Torpor Games creates thought-provoking entertainment in all forms to expand horizons, shift perspectives and challenge morality in all facets of the human experience. With Managing Director and Co-Founder Ata Sergey Nowak, we talked about their latest game in production, what it takes to develop complex political scenarios, and how their community has been integral to their operations.
With an impressive funding of € 425,000 from Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, your project The Conformist has garnered the highest support to date. Congratulations! Could you shed light on your plans for this exciting game?
Thank you. The Conformist is our innovative attempt to present a contrasting perspective on societal transformation. While Suzerain painted a picture from a top-down leadership viewpoint, The Conformist is about how a city and its elections evolve from a grassroots level. Our aspiration is to craft a more relatable, 3D, semi-sandbox environment, embedded with intricate systems with branching narrative. The Conformist is our statement to the mainstream, an intricate narrative RPG with strategic elements, set in the Suzerain Universe, two decades prior to Suzerain, in the capital city of Sordland, Holsord. We aim to depict the behaviors of distinct political factions in a post-civil war setting amidst the advent of the first multi-party elections, and the various choices of the player character and Myst family within these dynamics. We delve into the past, personal narratives of citizens, and even include several characters from Suzerain.
Our ambitions are high for this title, given the success of Suzerain and other games we have seen in the market. The Conformist is an embodiment of our approach to pick a narrative and leverage relevant systems, genres, or sub-genres to bring it to life, with a higher emphasis on RPG elements like skills, perks, and dynamic systems such as propaganda influence.
Does the development of a second game within the same universe as the first simplify or complicate the process?
The process could indeed be simpler if we opted to lower or maintain our standards of lore and narrative. However, we persistently push the bar higher and strive to learn and innovate as much as possible. The existing narrative work facilitates the creation of a second game set two decades prior in the same universe. But, by focusing on the capital city of Holsord, we delve deeper into new districts, lore, and lives of fascinating characters. Our aim is to present a more personal and profound narrative this time around, demonstrating the formation and influence of real political movements from the ground up. So, it's not necessarily easier; it just allows for a deeper exploration of different aspects.
Your team is currently seeking investment in a Seed financing round for the same title. The German investment landscape has yet to show considerable interest in the games industry. Why do you think that's the case? How can the scenario be improved, and what has your personal journey been like?
Yes we are currently in a seed financing round for Torpor Games and have secured some early commitments. The point mentioned about the German investment landscape multifaceted issue and deserves a comprehensive response. A few factors seem to be in play here, including the difficulty of perception of games as a serious medium such as television and film among traditional German investors. Germany has a robust investment environment for traditional heavy industries, which has gradually extended to tech startups as well. But games, for many investors, are perceived as less serious. There's also a lack of in-depth understanding about niche games and their potential for success. For instance, Suzerain, a niche political narrative RPG, has sold over 165,000 copies. Titles like Disco Elysium also illustrate the potential for significant returns on investment. Such information needs to be communicated effectively.
Finally, many successful games people in Germany build their own studios or create found a publisher and they sell them to international partners. This leaves few independent local alternatives committed to fostering a local industry. As a result, Germany lacks entities like Focus Entertainment, 11bit Studios, or Paradox Interactive. Therefore, it's crucial for investors and games experts to consider the long-term ecosystem benefits from cultural, financial, and portfolio perspectives.
Your forte lies in developing provocative political games. What game mechanics do you employ to create engaging and complex political scenarios?
We use a range of systems and genre mechanics to accomplish our goals. Essentially, our decisions are driven by a thorough analysis of what we want to convey and which systems can best deliver these complexities. Often, we experiment with novel formulas, values, and outcome structures to simulate real-world political elements like economy, military, welfare, and order. Our upcoming DLC, The Kingdom of Rizia, and The Conformist are set to take our game mechanics systems to a higher level. We're incorporating expected mechanics with our unique twist in some places, and experimenting heavily with new systems to simulate a dynamic war narrative for Rizia or how propaganda influences different districts and changes behaviors of characters and citizens in a city in The Conformist.
Our ambition lies in experimenting, pushing our capabilities and knowledge, and investing in the solutions that we find fitting to the game design and characteristics. Balancing narrative coherence and enjoyable systems are significant challenges we face in our work.
You want to depict reality in all its shades of gray. How do you develop an ingame-world that offers immersion on the one hand and sparks self-reflection on the other? And how do you prevent the game of becoming too dark?
Balancing a game's immersive world-building and fostering self-reflection in players is indeed a delicate task, and one we believe we've achieved effectively in Suzerain. By constructing a fictional universe, we provide players a platform to explore profound topics with fresh perspectives, mostly unfettered by their real-world values. Though our games sometimes tread on darker themes, our focus is to encapsulate the broad spectrum of human experiences and emotions, from harrowing fear to profound joy. We emphasize complex emotions, moral dilemmas, and contemplative narratives. With Suzerain, we've leveraged the power of text to engage the player's imagination, while our upcoming game, The Conformist, will add traversable city districts and 3D characters as visual layers to deepen this engagement. Dialogue, especially choice-driven, remains our best tool to delve into these profound political topics.
What’s your take on the talent in Berlin?
Berlin is a wellspring of exceptional talent, especially within the gaming industry. Its appeal to international talent is remarkable. However, relocation processes and housing challenges can dampen the city's allure, exerting undue stress on both employees and employers during critical integration phases. It's heartening to see movements and increasing awareness tackling the housing crisis, and we're optimistic about further improvements. We've also welcomed recent immigration law enhancements that significantly benefit international talents coming to the city.
Being an integral part of the indie landscape in Berlin, how do you rate the city’s community solidarity and network possibilities?
We're humbled by your kind words, we strive to contribute meaningfully. Nevertheless, it's been encouraging to see the growth in resources, opportunities, and support mechanisms since we embarked on our journey in 2018. Berlin's community solidarity and network possibilities are, in my opinion, exceptional. We are grateful to all who've shared knowledge and offered assistance along our journey, and we continue to explore better ways of contributing to this vibrant ecosystem.
For Stiftung Digitale Spielekultur you have been a mentor in their “Start-up: Games-Entrepeneurs” program. What have you learned in this position and how important is it to “send the elevator back down”?
My mentorship with the Stiftung Digitale Spielekultur’s "Start-up: Games-Entrepreneurs" program has been both enlightening and rewarding. Witnessing the burgeoning opportunities for aspiring developers and their dreams come to fruition, it's a privilege to impart the knowledge and experience I've gained. I operate on a simple guiding principle: to create the kind of world and offer the kind of advice I would have desired when I first embarked on this journey. By 'sending the elevator back down', we foster growth and progression in our collective society, a responsibility we owe to the aspiring talents and future generations.
Participating in the Auswärtsspiel project of the Stiftung Digitale Spielekultur has been another rewarding experience. Debating the role of games in foreign policy communication and the methods employed has been intellectually stimulating. I am deeply grateful for the support extended by the Auswärtiges Amt (Federal Foreign Office) and the Stiftung. Engaging with an exceptional group of experts to re-explore our own takes on contemporary political systems through game design has been a truly enlightening experience.
Pyrde Pavkki developed Sordish as a conlang based on the language used in Suzerain. Holding a BA in Language Interpretation and Translation and speaking three languages yourself, was it always clear to you to develop a new language for your game? And what does it mean to you that the community takes it a step further?
Sordish, as a conlang, emerged organically during the initial development stages of Suzerain. We noticed that we were instinctively crafting fictional phrases and had a unique approach to naming conventions. It was these realizations that led to a string of late-night debates and eventually the rudimentary form of the Sordish language. We used Sordish as a narrative tool, a way to create a sense of distance from reality while forging a connection with Sordland's local culture. This tactic aimed to provide our players with a sense of authenticity and immersion in the cultural fabric of the countries we created.
Our community has played a pivotal role in this process, with Pyrde Pavkki and others taking it upon themselves to expand upon the language. This initiative has filled us with a sense of pride and satisfaction. We see it as testament to our community's commitment to building our shared universe. In fact, our community has been integral to our operations, from a community member "167th Voter" winning a contest to create a national anthem we adapted and recorded for Suzerain's next 2.0 "Amendment" free update, to fans generating their own fan fiction, crafting wikipedia pages, designing flags, producing character art, and more. Their active participation in our decision-making process through surveys, and their role as our first-hand testers for new releases, are further proofs of their invaluable contributions.
The realization of our dreams wouldn't be possible without our community. They are the real champions, truly understanding and valuing our vision. I also want to express my heartfelt gratitude to everyone who has supported Torpor Games on this journey. We are excited to explore this journey in partnership with medianet berlibbrandenburg e.V..