Interview: Escape from Tarkov Dev on Creating Realism in Survival Games, Discouraging “The Worst, Douchebag Kind of Badassery”

Escape from Tarkov is, in the words of developer Battlestate Games, a "hardcore and realistic online first-person action RPG/simulator with MMO features"—which is quite a mouthful. The underlying premise behind the game is how one would survive if a city, due to the chaos of war, fell under gang control?

Tarkov is that city, where war has sparked a mass exodus of most of the population, which made it rather ripe for gangs to seize control and divvy up the town. Tarkov was once a thriving trade city that was the gateway between Russia and Europe. When a large corporation falls to a political scandal, the standoff becomes a massive battle between UN peacekeepers, Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and two private military companies. Russia and the UN sealed off Tarkov after most of the populace fled, which is why it became prime ground for gang warfare.

The player will have to choose sides as a mercenary and then pull every trick out of the book in order to escape this new hellhole.

Battlestate Games somehow wants to create all of this chaos and keep it as realistic as possible throughout the game. They definitely have their work cut out for them, and despite their busy schedule, we were able to sit down with Nikita Buyanov, Chief Operating Officer and Lead Game Designer, and discuss this realistic, war-torn game with obvious political messages embedded within.


GameRevolution: What was the inspiration for creating such a game with dark roots?

Nikita Buyanov: It started as just a regular night’s dream that left enough of an impression to take it down in writing and work on it a little bit, eventually evolving into the dark post-apocalyptic world in alternative reality. The topic of post-apocalyptic world and new world order has always fascinated me, but for our project we decided to do what never has been done before. Although set in an alternative universe, it is modeled after our own and is completely and utterly realistic—from reasons that led it to the devastating conflict, to the aftermath of conflict and consecutive world rearrangement.

GR: Is there a social/political statement you are trying to make with the story?

NB: Obviously, but mostly social rather than political. First, we’d like to assert that even in the darkest times there are still people with cool heads, unwavering integrity and good intentions who will try to contain the situation and save the most of what is left human within remaining survivors. Second idea is when the bad times come, and chaos is rising to devour the remnants of civilization, even former enemies unite, and even the most selfish, wicked, and worthless people can bring out their good side.

And third is to show that, though war and fighting have been a part of human existence since the beginning of time, there is far less good or romantic sides about them than some people seem to think, and we’d prefer to inspire more critical thinking in our players—both in game and beyond.

GR: In reading through Escape from Tarkov’s fact sheet and descriptions on YouTube, you all really emphasize “hardcore” and “realism.” Why are these so important to you and the game?

NB: We are modeling real stories in an alternative universe, so to me and most people on our team it is very important that the game would feel as close to life as possible, and players should be able to feel not a keyboard-and-mouse-controlled set of visuals and sounds, but an entirely new level of immersion, a new experience that feel make them feel completely different. This is why we have discarded the “game is for fun” doctrine, and although it’s still a game product, everybody should compare it to reality and seek what they are lacking in the game in the knowledge of the real world.

GR: One problem that often occurs with “realistic” games that require vigilance with keeping characters fed, rested, healthy, and hydrated is that it often becomes more an annoyance that hinders gameplay. With all of the health and physical characteristics that you have implemented to affect the game, how have you incorporated them to immerse the player instead of irritate them?

NB: From the start, we claimed that our game does not have a goal of becoming eating and drinking simulator. The combat, exploration, and the uncovering of stories still dominate the gameplay; however, we have added these things for a deeper sense of immersion and involvement with the character.

GR: Playing as a Scav as a way to transfer loot to the main character has a bit of a Diablo vibe, and yet it’s truly unique. What inspired this mode of gameplay?

NB: It sort of implied itself at some stage in development; since our characters lose everything when they die, it puts quite a strain on the players; even the toughest ones can get tired of a bad luck spree, dying and losing their gear over and over again. The Scav mode thus meant to become a less stressful opportunity to experience the game, vent out the frustration, and, if lucky enough, gear up a little bit as well, recovering some of the former abundance in case of victory.

GR: On the same token, can the game be a bit Diablo-esque with multiple non-Scav characters sharing gear?

NB: In theory, yes, but it totally depends on gameplay and people who play—they can initially play as a team or just join up to clear the raid after meeting inside it. Whether or not they decide to share their effects is entirely up to them. However, it is our aspiration to break the current survival games tendency for worst, douchebag kind of badassery. Of course, at first it will be chaos and free-for-all, but the later in game, the more situations will compel players to choose cooperative behavior over destructive.

GR: The game is also described as containing MMO features. What exactly are these features?

NB: First, it’s the rich system of quests, but beside it, there are trade, dealer services, chats, bounty lists, skills upgrade, clans, lobbies, in-game and in-menu communication, leveling, opening up new functions, loot, drop (not the generated drop, though, but exactly what the character had with him).

Basically, we let our players play the game together, form their own allegiances and communities, and interact with each other and several essential mechanics; there will be no artificial, endlessly generated and spawned simplified entertainment. As for parallel minigames and side activities, we have some ideas of what we could introduce, but it’s too early to talk about it.

GR: If the main character dies, they lose all of their loot, but it’s not a permadeath. Is there a chance to get the loot back from those who killed them?

NB: The game offers several means of mitigating these losses. First, if the character had a certain item at the moment of death (a radio distress beacon or a flare), it can automatically activate on his death, either summoning his comrades to the server (in a very limited number) or allowing player to reconnect as Scav to try and redeem the lost items.

Second, there will be insurance, but not in the form of cash (this method is susceptible to insurance frauds), but in the form of items themselves if they were not already looted from the body; for instance, if your body is prostrated in some hard-to-access or hard-to-notice place, or you have died shortly before the raid end, chances are your insured items will get back to you.

GR: Is choice important in this RPG? Does it matter which faction you align yourself with? Does the story alter at all if you decide to become a trader?

NB: The main story is tailored for a generic PMC character to give all players, regardless of their occupation, to experience it to the fullest. However, in the planned DLCs later on we intend to introduce the specific faction stories, as well as new participants.

GR: If you are able to escape, is that it? Is the game over or will there be a good chunk of end-game?

NB: Paradoxically as it sounds, no good game nowadays ends with an end-game—there is always something to do, skills to hone, side quests to undertake, secret areas to explore. After escaping from Tarkov, you are free to return to the cleared raids for more exploration and quests, not to mention DLCs.

GR: With no HUD, how does that ramp up the difficulty? Are there any in-game maps the player can rely on after exploring regions?

NB: Of course, we have maps developed for each region in very high resolution, some already adapted for reconnaissance use with hand-drawn markers. Needless to say, players can place their own markers or copy those found on the maps retrieved from the searched bodies or exchange map data with other players. What we intend to do here, as well in other areas of the game, is to get players thinking for themselves, with minimal assistance from the game, thus modeling realityyou are stranded in the unknown area and you happen to have a map of it. Use it or not, your call. But somebody who gets a grip on how to use it effectively has a good chance of gaining a tactical advantage over somebody who doesn’t.

GR: Any plans to bring the game to console?

NB: Some very, very, very far-fetched plans that depend not entirely on us, but on engine capabilities as well, so it’s still too early to talk about it.

GR: What has been the most challenging aspect of creating Escape from Tarkov?

NB: At this stage we are struggling to add more visual polishing to the game that we will be the first to do on this engine, which, let’s face it, has never been tried with the game of this scale and such a giant world. We also have to constantly overcome the optimization issues, networking troubles, and chain reactions of bugfixing. The most important goal now is to complete all the tasks related to networking. Obviously, there are all sorts of current bugs, but nothing we couldn’t manage. Same applies to purely technical side of deliverylaunchers, downloads, updates, nothing blocking here either.

GR: And what has been the most fun?

NB: There are all sorts of fun, but it is all rather industry-specific. Weird laughable bugs we encounter, the inside jokes and memes built up by our Alpha testing community, and these quirky unexplainable jokes that are born in the heat of yet another night in crunch and may seem next to mass psychosisall of these are fun, but don’t cancel out the fact that we are doing an extremely hard, though fulfilling, job.

GR: Is there anything you want players to know about Escape from Tarkov? Anything you hope they take from it?

NB: I touched upon this in the previous questions, but we primarily intend to make Escape from Tarkov more than just a game, but an experience to remember, and we are happy to see the emotions of every player who already plays the Alpha and shares our excitement. I’d like to wish everyone who is interested in our game to put aside all comparisons to any other games and try to feel the vibe, the idea we try to convey as if it was the first game to be played, everand, if our vision appeals to them, to express their support, in any form. Your kind words are equally important to us as anything else.

 


Escape from Tarkov will release for PC in 2016. No official date or window other than this year have been confirmed. We thank Battlestate Games for taking time out to speak with us on their upcoming title.