Road 96 developer Yoan Fanise talks about developing the game during the pandemic
“When you finish the game, you may feel like you are participating and doing something in your country…maybe let’s unite and do something because things are not going in the right direction “, Yoan Fanise, creative director and co-founder of DigixArt, opens with the political theme explored in “Road 96” where you play as someone trying to flee a country under authoritarian rule.
“If you don’t like where you are, if you don’t like the country or whatever the situation is, just do something. It could be running away, it could be trying to change minds, it could be political, at least doing something to solve the problem,” Fanise said. indianexpress.com in a video call from Montpellier, France.
Fanise launched the independent studio DigixArt with his wife Anne-Laure in 2015, after a long stint at Ubisoft where he worked on several projects including Beyond Good & Evil, Raving Rabbids and Assassin’s Creed. Fanise promises that Road 96 is more than an adventure game and will inspire players to think about what happens when their country crumbles and feeling is the only option left.
“We try to have politics [in the game] but no judgement. In the game you have a game highway…maybe you don’t care about it and try to run away every time with lots of teenagers or you can decide to be more revolutionary and try to fight,” explains- he.
Fanise’s indie studio DigixArt is known for its story-based games where it tries to show the impact of war and conflict on people. For example, Valiant Heart focuses on surviving soldiers during World War I, while 11-11 Memories Retold tells the story of soldiers from opposite sides trapped together.
Road 96, in a way, departs from previous Fanise games and themes, but still has many similarities, including political background and emotional storytelling. But Road 96 is basically a road adventure game about hitchhiking through a country. Set in the summer of 1996 in the authoritarian country of Petria, the game not only lets you play repeatedly, but also lets you switch between characters in a group of friends trying to cross the border to freedom. Fanise calls “Road 96” the most ambitious game his studio has ever made.
“We started the project three years ago with a lot of prototyping because the system was very complex and we needed to do research, and find all the prototypes and constraints for the story. And when the script worked with simple text, I really started creating a story,” he says, adding that “the game has a 90s flavor, like the classic Tarantino movies…”
Although the concept of road trips has been explored in movies before, Fanise says the genre hasn’t been part of storytelling and storytelling in video games. “When you travel, you have the freedom to know where you want to go and you don’t know who you’re going to meet,” says Fanise, who co-wrote the Road 96 story with four crew members. “The idea came from a lot of people in the team, and that’s why you saw the game is quite diverse – it starts out very funny and ends very serious.”
Take any good movie on the road and you’ll find that the music is central to the story. Route 96 is no different. The game offers 28 tracks in total, a mix between deep electro and pop-folk. “Each music is tied to a specific character and will evolve based on when you’re going to have that sequence,” he says, explaining that the team has nine composers, including the group that did the Stranger Things intro theme. .
But Road 96’s development journey hasn’t been so easy for a 15-person indie game studio, also in the midst of a global pandemic. Now the game is ready to launch, while many other high-profile games have been delayed by the pandemic.
“The design and prototyping phase was over when the pandemic arrived,” explains Yoan. “We are all working from home, but we had very strict planning and our schedule was very tight. So we couldn’t afford to delay anything because we had a very small budget.
Because the team is small, Fanise helped make decisions quickly and that’s how the game ended during the pandemic. “I think it was more difficult for big companies because they have a lot of security rules,” he says.
Since the Road 96 trailer was revealed at The Game Awards last year, Yoan Fanise’s award-winning indie studio DigixArt has been praised for experimenting with different storylines and themes often considered “risky” in the video game market. General public.
Fanise agrees that a small indie studio like his has complete control over the material, story, characterization, and whether to talk politics or not. “I think maybe that’s why video games like indie games started to be more popular, because they’re more diverse than the same open world where you’re always doing the same thing. It’s basically sometimes a reskin of a game,” Fanise expressed her happiness at having complete creative freedom to show the subject matter in-game as it was envisioned.
When Road 96 launches next month, it will be available on Nintendo Switch and Steam. “I was very lucky because Nintendo reached out to us, and after the game was revealed at The Game Awards, they said we wanted the game on Switch. They also showed the trailer at the Indie World Showcase, because usually Nintendo doesn’t really care about small businesses,” he said.
But, according to Fanise, there’s a reason Road 96 is coming to Switch and not PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S. “The decision is based on different factors. The numbers show that indie games are selling very well on Switch. As of now, they are not selling well on the PlayStation 5 because as the console is new and expensive, people are buying this device to play AAA games and not smaller indie games. Maybe in a year or two that will start to change.
For this project, Fanise secured funding from HP, the brand behind Omen gaming PCs, and Google Stadia. Initially, Google helped with the funding, but they later stopped after having issues with Stadia. Google is no longer associated with the project.
Fanise is very excited about the early feedback he’s getting for the game. Sharing one of the development stories while making Road 96, he recalls how the team came up with the idea to buy suits of motion capture to complement all sequences involving animations. “We bought these [motion capture suits] and every Monday we did a lot of motion capture. Everyone in the studio was a character in the game. For the face, we bought an iPhone X because it has a specific camera that can track your face really well,” he said. “We recorded all the lines, the 9,000 lines of dialogue with tracking,” he adds.
For someone like Fanise, who has spent his entire career in game development, India is still a mobile-centric market, but he expects users to gradually shift to PC over the next five years. next few years and end up spending on consoles.
Road 96 isn’t out yet, but DigixArt is already working on the next big title. “We have already started the next project a bit, and it will be related to the world of Road 96”, Fanise however refused to say more about the plot and the scenario.