Metrocide interview: "there's so much fun to be had in a dystopia"

Metrocide is a forthcoming top-down stealth shooter developed by Sydney studio Flat Earth Games. The team, made up of brothers Leigh and Rohan Harris, is best known for the whimsical survival game TownCraft . Metrocide is entirely different: lush greens have been replaced with cyberpunk chromes, while instead of chopping down trees you'll be murdering in cold blood.

Metrocide plays like the original GTA games as roguelike: you're a contract killer tasked with completing increasingly difficult randomly generated missions, and if you die: that's it. Stealth plays a significant role, because not only will you want to take out contracts unseen, but you'll also need to evade law enforcement. Given the dystopian cyberpunk theme, this is no easy feat.

We sat down for a quick chat with Flat Earth Games' Harris brothers to talk about the game. It's due for release in August .

Is it cathartic developing a game like Metrocide after the comparatively wholesome TownCraft? Was there the urge to create something entirely different?

Rohan Harris: Absolutely, yes. We love TownCraft, but as much as people kept asking us to add the ability to shoot down the canaries which fly overhead, we just couldn't bring ourselves to do it. Metrocide came out of the Cyberpunk Jam from earlier this year - it wasn't actually decided that it'd be a Flat Earth title (as opposed to a sanity project on the side) until we'd already been working on it as a spare time project for a good couple of months.

Leigh Harris: It's actually ended up being the polar opposite of TownCraft in more ways than one. TownCraft had manually designed quests in procedurally generated levels. Metrocide has manually designed levels and procedurally generated 'quests' (although it's probably better to call them 'jobs' or something given that they're assassination missions).

Metrocide came out of the Cyberpunk Game Jam. What were the circumstances around that?

RH: Whenever I get any spare time at all, I spend it coding. My idea of a holiday or a decent-sized break isn't to stop coding but to code something new that doesn't feel like work. Game jams are perfect for that, and the Cyberpunk Jam in particular was right up my alley! So our initial team was just the jammers: myself, Matt Purchase (from Epiphany Games) and two freelancers Krister Collin and Danii Johnstone. By the end of that one week jam we had a top-down interface and the ability to walk around and shoot at folks and have them react appropriately, and the beginnings of a 2D cyberpunk setting.

Following the Game Jam, what additions or tweaks have you made to the game?

LH: It's a very different beast to when it first began. When Rohan first raised the idea of making it an actual Flat Earth release, I was a little resistant because I didn't like the idea of a new game which wasn't one of our planned next titles suddenly entering our release schedule.

So we made an agreement: the game would be our next title, but it had to be of a scope where we could have it out mid-year and move straight on to our other projects as planned. I agreed that it was fun, and certainly there isn't a huge number of action-cyberpunk top-down shooters out there, but wanted to keep it fast-paced and kind of arcade-fun rather than letting the production (as they always do) blow out and take forever to complete.

RH: So in terms of actual changes, there were two major ones: firstly that we decided to make it something like what an endless runner would be if it were a top-down stealth-action shooter - so that it'd keep getting harder and harder until you died. Secondly, that we'd make the buildings 3D, a huge jump and one which easily added 6 weeks to the production (no small amount when you're talking about a 6 month total production time for a game), but which we all agree did so much to bring the world to life.

Apart from the broader cyberpunk aesthetic, what inspired the move into a dystopian, futuristic setting? What is appealing or interesting about that setting right now?

RH: Right now? Well current politics certainly isn't filling anyone with any hope now is it? Looming disaster seems to be a running theme in newspapers at the best of times, but right this second its kind of in overdrive.

LH: I'd say it's universal and has been way too neglected recently. Cyberpunk is freaking awesome (I'm still gagging for Prey 2), and while there are a few currently in the works or just out, the last five years has until recently given us Deus Ex and... well... Deus Ex .

RH: Plus there's just so much fun to be had in a dystopia - the fascist dictatorship which runs Metro City has been one of the funnest parts of making the game. We'll just gather round a microphone coming up with advertisements to be blared out over the loudspeakers, sayings from the hilariously bleak cop drones which fly overhead. Writing stuff like 'Remember: There is no "I" in "Obey"', or "Warning: You are a pinata" over a few beers is just downright pleasant. And yeah, cathartic.

The preview build I played is one level, set in a city. Will the other levels take us anywhere else?

LH: The city is the setting, but each level will take you to a different zone, each larger and more varied than the last. So it starts in the jam-packed Downtown zone, then takes you to the industrial Docks zone (where you can run around dumping bodies in the water and fun stuff like that), and finally into the upper class area with big highways, residential zones (which were totally inspired by future Hilldale from Back to the Future) and police scanning checkpoints to mix things up a bit.

Metrocide will release late in August. Keep an eye on the Flat Earth Games Facebook page for updates.

Shaun Prescott

Shaun Prescott is the Australian editor of PC Gamer. With over ten years experience covering the games industry, his work has appeared on GamesRadar+, TechRadar, The Guardian, PLAY Magazine, the Sydney Morning Herald, and more. Specific interests include indie games, obscure Metroidvanias, speedrunning, experimental games and FPSs. He thinks Lulu by Metallica and Lou Reed is an all-time classic that will receive its due critical reappraisal one day.