Sci-fi Puzzles and Empathetic Robots: ‘The Fall Part 2: Unbound’ Developer Interview

In 2015, a game appeared on the PlayStation Network. I wasn’t familiar with it at all, but it had a moody aesthetic that I found appealing, and the promise of a story-based adventure game in a sci-fi setting sounded promising. It was The Fall, and I wasn’t prepared for how much I was going to love it.

The game started its life as a Kickstarter campaign, with veteran game designer John Warner (Over the Moon Games) looking to break out on his own and bring his vision to life. The Kickstarter was a success, bringing in more than double its goal. Warner went to work, collaborating with a few others but shouldering a significant chunk of the responsibility himself.

The Fall lived up to its promise of a moody, atmospheric adventure game. The game was always planned to be Part 1 of a trilogy, and just this month, The Fall Part 2: Unbound was released on Steam, the Humble Store, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.

To sum it up (and spoiler warning for those of you who haven’t played Part 1 — get on it!): In The Fall, you play as A.R.I.D., the in-suit A.I. for a soldier named Josephs. You fall to the surface of a planet. Josephs is unresponsive, so A.R.I.D. must find loopholes in her protocols in order to save his life. It turns out, however, that Josephs was never in the suit at all, and A.R.I.D. is alone. She is disassembled, and players were left with a To Be Continued screen. Now, in Part 2, A.R.I.D. must strive to reclaim her body. She does this by hitching a ride on board three different robots with their own unique personalities: a butler, a martial artist, and a pleasure bot. All three have very different personalities, and learning about how they see the world becomes crucial to solving the game’s many narrative puzzles.

I was fortunate enough to get to ask Warner some questions about the development of Parts 1 and 2, as well as a bit about what the future holds.

What was the origin of The Fall?

Believe it or not, a character model. I had some time off of work, and was feeling creative. That model turned into a painting, then a prototype, and finally, a Kickstarter campaign. The project evolved quite organically!

The game is one of those somewhat rare Kickstarter success stories that fully delivered on its promise, so I’m curious: What sorts of challenges has operating on the Kickstarter model presented?

These days, not much, although our commitments are pretty small relatively speaking. At this point, we really just have to keep our fans updated, and we’ve got a handful or two of people who signed up for game keys for all three games. Delivering on that is our only real challenge these days. During our initial launch, it was a bit different. Having to ship out t-shirts when you’re trying to launch a game is an unnecessary pain, but… I suppose that’s the cost of relatively free money.

What is your process like? How many people are involved the day-to-day development?

I’ve got a small team of people who assist development, and that scales depending on where we are and what we need done. I’ve got a fantastic writer, audio guy, and animator who stick with me always, but I’ve had to hire programmers and artists to help us through sections of heavy production. At core however, I’m the central programmer, artist, and game designer.

Was there any overlap in development of parts 1 and 2? Or were you able to fully take into account feedback from Part 1 as you shaped what Part 2 would become?

Supporting Part 1’s launch meant very little to no overlap between development of Parts 1 and 2, so yes, we were able to incorporate lots of feedback!

What feedback did you take into account from players of Part 1?

Well for one, the combat systems have been completely revamped. Secondly, the puzzles have a much stronger reason for existing this time around. We had a few puzzles in Part 1 that amounted to “pick up the wrench, use it on the thing, get the key card.” This kind of stuff can be fun, but it also admittedly feels a little hollow to me.

The game mechanic of using one robot’s perspective to solve puzzles in a completely different robot’s scenario is such a compelling feature. In a way, it gamifies the concept of empathy. What was the origin of that idea, and how did you bring it about in the game?

My writer and I were both attracted to the idea and it took a lot of chatting to pull that all together. We both liked the idea of dealing with the personal boundaries of others, for example. That begs the question of what these boundaries should be. Who are the characters exactly? They need to be sufficiently different, and each of them should have a reason for existing in the story. I think a desire for everything to be properly intertwined from a narrative perspective lead to this mechanic.

We know Part 3 is coming, and it will likely conclude the series. Any idea when we can expect it?

No idea yet! I’m sure Part 3 will be a simpler production though, so it should be out much sooner than Part 1.

Beyond The Fall, what are you looking forward to doing next? Do you have a new project in mind, or are you keeping your options open?

I am definitely keeping my options open. The market is insane right now. Hard to know what the landscape will look like in a few years.