough time to complete all quests in a given day?

Players should have barely enough time to finish everything if they are lucky and escape crises, injuries, robberies, etc. But we’re not making a game where it’s actually impossible to complete everything in one go (when playing one character, that is).

How re-playable will the new ‘Pathologic’ be, given non-linearity?

How shall I put this… Probably quite re-playable – even now, with a linear plot, it’s re-playable. This game is more about the immersion, the atmosphere and other ambience. But we have found while discussing things with Dybowskiy that we tend to find our own favourite way of doing something in a non-linear plot (say, a quest ending) and repeat it again and again. The number of times I’ve played PS:T – and always the with the same party.

And so on. Alternative options’ exist not to let us play the game again and in a different way, but to think in the very first instance: somewhere in an alternate universe my evil twin has sold Dak’kon into slavery, but not me! Go me!

What I mean is that the game will probably be highly re-playable, but the non-linear quests won’t be added for re-playability’s sake, but because ‘Pathologic’ needs these quests on principle. This is a game about leaving your mark, in the end.

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Will there be new problems for the heroes apart from the existing ones (lack of sleep, hunger, infection, tiredness, etc)? How about adding a ‘Fear’ indicator, or new diseases from bad nutrition, or drinking contaminated water from dirty bottles collected in rubbish bins in infected Town quarters? Can the character catch a cold or get injured and have to heal that separately?

Strictly speaking, five stats to keep track of is already a lot. It’s important not to turn ‘Pathologic into a game with stats, meaning a resource manager. We don’t want that at all. Adding ‘Fear’ , for example, seems strange: if the game is good, fear (and its consequences – illogical behaviour, for one) will be felt by the player in front of the screen, so why have that stat?

We have different ideas on this. We’re looking for ways to do away with stupid mechanistic stats in general, but I won’t ‘spoil’ this just yet. Maybe we won’t do it.

Speaking of health. It would be cool if Haruspex discovered that when using internal organs from alcoholics, he’s getting low-quality ‘goods’ (enlarged liver and such) and he’d have to look for ‘donors’ amongst normal, healthy people, which would make his line even more frightening ‘from a moral and ethical point of view. How do you like this idea?

We haven’t considered this exact idea, but it sounds very much akin to the idea of contaminated food.

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A few technical questions. Will the new ‘Pathologic’ have scripted dialogues using the game engine or in separate video files as before?

I never really understood why make ugly engine cutscenes when one can make beautiful animated ones (except in those cases when the cutscene has to be interrupted by an action, choice or similar). And it’s not just me. So for now, we’re planning to keep video or animation.

Will the Town become bigger? I know you want to leave it as it was – all the buildings and streets. But you can enlarge the buildings and the interiors without changing the overall structure. So will the Town grow in that respect?

Yes, of course. That’s what we’re essentially raising the money for. We’re very eager to make the locations bigger, better planned, more detailed and interesting.

Will we have loading time when entering a house?

Not if we manage everything we want. We’re planning to make a seamless and honest world. What you see through the window is what you get when going through the door to touch it (and die painfully if it’s the Sand Plague).

How much of open-world will the Town have?

The Town will be fully open-world (except a few locations available only at certain times to certain people, such as the Abattoir for the Bachelor). No artificially ‘gated content. You go where you want and have to live with the consequences of that.

No fast travel, I hope?

That’s a trickier question than it seems. Perhaps on some days (towards the end) there will be an opportunity to fast-travel between the three ‘lands’ (the large districts, divided by the arms of river Gorkon). But you’ll probably want to steer clear of those opportunities.

Speaking of Gorkon. Have the characters learned how to swim or are they still waddling at knee-depth?

What’s there to learn? They can swim. You can swim, kind of, in the old ‘Pathologic’ in a small pond. The waterways are lines and only fools swim in lines.

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Who else will be unleashed on the Town apart from rats? I know you like dogs. So, dogs, cats, birds, squirrels, otters? They’d add life to the Town.

Axolotls!

Bringing the Town to life is one of our main goals. We had everything in discussions – from washing hanging on lines, to small spontaneous corner shops. So yes, we will have life but I’m not sure about animals in particular. I really do like dogs, so does Dybowskiy, and our game designer Ivan. The more reason for doggies to stay away from our game!

But there’s a constant howling in the background. And those children’s stories about a mysterious night cat…

There’s howling, there’s the invisible cat, maybe something else. But it’s not a zoo.

As far as I recall, you were going to make the inside of the Polyhedron different for every character but couldn’t make it happen in the end. Will the Polyhedron become truly alive for each character now?

The Polyhedron. We’re not commenting on the Polyhedron at this time. It’s too multifaceted. It can’t be described in words.

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If ‘Pathologic’ is going to be almost an RPG, will there be mini-games or mini-quests to pass the time and get new stuff? Arm-wrestling, fist-fights ‘on a makeshift ring, speed-eating contests?

You think it’s going to be an RPG?

Non-linear choices, open world and quest lines suggest role-playing, don’t they? Never mind the new inventory with equipment…

Oh, I’ve always found this so funny, you know. That ‘Pathologic’ is considered an RPG. That reminds me of old-school rock fans (such as Deep Purple and King Crimson) who count The Beatles as one of the ‘old rock’. Why? What to The Beatles have to do with rock? Perhaps these fans call everything they like ‘rock’. I think the same applies to RPGs.

There are plenty of games with role-playing. Kentucky Route Zero requires it. Telltale Games require it. Visual novellas require it. Are they all RPGs? Of course not. Whether you like it or not, RPG has evolved from ‘role-playing’ to a very specific genre – with levels, training and all that. And ‘Pathologic’ is not within that genre.

Going back to your question about mini-games: mini games are foolish! They are almost always boring and worse than the main game. Although I sometimes hear various jokes from ‘ice-pickers’ about this, and I shudder to think that some of them might not be jokes.

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So no level-ups or stats upgrades?

You have to have a feeling of levelling up – from solving a mystery or saving somebody. But it doesn’t have to be enumerated on your screen.

Will the crafting stay unique to Haruspex? Can the Bachelor make his own medicine or can the Devotress cook her own revitalising soup?

We won’t be adding crafting to other characters just for crafting’s sake. Haruspex’s crafting is special; the fact that he cooks his brews and potions from organs and weeds tells us something about this hero and the world he lives in. If we see that the Bachelor or the Devotress want to express something through DIY, then they’ll have it.

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A ‘question from a Fallout fan – will little children charcters be exempt from accidental or intentional death? Will there be diseased children?

I can’t definitely answer this question. We haven’t planned this out yet.

Tell us more about planned weaponry and the new fighting system.

Fighting. Fighting should be tiring and frightening. You should want to run away from fighting and it should be difficult to fight in general. Fighting is not pretty and not comfortable.

What does that mean in practice? We plan to add something like immediate tiredness to the game (stamina), which can be used either to fight or to run away, and expending it affects the hero’s overall tiredness and health. Though all of this is still a work in progress, and I must remind you that ‘Pathologic’ won’t become a fighting game – we’re not even planning to have an indicator for this. The weaponry will stay more or less the same.

I can’t give you more detailed information, I’m afraid. These are all concepts and they need to be tested. It might turn out that the impression we want the fights to leave you with can be better achieved via other means.

I remember that the original ‘Pathologic’ had a flamethrower cut out but you could still find canisters for it on pyro-soldiers’ bodies. Will we have it now?

Do you know how to use a flamethrower? I doubt’ the heroes do.

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Klara The Devotress (in some translations – The Impostress), was rumoured to kill enemies with a single touch. That didn’t use to happen when we played as her, although her touch still hurt her enemies. Will you make her a proper Walking Death this time or will you leave the fighting as it was?

We’ll see. Again, I can’t say at this point.

Klara wasn’t supposed to be afraid of the disease, but you didn’t change the base gameplay for her. What will happen to Klara’s reaction to the new, cunning disease now?

Klara shouldn’t be afraid of the disease directly. But the disease has consequences (people and their behaviour and relationships). And there is much to be afraid of’ here.

On the other hand, Klara only thinks that she understands how the disease works. Maybe she’s wrong.

Daniel, Artemiy and Klara, as respective reflections of theoretical science and reason, traditional medicine and rituals, sorcery and naivety – all as it used to be. What other character would you add and what traits would they have?

No-one. It’s a tripartite world.

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Will the game have fully voiced dialogues or will the characters all say a standard phrase in the beginning and switch to text-only, as it used to be?

No, we’re not going to fully voice the game. A good quality of that means half a year of tense work with actors in a studio (and the translation costs skyrocket, making them less possible). Voicing also ruins lengthy texts: people read faster than the text is said and will surely skip through the speech. Why make them listen to half-finished phrases then? And in the original version – the heroes say a single phrase out loud and it’s not the phrase you see written on the screen – there’s a certain’ meaning and charm in that. We will leave everything as it was.

What might appear are the voices and phrases of passers-by on the streets.

So are you planning to port ‘Pathologic’ to earlier-generation consoles and mobile platforms, or only in case of good Kickstarter results?

Our list of platforms is flexible. There are no active plans but at the same time Unity allows us to port relatively quickly and painlessly. We will port if we see the demand, but it’s too early to say.

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Let your imagination run wild for a minute. You wake up tomorrow and discover that ‘Pathologic’ has raised a million dollars. What would you do for the game if you had such a sum?

My answer will be boring. If we had an infinitely large sum, we would spend it on infinitely long and quality testing and a never-ending list of models, items and such.

Developers, particularly small ones like us, tend to go mad over money’ and lose their vision – and we’re trying to bring it to life as exactly as possible. Everything we want can be funded by our campaign. What’s left is polishing it over and over and a hundred times over again. ‘Pathologic’ is a big and complicated game.

Are you planning to have Steam cards and achievements, PSN trophies, etc?

Another tricky question! We covered this somewhere in the Kickstarter comments. Short answer: yes, if we can make them substantial and not ruin game immersion. That’s a very important part of modern gaming. But we’re not clinging to it and if we can’t make it work, we’ll do without.

Will ‘Pathologic’ be playable on consoles with proprietary hardware, such as Move or Kinect?

How easy is it to click replies in-dialogue with Kinect? We’ll test it ourselves and then we’ll know.

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Could you tell us more about the ‘Pathologic’ board game? What’s it like, how ‘long are the sessions, what will it look like and what are the distribution channels?

We’re giving it its own website soon. It looks like a board game! A session will run for an hour or an hour-and-a-half. Mitos will draw all the images for it, so the visual style will be the same as the video game, and all the texts will be written by Dybowskiy, so there will be continuity in that too. It will be playable by those completely unfamiliar with ‘Pathologic’ but the fans will be interested to discover new information about the heroes they already know.

Will you be selling it outside of Kickstarter?

Yes, you’ll be able to buy the board game separately.

Will we be able to buy other material Kickstarter bonuses (for the big supporters) though an online shop?

Many bonuses will be for sale, but not all. There will only be five Performer masks – at all. And some other bonuses will be limited edition. But more on that later.

I’ve seen ‘Pathologic’ in concepts on ‘Greenlight’. Any bonuses for supporters there?

No, nothing planned.

This is the second time you’ve gone to Kickstarter. No wish to go back under the wing of a publisher?

We’re not inherently against publishers – they help a lot in organising the working process, which can be difficult for us to do. But we haven’t found our ideal publisher yet and there’s no pressure to do so currently.

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Revisiting the past. Nikolay Dybowskiy has always been against mods, remakes and sequels. Why the sudden change of heart? And if you’re doing a remake of ‘Pathologic’, why not remake ‘The Void’? As far as I remember, the world of ‘The Void’ was three times bigger in early development. Perhaps, its time has come?

‘The Void’ was a remake for the earlier version called ‘Tension’. Nikolay ‘himself keeps saying that what we’re doing now isn’t a remake but a reconstruction. Recreating the original concept from scratch. And that’s absolutely true. Perhaps, having gained some experience and realising that mistakes had been made, he understood that remakes are not always the result of trying to earn a quick buck.

Perhaps a sequel to one of your games? Although it’s hard to imagine how to continue ‘Cargo’ or ‘The Void’ without doing damage to the original games.

(laughing) We haven’t reached the point of sequels just yet.

As much as Nikolay argued about it with the players, they have made several very useful mods for the game (such as the improved Town map). Will the remake have tools for fans to bring something good (or bad) into the game? Will you support Steam Workshop?

Oh, that has caused some very heated discussions in Kickstarter comments! But you see the problem with Workshop support, right? One person will make better textures and a more detailed map, whereas another will dress the Bachelor in a female flight attendant’s dress and add a sword and anime breasts for The Devotress. Our gentle hearts simply couldn’t take that. So, yes, we will have a very close look at mods, but we are very wary of them. ‘Pathologic’ is a holistic creation and fan’s improvements, even very good and well-meaning ones, can damage it. The map was necessary because the original we made was bad.

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I’ll revisit the past once more, this time not-so-pleasant. The original ‘Pathologic’ was unfinished and it was impossible to complete the game without a patch. These days digital distribution has made it easier for small dev teams to sell games even before they are completed. Are you planning to offer ‘Early Access’ to the game on Steam to work out the kinks before final release?

We’re offering Kickstarter backers alpha- and beta-access to the game. We’re hoping that this (and involving professional testers) should be enough for testing. But this will become clear really not that soon.

The most important and final question: how’s your release date? Will you beat Half-Life 3?

We’ve announced November 2016 and we’re actually planning to make that date, so Gabe will have to hurry up!

Thank you, Alexandra, for detailed and informative answers. We’ll continue to follow the fate of the new ‘Pathologic’ and we wish you the best of luck in reconstructing the little big masterpiece.

Thank you for the good questions!

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You can visit the game’s website in English and support it further here.


 

kirillKirill Ilukhin. Born in 1985 in a land with snowy summers and flooding winters. Games addict from the age of 13, actively voicing opinions about them since 17.

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Elena Krysova
Elena is a digital media pro, a life-long gamer and a Tolkien geek. She runs events for The Tolkien Society and spends way too much time in RPGs.