Video Games

Obscurant’s Mesmerizing Take on Mimicry Looks Like Nothing I’ve Seen Before

In Obscurant’s opening moments, it’s not immediately clear why what looks like a typical top-down adventure game is laid out on a grid. Why is it that every time the android-like amnesiac protagonist walks through the desolate sands of the first desert region, it feels tiring and rhythmic, as if he had to stop and think?

And then I meet the “Little Round Guys”.

They are strange, robotic little creatures, shaped like Nier: Automata’s most basic mechanical foes. They come and go in a pattern. Take two steps back in one direction, he takes two steps back the way he came, and repeat. Repeat this a few times, then pause mid-pass to charge for 5 beats, then light up again to resume the pattern. If they find an enemy, aka me, they will chase. They are faster than me and always catch me.

This is where, immediately, the grid and my character’s hesitant stomping motion click into place. When I move, they move too. Each step is one “turn” for him and he can stand in one place and press a button once and wait for the turn to pass. At first, it slips through enemies with a Necrodancer-like rhythm. Next, find a broken little round man on the ground and steal his costume. This is Obscurant’s main his loop. To avoid being observed and killed by more little round guys, I need to become a little round guy and be effective. Trick them into believing in my masquerade. In one direction he takes two steps and goes back the way he came. Then rush past while they recharge. When they wake up again, repeat the pattern. beep. beep. Boo Boo.

(The developer, King Brick Games, did not name the Little Round Guys. They did so via an in-game journal. Use the in-game journal to hunt down all the enemies you encounter in the Wasteland and beyond. I can write down the names and notes of Buffy at will, and even apply the names I give to the enemies themselves when I see them in the world. It’s also hilarious to name a very serious foe with a very silly name, like a cow creature named Buffalo.

Obscurant’s clever and effective mimicry has never been seen before at any scale, let alone a small game development team. Creative his director started as Liam Harwood’s college thesis project, initially a side-scrolling platformer. Working as a full-time software developer outside of games after graduation, his Harwood picked up Obscurant again and tried a top-down approach. A few months later, it worked out well enough that he asked three of his best friends from school—his Max Vitkin, the developer, his Eri Caferra, the artist, and Brian McCarthy, the audio director—to join. At this point, no one had any experience in game development, except for Caferra, who had done art on very small game projects. At the time, Vitkin was working in financial services, McCarthy was also in software development, and Caferra was a freelance artist.

How do you calculate if someone is suspicious of you? Because it’s a vague concept when you think about it.


The closest thing to the ideas of identity, stealth, and deception that King Brick explores in Obscurant is the Hitman franchise, and yet the two are vastly different games. Harwood says it was indeed Hitman that inspired him in the first place. He loved the disguise that Agent 47 wore to gain access to closed areas, but thought he would be more interesting if he had to play part of his disguise and trick the people around him. I was.

“The first big thing we had to figure out was how the actual mimicry mechanism works,” says Harwood. “How are you going to calculate whether someone is suspicious of you? Because it’s a vague concept when you think about it.”

They started with basic moves like the Little Round Guys described above. In addition, the Obscurant extrapolates concepts in other ways, such as examining interpersonal relationships between adversaries and mimicking dialogue in later realms. said to Because there are few other models of camouflage mechanics to follow in games.

“A big part of what we struggled with was explaining to players what imitation as a mechanic really was, because I think that’s something that’s not really explored in games,” says Vitkin. I will explain. “I don’t think it’s super intuitive, so when you get to the first enemy, it’s the first step that a lot of people struggle with. At the time, there wasn’t a lot of guidance on what it meant to imitate.” We tried to hint at it because we wanted players to try to figure it out for themselves, without necessarily having to keep their hand. tried to abuse the line of sight, which was not possible, or tried to force their way through it, which was also not really possible.”

However, mechanics were not the only challenge for the team. Caferra said Obscurant made an “artistic transition” during development. Initially, the entire game was in high definition format, but later decided to make the backgrounds all pixel art so that the whole team could help create them. rice field. It turns out that blending in is necessary for players to follow the main game action.

“I also felt like it made Obscurant weirder, in my opinion, because it’s supposed to be a weird game, and this mix of art styles is weird,” says Caferra. says Mr. “So the fact that the backgrounds of Pixel’s art are almost visually blurry compared to the animated and living characters only adds to the ambiguous nature of this game.”

official screenshot

Caffera adds that character design began with written descriptions from Harwood of what the characters should look like and what their personalities are. From that description, we then drew a few silhouettes, which were then voted on by the rest of the team, and Caferra created art from the winning silhouettes.

This is the same process Caferra used to draw cartoons for the group’s college D&D sessions, based on the character descriptions given. “They got it out of our heads and put it on the page,” says Harwood.

McCarthy says he had never composed a soundtrack before, so he had to lean into what he knew: guitar. He’d been playing for years and didn’t have a lot of experience writing or recording, but he’s had similar work from composers like Darren Korb’s Bastion work and his soundtrack to Andrew Prahlow’s Outer Wilds. The guitar-centric production reassured him that he could. work too.

“I played Bastion when I was in high school and was used to highly orchestrated soundtracks, so when I heard this very guitar-heavy soundtrack coming from a singer-songwriter background, it was like I think it clicked, like, ‘Oh, I can do this,'” McCarthy says. I have.”

With Obscurant completed and out the door, the future of the four members of King Brick Games looks as vast and unknown as the protagonists of Obscurant in the Desert awaken, but in a much brighter way. They want to keep making games even if they can’t do it full time all the time. At the moment, they’re exploring ideas for multiplayer cooperative games, but their experience with Obscurant opens the door to opportunities for members of the group to collaborate with other game studios, teams, and projects as well. They seem to be satisfied.

Rebekah Valentine is a news reporter for IGN. you can find her on her twitter @duck valentine.

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