Broken Roads Interview

Post-apocalyptic gaming returns home

Broken Roads Interview
Source: Drop Bear Bytes.

There's something fascinating about post-apocalyptic fiction - civilisation brought to its knees, with the desperation of survival revealing the true nature of our humanity. As far back as the earliest surviving religious texts, humans have flirted with apocalyptic themes, and these themes have inspired art, film, video games, and literature ever since. One of the most influential modern works of post-apocalyptic fiction is George Miller's 1979 film Mad Max, set in Australia in the midst of societal collapse. The series influenced much of the post-apocalyptic fiction that followed it over the next few decades, especially the genre-defining games Wasteland (Interplay Productions, 1988) and Fallout (Interplay Productions, 1997).

Later this year, modern post-apocalyptic fiction comes full circle, with the upcoming RPG Broken Roads from Australian developer Drop Bear Bytes. Broken Roads is an RPG inspired by the likes of Wasteland and Fallout, but taking the setting back to its spiritual home of the Australian Wasteland. Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking to Drop Bear Bytes writer Anniemay Parker to ask her a few questions about Broken Roads.

One of Anniemay Parker's goals is to make Broken Roads a living and immersive world. Source: Drop Bear Bytes.

What date are you targeting for release, approximately?

AP: We’re targeting late this year for PC and consoles. I’m really grateful for the community supporting this project for being so patient and kind to the developers, as we’ve made a lot of tough decisions along the way. I can’t wait to be holding those game copies in my hand later this year.

What feelings do you aim to evoke in the player?

AP: I want players to feel like they’re any Joe or Judy Bloggs. To feel integrated into a world where everyone’s got their own shit going on and doesn’t have time for mongrels.

But, I also want to give them the chance to feel powerful if they’re shooting up the place or play a role in whatever political structures exist in Broken Roads. I want them to feel cunning and charming if they’re convincing others to do their bidding. And I want them to feel appreciated and adored if they go above and beyond for another. The player should feel good and bad about what they do for different reasons and hopefully engage in role-playing someone they might not be.

A lot of the team's focus on the project has been to make the world of Broken Roads feel ‘alive’. It can be a difficult feat for any team with any level of funding to achieve this. But, I’ve seen Drop Bear Bytes make leaps and bounds on this sentiment, especially during the creation of the demo we included in the recent Steam Next Fest event.

We celebrated NPC patrol paths working, putting items in wheelie-bins for our players to rummage through, and getting some wicked voice talent to inject life into the amazing dialogue our writing team worked hard on. These changes will hopefully immerse all our players, no matter the path they take.

An authentic regional Australian pub, with a post apocalyptic twist. Source: Drop Bear Bytes.

How many hours do you expect players to sink into this?

AP: We’re aiming for the core game to take 25 or so hours for a first-time playthrough. We’re giving players a multitude of locations and people to get to know along their journey through the Outback. We hope players who enjoy the experience will go back and try different Moral Leanings, different paths through quests, and maybe re-try that pesky skill check they didn’t pass the first time.

We also learned from players who picked up the demo that some playstyles could see them completing it in 25 minutes while others had still not completed the demo after 3 hours.

How big is the Drop Bear Bytes team?

AP: The Drop Bear Bytes team is around 15 people, with a bunch of support from our publisher, Versus Evil, such as co-development, PR, and QA. We also work with a number of external contractors such as writers and voiceover artists to bring Broken Roads to life.

What platforms is this game coming to?

AP: Broken Roads will be coming to PC, Xbox Series S/X, PS5, PS4, and Nintendo Switch. As someone who’s never worked on multiple platform releases, it feels rather daunting! But, I love the idea of being able to release the game on these platforms so our community can grow and others can experience the game we’ve all worked so hard on.

Source: Drop Bear Bytes.

I'm also interested to know more about the inspiration for the game. The first things that come to mind are Fallout and Wasteland of course, and the "Australiana" of Mad Max.

AP: I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with your original thoughts. The other influences I’ve heard about go way back to late 80s/early 90s RPGs, with Ultima 6 and 7 being major inspirations for Craig Ritchie, the Founder and Game Director of the team. We’ve lifted one of the character creation questions as a bit of a homage and Easter egg for those who are familiar. Then, of course, Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2, Planescape: Torment, Torment: Tides of Numenera, and the Pillars of Eternity games.

My first assignment from Narrative Director, Leanne Taylor-Giles, was to play Planescape: Torment. Leanne said the game was a good start on understanding the way we wanted to build the world and how we wanted to create engaging characters. I’m yet to finish it, but I loved meeting Deionarra. I could’ve spoken to her forever. Otherwise, I have played RPGs like Disco Elysium, Divinity: Original Sin 2, Cyberpunk 2077, and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and enjoyed them immensely. I have always been in awe of the scale of work that goes into these games. Working on Broken Roads has given me a deeper appreciation of the genre and taught me a lot about the considerations the narrative team takes into account when designing quests and characters to make sure nowhere in the world feels hollow.

I'm also interested in some of the voice acting talent you've recruited - the trailer offered a tantalising hint of what's on offer.

I was not present for the scouting and recording of the voice talent present in the game so far. I know we’ve had many beautiful comments from players about the voiceover work from the late Jack Charles. It was a delight to find and keep in some ad-libbed lines as they added so much energy to the Narrator character.

Our Audio Lead and Composer, Tim Sunderland, mentioned to me that alongside the voice talents of Aimee Smith, Angela Tran, Hamish Plaggemars, and Jay K. Cagatay are lines recorded with friends and employees at Drop Bear Bytes. I hope I get to have a go at voicing a bark or two for an NPC in our game!

Merredin Town Hall in Western Australia, and its in-game equivalent. Source: Drop Bear Bytes via ABC News.

What is it like writing on a game based in Australia?

AP: I think growing up in the country you’re writing about can make you realise how much you take for granted. A request we got from the community who played the demo was to have some kind of way to know what certain Australian slang meant. It makes me laugh thinking I’ll have to give definitions to words like “bazza” or “thunderbox”.

Another thing I’ve enjoyed is learning more about Aboriginal culture in Western Australia from the fantastic writers and consultants we’ve had on the project. We’re also making a Noongar dictionary for players to be able to learn Noongar words as they hear/read them in-game.

I suppose I saw myself as my own Judy Bloggs, uncertain what I could give to the game until I started tapping away at my keyboard under the guidance and support of the writing team, especially Leanne. I’ve learned a lot about my writing style and it’s been nice to develop that skill under the pretense of the country I live in. It feels like I’m learning from my environment instead of a textbook or an online course.

I’ve also had to learn about Western Australia, a part of the country I’ve never been to, as I’m based in Victoria myself. Overall, I think Broken Roads has put Australia on the map for me. I find it more and more beautiful the more I learn and write about it.

What are some of your favourite or inspirational post-apocalyptic games, films, or other media?

AP: I had heard little about Metro Exodus but picked up the game one day and placed the disc into my PS4. I was hooked in an instant. I loved the management of the Tihar weapon, looking for the lost teddy bear and helping my crew, playing the guitar while your companions sang and danced was a beautiful sight, and I loved the characters. It was a fun ride from start to finish.

Some honorable mentions would be: Warhammer: Vermintide 2, Fallout: New Vegas, Stray, and Horizon Zero Dawn.

Source: Drop Bear Bytes.

How are you balancing the narrative experience for gamers who might only play the game once versus those who will replay it multiple times?

AP: I think the Broken Roads demo showed the team that having more ways to solve problems of any size will go a long way in making a player’s experience feel unique no matter how many times someone plays the game. We want to avoid underutilizing certain skills or attributes as problem-solving tools and want to make a player's investment with their experience feel worth it.

I also think our Moral Quadrants give players a chance to role-play as their current Moral Leaning and grant them opportunities to shift their World View by a couple of degrees.

We also recently announced the ability to complete the game as a pacifist. I’m curious as to what people will have to change about their playstyle to accomplish this goal. Will they have to make choices and assuage people they’d usually prefer to shoot in the head? I hope it gives them pause. But, when a player is gunning for something, those kinds of concerns for players can fall to the wayside.

Thanks to Anniemay and the rest of the Drop Bear Bytes team for speaking to SUPERJUMP. Thanks also to Versus Evil for helping them make this game become a reality.

Broken Roads is slated for a late 2023 release on PC, Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo Switch


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