Stunning might be the best way to describe Starward Industries’ debut trailer for The Invincible, as the inhospitable alien planet of Regis III strikes a fine balance between barren and captivating. The little we have seen so far of the game has been highly polished, an impressive feat considering the scale of the world and the developer’s status as an independent studio. The Invincible’s source material, a novel from Stanisław Lem of the same name, likewise provides fertile soil for gamers hoping for a new retro-futuristic universe to explore. We had the opportunity to interview Starward founder Marek Markuszewski to learn more about The Invincible, including in-depth details about its story-driven structure and how it will immerse us in its world in a way most games have not.
As a bonus, check out an exclusive piece of backpack concept art below.
The Escapist: Tell us about yourself and your role at Starward Industries. Why is the team at Starward the perfect group to tackle something like The Invincible?
Marek Markuszewski: My name is Marek Markuszewski, I am the founder of the studio, and the man behind the idea of adapting one of Lem’s prose, which thankfully is an idea that everyone in the studio is on board with! Many of the people at Starward have previously worked on larger-scale projects such as The Witcher franchise, Dying Light, and loads more. I myself have gained experience over the years at CD Projekt Red as a producer on titles such as The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine.
Our studio was built from scratch. I strongly bet on the experience and independence of potential coworkers. This is how in the beginning I managed to select a dozen or so amazing people. And now we are a group of more than 20 creative individuals with different skills and specializations, who together form a complete, mutually inspiring creative organism. It was about choosing people who are not only extremely talented and experienced, but also ones that can quickly find themselves in the project and understand the idea behind our first game and the studio itself. We are committed to making games where quality comes first.
Can you walk me through The Invincible’s core gameplay loop?
Marek Markuszewski: The Invincible is first and foremost a narrative-driven game. It’s a game in which the story takes center stage. While playing, we want players to be transported to a different world. To give players as much of a sense of being someone else, we centered our gameplay around immersion. Any action that the player will perform, we designed and implemented it so that it supports the narrative at any given moment.
Thinking about gameplay mechanics, our dialogue system is quite a feature and plays a major role in the game. We have a few pieces of equipment that stay with Yasna for most of the time and help her survive, navigate, search, communicate, and solve the unknowns.
Let’s talk about scope. How big is Regis III?
Marek Markuszewski: Regis III is similar to Mars in size. However, we do not offer a whole planet to explore. It’s not an open-world game, but we do have some semi-open-world areas along our path, with different sizes depending on whether we’re traveling on foot or we have vehicles available like rovers, transporters, energobots, or maybe even flying saucers. 😉 Our journey will lead you through several distinctive environments offering very different themes, moods, and experiences.
Can we expect The Invincible to be a long game, or is this a shorter experience?
Marek Markuszewski: We’re aiming for a shorter but intensive experience. You can expect several hours of main storyline and an additional few hours of side activities. Players can explore their surroundings and find additional information which may have an impact on the ending.
Will The Invincible be an action-oriented experience, a slow-burn sci-fi adventure focused on telling a gripping story, or maybe something in-between?
Marek Markuszewski: It’s a rather unhurried, but a very intense story – like Lem’s book itself. The focus is on the experience within the given environments. Each successive story episode brings the player closer to the truth and awakens inner reflections, providing a great emotional charge. Moving around Regis III, the player becomes a witness to unusual phenomena, and the people they meet along the way add to the slow change that takes place within the main characters.
We put great emphasis on the construction of the world, on the creation of characters, their motivation, personality, dialogues, and choices. To us, this could be the trick that can guarantee a cinematic experience. But The Invincible is also, or perhaps above all, an adventure with twists and turns. There will be moments where you will have to make tough decisions, tough choices, and time will not be on your side. Those moments will create tension. And there will be a few moments of action too.
How will The Invincible offer an immersive experience? I’m curious to know if there will be a traditional HUD or if Starward is going for a more minimalistic approach.
Marek Markuszewski: We’re taking a minimalistic approach with designing HUD elements, definitely. However, we’re not taking any shortcuts with interactions – all of those have full animation support, letting players feel closer as the protagonist with the world and objects around them.
There are plenty of elements and mechanics that strengthen the immersiveness of The Invincible. To give you a few examples: We have a complex system for basic movement simulating wearing a space suit with a heavy helmet. No fake effect on HUD or fixed helmet to camera – it’s a real 3D object visible from the FPP (first-person perspective) camera, behaving according to the character’s state and movement of the head, with environment effects visible on the front glass shield like dust, rain, or the steam of a breathing character. Our character also leaves a variety of marks on the ground such as footsteps, which are different depending on the type of terrain. The terrain type and its slope influence the speed of movement and animations.
We’re of course building an immersive world with consistent well-researched and thought-through design of surroundings, vehicles, and robots. We want everything in that world to be there for a reason.
To give you another example from a different design area, we want to take immersion much further through our approach to the dialogue system and dialogues in general. Our character does not speak without the player’s input. Players do decide when Yasna should start a conversation and what tone she goes with. We want our dialogues to be natural, organic, and smooth, both in tone and in design.
What sort of tone is Starward going for in The Invincible?
Marek Markuszewski: Our game’s tone is quite bitter, but not without a spark of hope for the future. It is about humanity as such, its penchant for extending the boundaries of Earth and the consequences that follow. We tell the story of man using both elements of irony, praising his achievements, and presenting the complexity of the human individual.
It’s described as a thriller, but is The Invincible a scary game?
Marek Markuszewski: In The Invincible you won’t have any jumpscares, but in the course of the gameplay the player should feel anxiety. Inner uncertainty, the feeling of being lost, fear of the unknown is intertwined in the game with the real, external threat to the protagonist’s life and fear for her companions. I think players will get a sense of unease by the discovery that they’ll make on Regis III, a scientific phenomenon and a reflection on the human species. However, the game The Invincible is also full of winks and ironic comments which we hope gives it a bit of lightness too.
What are some examples of how players can guide the direction of the game’s story?
Marek Markuszewski: The game’s style of progression is linear, with the game’s story and direction closely linked to the player’s choices. We wanted people to have a personal experience, in which they direct the story through the words they pick and actions they take. There will be moments in which you will have to choose your course of action.
Do you ignore your commander’s advice and take a route which your instinct says it’s right, or do you follow the mission plan? Do you take one particular route through a dangerous passageway that will buy you more time, or do you stay on safe ground and risk that the time that’s afforded to you will run out? The choices players will make will not only impact the mission, but also that of their relationships with other characters. They will also lead to one of the multiple endings that we have in our game.
The Invincible is inspired by Stanisław Lem’s novel of the same name. Can you talk about the connections to the novel and similarities we can expect in the game?
Marek Markuszewski: We use Lem’s description of the world and technology, and we weave and incorporate his concepts and ideas on humanity and what we can possibly find in this vast universe. We also keep the atmosphere from the book and its message. We have provided iconic scenes from the book but with new characters embedded. The players can also meet its characters, but the events we tell in the game are shown from a new perspective. Fans of the book will come across those memorable scenes that Lem brought to us all those years ago.
In short, we didn’t want to “tamper” with the characters and events of the book. I think that thanks to our chosen treatment, and our adaptation of the source material to our medium and our chosen genre (a FPP narrative adventure), we create a version of events that will also give something new to the fans of the book itself.
What are some of the challenges that come with adapting literature into a video game?
Marek Markuszewski: Adapting books always involves considerable challenges, but it is also a huge opportunity. By translating literature into game scenarios we can offer readers a deeper, more interactive experience. We also work with material that is often already well established in culture, tested as a source of reflection, entertainment, and reaching out to people.
However, this is not an easy process. We have to deal with specific rules in the world of the literary original, the already established visions of fans, the vision of the space, or the assumptions towards the characters. As with any visual adaptation, our vision of the source materials might be different to someone else. Defining a new complex world is also a great challenge. We had to create a visual world and fill it with details which sometimes were mentioned in the book without descriptions. However, we do hope that people will feel that we did the book justice and that we can bring even more new people to the worlds and stories written by Lem.
Can we expect the PC and console versions to launch simultaneously?
Marek Markuszewski: Yes. We plan to release The Invincible simultaneously on both consoles and PC.
Is there anything else you’d like to add about The Invincible, Starward, adaptations, or anything else?
Marek Markuszewski: We encourage everyone to get a feel of the atmosphere of the game by visiting our website: theinvinciblegame.com. You can find a lot of interesting materials, regularly developing comic stories interweaving with the story from the game, news from our studio, and loads more. Join us on our socials too for all those little sneaky little bites of info. And finally, add us to your Wishlist on Steam and Follow our News updates there. We will be sharing more info on The Invincible throughout the year.
We thank Marek Markuszewski for his time! The Invincible is currently scheduled to launch on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X | S, and PC in 2022.
This interview about The Invincible has been edited for clarity and brevity.