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Interview: Howard Tsao - Team Lead, Embr (Muse Games)

Published: 23:16, 30 April 2020
Muse Games
Key art for Embr.
Never underestimate the power of experience. And pink frames.

Embr is a satirical, self aware slice of indie multiplayer action, sending would be firefighters into the breach and challenging you to indulge in physics based absurdity. We caught up with Howard Tsao from Muse Games to discuss the project.

Although the character design and visual palette wouldn't look out of place in a Nintendo published title, Embr is confidently forging its own path in early access. The core gameplay loop looks set to deliver a reliably bonkers experience, embracing incompetence and wild hail mary's to form another title that celebrates the joys of trial and error with your buddies. 

We're enjoying a co-op renaissance of sorts within the indie scene, with recent titles like Journey to the Savage Planet and Moving Out proving once again that squadding up can often lead to a good time. Embr looks set to continue that trend. 

Muse Games Fighting the fire as a team in Embr. Coordination at its finest. Covering all angles. Like a BOSS.

Embr's jolly aesthetic evokes titles like Moving Out and Overcooked. What was your approach to developing the visual style?

It’s fair to say the likes of Overcooked, TF2, Gang Beasts, the Incredibles, and Moving Out were all definitely on our mood boards for visual development. We wanted to capture the same friendly atmosphere and approachability in Embr, despite the darker themes and subject matter. 

Once we had figured out the deregulated world Embr exists in, our core aesthetic design pillars was for the game to feel fun, have the potential for silliness, but still grounded with a bit of realism. 

Since thematically, the game is an extension of what already exists, it made a lot of sense for the art direction to follow the same lead. We take a look at what already exists in real life, add a dash of deregulation, fast forward a few years, and see what we end up with. Generally, if a team member says, “Thanks, I hate it.” it’s probably getting in the game.

Clever, satirical humour in games is often the exception rather than the rule. Has the writing for the game influenced mechanics and / or level design? Or do you tend to construct scenarios first, and write the dialogue to suit?

While the development of Embr was mechanics driven at the onset, the creation of the worldview and tone definitely influenced and reinforced the level design and various game mechanics. 

The creation of the escape and “boss” missions are good examples, where we considered narrative and contextual fit while crafting the encounters, to try to ensure that the actual mission experiences make (whacky) sense within the whole of the game. 

With dialogue, we do prototype the scenario and mission experience first before we script the actual dialogue. However, during the prototyping process, we would generally have an idea of how the narrative framework would go.

Muse Games Breaking boxes in Embr. That guy is clearly not bothered by excessive splinters...

Can players create their own "firefighter calendar" in game? Perhaps using a photo mode of sorts to take screenshots?

Currently, players could use the Steam screenshot function to take screenshots pretty readily, but this is a great idea! We’d love to explore this, and a firefighter calendar would be pretty hilarious. 

You've already announced plans to support the game post launch. Do you have a roadmap for specific new additions?

Yes, and generally players can expect fairly regular updates throughout Early Access. In addition to more level, tool, and item contents, we have plans to introduce campaigns, additional game modes such as Embr Eats, and brand new level and hazard mechanics such as security systems. 

We’re also really looking forward to player feedback and ideas during Early Access so we can improve the game. A lot of times, players come up with the coolest ideas, and we’re excited to see what they come up with. 

If you're badly injured, can you visit the EMH from Star Trek: Voyager for a check-up?

We have holograms, so we’re halfway there already! But seriously, that would make a great character in-game.

Embr launches on 21st May 2020, in PC Early Access. A Stadia version has also been announced.

A huge thank you to Howard for giving up his time to answer our questions, and to the team at Renaissance PR for helping set this up.

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