Launching Pamela into Early Access

A brave, new sort of survival hits Steam as Nvyve Studios launches the Early Access version of Pamela.

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We sat down for a chat with studio director and level designer Adam Simonar from NVYVE Studios to learn more about Pamela (or p.a.m.e.l.a. as it is sometimes written)

You are launching via Steam Early Access this week - why do you feel now is the time to launch into Early Access? Where is the game at?

We're in a pretty good spot in development right now where all of the core mechanics of the game - so the huge amount of weapons, armour, equipment, NPCs as well as building mechanics - are in a pretty good spot where you've got many hours of content to experience. We have even more in mind that we're going to be adding as Early Access continues. Aside from our own internal testing, we're really interested to see what the world is going to think of what we've done so far and get that feedback to guide where our focus should be in the following months.

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Are you looking to see how the players will use the tools you've given them and how to best cater to that in terms of story?

Yeah, exactly. You're absolutely right, we have a huge sandbox of different things a player can find to do and explore in the world already. So we have our own ideas of what we think would be really interesting to add on top of that. We're interested to see what people are loving and want to see more of. For example, the base building mechanics. We've got a wide selection of items already in the game in terms of setting up a safe area, the fences, renewable food. What we could add on top of that, we've got a lot of ideas, and we're interested in having a dialog with the community so the things we're adding are things that we're excited about and they're excited about.


How would you describe the base building in the game?

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It revolves around these power transmitters that you find which essentially create powered areas in the environment that you can place different objects within. So in the trailer you have to put a power cell into one of these objects which then shows you've got a certain area you can build around - a little like the pylons in StarCraft 2. You can then essentially place a manner of different items in that range including wall pylons which can block off areas to make your base more defendable; to turrets which will attack enemies that come near, to more standard things like a bed so you can sleep, as well as hydroponic farms so you can grow renewable food resources. Once you've got a base set up, you definitely have more options in terms of survival versus just having to loot what's in the environment. It's more of a longer term progression thing; you're probably not going to have a whole base set up within a few minutes of starting, but after a couple hours of exploring if you get lucky you might find some items sooner rather than later.

When you build a base if you have these resources, will you become a target for the afflicted?

We're trying to get the balance right. We don't want it to feel too frustrating but at the same time, yes we do have systems in place which will cause the afflicted to attack your base depending on what kind of defences you have available. They can attack your base while you're inside of it - you can come back and they might have been there while you were gone, or while you're there they can come take down the walls and destroy your stuff. It's definitely not something you can just set up and forget about.

Is there a viable way to avoid conflict with them and avoid killing them, or is the game about killing a lot of afflicted?

You can play either way to an extent. What we focused on so far with this initial launch on Early Access was making sure the core combat systems are solid and enjoyable. We focused somewhat more on the hostile aspect of the NPCs. That being said, some of them can also be fearful of you, you can also sneak past them. They have vision and hearing senses so you can use a stealthy playstyle. Something we want to be fleshing on a bit further during Early Access is adding a next layer of sophistication on top of their base AI. We targeted a nice solid base which should make most people happy.


Might it even be possible to lure them with food and domesticate them, if you will?

[laughs] That's a really interesting idea. Currently that's a little ways off from what we've done so far, but we definitely have some ideas sort of similar to that in term of what we can do to expand players' options in terms of dealing with them and potentially befriending or coexisting them.

What went into the design choice of the setting - what does the setting offer?

A couple of things really. Going back to when we first started figuring out what is Pamela, we loved survival games like the open world aspect of things and leaving people to their own devices. We knew we wanted to make something which had that as the core experience. But we also love games and settings like Mass Effect, Bioshock, these very well fleshed out fantasy worlds that are so believable. So we set out to say let's build this sort of survival game, but in the setting we feel really hasn't been done in the genre before. It's a handcrafted, highly detailed utopian city. While you can definitely draw similar comparisons to the core gameplay between many other games on Steam, the change in setting is pretty profound in that you're not walking around chopping down trees or finding berries to survive. You find yourself in this sci-fi apocalypse setting where you're needing to survive, but because it's a unique setting you don't understand all the rules. There's a lot you have to learn over time as you're playing. It's not necessarily just cut down a tree kind of thing, not that there's anything wrong with that, but people have much better pre-conceived notions of what they're doing in those types of games.

What are your thoughts on multiplayer - is it something you're exploring?

For launch, multiplayer is something we haven't focused on too much. We've been mainly paying closer attention to making sure the single player is solid and we're happy with it. Multiplayer or a co-op mode of some sorts is something we'd love to do, it's just a question of when we might go about tackling that. Whether it'd be after full release, it's hard to say. I can't say anything too specific about it, other than we are interesting in doing it.

How do you approach narrative?

It's difficult to convey these things in an open world setting. At the end of the day, someone can completely ignore it or choose to follow it, so we need to make sure it's going to be unobtrusive so it doesn't bother people who aren't interested in it. But it's handled in an open way. It's going to be expanded post-launch. We have a lot of ideas in terms of how to enrich it further. Essentially you'll be able to find different data logs, diary entries, and security alerts - these kind of various communications between the populous of Eden before the city fell. So you can see how the city was run before it went to hell and get a glimpse into what the society was about. You'll also be able to get a glimpse into Pamela's story herself. It's the name of the game as well as the city's AI overseer. So through these audio logs she leaves behind, you learn who she is, how she came to be, also leading up to the events of the game. There's quite a bit to discover there but it's completely optional in that people can choose to pursue these things or completely ignore them. Both options are viable depending on what people are personally interested in. It's definitely one of the areas we're going to be expanding quite a bit during Early Access, depending on the community feedback we get.

With no survivors left in cities, is it just Pamela that's down there? Will there also be NPCs?

In terms of friendly NPCs you can encounter and talk with, that's not something that's currently in the game. We've focused more on the standard afflicted citizens who will be mostly hostile to you. Without saying too much, we have some plans for updates down the road which might be more towards that kind of thing.


Are there plans for console release in the future?

We've looked a little bit into consoles, the difficulty for us is that this is our first title. We want to make sure it is as solid as it can be on PC, so we aren't looking too deeply into consoles until our full Steam release. We're definitely interested in pursuing it. It's something that might happen but it'd be a fair bit later than the PC launch.

Any updates on VR - is it something you're still exploring?

VR is a tough one. Without going on and on about it, I think a lot of people have heard it's difficult to properly shoehorn VR support into a game which wasn't built from the ground up for it. The best VR games nowadays are usually VR only. That being said, I think a lot of systems in the game such as our user interface could work really interestingly in VR. In terms of integrating it as a playstyle in the core game itself, it's not something we'd be able to do at the moment, purely due to how much time it would take. That being said, we're think about potentially, at some point down the road, making a separate VR mode or maybe companion app. Nothing too set in stone yet.

So with Early Access around the corner, what is it you're looking forward to and how do you see the road ahead?

We see it as a mix of a couple things. One being we'll be continuing to add features we had planned and hadn't been implanted into the game yet. So we're looking a mix of that along with community feedback, in terms of balancing and polishing the game. Once we get the thousands of people's thoughts, we'll be able to fine tune things much more so than we could with more limited testing we have here. There will be new content coming, balances and improvements in the game based on community feedback and stabilisation overall leading up to a full release.


Below is an old interview with Adam Simonar from GDC 2016, a full year out from the Early Access launch as it turned out.


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