Long Gone Days Interview — The Ambiguous Morality of War

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2003 was a pretty long time ago. It was the year that one-day juggernaut Call of Duty would debut. The year that one of the most beloved cult-classic Beyond Good & Evil would release. It was 2003 that one of the best games of all time, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, hit. And it was also the year that Chilean writer Camila Gormaz originally conceived the idea for Long Gone Days as an RPG Maker 2000 project.

It became a life goal of Camila’s to one day release Long Gone Days.

Twelve years later: Call of Duty of Black Ops III released (the 12th entry in the series) and became the best selling game that year. Meanwhile, no one knew where Beyond Good & Evil 2 went. 12 years later, Long Gone Days also began development.

Fast-forward to the present, and the 2D modern-miltary RPG is gearing up to release next year — fifteen years after its conception.

Recently, we sat down with Camila — who co-founded her own studio dubbed BURA in Chile — to naturally talk about Long Gone Days.

Editor’s Note: the following interview was conducted via email.

Tyler Fischer : Why it is called “Long Gone Days”?

Camila Gormaz: The title has to do with the fact that after Rourke leaves The Core, he becomes ashamed of his past. His dream of proving himself worthy of the army he admired so much is long gone, and his new objective is to make up for it by trying to prevent this war before it is too late.

TF: What games or other types of media does Long Gone Days draw inspiration from? And what inspired you specifically to create this game?

CG: Books were our initial source of inspiration. The idea was born mainly from a mix of classic dystopian literature like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and social novels like Dostoyevsky’s Humiliated and Insulted. The fact that a lot of problems encountered in the past and in a hypothetical future can be seen today, inspired me to write a story in the present times.

As far as games go, titles from the Shin Megami Tensei series (especially Digital Devil Saga) and some old Square Soft RPGs were my biggest inspirations back in the day.

TF: I know the game-development industry Chile is growing relatively rapidly, but yet we still haven’t had a great deal of games from the region yet. That being said, has being located in Chile provided any unique challenges that may have not been encountered if you were in Europe, Japan, or say the United States? 

CG: One of the biggest challenges is the lack of exposition. For example, there’s nothing similar to PAX in Chile, and most events require you to be there in person to apply, so we haven’t been able to show the game as much as we’d like.

There isn’t much coverage of Chilean games in the local media. Even nowadays, every once in a while, a new game in development is featured in a local newspaper as “The first Chilean videogame.”

Even though the Chilean game industry is relatively big in comparison to most countries in Latin America, most studios have to look for foreign investors for funding. Crowdfunding is an option, but without much exposition, only a few campaigns have been successful.

TF: Has Chilean culture found its way into the game or influenced anything in particular?

CG: It’s not the main reason why we are making this game, but we have spoken with people who fought against the government during the Chilean coup d’état, and we took some notes from them. How they managed to spread the word during heavily censored times, and even how they were able to keep themselves and others safe. Other than that, we don’t really think there’s much local inspiration involved.

TF: In the game you play as Rourke, a soldier who abandons his post in the wake of discovering a sinister truth about the operation he’s part of. Can you tell us more about Rourke, his personality, past, motivations? Additionally, how much can player’s shape Rourke themselves through things like dialogue choices?

CG: Rourke, just like the rest of his fellow soldier mates, was born and raised inside The Core, but he’s one of the few in his generation who hasn’t been deployed yet. Because of this, he would often dream of the day he’d be able to put his skills to the test, but his motivation quickly disappears as the idealized vision he had of his army shatters.

This disappointment leaves room for change in Rourke’s personality, as the player is able to take control of the things he says and does, and how he treats the rest of his teammates. These actions also impact the way Rourke thinks.

Long Gone Days Interview -- The Ambiguous Morality of War

T: Speaking of dialogue choices, it has been said they affect your party members’ morale (which has its own effects), but what else do they affect? Is the game’s narrative branching, or more linear? Multiple endings?

CG: Dialogues choices help you shape Rourke’s personality. You’ll see this reflected whenever he has some time for introspection, and ultimately in one of the two endings you’ll be able to get.

TF: Without perhaps spoiling too much, can you elaborate more on what’s going on in the game’s world in the background? I know it’s set in modern times, but is there a dystopian slant? What kind of state are the world’s societal, economical, and political structures in?

CG: If we think about it, a lot of things that were commonly found in classic dystopian fiction, can be seen in today’s world. The high levels of surveillance and the loss of privacy, the improvements of modern technology and artificial intelligence, the generalized fear and the thin line between war and peace that haunts the world every day. Things we used to think were an exaggeration, and far away from our reality. That’s why we feel it makes sense to set our game in modern times.

Now, speaking specifically about the game, Long Gone Days takes place during the next 10~20 years, where the things we hope for and fear have already happened. The improvements in technology have left several countries in development in precarious conditions, which implies more immigration to richer countries, and more racial and cultural tension. On the other side we have international wars that have become so costly, countries have to rely on private military companies, and here’s where The Core comes in.

The Core is a PMC whose headquarters are located underground, and little by little became one of the biggest armies in the world. Their influence and presence all over the world have elevated them to a status of peace icons, since they offer mostly humanitarian aid relief efforts. But peace is not as profitable as war.

Long Gone Days Interview -- The Ambiguous Morality of War

TF: Interestingly, the game features real-world locations, where NPCs will speak their native tongue. Thus, you will need specific party members to serve as interpreters. What was the reasoning behind this decision? And what happens if a player doesn’t have the needed interpreter in their party?

CG:  I’m fascinated by the concept of what is foreign, and what seems normal to each of us. Being alone in an unfamiliar place is one thing, but being unable to communicate when you really need to is something I wanted to explore.

While interpreters in the game certainly make things easier for our protagonist by translating into English, the feeling of being an outsider is always present. Whenever the player talks to a non-English speaker NPC, the dialogue is displayed in its original language. Having the needed interpreter determines if subtitles will be shown or not, but interpreters appear as the story progresses, otherwise it would be too frustrating.

Long Gone Days Interview -- The Ambiguous Morality of War

TF: While we’re talking about the game’s party system, in terms of customization it almost sounds a bit like XCOM, but there is also almost a BioWare-esqe type system of depending on what choices you make in dialogue and throughout the game, your party members will be affected and react differently. Can you elaborate more on the game’s a RPG/party system? Is there any type of punishment for not keeping certain party members’ morale up? Or perhaps a relationship-like gauge that affects how your party members view and talk to you?

CG: Morale is the main core of the game, and it is constantly affected by the story, the things you say to your allies, if an ally becomes unconscious, and so on. Morale affects mostly how a character may perform in battle, as a demoralized ally won’t have any will to attack, and a character with high morale will get a temporary boost.

In the case of our protagonist, Morale also affects him during Sniper Mode, and Rourke’s inner thoughts.

TF: The game’s battle system is described as featuring both front-view turn-based combat and a Sniper Mode. Can you elaborate more on how these two battle-systems work?

CG: The first one is based on the classic JRPG battle system, where you choose between commands, but since there’s no magic, instead of “Mana” or “SP,” you rely on the Morale of your party members to perform skills. Besides that, you are able to choose which part of an enemy you want to attack. For example, the center of mass of an enemy has lower chance to miss, but higher defense than the head or the limbs.

The second one, Sniper Mode, is used during certain parts of the story. In this mode you can see your enemies from the scope of your rifle, and certain things, like your Morale and HP, affect your aim, making it harder to make a precise shot.

Long Gone Days Interview -- The Ambiguous Morality of War

TF: What interested you about sniping that made you want to make it such a core part of your game?

CG: One of the things we wanted to do was to present Rourke as an outcast, who doesn’t spend much time with his team mates. By putting him in the role of a sniper, this isolation would be reinforced as he’s waiting at the back of the lines, while being alone most of the time, without anyone watching his back.

On the other hand, since sniper rifles are used in a different way than most firearms, it inspired us to create the Sniper Mode mechanic.

TF: Being in the military on a battlefield, you often have to make split-second decisions. Difficult decisions. This is especially true for snipers. Has this been demonstrated in the game at all — making decisions on the fly that aren’t necessarily black and white? Is there any exploration of the emotional toll of this process?

CG: The emotional toll on soldiers and civilians is one of the main topics we want to cover, and we are using Morale as a way to represent the emotional state of our characters. As Rourke is the de facto leader of the party, he makes most of the decisions to the point of mental exhaustion.

TF: How long do you anticipate the game will take (on average) to beat?

CG: One playthrough should range from 5 to 7 hours.

TF: PC, Mac, and Linux have been confirmed, but not consoles. Any plans or even consideration to bring the title to PS4 or Xbox One? Would you like to bring the game to the Nintendo Switch?

CG: We would really like to bring the game to consoles, but for now we are focusing on PC, Mac and Linux releases. It’s definitely an option we have considered, but we can’t confirm it yet.

TF: Is the target to still release this sometime in Q1 2018?

CG: We are on schedule, so the release date remains the same!

Long Gone Days Interview -- The Ambiguous Morality of War

Long Gone Days is in development for PC, Mac, and Linux, and is currently scheduled to ship sometime during Q1 2018. For more information and media on the game, be sure to check out its official website.

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