Is that them? No, wait, is that them? Can't attack now anyway, must wait for that guard to pass. That IS them. Let's go! If I can just get over there—BOOM, stabbed, dead. Damn it. Another assassin hit me first.
I spent a bit of time killing and being killed in the Murderous Pursuits open beta last weekend—revelling in my short-lived triumphs, cursing my aforementioned follies, and having a bloody good time pretending to be an NPC.
At a glance, Austin billed Murderous Pursuits as "Dishonored by way of Assassin's Creed". Having played, I reckon it could fill the gap left by Assassin's Creed Origins' absent multiplayer. Prior to launch yesterday, I caught up with senior designer Michael Cameron, technical director Jason Kocemba, and executive producer Barry Waldo about graduating from The Ship, streamlining its processes, and growing its community.
Founded in 2011, Blazing Griffin is a Scottish indie studio best known for 2016's The Ship: Remasted. Murderous Pursuits is a suitably chaotic "kill-or-be-killed stealth-em-up multiplayer" spiritual successor that streamlines its forerunner's core mechanics.
PC Gamer: Murderous Pursuits is The Ship: Remasted's spiritual successor. What is it about this genre that you find so appealing?
Jason Kocemba: Well, let me give you a little bit of history, I was actually one of the original team that build The Ship way back in 2006. When I found that Blazing Griffin had acquired the IP, that was something that I was really interesting in. I noticed that they were hiring and so, three and a half years ago, I jumped on. From there, we made the Remasted version of The Ship, updating it onto Unity, and we used the technology to build on top of that for Murderous Pursuits.
A certain part of it was the opportunity of having the IP, seeing it in conjunction with the Twitch streamers and YouTubers of 2011/2012, and that really drove a lot of sales and helped us fund the Remasted version and the Murderous Pursuits projects. Secondly, we now have four people that originally built The Ship—and we really wanted to streamline that gameplay and make sure we got rid of all the splintery bits, the bits that were superfluous, and try to boil it down into something a bit more punchy. We wanted to keep The Ship-ness of it, but not go too arcadey.
Michael Cameron: Yeah, we've tried to run the line on that an awful lot. We've tried to get somewhere between the spirit of The Ship—having the fun and quirkiness of the kills, for example, that are quite whacky—and something that is more grounded and slicked up. There are a lot of mechanics in The Ship which were great, but were also very much of their time as well. It's worth pointing out that The Ship is 12 years old. Just to touch on the opportunity stuff, Assassin's Creed stopping its multiplayer, and other games not really filling the void of that, plus The Ship toning down its playerbase over time—we felt like this was a good opportunity for this type of game, specifically this genre because there's not really anyone else doing it.
JK: I think what we found at PAX East, and the PC Gamer Weekender, a lot of people came up to us, some of which were fans of The Ship and others were, like, Ship clubs —groups of five, six, seven people who told us they play The Ship regularly. They found out that we owned it and that Murderous Pursuits was a spiritual successor, and they were all really excited about it. They shook my hand and it was a really weird and really interesting experience. It made us feel like celebrities, in some way.
To that end, what is it that players find so appealing?
JK: That's a good question, actually. I think over the years it sort of pulverises people somewhat—they want to like it, but some of the mechanics Michael was talking about on The Ship just put people off. Hopefully by slicking things up, like he said, we can get a broader audience with that. When people do get it, though, they get it big and we'd like to expand the amount of people that do that. It's still surprising hearing from players who'd heard of and have played The Ship.
Barry Waldo: I think there were a couple of specific things that we kept hearing—both consistently at the PC Gamer Weekender and PAX. One thing was about the pace of Murderous Pursuits. It's not just about jumping into games and killing everything, there's a much greater focus on stealth. That aspect seems to be more appealing to people in that it's more of a think and chase game, a hide and seek type situations done so with intelligence. People are having a tonne of fun with the new abilities as well.
MC: We did really want to ramp up the stealth aspect of the game, that was one of our major focuses from the get go. The Ship was always a stealthy-ish game, but it didn't feel like that was ever the focus—it was always more of a party centric-type game, and a bit more chaotic. Here, we wanted to hone in on what was really fun about that game, which was identifying who you Quarry is and killing them the best way possible, and then winning with the highest points.
We got that into a really good state where that is the focus and from there we were able to implement the abilities and the guards and everything else that wraps round the gameplay and adjust them to that. It still feels like The Ship because it has the same elements all boiled in there, but the actual presentation and what the emphasis is on is quite different as well.
After last weekend's beta, players compared Murderous Pursuits to the likes of BioShock, Assassin's Creed, Dishonored and Hitman on your Discord. Having your game mentioned alongside these games must be exciting, but how do you manage expectations?
MC: Yeah, that is one of the things we're trying to manage at the moment, especially with the feedback after the beta. We found that some players were coming in hot from Assassin's Creed or Dishonored or BioShock or whatever and throwing around those words. Which is great. It's amazing that we're getting those kinds of comparisons. It's very flattering, but we're obviously an indie studio and there's only, what, 20 of us, and not all entirely working on this project at the moment. Trying to set those expectations will be a challenge for us. But we do want people to think highly of the game, so we're looking a lot at how we present it.
JK: I think, for me, because of the high fidelity of the graphics, the excellent work the art team have done, that does set expectations high. We look at a screenshot is like, wow, look at that. Getting comparisons to those other games with huge budgets and huge teams is just a testament to the work the team have done. That's great, but, as Michael said we do need to manage expectations too. It's a very focussed game we've got here. We need to make sure that's communicated, and that's something we're continually working on.
MC: It's also our intention to expand [Murderous Pursuits] going forward. We can get more things that people expect in there, it's just a case of over time as we manage it.
And how will you add to the game?
MC: We do have updates planned, I'm not sure how much detail we can go into here. That's a Barry question.
BW: We've got our first update in the works and we'll be looking to do that into the game within 60 days of launch. We're also keen to get some feedback once the game has been on the market for a couple of days, as we nail down where to focus the team's efforts. Before now we've perhaps not had the means to support our games in the way we might have likes, which is why we've now got a plan in place to support Murderous Pursuits—and the best sign of that is that in the improvements we'll have in the first 60 days. One of the things I'm most excited about is rankings.
JK: We've got this as part of our skill-based matchmaking now. But what we're going to do is put a front end onto it so it becomes more obvious to the player. The rankings will then have Victorian in-game history-based titles. You're Mr X's [The Ship's mysterious fleet owner] hench people here, so these are cult themed.
Furthermore, we've got a list that Michael wants to do, so it's all about prioritising that list and also gathering feedback from the community. As Barry was saying, we're close to the end of our first update, we'll do a QA pass on that, and then wait and see how many things from the open beta and first few days of launch that we might be able to sneak in there.
MC: Absolutely, community feedback is so important to us. Like The Ship, Murderous Pursuits is a very community-led game, and relies a lot of having a great community, people talking to each other, we're making the game for those players—if they have requests of what they'd like to see in there, that's something we'll definitely take into consideration.
JK: I think what's encouraging for me is that from PAX, from the PC Gamer Weekender, from the Discord and the open beta—that is a big community waiting to happen. There are already loads of people there, it's up to us to keep that growing and keep them there. That's the key.
One of my favourite things about Murderous Pursuits wasn't murdering marks or winning—it was roleplaying as an NPC. Is it weird that I find that so entertaining?
JK: [Laughs] I like using the Wait and See ploy, and, yeah, killing your Quarry from a vignette is really satisfying.
MC: Absolutely, you could be standing at the bar having a beer and then, boom, knife in the face!