The PlayStation 4 is no stranger to out-of-the-ordinary experiences, but something about Absolver caught our eye when it was first revealed last year. Published by Devolver Digital and crafted by a team of ex-Ubisoft developers going by the name of SloClap, the title looks to put its own spin on what we tend to expect from action or fighting games. And so, in order to learn more about the promising project, we got in touch with creative director Pierre de Margerie.
Push Square: First of all, can you give us an overview of Absolver? What kind of game is it, and what was the original vision behind it?
Pierre de Margerie: Absolver is an online action game with two pillars: melee combat and player relationships. Players explore the game word, in which they meet other players, and from there, they can access dedicated PvP game modes. We started by synthesising our vision with some taglines: "Combat is a dance" and "Movement is your weapon", which then inspired the design. Basically we wanted to create a combat game that was both deep and accessible, and which would convey the beauty, the physicality of martial arts combat. But we wanted to make a game that was also a social experience, and not just about fighting: a combat game that's also about making friends.
Multiplayer is clearly a focal point of the game, but how does it all work? Is it a seamless experience where you simply stumble across other players as you explore, or is it more structured?
It is both actually. When you're exploring the game world, the multiplayer is totally seamless and transparent for players: you stumble across other players as you explore, and every time it's a new story. Will we fight? Make friends? Trade? Betray each other? However, from the world, players can go into game modes: 1v1 duels, or 3v3 team modes, and here it's more structured, with matchmaking, win and loss conditions, etc.
Can Absolver be played offline? Can players choose to explore the world alone if they want?
Absolver can be played offline, for the players who are mostly interested in discovering the game world and learning about the story. However, the core experience is really based on multiplayer, whether it's the combat or the social components, so we recommend playing online!
Absolver has a fantasy setting - can you tell us a little more about its world and what we can expect from it? From a gameplay perspective, is it an open world that can be freely explored?
I don't want to say too much about the game world and the backstory, because part of the fun is getting to discover it, and piecing together the puzzle of why you're here, and what the rules of this world are. It's a low fantasy setting, so it's a world with magical elements that function under specific rules, but no fantasy tropes like dragons for instance. From a gameplay perspective, most of the game takes place in the ruins of a fallen city, which can be freely explored: it's an open world, but don't expect a huge map to explore for dozens of hours - remember that we're a small studio!
Melee combat is obviously at the core of Absolver. How difficult was it to develop a combat system from scratch?
It's clearly a challenge, especially since our combat system is really original. I think a good 3D combat system is one of the hardest gameplay templates to design and develop, but we are an experienced team, and we're driven by what we love, so we knew we could make it happen.
When you look at traditional fighting games, balance is always a big talking point. Was balancing ever an issue for Absolver?
Balancing is clearly very important for a fighting game. We're going to run alpha/beta tests to have the game as balanced as possible for launch, and then we probably will be making some tweaks as the game goes live. One thing to keep in mind is that a key element of the game is being able to create your own combat style through our combat deck interface, so there are literally hundreds of thousands of different possible combos - as a result, I think that when some attacks or combos start dominating, we'll see counter-strategies emerging, and in a way the game should also balance itself at a meta level.
Going by what we've seen of the game so far, Absolver takes its martial arts quite seriously. What kind of source material did you take inspiration from?
We plan on having different combat styles at launch, and we draw inspirations from a variety of martial arts: kung-fu, krav-maga, kickboxing, karate... Our animators look for inspiration everywhere!
Absolver's got quite a unique art style - the masks and the makeshift armour stand out in a lot of the media that you've shown. How important do you think a recognisable art style is when it comes to presenting your game to the market?
It's clearly important, but we didn't develop that style just to stand out in the market; having a stylised art direction is also a way to let players project their own imagination in the world. It also has a purity to it that allows you to focus on the dynamic of the movement during combat, rather than on the minor details of textures. Most importantly, we wanted to make something that we found beautiful, and that we related to - so that's what we did!
All in all, Absolver sounds like an ambitious project. As an independent developer, did you ever question whether you were trying to achieve too much with the game?
We question this all the time! It is clearly an ambitious project, but we have a senior team, and we feel confident that we are able to achieve what we set to do. We actually managed our scope pretty tightly, and were not afraid to cut features that weren't part of the core experience. Besides this, we also intend to keep updating the game after launch, so things that we won't be able to do for release may find their way in the game at a later date!
We often hear that Sony has a good relationship with indie developers - can you tell us anything about your interactions with Sony?
We are partnering with Devolver Digital to publish Absolver and we have a great relationship with them - they work with Sony directly, and seem to have very good interactions with the teams at Sony.
Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions on Absolver - can we be cheeky and ask if there's a release date coming soon?
You can certainly ask! And I'll answer that yes, there is a release date coming soon!
Are you interested in Absolver? Does it sound like your sort of thing? Create your own combos in the comments section below.
[Thanks to Jessica Bruno and everyone at SloClap for making this interview possible. Special thanks to Pierre de Margerie for taking the time to answer our questions]