James Barnes chats to N-Fusion’s Jeff Birns and Joe Parisi about their noir-influenced intergalactic combat game
06 May 2014 | By Import
Space Noir, as the name implies, is an intergalactic combat game that draws inspiration from film noir. While N-fusion’s creation eschews the clichéd black-and-white aesthetic many associate with movies of that era, Space Noir retains the cynicism, fatalism and betrayal that truly underpinned the genre. I spoke to Jeff Birns (CEO and Creative Director) and Joe Parisi (Studio Manager and Audio Director) of N-Fusion to find out more.
Strategy Informer: To start off, could you tell me a bit about your defined roles at N-Fusion?
Jeff Birns: I’m the CEO and owner of N-Fusion, but I’m quite involved with the games. My role as Creative Director is to oversee the quality of all the products that go out. I get into the details sometimes, but it’s really an overarching role.
In addition to that I’m also involved in some of our other projects. I take on other roles such as designing. But with Space Noir I’m typically just the Creative Director. These guys will get to a milestone and I’ll take a look at it. I’ll usually hold off on commenting on anything until we reach a certain milestone. Nit-picking can be very counter-productive; it’s better to keep a list.
Joe Parisi: Yeh – you’ve got to choose when it’s the right time to say something.
Jeff Birns: Exactly. That’s my role on Space Noir. It’s a project we’ve had in the works for quite some time.
Strategy Informer: So how long has the game been in development?
Joe Parisi: We did an initial demo two years ago.
Jeff Birns: I showed it to Unity [publisher] in 2012, and that’s when our publishing relationship with Unity started. They really liked the game a lot, so we decided to sign on with them.
We started development on the full game in January 2013. That was mostly a lot of pre-production – I would say we probably went through a couple of revisions. There was actually one point where we redesigned the game. We had an initial design, we were going through it, and about two months later we really looked at it and went back to the drawing board. That’s when things really started kicking in.
Strategy Informer: Watching the walkthrough video on the official site, your colleagues spoke about the decision not to adopt the black and white aesthetic associated with noir but to retain other associated stylistic elements. What elements of the game would you attribute to the noir theme?
Joe Parisi: Purely [in terms of] the art style?
Strategy Informer: The narrative as well. All-encompassing.
Joe Parisi: Sure. Let’s start with the narrative. It’s really a noir narrative.
One of the interesting things at the beginning of this project was learning exactly what noir is, and how it’s a lot broader than the clichéd detective behind the desk in black and white – which is kind of interesting. The majority of the classics aren’t actually in black and white and only a few of them have detectives. The real themes that tie it together are stuff like betrayal, fatalism, crime, money, femme fatales and double-crossing – we check all those boxes over the course of the story.
From an art standpoint, the style of noir is fairly broad. Our main character Hal Markham, his world is dark, grimy and beat-up. He lives in a garage. He has a troubled past that we get into that leads into the current situation when you start the game. We adopt some traditional noir art staples like Dutch angles and their use of shadows.
Cynicism’s also a real big staple in noir. Everyone in our game is pretty cynical.
Strategy Informer: Did you start with the name, Space Noir, or was the name a product of the direction you naturally found yourself going in?
Joe Parisi: The codename for the project was Space Noir. We wanted to do a space combat game and we thought ‘why not do it noir style?’ I think we’d recently watched Blade Runner and it went from there.
We kept the name for several reasons. Firstly, if you look at a screenshot of the game you know it’s a space combat game, but Space Noir lets you know that there’s a little bit more there – which we thought worked out pretty well.
Jef Birns: After going through the game and seeing how story driven it is, they’ll get it. In saying that, we didn’t want to take the game too seriously. When you’re making a space game, developers tend to go from a serious standpoint. This game, although it has serious tones, also has comic relief. It’s not all doom and gloom.
Strategy Informer: You also spoke on the video walkthrough about your love of explosions and the bombast that accompanies space combat. I guess that ties in with your aim not to take it too seriously?
Joe Parisi: Yeh – absolutely. We want things to be larger than life in the game. There never was a point that we said “well, is that what would happen if we followed the laws of physics?” We don’t really care about that in this particular project. Our mantra for this project was “is this fun? Is this cool? Fine, let’s do that.” It’s trying its best to be as fun as possible.
Strategy Informer: You mentioned that there are a lot of cut-scenes in the game. In terms of the narrative, how is the story told? Is it primarily through exposition in these cut-scenes or through investigative work with the protagonist?
Joe Parisi: There are a myriad of different ways. The cut-scenes will be the major story elements. We have commlinks, which occur during missions – you’ll be conversing with your A.I. partner Rhonda. You’ll be conversing with people that have hired you. There’s also media in the game – commercials and news reports.
The home base in the game is Hal’s garage. He has a sad existence where he sleeps on a cot because that’s where his ship is stored.
Strategy Informer: Does the garage function as the hub of the game?
Joe Parisi: Yes, that’s the hub. Within there you can discuss with various characters in person or through video conferences. You can also investigate certain objects that get unlocked as the story goes on. So there’s a few ways we like to bleed in story elements. If you’re a completionist player and complete everything, you’ll get the full story. If want to blow through the game and just do the main story, you’ll understand what’s going on. And, if you don’t care about the story and just want to blow things up, you can just skip the cut-scenes.
Strategy Informer: To use a clichéd phrase, will there be any player agency in terms of the narrative, or is it strictly linear?
Joe Parisi: It’s linear. There won’t be any paragon or renegade choices. One of the main themes is fatalism. He [Hal] doesn’t have a choice in what’s going to happen.
Jeff Birns: It’s also cheaper that way too... to develop.
Strategy Informer: You’ve talked about your influences for the space combat (theStarfox series, and Rogue Squadron), but I was wondering what your narrative influences were. Were there any books, films or games that you drew inspiration from?
Joe Parisi: A big series that we drew inspiration from was Firefly. I was a big fan of the way they took a western and put it in outer space. We looked to that as an example of how to take something that’s not in outer space and bring that genre there.
Strategy Informer: You mention on-foot sections on your website. Will this be purely plot-driven or will there be on-foot combat.
Joe Parisi: The on-foot sections are just plot. There’s only space combat in the game.
Strategy Informer: Could you tell me about how the weapon and spaceship upgrade systems work in the game?
Joe Parisi: You earn credits from being a bounty hunter. As the player you can use those credits to order some parts to upgrade your ship. You can see everything there is to buy from the beginning of the game. You can purchase new weapons and also upgrades for those weapons – including special abilities like the maxed out missile upgrade that allows you to lock on to multiple enemies. One thing that was really important for us was that every time you make an upgrade it needs to be a big upgrade – immediately apparent both visually and in its feel. It has to be worth paying for.
Strategy Informer: Will that be in-game credits or micro-transactions?
Joe Parisi: That’s in-game credits. We are going to offer the option for players to buy credits to unlock things faster. But the way that we’re balancing the game right now, if you’re a good player, you shouldn’t need to use any extra currency.
Strategy Informer: You’re releasing Space Noir on PC and tablet. Will that be a simultaneous release? Will the versions differ in terms of content?
Joe Parisi: It releases on PC first and the tablet will follow up at an unannounced time. There will be zero difference in content between PC and tablet. We will scale things down [from the PC version] to improve performance on other platforms.
Strategy Informer: Finally, with regards to replay value, will there be any options apart from the campaign mode? A multiplayer dog fight mode?
Joe Parisi: Yes. Right now there are a few things in the works. We’re looking into having a survival mode and a simulation mode – where you can replay bounties you’ve already done.
Many thanks to Jeff and Joe for sparing the time to talk to Strategy Informer. From conversing with these two gentlemen, it’s clear that Space Noir’s development has been fuelled by a mutual passion for their unique direction since the offset. The proof – of course – will be in the execution, but we’ve got high hopes for Hal Markham’s sordid tale.