At first glance, it is easy to see that Tangiers is something strangely unique. Inspired by the stealth-based Theif games (as well as drawing influence from the works of William Burroughs and David Lynch), there is something a little…off, about the world glimpsed in the game’s screenshots. Within said screenshots there is something that both lures me into the world, while also at the same time I feel like a kid viewing the place where my nightmares live. I want to just look away and “nope” my way out of there, but the urge to explore this creepy world of shadows, elongated-limb humanoids, and apparently murder, is too strong for me to just simply walk away from.
Tangiers is being developed by Alex Harvey and Michael Wright, assisted by artist, Cat Stewart, and musician, Joseph Rubio. The small development team has been working on the game for the past eight months. Both Harvey and Wright quit their day jobs to form Andalusian and focus on Tangiers full time. Currently a Kickstarter campaign for Tangiers has collected over $43,000, but still has a bit left to go, in its final five days.
I was able to chat with developer Alex Harvey about Tangiers, and what players can expect out of this surreal video game.
IGM: What was the tipping-point for both you and Michael, when it came to deciding to quit your jobs and focus on Tangiers full time?
Harvey: For myself, I went through a period of reflection… I’d spent most of my life stuck in a job that I never really intended as permanent. Trapped by the stability of it, you know. Frustration around that built up, and at the same time I didn’t really have the time to devote myself to Tangiers properly. Stuck in that situation, the only way to move on was to take a deep breath and jump!
Michael I’ve known for years, he’d been homeless for quite a while before he joined with me. Long story, but it kind of gets in the way of finding conventional employment. With the similar motivation of putting himself on a new path in life, he stepped on board with me.
IGM: Do either of you have experience working on games?
Harvey: Not really! I used to play around with making games when I was a kid, when I was about 12 or 13. Since then, about once a year I look into what’s going on, what platforms are available to work with… it’s only been in recent years that Unity has matured and given me something I’m comfortable working with. A fair bit of coding in between sporadic periods of playing in level editors, but no games development. To compensate for this, before moving onto developing Tangiers I spent a solid year picking up the ropes on the technical side. Literally doing nothing else during that period, every free moment spent self learning.
IGM: In the Kickstarter campaign you mention that Tangiers presents players with a unique world with each play-through. Could you go into what elements will be randomly generated?
Harvey: Nothing in Tangiers is actually randomly generated, what we do is monitor a wide range player actions. We use that information to look at where the player is less careful with the stealth, and then incorporate fragments of those areas into future ones. There’s different levels of this, from the purely aesthetic (architectural motifs etc.) to those that cause considerable alterations to the flow and challenge of situations. The exact positioning and impact all depends on the magnitude of your actions, but it brings in obstacles, architecture, layouts… as well as a level of distortion on existing features.
IGM: What is one element/mechanic of Tangiers that you’re extremely satisfied with the way it turned out?
Harvey: It’s probably at the lowest level of the game’s ambitions, but the core stealth system has pleased me the most. Not because it does anything particularly new, but because it recreates almost perfectly the sense of tension and vulnerability in Thief. Very satisfied with what I’ve achieved with that, —it sounds like hyperbole but there’s actually been times in play-testing on the early builds where I’ve jumped out of my seat after the AI has caught me by surprise.
IGM: What have been some of the difficulties you have encountered while developing a stealth-based title?
Harvey: Biggest challenge was getting the AI to feel right. Getting the search routines nailed down, having it analyze the environment and make a judgement as to where you’ve run off to or are hiding. It’s been a balancing act in getting it right. At one end, the AI is too good at making this judgement, and from the player’s perspective just seems to home in on you. At the other end, it’s a bumbling entity that doesn’t provide any challenge. It took a while to get it right, but we’re very happy with what we’ve now got.
IGM: Why the decision to name the game Tangiers? Anything to do with the Moroccan city of Tangier?
Harvey: In a roundabout way. It’s a signpost to the William Burroughs influence in the game. A lot of his writing, especially on Naked Lunch was made during his stay in the city, and Tangier made recurring appearances in the form of the absurdest Interzone. So originally a nod to the influence of our influence, but it’s since come to embody the game world as a whole.