ECHO Interview – We Dive Deep Into the Heart of Ultra Ultra’s New IP
ECHO is Ultra Ultra’s new IP that is set to release next year on PlayStation 4 and PC. Players will be able to experience a unique AI system that learns from how you behave. It is an intriguing experience so we had a chat with Ultra Ultra to know more about the game, its release character, the AI system, among other things.
SegmentNext: Forming a new studio and straight off the bat working on a project like ECHO is pretty admirable. The game is Greenlit on Steam but did you ever approach any publisher to pitch ECHO?
Ultra Ultra: Yes, we approached one publisher early on, but we never heard back from them. We’ve since been contacted by a few, but by that time we were already well underway, and we decided against it. We’re happy with our decision to self-publish, even though the logistics of it all sometimes feel a little daunting.
SegmentNext: Tell us a little bit about En, who and what she is?
Ultra Ultra: She is what the narrative of Echo revolves around. We first meet her as she wakes up from a hundred years of cryo sleep, wearing a bloody dress. We understand from her initial conversations with the ship AI “London” that the two of them don’t know each other at all, and that he doesn’t like her very much. And it is through the conversations between the two of them, throughout the game, that the circumstances surrounding this strange journey come into focus. Who is En? Who is the person stored in the mysterious cube, and why does she need him back at all costs? How did he die, and why does she believe that the Palace can help them?
SegmentNext: What’s the Palace?
Ultra Ultra: A single building that spans the entirety of a planet, burrowing into unknown depths. It has been lost to the ages, an all but forgotten legend, but somehow En knew how to find it… As you journey down through the halls you’ll be able to glean a bit of the culture that builds it through collectible “Verses”.
SegmentNext: The main highlight is the AI of ECHO and how it learns from your behavior. Does that mean there won’t be any set difficulty options in the game? Things will get tougher or easier depending on how you behave and what the AI is able to learn?
Ultra Ultra: You do kind of set your own difficulty by the way you play, but we also have difficulty settings. Once you complete the first playthrough we even unlock an “Ultra Hard” setting, as well as an extra Mode, where the Echoes remember your actions for two blackout cycles instead of one. –This really changes the dynamic of the levels a lot.
SegmentNext: It must be a daunting task to code such an AI system, isn’t it?
Ultra Ultra: Definitely, also because it was the biggest gamble of the production. -We started Ultra Ultra on the basis of the idea for Echo, but without knowing for sure whether we’d be able to pull off the monumental task of building an AI worthy of the promise. Our programmers have done an amazing job, and the result is beyond what I had dared hope for. I’m really looking forward to people getting their hands on it.
SegmentNext: The AI learns from what we do, how we do it, and behave accordingly. But what if I don’t do anything? What I just wait for the blackout before making my moves? How far apart are the blackouts?
Ultra Ultra: It is your actions that trigger the blackouts. Only when you are different enough that the Palace has to update the Echoes does it reboot, and thereby cause the blackouts. The level design presents you with many different options for completing a level objective, but there isn’t a route where you don’t do anything they can learn. That said, there are still a lot of tactics you can employ, choosing only to do certain things in the dark, like violence, for example, will make a huge difference.
SegmentNext: Any plans for an Xbox One version? Xbox One X may be?
Ultra Ultra: We would love to come out on Xbox One and X, but had to prioritize on one console due to our small size. (We’re only eight devs here, two of which are programmers) But as soon as the game is out, we’ll take a long hard look at the Xboxes, and see what we can do.
SegmentNext: Supporting PS4 Pro?
Ultra Ultra: Yes!
SegmentNext: Besides ECHO, is the team brainstorming possible future projects or is the focus completely on ECHO for the time being?
Ultra Ultra: Haha, we’re completely on ECHO at the moment, but it’s impossible to keep from having ideas. –Sometimes even more so when you don’t have time for them! Right now the launch of Echo feels like an “event horizon” where anything beyond is unknown, but once the dust settles we’re looking forward to starting up something new.