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Philosophical first-person puzzler The Talos Principle captured hearts and imaginations this year with its unique perspective, meaty challenges, and structural reflections on the self and the divine. More than just a well-made puzzle game, its narrative conventions provoke the player to self-study and to surprises.
The acclaimed sleeper hit is up for both the Excellence in Design award and the Seumas McNally Grand Prize (plus an honorable mention in the narrative category), and developer Croteam will be giving a postmortem on The Talos Principle -- and reactive game development -- at this year's GDC. As part of our annual series of interviews with Independent Games Festival nominees, we caught up with Croteam's Davor Hunski, the game's lead designer.
What's your background in game development, and what inspired you to create The Talos Principle?
Huh, how do I start? I have been making games since the dawn of the era of personal computers. I created my first game in the late 1980's. It was a puzzle game, on a machine called the ZX Spectrum. Since then, I work every day on something that is beyond interesting. Being a game developer is a is a dream come true for me. We always knew that we are not a one-trick pony team, that we are able to create great games that are not first person shooters, but somehow conditions never allowed us. With the success of Serious Sam 3 and a stream of lucky coincidences, we ended up working on The Talos Principle. That game shows most of the creativity that we were holding back for decades.
What tools did you use?
To develop the 3D assets used in The Talos Principle, we primarily used our own proprietary editor, Serious Editor. It allowed us to rapidly develop concepts and production itself. Besides Serious Editor, for 3D modeling/animation we used many other applications, 3D Studio Max, Maya, Modo, Blender, ZBrush, PhotoScan....
How long did you spend working on the game?
It took us a little bit less than two years from the beginning of the project until the launch day. The number of people involved in production grew over time.
What would you say are some of The Talos Principle's main themes?
There are many themes addressed in The Talos Principle, but it deals mostly with issues of transhumanity, philosophy, religion, history and future, achievements of humankind, and what it means to be human in general.
You had a lot of talented collaborators working on the writing of the game. Did the heritage of their very different respective projects come to bear on this game?
First of all, I would like to say that we greatly enjoyed having Tom Jubert and Jonas Kyratzes on board. The previous skills and experiences that those guys brought to the table enriched Talos in many ways. They were very experienced, skillful and passionate during the production.
There is something about The Talos Principle that feels very classic: What were some of your influences in creating the world?
Personally, I was always in love with the old civilizations, like Egypt, Rome, etc. In my world, they stand for beauty, roots of intellectual thought and mystery. The themes that Talos touches are in a way very classic, so we selected environments that would match that feeling.
What's one piece of advice you'd offer other developers when it comes to successfully combining puzzle design with a story?
Form a coherent story that reflects the puzzles, implement and iterate/polish it many times.
Have you played any of the other IGF finalists? Any you've particularly enjoyed?
What to say, being an IGF finalist is an enormous honor and games that are nominated are just phenomenal. I tried most of them and they all have something in common: they are all very, very awesome! I don't feel that it would be fair to just pick one of them. Recently, I also talked with my teammates about their thoughts on the games that got into the IGF finals, and everyone liked the games that they played very much.