Escape from Tarkov is one of the most interesting survival projects being developed this year. Developed by Battlestate Games, the game focuses on players as they work to leave the fictional region of Tarkov. Set along the Russian border, Tarkov is buried in political turmoil and private military corporation conflict – where escape is on the minds of the many trapped inside.
While the game has only now started it’s alpha testing phase, it’s shaping up to be a promising project that radiates the hardcore survival experience vibe. Everything takes time in Escape from Tarkov, and the player’s actions hold consequences regardless of how they choose to handle the situation.
Inverse spoke with Nikita Buyanov, project lead on Escape from Tarkov, about the various mechanics behind the game and how the Battlestate development team is crafting a true survival experience for players to dive into.
Where did the idea behind Escape from Tarkov originate from?
Nikita Buyanov: Nowhere in particular. We just decided to do something that we would like to play ourselves and that ended up being a game that most of us missed – realistic, immersive, in the present time, and with a strong, compelling story. Everything else became a superstructure to these basic ideas, including all of the gameplay elements that eventually led to Escape from Tarkov belonging to the survival genre. However, make no mistake: although survival features are essential for creating the believable PMC operator experience we’re going for, they were nowhere near our original premise for the game.
The premise of Escape from Tarkov is a conflict between three main factions. How are you working to integrate this conflict into the gameplay? Will players have different goals depending on their faction?
Basically, all players will have the chance to make their own stories using the games features. So, initial faction affiliation does not determine the fate of your character; it’s a background, a past that every player will have. Everything in the world and everybody inhabiting it, even the most modest of the NPC traders, has the potential to change details with your playthrough.
Based on what we’ve seen, the game appears to be paying close attention to detail - especially with weapon authenticity and functionality. What has that process been like? Did you work with any weapons in the real world to learn more about how they function?
We have people on our development team who actually possess the relevant experience to help us with the subtle details of practical weapon application and the details behind various combat scenarios. Everyone who’s been working on weapon production in the game, even if they’re distantly involved, has also spent a fair share of time on the shooting range. We also contact and are contacted by weapon manufacturers who offer their assistance, from consultation to helping us draw designs for use in-game.
How are you working to develop an interface that balances complexity with ease of accessibility?
With our inventory, we preferred functionality over ease of use. Players who open the interface for the first time should be able to quickly grasp the basic, essential functions, but to master the inventory management system and everything it offers will take some studying. We’re taking this approach throughout, including the inventory system, weapon modding and combat itself.
Will players be able to customize their characters visually as well as the weapons?
All of the functional gear can be changed: rigs, vests, helmets, glasses, headwear, and so on. Apparel customization is intended for later in development with a lower priority so that we don’t take it to an absurd extent. Take the axe-wielding guy in his underpants for example, a common sight in many survival games. Characters like that will have no place in Tarkov as a playable combatant, but will instead differ visually through their faces, loadouts, and even armbands if necessary.
You’ve mentioned your intention to create a living, breathing world for players to shape over time. How are you working to create that world?
A living, breathing world is quite an overstatement. Players are the primary force that makes our world come alive. However, we will gradually be making changes to the world and the environment, from raid to raid, scenario to scenario – to make the impact of story progression visible in-game.
How are you working to integrate non-player characters (NPCs) into the game world alongside other players? Are they more dangerous than other players?
Combatant NPCs are the same as players. They do not have artificially buffed health or levels, and have the same model physically in-game. There will always be a certain number of playable Scavengers (the faction that combatant NPCs belong to) in-game too, and we aim to make them on par with players in terms of tactics and training. For instance, in the latest high-level raids, players will encounter tactically smarter, better geared, and more accurate NPCs, but they can still be killed with just one or two bullets.
How does the player-driven economy work in the game?
The closest comparison we can make with Escape from Tarkov is the economic system of EVE Online. While it’s on a smaller scale, the principles remain the same – all of the processes going on within the game influence the market for players. We are not going to artificially balance prices after their initial setting. We can still influence them of course, but indirectly through various story events that players and the market will have no choice but to react to.
How have you worked to design a game that feels immersive to the player? Do you feel that mechanics like head-bobbing, ammo checking, and timed looting are important to that part of the experience?
Yes, we do, even the much-disputed features like head-bobbing. We will be adding a slider that will allow players to adjust it to a comfortable level that would feel more or less natural, but not remove it entirely. Same with FOV (field of view). We will have to keep a balance between comfort and immersion-killing fish-eye. The basic rule of thumb was to make it feel as close to reality as possible. Reality is different for different people of course, so there was still a massive amount of reference points we sifted through on the web, and we still had to make compromises by simplifying some minor features. Most of the actions in-game are designed to take time, so that players have to make careful choices on whether to do something immediately or take some time to ensure it’s safe.
Have you taken any inspiration from the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. franchise?
Actually, no. To most people there is a strong resemblance between the two games, but it’s purely a superficial one. These are two distinct and separate games. Both were inspired by the reality we lived in, but took different routes entirely. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is about making a living in abandoned industrial areas mixed with woods while dealing with anomalies, monsters, and other people. Our game is set in a much more modern, sparsely populated urban environment with other humans that have more complex motivations than to kill you on sight. I will admit that we did take inspirations from other games though, especially ones with well-made features that were worth using as a reference.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.