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République: crossing the finish line at a perfect time

The government is always watching you and you're considering criminal action to escape a surveillance state. This is République, Camouflaj's long-awaited, crowdfunded stealth-action adventure, and it couldn't be more timely.

The NSA is in your MMORPG and nobody's really comfortable about the Xbox One's creepy new always-on Kinect. All over the world whistles are being blown and people are being thrown in jail for daring to tell the truth. Riot police wield batons, rubber bullets and tear gas on protesters and governments are shutting down the Internet to keep their critics from gathering.

This is 2013. République, a game first revealed to the public a full 20 months ago, has never looked more timely.

"Privacy and surveillance stories are especially prominent in the news right now, but they’re sort of always with us," game designer Paul Alexander told us.

"It’s just that now they’re tied up with the Internet, and there are new concerns associated with that technology which we’ve never dealt with. As a result, a lot of old questions are being raised. I think République finding inspiration in 1984 and Brave New World is emblematic of that."

Camouflaj's adventure isn't, therefore, inspired by any particular incident of the past few years - but it certainly isn't divorced from current events.

"In the game’s fiction, the bad guy is the author of a manifesto, and it’s basically an authoritarian response to Tim Wu’s book The Master Switch. And this manifesto is a sacred text in the world of République. It’s sort of like Mao Tse Tung’s 'little red book.' All the kids carry it," Alexander added.

"And it’s a real book. An amazing writer named James Clinton Howell actually wrote this 200-page book in the antagonist’s voice, and it acts as a companion to the game. So for people interested in the speculative fiction of République, there will be a lot of cool stuff to dig into."

For all its timeliness, République seems to have been a long time coming, now that its launch is just around the corner. Camouflaj has kept its backers in the loop with monthly updates as well as issuing a regular public podcast, but in the main, the team has kept its head down and focused on development since the successful conclusion of its Kickstarter.

"We’re also an independent studio on a limited budget, so a crazy PR blitz months before release was never in the cards," Alexander told us candidly. "But really, I think we’re just attracted to the idea of announcing everything right before launch, because a lot of people have probably forgotten about us, and we hope they’ll be pleasantly surprised by the game’s evolution."

Although to us it feels like forever, République's development time has actually been quite short, given the production values it projects. This speedy turnaround can probably be laid at the door of the increasingly well-received Unity Engine.

"I can’t say enough nice things about Unity," Alexander said, acknowledging the tech company's ongoing inetrest in and support of the project.

"I went to UNITE in Vancouver, and Unity had all these tables laid out, with engineers assigned to different troubleshooting sections. And developers could show them their games, like 'my game’s struggling with frame rate' or something, and they’d help you. So we called one of our devs, and he got in his car and drove up with a build of the game the very next day."

Unity's flexibiliy and support allows developers to make dramatic design decisions without majorly upsetting projects, such as République's shift from pre-rendered to full 3D environments.

"Working with prerendered backgrounds wouldn’t have allowed us to rapidly iterate or make environmental changes at a moment’s notice. It would’ve required meticulous planning. And in my mind, it’s best to interpret player feedback and make adjustments as you go," Alexander said.

"Other than that, we’ve managed to stay true to the original vision, I think," he added. "I was playing the initial prototype a couple weeks ago – before prerendered backgrounds, before anything polished. Just a box room with a bunch of store-bought assets and cheap, janky animations. But all the core elements in that prototype are still present in République today. It was kind of eerie."

After almost two years wait, République's release will be something of a triumph for crowdfunding; although Wasteland 2, Pillars of Eternity and Broken Age are kicking along nicely, of the cluster of big-budget Kickstarters that sprouted in 2012, very few have seen the light of day to date.

"We were the first big iOS Kickstarter and that was huge for us. People have formed mixed opinions about crowdfunding games since then, for a variety of reasons. We hope our game sends a positive message: that it’s a viable road for some developers to travel," Alexander said. "République would’ve been a very difficult game to make along traditional avenues."

We don't yet know precisely when Camouflaj will ship République to mobile, but once its done, it will continue work on the Mac and PC release, which will offer an experience distinct from the mobile release - although Alexander wants gamers to try both if possible.

"We’ve promised an experience that’s unique to those platforms. There are opportunities to do some very interesting things. If we were to do a straight port, it wouldn’t be as funm" he said.

"I always wait for the PC release of my favourite games. But playing République on iPhone and iPad has made a believer out of me. I’ve never once had the thought, 'oh God, this would be so much better with a controller or mouse.'

"In a perfect world, I hope desktop gamers check out the iOS version. I want them to see how we’ve made stealth-action gameplay a reality on that platform, and get them interested to see how it’ll evolve on desktop."

République arrives on iOS on December 19.

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