Ryan Gibbs, TYF music editor: Can you tell about the partnership Finji has with Apple?
Rebecca “Bex” Saltsman: We’re super excited. Apple approached us some time last year, not 100% sure when, and they had an interest in refocusing on premium games for Apple mobile devices. We are sort of long time iOS developers and we love the idea of taking our premium gaming experience and putting touch controls on it. In general, we’re just super-excited to be part of it. In the business of partnerships, which is what I do, finding someone who actually cares about the thing you’re making is really exciting for us.
Ryan: Can you tell me about the turn-based RPG and puzzle/decision-making mechanics of Overland?
Saltsman: Overland is procedurally generated and, it’s less that Overland is a puzzle and more that the decisions that you are making are dependent upon the choices you have made before. If you back yourself into a corner, you have to get yourself out. In a lot of ways, it’s kind of like an escape room. If you’ve not collected enough people or you’ve left people behind in favor of bringing dogs, if you haven’t scavenged for enough fuel or if you haven’t collected enough weapons or you drive onto a place and you’re like, “I’m not getting out, I’m going,” you’ve made actual choices that make the game harder for you. What we’ve done is we’ve just set up an environment where you have close calls where it always feels like you’re barely escaping.
Ryan: Is getting everything on the map -the other people, the car, the gas – not necessarily the best decision in every instance?
Saltsman: It kind of depends. Having a car full of people is generally the best decision, but […] say for example you have a four seat car going in and you’re like “I’m going to pick up this other person” or you blow up your car and you can only leave with a two seater, you have to leave a bunch of people behind and that’s not actually the best decision. You’re forced to do it or you walk out with all five and hope you find a different car, because people will end up in the revenge survivor bucket and can come back later to mess with your stuff. The idea is you want as much gas; Imagine the gas as your currency, it’s how far you can go. If you have gas you can keep driving. And people, you want as many turns as possible on your board, because you are going to die and you are going to lose people in Overland. Being able to source a big enough crowd and a car that can hold them will make the game a lot easier. At the same time, it’s hard to keep them all alive.
Ryan: Why was it decided to have an isometric view in Overland?
Saltsman: Our team is super tiny, and for the most part over the last five years there’s only been about four of us. We have one single artist on Overland. I’m not a triple-A studio, I don’t have 100 artists working on a game, so we had to make very careful choices on how we were going to stylize Overland. Early on, we came up with the isometric view, which I always find funny because when Adam [Saltsman] was working as an artist, he absolutely hated making isometric games. But it works so well with this angled view on our 9×9 board. It has given Heather Penn, our artist, a lot of flexibility with the gradients, the look, the cutaways, to sort of really take the art style and push it as far forward as she can. We talk a lot about design constraint, and when you’re able to box in the design with what is even possible, you’re able to take that as far as you can push it, with is a really cool thing as an indie that we can do.
Ryan: What we some of the influences on this game?
Saltsman: There are so many. The first one is Adam and I read this book called The Roadside Picnic, which was written by a couple Russian brothers [Arkady and Boris Strugatsky] in the ‘70s. It’s basically the idea that aliens came and dropped a bunch of trash on Earth and 100 years later, it’s about the stories of the town, the black markets that sort of grew up around these alien trash sites. They’re very human stories, it’s very dark, it’s very gritty and very ‘70s Russia. It’s also the book that [Andrei Tartovsky’s] Stalker was based off of. Also, we had been playing a lot of X-Com together and a ton of Pandemic, so the idea that we could build a – we call it couch co-op – but the game is a single player game but how do we get people on the couch to bicker, but also feel like they’re having these close calls and they’re taking care of this group of people on a journey being able to tell their own stories. All of these came together. With the art style, we love Kentucky Route Zero and we love low-poly stylized artwork. All that is designed by constraint where we had to come up with an art style that was iconic but is also really pretty and you can sort of push things into surrealism. Also, Heather loves the National Parks and the design of the National Parks System in the US in the ‘70s, and she’s pulled a whole ton of stuff out of that.
Ryan: Can you tell me about the overarching story of Overland?
Saltsman: The idea behind Overland is that you start out on the east coast [of the US] and you’re road-tripping to the west coast. As you move through the regions – and all of Overland is divided by regions – Your boss level, or we call them roadblocks, are at the end of every region. As you move west, the world is going to get weirder and weirder, which a lot of people can see already see now if they watch any of the Let’s Plays from our first access. There’s floating rocks, the monsters get stranger, and it kind of feels in a lot of ways that world is pulling apart. Something happened out west, and for some reason, your people are trying to get there. Where you’re going is still a mystery. I haven’t told you anything about the west coast, and you’re going to learn that when we launch the game. The actual story itself is intentionally left very opaque because all of the characters are procedurally generated. All of the backstories of the characters are procedurally generated. The thing that human brains do is they fill in all the blanks. Your story and your road trip is going to be very different from the characters I collect, even if we have the exact same characters because my life experiences will fill in the blanks of these people and their backstories. The important thing about Overland is you’re playing this hardcore strategy game, you’re on this road trip, and you are basically telling your own story of these people going west. What I’ve given you is a world that is going to fall apart as you go.
Ryan: What platforms will Overland be launching on?
Saltsman: So far, I have announced a lot of them. We’re going to be PC, Mac and Linux, and that’s going to be Steam, Humble and itch.io for sure. I announced for Switch, Playstation and XBox last week, and I announced for Apple Arcade this week.