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Infinitesimals is Finding Grandeur in the Microscopic - A TLS Exclusive Interview - Two Left Sticks

Infinitesimals is Finding Grandeur in the Microscopic – A TLS Exclusive Interview

Video games are meant to take players to fantastical worlds that are otherwise unavailable.  Whether it’s exploring a land filled with dragons or becoming a spy, there’s a brilliance within games when they achieve something new. However, the truth is that most games these days are merely retreads.  Sequels and genre copycats often flood the marketplace as opposed to fresh IPs.  Though one game that is attempting to provide players with something new is Infinitesimals.

An exploration action game, Infinitesimals is shaping up to be something unlike what players have experienced in the past. Set in a unique environment, Infinitesimals puts players in the shoes of alien explorers. What truly sets Infinitesimals apart is that the game is set on a micro-level; putting players deeper in an environment than before.  Featuring protagonists that are only millimeters tall, players will be able to explore nature and enter combat in a completely new way. With this unique concept, the actual origins of Infinitesimals are as interesting as the game itself.

PERSONAL ROOTS

“The very first inspiration is nature itself,” said Infinitesimals creator/developer James McWilliams in an interview with Two Left Sticks. “When I was a child my grandmother used to read a lot of stories to me, and they included tales set within nature. She probably gave me the deep interest in nature that has stuck with me,” James continued.

James’ inspiration for Infinitesimals also has deeper roots with his family. Speaking further on the matter, James said, “Then there’s the technological engineering side of the alien vehicles, spacecraft and tools. My interest in engineering and science probably stem from my grandfather; who was a Typhoon pilot in WW2. It’s no coincidence that one of the games protagonists belongs to “175 squadron”, named after the typhoon squadron he flew in the RAF.”

NEXT STEPS

With these inspirations instilled in him at such an early age, the actual concept for Infinitesimals has been evolving within James for a long time. However, the exact path of developing the game as it is today wasn’t exactly easy. A developer in the games industry since 2003, James didn’t start pitching or working on his own projects until 2011. It was then that James started work on EON, a game inspired by Another World and Flashback, which would serve as the prelude to Infinismtals.

With EON in development, James set forth with some of the design elements that he had been conceptualizing. “One idea I wanted to include was a vehicle that could fire out an array of cables to move around the world,” James said.

“Unfortunately we didn’t get far enough to do it justice and it remained a prototype. The idea of the swinger had evolved to be a much smaller little vehicle that could rapidly swing around. I felt that there was a lot that could be done with this mechanic, both with the swinging and associated puzzles of utilizing the multiple cables.”

Despite years of experience under his belt and a team in place, development on EON was canceled.  “After a brief recovery, I began pondering the idea of a multi-cable launching mechanic for a new game. Immediately I thought about setting it in the natural world at a tiny scale. I had considered making some kind of biological alien creature but soon decided on a vehicle, this time with two alien pilots.” This started the germination of the concept that would become Infinitesimals.

AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY

Focused on this new concept, James pushed forward. After fleshing out game concepts, James moved next to the lore. Infinitesimals’ follows the journey of Orkney, a scientist.  Getting on the wrong side of his superior officer, Orkney is punished by being sent on a research mission.  This mission is effectively a prison sentence since it’s a one-way ticket.  Though this prison sentence soon becomes something larger for Orkney as the research ship discovers a planet called Earth.

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A SENSE OF SCALE

A standout element of Infinitesimals is that it presents the world with a scale that players haven’t experienced before. It’s this scale which helps sell the feel of the game and creates the immersion.  Players can expect both a familiar and alien atmosphere within Infinitesimals. “I think both the familiar and alien will be displayed, simply by the nature of how tiny the protagonists are.  This means we get to see our world from a perspective that is not often seen.”

James continued by saying, “When you climb up to the head of a flower and look out to the horizon, it may become suddenly familiar. However, down in the undergrowth or when observing things closer than we humans can comfortably see with our eyes, the world can appear very alien. So in that sense perhaps the player will share a common feeling with the alien protagonists they play”

ACHIEVING ACCURACY

This approach James is taking with the game isn’t one that’s just an interesting gimmick. Achieving overall accuracy is one of the main goals James has with Infinitesimals.  “One of the key aspects that I’ve spent a lot of time on is researching what the natural world should look like at the scales we’ll see during the game. Part of that is from taking a lot of macro to get direct reference:”

Presenting visual accuracy isn’t the only goal James has with Infinitesimals. An important factor to achieve is making sure the wildlife seems real as well. With the mysterious Hunter Gatherers being the main foe in Infimismals, the animals of Earth will also be a source of contention from time to time if provoked.

“One thing I really want to achieve is to present the earth’s wildlife in an accurate way. It would be very easy to take the obvious path with insects as aggressive monsters to be engaged and slaughtered,” said James.

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“That’s really not what I want at all, especially because the protagonist is a scientist with military service thrust upon him from childhood. Most of the natural wildlife you encounter is not dangerous if you don’t put yourself in harm’s way. The Hunter Gatherer’s, however, are most certainly a threat. The aliens stand around 2mm tall and their perception of time is significantly slower than ours. We humans see an insect scurrying around in the blink of an eye but to them, it becomes a lumbering giant. A small bird to us is a colossal creature that slowly soars above to the alien.”

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James is also extending the accuracy of scale to the tech of the aliens as well.  Rather than go style over substance, James is striving for a world built in reality. “The scale also factors into how I design the technology of the aliens. For instance, I’m striving to ensure the spaceships are as realistic as possible. It’s got reaction control thrusters, internal control moment gyroscopes, radiators and solar panels etc. The parabolic communications dish has to be a decent size by virtue of real life physics if it were to function in reality.”

AN EQUAL MIX

Infinitesimals is striving to provide an equal mix of exploration and action. That said, the game won’t force or funnel players towards required action scenarios as other games do. Instead, James is wanting to let the players ultimately choose which path they go on during Infinitesimals.

“My goal is to let the player decide that to a certain degree. I’d prefer to give them a set of tools and throw them into the world to explore,” James said.  On tying gameplay into the core experience James stated, “Although there will be a strong narrative with clear objectives I want most of it to unravel during gameplay instead of gaming segments leading to cutscenes.”

“I’m aiming for the only game ending occurrences to be when you’re killed. Choosing to engage in combat is down to the player although it will be impossible to avoid encounters with hostiles.  But the choice to fight or evade is there.”

UNIQUE TRANSPORT

One of the first concepts James had for Infinitesimals was the idea of a vehicle that could shoot cables out to navigate.  This concept harkened back to the engineering inspiration that stemmed from James’ childhood with his grandfather.

Ultimately, this vehicular concept James had would turn into the Ajoxian Gyro. Serving as the main mode of transport and combat within Infinitesimals, the Ajoxian Gyro is a multi-use vehicle that players will have to master.

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Capable of scaling environmental hazards, the Ajoxian features other abilities that will help players navigate this new, and slightly foreign, Earth.  Players can expect quite a bit of depth to what the Ajoxian Gyro offers.  “The Ajoxian Gyro will be quite simulated. Internal components, power requirements, sensors, waste heat etc. All these factors contribute to its performance in the field and the tools available to the player. So, this invariably means the ability for the player to tweak and customize it’s functioning, both via settings within the POD’s internal systems UI and by changing its hardware configuration in the engineering bay.”

Rooted in performance than simple game upgrades, it’ll be possible for players to craft the Ajoxian Gyro in a way that mechanically fits the world of Infinitesimals.  This design inspiration stemmed from older games James was fond of.  “If you remember the original Lucasarts “Tie Fighter” game where you could adjust power configurations? Or “Mechwarrior 2” which felt like it had some of the depth of a flight simulator? One of my favorites but barely remembered is “Terra Nova” from Looking Glass. Those games had simulator aspects and I’d like to pickup from those inspirations whilst also keeping the core gameplay accessible for gamers who don’t want to delve into any of that,” said James.

VR POTENTIAL

The scale of Infinitesimals lends itself to VR formats such as  the Vive. While open to the format, James isn’t ready to delve into it yet. “It’s a possibility but I’ve held off venturing into that arena whilst focusing on the core system prototypes. I think once they are in a decent shape, then moving over to different platforms isn’t really a huge problem because we’re not working on aspects that are dependent on control/interaction right now. The POD cockpit aspect is almost perfect for VR. I wouldn’t want to choose VR and then be constrained by platform. So I’m keeping an open mind. My safe answer is that I’d like to do both eventually.”

A DIFFERENT DIRECTION

The Infinitesimals development experience nearly had a major shift when an opportunity surfaced.  “Back in 2013, I pitched Infinitesimals to a big publisher, and they wanted to fully fund development for their platform. I had the development contract in my hands, reading it over but with full intention to sign it. I felt like I was about to step back onto a rollercoaster ride because the publisher really wanted to start development as soon as possible.”

James ultimately opted to reevaluate things after the departure of his lead programmer. What made James not want to take the easy route was the fact that he wanted the project to be ready.  “Once you take funding you’re immediately setting go on a stopwatch . You suddenly have expectations and timeframes to meet. It’s imprudent to take obligations before the project is ready.”

“By choosing the slower burn development I can develop the game on my own terms and retain the vision I had without needing to appease anyone’s schedule. It gives me time to do intense R&D, iterate on the story, design and prototype the core aspects properly.”

Based on the concept art and prototype videos released so far Infimisnals may seem like it’s far along. For James though there’s still a long way to go to reach the quality he’s aspiring for. “Visually I feel like it’s only at 25% of where it will eventually be. Most of the models don’t have textures yet or are just prototype versions so I hope to really improve on that next year and flesh out the environments in particular.”

Infinitesimals may seem like it’ll take a sizeable amount of time to finish, but James is planning to put a development team together. Additionally, once a team is in place James is open to the notion of gaining outside funding from an endeavor such as crowdfunding.

NOT QUITE CONSOLE READY

Currently slated for the PC, Infimismals is the game that some console players have been dying for. As it stands now, the game is a PC exclusive merely for the sake of development.

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“I’d like to make it available on other platforms.  But my experiences running Dry Ice has made me aware of the dangers of overstretching,” said James. “The possibility is there for different platforms. But for now, the focus is on the game itself. Because there are only two of us on the project, for now, it’s important to minimize the variables.”

CONTINUED PHOTOSYNETHIS

With development slowly progressing before a full ramp-up, players will have to wait to see more of Infinitesimals. Not wanting to release the game too early, James is hoping to have something ready in the coming months.

“I’m hoping early next year we’ll have the prototype in a decent playable state to start ramping up production. There are a few options for funding out there these days. I’m completely open to which path to take. If I were to take the crowd-funding path, I’d try to do it when the game is much further along. Perhaps in a state where the extra cash becomes a completion tool or a means to add icing on the cake,” said James.

For some players, it may be disappointing that James isn’t planning to release Infimtismals as it stands now via Early Access. Though it’s ultimately refreshing that James instead wants the game to be in a consumable state rather than release an early, and unfinished, product.

AN EXCITING JOURNEY

A way off from being available to players, Infinitesimals is gaming in its best form; imaginative, unique, and compelling. A sense of wonder is in Infinitesimals which isn’t in many other games. A thoroughly fantastical sci-fi game, Infinitesimals is certainly what the games industry could use more of.

Ian Fisher
A Chicago native, I'm a six year veteran of the game press industry with a deep passion for smaller indie games and all things Sony.

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