Jon Caplin of Electrolyte, Last17, and Developer of Reprisal Universe - Interview

I'm a fan of the slow, methodical thinking game as well as something action packed with whizz-bang effects and explosions. That is part of entertainment, seeing both excitement and those thoughtful moments juxtaposed to give more weight to the other. It is this balance that allows any form entertainment takes to be that much more meaningful, exciting, and substantive.

Reprisal Universe is akin to the former of these two examples. It gives you time to sit back, relax, not sweat the details, and enjoy the spectacle of inhabiting the persona of an omnipotent being in a struggle for power. I spoke to Jon Caplin, the driving force behind Reprisal Universe to get some insight as to what helped define the 'tilt-shift' style, background into the character's story, and more.

Reprisal Universe

Reprisal Universe

For those just coming in to the conversation, mind giving me the Reprisal Universe elevator (or lift) pitch?

In a nutshell it's a nostalgic love letter to Populous!

Tell me a little about how Reprisal Universe came to be. This isn't its only incarnation, correct?

Correct, the original Reprisal started out some four years or more ago. I had broken my jaw and, in the long recovery, I decided to make a game while learning to code as I went. Being a graphic designer as my day job, I was approaching it from a purely visual perspective and was mainly something to keep me busy. It eventually turned into a full game and was a free web based game on Kongregate which ended up taking about a year or so to finish. Out of mild curiosity, I submitted Reprisal to Steam Greenlight. Eight months later it was green-lit and I was cuffed to bits! Then came the dilemma: should I just release the existing Reprisal or have a rethink and sort out things that bugged me with the original? I decided to fall headfirst back into its development and what I thought would take a few months polish ended up taking just over another year to finish. Adding the Universe, reworking the graphics, AI, chunks of code base, adding new wonders, story lines, legacy's and more!

Explain the connection between Electrolyte and Last17, please.

Electrolyte was a name I came up with when I was at art college. I used it in a project not actually knowing what it meant, but I liked the sound and look of it. It stuck and I ended up using it for my personal website. As far as Last17, it is basically myself and another chap with a goal to make games. We worked together for a number of years in an ad agency and both had the same passion for retro gaming. Finding time is the hardest thing at the moment, but the dream is always there!

Reprisal Universe - Before the Tilt Shift

Reprisal Universe - Before the Tilt Shift

A Universe, Reprised

While beautiful, what was the motivation to adhere to the tilt-shift esthetic?

That came up in the original Reprisal. I was sitting outside feeling pretty rough from getting no sleep with my broken jaw and frustrated with not being able to eat properly. As I looked out of my window, I saw a garden below me from a similar angle to what you have in Reprisal and I wondered if I could recreate that in a game. At the time, tilt shift was becoming popular in photography with loads of Photoshop styled techniques but it had yet to be used in real time games. So, I saw that as a challenge. I managed to get it working quite quickly and it drove the finished look of Reprisal greatly.

Reprisal Universe, when compared to other "classic" god sims, is more akin to Populous than something like Black and White in that it's pretty hands-offHow would RU be served if it were more involved rather than eschewing micromanagement of individual worshipers, etc?

It would be a very different game, I always thought of RU as a 'lounge RTS' rather than a deep micro management game. The gameplay is simple, I loved Populous and how the land forming aspect of the original intrigued me.

Reprisal Universe - just after tilt shift was implemented.

Reprisal Universe - just after tilt shift was implemented.

When most games have some sort of face-to-face multiplayer mode, RU goes a different route where players make "an impression" on the game world so that someone else can indirectly and tangentially interact with them. What was your reasoning there?

The main reason was the technical challenge of real time multiplayer. RU is niche and having full servers would be an issue, also the cost of servers reducing lag was well out of my reach. In development of Battle Keep we came to the point of realizing that making a game aimed at multiplayer as an indie studio was just proving difficult. You had to have a good community to make it all work as well as capital for the infrastructure. Making it Asynchronous multiplayer was a much better option with having the past 'presence' of other explorers ... which developed into legacy's.

Sometimes it's hard not being the only deity. Sometimes it's harder to be a sibling. When weaving the story and portraying the characters, RU nicely lays out the events. Who should we thank for creating the lore?

The story developed over time. On my journeys home from work I'd just be thinking up stories and then iterate over and over. It's quite a grandiose story I guess, elements of creation and genesis, the fall of Thallos, redemption, struggle and conflict. Late in the stories development I needed grand sounding names. Up until this point I was making the player the main focus by saying, "You were once ..." but decided to shift the focus and looking around Greek Mythology seemed like a great fit taking on some of the lore from demigods. The Heroes are named directly after figures from that mythology and some of the 'Wonder' powers have are derived from there, as well.

I very much appreciate the sense of scale you preserve where a player only has a small window into the world. Did you ever consider delivering a sort of omnipotent viewpoint?

I've not really thought about that ... I guess the star system will give you an overview of the entire Universe, where you've explored, and a general feel of where other players are and what they are doing.

Reprisal Universe - tilt shift aesthetic closer to launch,

Reprisal Universe - tilt shift aesthetic closer to launch,

How has the reception been now that we are a few weeks out from release? I get the feeling that your player base is a little more contemplative and capable of quiet appreciation rather than being the boisterous type.

Yes, this is true, I think it's aimed at an older demographic, players that remember Reprisal, old real-time strategy games, classic retro games, and of course, Populous. It's not a fast bang boom shooting game that's for sure! It has no music which makes for a more subtle game of exploring. The feedback was great to have, when you have your head in something for such a long time it's hard to get subjective. Many things seemed natural to me because I made it, but to a player coming in from the cold, some stuff was just plain confusing! The Kindle option was a massive issue for players coming from the original Reprisal. I listened to what was being said and rolled out an update addressing that and some other issues. By adding options it's created a much more customisable game when it comes to gameplay and display. It has certainly given me, as the developer, a fresh view of the game! It's been great interacting with players, listening and responding. Since it's release, two updates have been made to balance and add features, and in some cases, fix things! :D

 More information abut Reprisal Universe can be found on its website.

Reprisal Universe can be purchased on Steam, GOG (Good Old Games), or Desura.

More information about Jon Caplin can be found on the Electrolyte blog.

Details about Last17 and their projects can be found on their website.

Don't forget to check out other Here Are Words interviews!