For as long as games have existed, explosives as a game mechanic have been pretty shallow. When you really think about it, they usually boil down to a timer that you’re working against and a button you’ve got to press. I think it’s fair to say that ‘Shockwave: Land of the Blind’ [Steam Link] from Bnayat Games is set to change that.
In Shockwave: Land of the Blind you play as an ex-military Sapper (a military demolitions or fortification specialist, if you didn’t know). Contracted to a peacekeeping force as a contract bomb defusal expert, your character Jerome Kowalsky is accompanying an emissary heading to post-war Aleppo, Syria. Of course, things go sideways and Jerome finds himself pitted against the destructive genius of a determined bombmaker.
The developers Bnayat Games have been working closely with former members and world leading IED experts from GROM, a Polish Special Forces Military unit, to bring legitimacy to Shockwave: Land of the Blind. With a strong focus on stealth, problem solving and intel gathering, the game will give you access to essential Sapper tools like metal detectors, the Sapper robot, water charges and of course, a full Advanced Bomb Suit. You’ll have to use your knowledge and skill to use these tools to clear the way forward. According to the developers “there’s no hand holding here or quest markers, no mini map or magical radar to expose the threat”. It’s you vs the IED.
Reading about Shockwave: Land of the Blind certainly piqued my interest. It certainly seems like a unique take on the idea of explosives within games, making it a central premise rather than a danger to avoid. It appears far deeper than anything I’ve come across before in this genre too, including Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes which has a very different tone.
When given the opportunity to talk to the Creative Director Alan Padzinski at Bnayat Games, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to delve deeper into Shockwave: Land of the Blind. Here’s our Q&A.
Finger Guns – What inspired you to develop a game about bomb defusal?
Alan: “Firstly, It’s anti-war manifesto … bomb disposal is a very high pressure job about saving lives, so in this sense we are creating and talking about someone who is perceived as a kind of superhero of sorts which nobody has really done before in videogame form. EOD guys are looked upon as either completely crazy or absolute gods in the field so there’s an interesting dynamic for a character. Secondly, we saw it as an opportunity to create something engaging but also pretty unique in the way we approach mission design and how the player works through the game.”
FG: How are missions in Shockwave: Land of the Blind structured? Do they take place across an open area where you’ve got to plan out progress yourself or are they more linear, funnelling you through potential bomb locations?
AP: “Linear with semi-open levels (a’la Deus Ex). We’ll be approaching a wide variety of scenarios and missions in the game which will encourage the player to think about each task in a tactical way. For example, the game places a big emphasis on using the right tools for the job, being equipped with the right tools will make the task at hand easier. Approaching each dilemma in the game means making some keen decisions on how you tackle the threat.”
FG: When heading into missions in Shockwave: Land of the Blind, you’ll be required to choose your limited tools and inventory, leaving some tools behind. What happens when you come across an IED which you’re not equipped to deal with?
AP: A good question and one I’m sure even experienced EOD operators ask as well in real life!
The overall/general design is that the main threat, the bomb on a mission is always disarmable. If You don’t have the necessary tools or you forget to take it then you’ll need to figure another way. For example – You have to remove something from the bag and search for the necessary tools or you have to find another way to solve the riddle. Sometimes you’ll have to improvise.
BUT all side missions / bombs depend on what the player decided to take in the equipment selection process. And that’s what Intel gathering is for… to expect more or less what to take.
FG: The story in Shockwave: Land of the Blind pits player-character Jerome Kowalsky, an ex-military Sapper, against a talented bomb maker. How is this narrative delivered to players? Can we expect some twists in this tale?
AP: There will be different narrative animations to drive players to go on. There will be many twists (for example Jerome meets his old flame… and everybody know that “Old love does not rust”). There is also a lot of stealth & intel gathering too, so the game is addictive 😊
FG: Shockwave: Land of the Blind is striving to be an authentic experience. How do you balance the life-or-death skill and difficulty of bomb defusal against the task of making an enjoyable, approachable game?
AP: Of course it’s tough to understand this situation sitting in a safe place, we can only really get close to the experience of it through films like The Hurt Locker or books like Eight Lives Down. I have for this question a short quote though: “You can’t be a democrat when you want to implement democracy”- the same situation applies to war. It’s an ugly truth but If we want a real game we have to implement real choices from real life for the player.
FG: What kind of insights did you learn from working with the IED experts from GROM that helped you make a more authentic bomb defusal game?
AP: In general they really helped the team understand the mechanics of the devices and the logic of IED and the type of people that build them, there’s a whole level of psychology that underpins it that many of us just can’t understand. It’s been quite staggering to learn of the different tactics and types of IED’s and how they’ve been employed in a combat scenario, but also the types of ways in which countermeasures are used to defuse and dispose of the devices safely. The most memorable thing for me was The Hook & Line (semi remote technique used to move subjects and more, its a multifunctional tool.). This tool is addictive in the game – every move has to be thoughtful – when we tried it in real I felt like MacGyver 😊
FG: Shockwave: Land of the Blind is set in modern-day Syria. Is there a reason why that particular country was selected for the game?
AP: The decision to base the game here is because I’m ethnically Syrian 😊. For me Syria is a magic and a silent place with an impressive culture and an incredibly rich and diverse history that goes back many centuries. There’s so much more to the country than what we are usually accustomed to seeing on the daily news. It’s a real place with a postwar story.
FG: Are all of the bombs we’ll be diffusing in Shockwave: Land of the Blind based on real life explosives or have you created new, original bombs to deal with?
AP: The dynamics of bomb making is practically an art form for bomb makers which almost sounds kind of perverse, there are so many different ways of creating them that bomb disposal guys are constantly learning which was a really interesting insight. We’ve taken the expertise and knowledge from the experts who served with GROM, these EOD guys have 2 years combat experience in places like Afghanistan where the threat of IED’s was a daily occurrence. We’ve designed it so the main bomb can always be disabled but for obvious reasons we’ve used our creative minds to visualize the devices. We want the game to be realistic but we obviously have to be sensitive to the nature of the subject we are dealing with. It’s entertainment so we’ve used our imagination,so it will be 50/50. Some will be based on real types that are quite common and therefore be like real devices but with artificially varied or more complicated aspects for the needs of the game.
Shockwave – Land of the Blind is aiming to launch on PC via Steam in Q1 2023.
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