Gliding into their DMs
Sable is the hot indie title you may have seen throwing out trailers across game conferences for the past two years. With gorgeous graphics, satisfying-looking mechanics and great music from Japanese Breakfast, it’s an anticipated indie for many.
I spoke to the two-person development studio Shedworks, made up of creative director Gregorios Kythreotis and technical director Daniel Fineberg. I wanted to know what to expect from Sable’s full release following an entrancing demo, and the inspirations behind it.
Is the current Sable the original vision for the game, or has the genre, story or mechanics changed majorly at some point?
At its core it is definitely tied to the original vision of the game. Mechanics and details have changed as we’ve developed it, I think we probably thought the scope would be smaller, maybe have fewer other characters to encounter.
The core idea of an exploration first, narrative driven, non-combat game set in a desert has always been present, the masks as part of the culture have always been present, the bikes and the freedom the player has to encounter things at their own pace.
What sort of science fiction sources did you pull inspiration from, if any?
All sorts of media from films and animation like Star Wars, Nausicaa, the short film Scavengers. Books such as Dark Eden and The Left Hand of Darkness, architectural explorations like Archigram, the Metabolists, Piranesi, and the art of Moebius.
Sable has been shown at a lot of E3 conferences, and to a whole lot of people. How did that affect your approach to development?
I think it helped us feel conviction with our approach, it made it easier for others to feel confident in supporting us as well as giving us a bit of pressure and motivation to get the game over the line, to what is hopefully a good standard.
Gregorios, as an architecture graduate, how did that factor into designing the world of Sable?
It fed into the approach massively, whether it comes from references I looked at, the research done or the actual technical approach, often drawing plans or sections of places before building them up. One of the difficulties was in architecture you always tend to work with specific limitations, whether budget, materials, social context, location or geography. In games, you can kind of make up what you want so creating and sticking to limitations is a tricky balance to find.
Daniel, what was the most challenging part of development? What was the easiest, or most fun?
The most fun part is definitely the early stages of production, when you’re still working out ideas and prototyping mechanics. At that stage, it might only take a day or two between having an idea, and getting it working in-game, even if it’s in a rough form. You feel a complete sense of freedom to just go down whatever path you like. The first prototype of the rendering code, the climbing mechanics and the hoverbike physics was all playable within the first few months of the project. The thrill of how quickly that stuff comes together is really the biggest joy of game development.
I suppose that leads into the most challenging part – which is taking that prototype and actually turning it into an entire video game. It might take a few weeks to get a whole set of mechanics playable, but refining them all into something shippable is a mammoth task. For the first year or so, I was the only programmer on the team. If something needed doing I could just knock it out myself, but obviously there comes a point where that becomes impossible if we want to finish this game before we die. There’s three other programmers on the team now and I couldn’t have finished this game without them. Learning to delegate tasks, to give clear instructions, to find time to evaluate other people’s work – essentially, learning to lead a team. That’s a much bigger challenge than any one programming or game design task.
Are there surprises in store for those playing past the demo, or are the toolsets we see in the demo most of the experience?
The actual player toolset is very close to what the player will get in the full game, most of the surprises hopefully come from exploring the world, as well as meeting characters and learning their stories.
One of the things the player didn’t get to do much of in the demo was to customise their bike, which is a pretty cool system where you’ll be able to change colour palettes, as well as tweak handling and aesthetics using different parts you collect on your gliding.
Another thing players didn’t get to try is changing the clothing and masks that Sable wears as she explores. The clothing is all cosmetic but I think people will feel like it’s a fun way to express themselves, the masks tie into the overall narrative of the game so have a strong meaning within the world too.
If you’ll allow me to jump forward, would you like anything more in store for Sable post-launch? Added content, a sequel?
We don’t have anything to say about this at the moment to be honest, I think we need a bit of a break after Sable before we decide what we want to do next!
Sable releases on September 23rd on PC, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S.