Highwater Interview – How Demagog Made The World Its Main Character

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We explored Highwater with Demagog Studio, talking about its many themes, inspirations, and more.

Story Highlight
  • Highwater is an indie game from Demagog Studios that promises a grand adventure in a post-apocalyptic world.
  • We interviewed the developers following Highwater’s recent launch on PC.
  • The team went over various themes, inspirations for gameplay elements, and the fact that the world is a major character of itself.

Highwater is one of the more unique indie games one can find. Its narrative goes hand-in-hand with its post-apocalyptic world as the lead protagonist traverses environments in an attempt to escape a planet on the brink of death.

Highwater explores themes of comradery, survival, and more. As much emphasis is placed on survival elements, the indie adventure encourages players to live in the moment and appreciate the present.

Elaborating on these themes, Igor Simic, CEO of Demagog Studio, recently discussed Highwater with us in an interview.

The Art Style Immediately Captures Your Attention
Congratulations on the recent Steam release. How does it feel to finally have Highwater out on all platforms?

Igor Simic: In short, we’re exhausted. We’ve been working on Highwater and The Cub in parallel.

Since Highwater first launched on mobile devices, did you receive any feedback from this version that helped improve the PC release?

Igor Simic: Highwater was initially planned for PC. Then, while we were in between the demo and vertical slice phase, we were presented with the Netflix mobile deal.

Once the mobile version came out, there were some technical comments that were fixed in the first patch. Other than that, most of the improvements are bug fixes and the availability of DLCs upon launch.

Can you explain the central theme of the grand journey in Highwater?

Igor Simic: There was an event known as the Ecological Catastrophe, which created a flood zone around the high-tech, elite city of Alphaville. Nikos and his friends live in Hightower in the middle of the flooded region.

The elites of Alphaville are a week away from evacuating to Mars, and Nikos & Co. will venture on a precarious journey in his yellow boat to cross the walls of Alphaville and sneak into the Mars-bound rocket, which is reserved only for the select few.

How did the team find the right balance between water and on-foot exploration?

Igor Simic: Well, it could be argued that we didn’t find the right balance. In general, the idea is that you traverse the world most via boat, going from one urban or natural island to the other.

Once on dry land, our group usually gets into trouble, which triggers turn-based combat. Around the island, there are items strewn around, some of which are useful for combat, and others are simply flavor items enriching the world-building.

What was the thought process behind the limited use of voice-over besides that of the Pirate Radio?

Igor Simic: The radio exists throughout the world of our three games, Golf Club: Nostalgia and The Cub, so Highwater Pirate Radio is effectively the prequel radio. We didn’t have the time and budget to do complete voice acting.

A lot of the dialogue was edited very late in development, depending on tweaks we made in level design or combat. Also, Kentucky Route Zero was an inspiration for staging and minimalism, so we kept it simple.

What popular themes or works inspired the setting of Highwater?

Igor Simic: Elon Musk wants to live on Mars, so I just took that to an absurd conclusion juxtaposed with our own real-life experiences with floods in Serbia, Germany, and the US.

Also, in a strange way, Highwater is an immigrant story, only this time the group ends up on Mars. Studio Ghibli animated films were also an influence, with non-preachy ecological themes, where catastrophes are simultaneously horrific and beautiful.

In terms of the combination of road trip and turn-based combat, Overland was a helpful encouragement. Personally, I was a fan of Mutant Year Zero, which is obviously a much more complex, big-budget game, but we also had that in the back of our minds.

Alphaville is inspired by Godard’s sci-fi film by the same name. Central European brutalism is also a great inspiration, simply because it’s the environment in which we grew up.

Finally, Homer’s Odyssey and the Argonauts, but in a contemporary setting, were an inspiration for the road-movie by boat story.

Would you agree that the game’s world is the biggest character with its own stories?

Igor Simic: Certainly. The main character is the world. And not just in this game but throughout the trilogy with Golf Club: Nostalgia and The Cub.

With Highwater taking a turn-based approach to combat, did the team consider real-time combat at any point?

Igor Simic: We had a game designer who had experience with turn-based. On a basic level, it’s the consequence of the talent we have in the team.

From a broader game direction perspective, we were searching for a combat system that fits a broken, urban world and the ragtag nature of our group of characters. This kind of gameplay fits the vision of the apocalyptic comedy. We have bigger plans for an AA game in this universe with real-time combat.

How did you develop the idea of environmental interactions for the combat system?

Igor Simic: Our turn-based system is basically puzzle-inspired, based on the use of environmental items precisely because the world is the main character.

The combat requires the full utilization of the setting with its ruins, broken-down cars, vending machines, oil barrels, and giant road signs, which all create a slapstick type of battle. Even the weapons you might find, such as a fishing rod, add to this vision.

Avoiding spoilers as much as possible, what are your thoughts on the game’s ending? Do you see it as a good ending for our characters?

Igor Simic: There are two endings to the game, depending on whether the time runs out before the rocket’s liftoff. Both endings are ambiguous and bittersweet, which is the general vibe of the game.

The main redeeming quality of both endings is the strength of the group’s friendship.

Highwater Initially Landed On Mobile Devices

Highwater can now be found across all major platforms, whether it be mobile, consoles, or PCs. We encourage readers who enjoy soothing treks along mesmerizing worlds to add this one to their list.

Moreover, we thank Demagog Studio CEO Igor Simic for taking the time out of his day for this interview.

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