Punk developer and former industry underdog Studio ZA/UM continues to expand and hire new talent for a sequel to Tech With Brains’s 2019 Game of the Year (opens in new tab) and winner of last year’s Top 100 (opens in new tab), Disco Elysium. The details in these job postings may shed some light on the studio’s anticipated next project.
A few months ago, ZA/UM brought in new writing talent and the latest job openings, spotted by user An_Italian_Meal on Reddit (opens in new tab)are for an environmental concept artist, a lead environmental artist, and a sales and revenue specialist.
Perhaps the most glaring thing here is the mention of “sci-fi” in both artistic positions and the artist’s post with the environmental concept of “new worlds”, “space”, and the arresting statement that every new employee ” must understand that there are more things in heaven and earth than is dreamed of in philosophy.”
The hasty conclusion might be that ZA/UM’s next game will take a very different direction from Disco Elysium’s 20th century-inspired urban fantasy, but I don’t think it’s that clear-cut. Creatively named Reddit user TheFrankofTurducken points out that ZA/UM has invested heavily in the world of Elysium – the core team has been building it for 20 years or so.
In addition, the good Frank points out the language’s figurative potential: “The sci-fi, unearthly stuff seems to imply that they want someone who is imaginative/creative in creating an environment – not necessarily that the game is interstellar in nature.” will be .” They continue, “I think of it more as a… design philosophy, if that makes sense?”
That is a sentiment I can certainly support, and it also ties in with SA/UM’s provocative public statements about its future efforts. In a great GameSpot video from 2020 (opens in new tab) Focusing on Disco Elysium’s interface, lead writer Robert Kurvitz says one of the most exciting things I’ve ever heard about an unreleased game regarding the studio’s future work: “I’d love to do what Baldur’s Gate 2 did. for Baldur’s Gate 1.” Kurvitz goes on to describe more intense, pitched scenarios where Disco Elysium’s tabletop-esque skill system could be used, and had previously mentioned how he wanted to expand the game’s Cabinet of Thoughts.
In addition, Kurvitz teased the fantastic coffee table book that accompanied Iam8bit’s limited edition physical release of Disco Elysium about the studio’s next steps: “So far we’ve only managed to give you a small, insignificant corner [Elysium]: the Martinaise district in Revachol West, on Insulinde. I can’t begin to tell you how introductory it is.”
He later goes on to say, “Your interest in our idea will allow us to see more of it. Jamrock, I hope. And then to other isolas.”
All things considered, I’m still inclined to believe that the ZA/UM sequel remains a direct sequel (or something close to it) to Disco Elysium. The position of the environmental concept further requires knowledge of “architecture or urban planning”, and that certainly fits a game set in Jamrock, the larger city district adjacent to Martinaise. I interpret that call for a “sci-fi” ethos as a reference to the setting’s fantastic alternative technologies and dreamy, otherworldly metaphysics.
A more concrete conclusion you can take from these posts is that the next game will use ZA/UM Unreal Engine 5, as opposed to the Unity engine used to create Disco Elysium. The environment main post specifically lists candidates with Unreal experience. This could potentially make for interesting stylistic or mechanical changes in a Disco Elysium sequel. I can’t immediately think of games that achieve Infinity Engine style, fixed camera angle with pre-rendered backgrounds using the Unreal Engine, and while the middleware has proven amazingly flexible over the years, it’s always been defined by real-time, full 3D environments.
I wonder if ZA/UM will try to translate Disco Elysium’s unique art style into a full 3D isometric presentation like that of Divinity: Original Sin 2 or Owlcat’s Pathfinder games. The developer may even be considering a shift in perspective that could be made possible by full 3D environments – CRPG ancestors Troika and Obsidian had phenomenal results when they made the switch to first/third person with Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines and Fallout: New Vegas respectively.
One final detail worth noting is the sales function’s responsibility to “maximize and diversify revenue streams for full game, add-on, and live services content.” The latter certainly evokes a fight-or-flight response in me, but I don’t think this means that ZA/UM is working on its own destiny or anything. The studio may very well have multiple projects in the hopper, or it may be looking for live services experience to facilitate expansion and DLC content for more traditional RPGs.
Be that as it may, the makers of Disco Elysium are working on something pretty big next to their fancy fashion line (opens in new tab)and I can’t wait to see it.