Maneater interview: How you'll evolve your killer shark to become top of the food chain

In Grand Theft Auto, sometimes you just want to pick a fight with the cops. You steal a car and start driving down sidewalks like they're interstates, then mow down the cops when they come to take you in. Pile on more mayhem and they'll eventually send the SWAT teams and tanks after you. Chaos in Maneater sounds awfully similar—except instead of a gun-toting thug you're a Jaws-style supershark, taking bites out of jet skiers and fishing boats until the humans get so freaked out they send the shark hunters after you. And that's how you get a boss battle in an action-RPG where you play as a shark.

Activities in the open-world might include wreaking havoc off the coast, knocking people off jet skis, breaking docks, and sinking yachts.

Alex Quick

The action-RPG bit is pretty straightforward, too: as you chow down on aquatic life and any humans you can get your jaws around, your shark will evolve, getting attribute points to level up RPG-style stats and evolutions to unlock new abilities and attacks. We got a glimpse of Maneater at the 2018 PC Gaming Show, but we wanted to know more about life as a shark. Is the ocean a true open world? Can our shark grow legs and terrorize the shore? Blindside creative director Alex Quick, who created the original Killing Floor mod, gave us more details.

PC Gamer: How did the idea for Maneater come about? Was it a "It's so crazy, it just might work?" conversation? 

Alex Quick: Maneater was originally planned as an “expansion pack” of sorts for “Depth.” The idea was kicked around internally but never got traction. Eventually several members of the original Depth team splintered off to do our own thing. We were inspired by games, like Jaws Unleashed, and action RPGs like Deus Ex and Dishonored. Far from being “just so crazy it might work,” Maneater was carefully planned and built on Depth’s core systems for combat, movement, and evolutions. We felt like they would translate well to single player gameplay.

Do you consider Maneater an open-world game?  

Yes, Maneater will be an open-world game by design. However, at the same time, we want to steer clear of any direct comparisons to more traditional “open-world” titles. 

The player begins life as a young shark and must grow to adulthood by exploring the environment and feeding.  If I’m being a little evasive about the details of this, it’s because we’re still deciding how the “early life” phase is going to play out. We’ve gone back and forth between several themes, but it looks like we’re currently working on the premise that the player spends their “early life” in captivity. 

Once they escape, players will enter the “open-world” proper and can begin making a name for themselves as a “Maneater.”  Activities in the open-world might include wreaking havoc off the coast, knocking people off jet skis, breaking docks, and sinking yachts. There will also be opportunities to spar with local wildlife (alligators, dolphins, jellyfish, other sharks) to gain bonus evolutions that will help you take on more challenging human enemies. Our current roster of “bosses” consists entirely of heavily armed “shark hunters.” The idea is that to attract these hunters you need to cause a certain level of chaos in the world first.  As your notoriety increases, so too does the difficulty of the hunters.

PC Gamer: How does your shark evolve over time, and what choices are you making? 

This is where the ARPG elements of Maneater really come into play! There are two progression choices available to the player. The first is a choice of which “attribute” they put points in. There are five attributes: ferocity, perception, endurance, vitality, and agility. These attributes will affect the overall power level of the shark in different areas. For example, points in ferocity will increase critical damage output.

The second choice is which evolutions the player would like to equip. Evolutions are “upgrades” that will give the shark entirely new abilities or provide large stat bonuses.  Evolutions are earned by killing things, and a limited number can be equipped at once. The player could choose, for example, between an evolution that allows the shark to use its tail like a whip to deal area of effect (AOE) damage, or one that causes the shark’s bites to inflict deep bleeding wounds.  The choices you make in the first system will affect the second. Assigning a large number of points in ferocity will allow you to equip more jaw/teeth evolutions, while putting points in endurance will allow you to equip skin/hide evolutions that would increase your survivability. 

Yep, we’re definitely making an ARPG here. It’s not nearly as in-depth as something like Grim Dawn let’s say, but it features stat driven combat and the accumulation of “loot” to augment you character. Obviously, sharks can’t use swords and shields, so our decision was to have “evolutions” instead, which can be “equipped” as you might with traditional RPG gear.  These evolutions can be upgraded and have different rarities.  Rarity inversely scales the equip cost of an evolution, so you can stack more of them on a single part of the shark’s body.  At its heart, this system is an “evolution” (heh) of the one we used in Depth with the goal being to provide greater player choice and role play with their character. 

Is the evolution system for the shark's body aiming for realism, or can I become some freak Mega Shark or grow legs or take other ridiculous evolutionary paths?

We’re skirting the line between plausible and ridiculous. While you cannot suddenly sprout legs or gain an extra tail, you will be able to automagically change the shape of your teeth, or snout, or grow serrated scales. We want it to feel ‘just’ grounded enough in reality so as not to break immersion, but wacky enough that you can do some creative and fun stuff with your shark. 

What are the "verbs" of the player in Maneater? What's the best way to express the range of things you're doing in the game?   

Eat, Grow, Evolve. 

We’re skirting the line between plausible and ridiculous.

Alex Quick

We went back and forth on the growth aspect of the game quite a bit. It’s a neat mechanic, but it creates a huge number of issues for us as we developed, i.e how do you build a world that feels equally to scale for both a 3 foot and a 13-foot shark? Our current thinking is that growth will be limited to the first part of the game (which features more linear level design) so we can tailor the environment to fit the player’s size exactly. After that point the “evolve” progression takes over and the game becomes all about customizing your fully-grown shark, and fine tuning its abilities to fit your play style. 

Do the sharks... communicate? How is dialogue and narrative conveyed to the player?  

We don’t want to give too much away at this point, but I can say that no dialogue is conveyed to the player by other sharks. We may give the player an “inner monologue,”  but that will be the extent of shark communication. In terms of story, we’re letting human characters in the game drive the narrative through observations about the shark and reactions to what the player is doing.

As a shark, the player is obviously a hunter. Where will the biggest challenges for players come from? Other predators? Human fishermen?

Human shark hunters will certainly be a large threat, but the world is also full of aquatic predators like alligators, jellyfish, and even other sharks who may be hungry enough to turn cannibal.

Are there survival mechanics at play, like hunger, that players will have to fulfill to survive?

No. We are not aiming to make a survival genre game here.  There is no little hunger bar that will pester you every 5 minutes to eat something. 

Talk about developing the movement system for the shark, and making it satisfying to control. Was that a big challenge, compared to the more established movement models for human characters?

It was certainly difficult, but the majority of the movement and attack mechanics were figured out when we were developing Depth. Obviously, some changes were required for things like waterline cruising mechanics and improved breaching, but most of it is identical to what players enjoyed in Depth. 

Can I be a pacifist shark?

You could, but you’d probably wind up pretty scrawny and useless. At the end of the day, one of the game’s major goals will be to build up the player’s reputation as a Maneater, gaining infamy and the attention of progressively deadly hunters as you continue to eat, grow, and evolve.

Wes Fenlon
Senior Editor

Wes has been covering games and hardware for more than 10 years, first at tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested before joining the PC Gamer team in 2014. Wes plays a little bit of everything, but he'll always jump at the chance to cover emulation and Japanese games.

When he's not obsessively optimizing and re-optimizing a tangle of conveyor belts in Satisfactory (it's really becoming a problem), he's probably playing a 20-year-old Final Fantasy or some opaque ASCII roguelike. With a focus on writing and editing features, he seeks out personal stories and in-depth histories from the corners of PC gaming and its niche communities. 50% pizza by volume (deep dish, to be specific).