At the end of a long day at London’s Interface event, Sean Wright and Maciek Strychalski, co-founders of SMAC Games, brought a prototype to show to publishers, having just learned about the art of the pitch and how to secure financial support. By happy accident, the two found themselves standing next to developer Mode 7, and took the opportunity to offer enthusiastic praise for the studio’s futuristic strategy title Frozen Synapse. “Sorry, who are you?” asked Paul Kilduff-Taylor. The pair explained, and were invited to demonstrate their current build. Mode 7, which had never published another studio’s game before, immediately offered to do just that.
It’s tempting to suggest that this proves that Wright and Strychalski were listening attentively during the day’s keynotes, but it was the quality of the game itself that wowed the developer-turned-publisher. Tokyo 42 may be more than half a year away, but already it feels robust and satisfying. The demo we play gives us only a small handful of missions. By the time we’ve reached the end – albeit with the opportunity to return and explore the world a little further – we’re hungry for more.
The game’s central concept was thrashed out while Strychalski and Wright were living together. It began life as a competitive twoplayer game, a response to the commercial struggles of independent multiplayer titles designed primarily for four or more players. The two were similarly keen to do something with crowds, quickly conceiving a disguise mechanic whereby players could, as Strychalski puts it, “screw around” with their opponent by hiding in plain sight. A short while later, they realised they had something akin to a hybrid of Spy Party and Assassin’s
Creed, two inspirations that may seem obvious now but were entirely unconscious as the code was being assembled.
It was an early multiplayer prototype that convinced Mode 7 to sign the game up. The likes of Devolver and Curve Digital had expressed some interest, though Wright felt this partnership was “a better fit” for Tokyo 42 – partly thanks to the shared experience of having been founded as a duo, but also because it meant the game could get the publisher’s full attention. Elsewhere, Wright explains, “we would have been just one of seven, eight or nine games” on a release slate. Early discussions between the two parties have been fruitful. Mode 7 has focused SMAC’s ambitions, and though a release date of 2017 seems vague, Strychalski expresses a desire to have finished development by December, ahead of a potential launch in the early months of next year.
Both parties seem pleased with how things are progressing, and with good reason. This isometric vision of a future Tokyo is crisp, bright and distinctive, blending contemporary architecture with traditional Japanese iconography. Strychalski’s inspirations include the work of pixel-art group eBoy, iOS favourite Monument Valley, and the Where’s Wally? books, the latter naturally factoring into the way you play, as you attempt to blend in with crowds to hide from aggressors. As a fugitive turned assassin, you’re asked by your furtive handler to kill a mini-golf magnate on a neighbouring rooftop; shortly afterwards, you’ll face amusingly violent retribution from his customers. Collecting a sniper rifle for your next hit, meanwhile, requires some careful platforming, as it’s been left on top of the tallest building around. It’s a vertiginous climb that sees you nervily leap between balconies and stairwells. Happily, there are plenty of respawn points should you misjudge a jump. A later set-piece plays out like a Matchbox
Hitman, as you sneak past several suited guards to reach a contact on the top floor of a towering pagoda. With a single bullet enough to kill you, stealth is the recommended option, though with grenades, a katana and a machine gun equipped, you might prefer a more explosive entrance. It’s unlikely Wright and Strychalski will face a similar choice when Tokyo 42 launches. The buzz around their game is already pretty noisy; by the time it launches, it could well be deafening.
As a fugitive turned assassin, you’re asked by your handler to kill a mini-golf magnate
FROM TOP Sean Wright and Maciek Strychalski, co-creators of Tokyo42