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On the road again: Mile 0 tells the story before Road 96 and introduces us to two different worlds.
Narrative adventure Road 96 was released in 2019 to critical acclaim. The French developer DigixArt managed to create a strong emotional narrative despite relying on a complex procedurally generated system. Road 96: Mile 0 will go a different route and we had the opportunity to play the first act and talk to the game’s Creative Director Yoan Fanise.
DigixArt’s first game was the rhythm game Lost in Harmony starring Kaito. If you’ve played Road 96, you may remember the teenage rebel Zoe. Road 96: Mile 0 features Zoe and Kaito as protagonists, yet they couldn’t be more different. While Zoe is the daughter of the oppressive state’s Minister of Oil and grew up sheltered in the squeaky-clean White Sands, Kaito came from the polluted Colton City. In the preview build we’ve played we didn’t actually witness how the unlikely friendship came about, but we’re looking forward to learn more about that.
The first act is made up of moments in K & Z’s hideout in White Sands where they talk about their past and politics, build a ramp or give the shabby construction site a makeover by adding some spray paint. The player can freely explore three different locations within White Sands in first-person: Oasis Villas (home to the rich and famous), Presidential Park (where the worlds collide) and Tyrak Square (president Tyrak is about to give an important address here). The environments are filled with a lot of details that add to the look and feel of living in a modern autocracy.
We can interact with the townfolk and learn more about characters who will appear later in Road 96, help Kaito by delivering newspapers (= throwing them at people’s faces) or continue the main story. A lot of our decisions, if in dialog or by removing propaganda posters, influence the game’s ‘Certainty/Doubt’ gauge. In Act 1 those choices give you different lines of remarkably well voiced dialog but they don’t seem to have too much of an impact on the story, but according the Creative Director Yoan that will change and you will need to match them up with Kaito’s decisions in later acts which is an interesting feature we’re looking forward to try.
The biggest addition of Mile 0 are the musical sequences called ‘Rides’ featuring licensed rock songs like The Offspring’s No Brakes and Shamisen Chikara by Pete Masitti & John Andrew Barrow as well as electro music like The Midnight’s Land Locked Heart and Arslan Elbar’s Aya’s Memory which were written specifically for this game. The genre depends on the character: While Kaito’s into electro, Zoe preferes rock songs. You collect orbs and evade objects by changing direction, jumping or ducking and by completing Quick-Time-Events (QTEs). If you’ve played Lost in Harmony, you get an idea of what these Rides are like, just expanded in every way.
While the difficulty is rather low at the first Ride, it ramps up each time until the developers feel like they can go crazy, change from Zoe on her rollerblades to Kaito on his skateboard in a heartbeat, switch perspectives from third-person to side-scrolling, throw all kinds of objects in your way and chase you with a certain giant chauffeur you may know from Road 96. Another thing returning you may remember is Zoe’s signature instrument, the trombone (na-na-na-na-naaa).
The difficulty feels never overwhelming and the checkpoints are fairly placed. Also you don’t need to collect every orb to progress through the story, but you can challenge yourself or even your friends online on the game’s leaderboards (PC-only). The Rides are not only a fun way to break up the narratively focused gameplay loop, they also add to the story and integrate choices changing your Certainty/Doubt gauge.
Road 96: Mile 0 is a departure on the predecessor’s main gameplay formula which relayed upon the procedurally generated runs towards the border and therefore freedom. Mile 0 gives your protagonists not only one but two faces. It’s a joy to see the unlikely friendship between Zoe and Kaito strengthen and the fast-paced Rides are a great addition to the overall relaxed adventure game loop. It remains to be seen if the Certainty/Doubt gauge has a meaningful impact on the game’s story, but we’re looking forward to find out in just over a month’s time. Just like Willie Nelson said, we just can’t wait to get on the road again.
We sat down with Yoan Fanise, Creative Director at DigixArt to talk about Road 96: Mile 0.
XTgamer: Road 96: Mile 0 has entered its home stretch and we’re grateful to have the opportunity to you talk to you Yoan. This prequel is quite different from Road 96 as you experience the story through the eyes of Zoe and Kaito instead of taking multiple trips to Petria’s Northern border with procedurally generated faceless characters. How did the idea for Mile 0 come about?
Yoan: We wanted to make a prequel to tell the full story of Zoe and Kaito and to explain how certain events in Road 96 came to be. We didn’t want to spoil or betray the choice of gamers who played Road 96 and say ‘This one is alive and this one is not alive at the end of Road 96.’
XTgamer: In Road 96: Mile 0 Zoe has to make important decisions in dialog as well as in the musical sequences called ‘Rides’ which will impact the story. How meaningful are those decisions and how does the new ‘Certainty/Doubt’ gauge influence the outcome of the story?
Yoan: The belief gauge will affect both Zoe (in Act 1) and Kaito (in Act 2). You can change their opinion, align them or not. With all those different analogic values a lot of different endings will be possible or not at the end of the game. It’s a complex system and not a branching per se, it’s more like evaluating values of belief and then having some choices at the end that are enabled or not depending on your actions during the course of the whole game.
XTgamer: The main reason to complete the game multiple times seems to be that your decisions will lead to different endings. Can you please elaborate on how many endings there are and how long the game is?
Yoan: What I like is that depending on how extreme your positions are, you’re gonna have to replay a lot or not. If you’re not too extreme and lower the belief gauge, you may reach a threshold to unlock something new. The game’s between 5-7 hours long depending on exploration and there are 24 endings.
XTgamer: Even the small dialog choices which don’t impact the belief gauge can be important to discover additional details such as character references from Road 96. Can you please elaborate on that?
Yoan: We added a lot of different dialog choices and went pretty far in that direction. If players want to know more about characters like John, Alex or Sonya, they have the option to do so.
XTgamer: In the preview build we experencied the events through the eyes of Zoe and control of Kaito was limited to the musical sequences. Will we get to control Kaito in the full game during the exploration scenes too?
Yoan: Yes, while you’re playing Zoe in Act 1, you’ll experience the game through Kaito’s eyes in Act 2. When you’re at the rooftop at the end of Act 1 there’s a strong discussion between Zoe and Kaito. They have an argument, Zoe has a panic attack. They have a psychedelic musical act that is really disturbing. It’s the trauma of Zoe. When you come back from this musical ride, then you switch to Kaito. Suddenly you see the situation from the other side and you’re like ‘oh my god – do I want to fix what I just did or do I want to be even more extreme and say I don’t agree with you?’ We try to surprise people by saying ‘OK, you wanted to have this opinion and now imagine that you’re on the other side’. I really like this mechanic. And the funny thing is that we used that mechanic in the game that came before Road 96 called 11-11 Memories Retold, a game about the Germans and Canadians during World War 1. So it’s a mechanic that we have some experience with and therefore integrated in Road 96: Mile 0.
XTgamer: Road 96 had an iconic soundtrack and from what we’ve heard from Road 96: Mile 0 it’ll follow suit. The soundtrack is made up of a mix of original songs by artists like Arslan Elbar and The Midnight and licensed songs by the likes of The Offspring and Pete Masitti. The Midnight’s Land Locked Heart’s lyrics seem to fit to Kaito’s backstory and the song is used in one of the Rides to let the player experience the glaring differences between Zoe’s squeaky-clean White Sands and Kaito’s polluted Colton City. Was your studio involved in the creation of the original songs in Road 96: Mile 0 such as Land Locked Heart to better suit the game’s story?
Yoan: Yes, exactly. We worked with The Midnight to compose this song and create the lyrics. It was a deep relationship. We’re very happy about that because they have a strong community of fans and it’s really cool to see the reaction of The Midnight fans, even if they don’t know the game. It’s really good to have these communities blending right now. With The Midnight it was a collaborating project and the song of The Offspring was licensed. It was very nice for me as a 40-year old guy to work with The Offspring to be able to have their music in our game, it’s really the 90’s-
XTgamer: the definition of the 90’s.
Yoan: Yes! And the idea is that Zoe is more colored by rock, guitar and metal and Kaito is more on the electro side with synthesizers, best portrayed by the sound of The Midnight.
XTgamer: Can you reveal any other collaborations regarding the game’s soundtrack?
Yoan: No, but I would say they’re less famous but very talented artists. The idea is to promote those artists to make them more known, because they’re making very good music. A soundtrack featuring The Offspring and The Midnight can attract a lot of listeners and then they can discover new artists. So now we also clearly use the game also to promote new artists.
XTgamer: In the build we’ve been able to play we could already listen to Julian Emery & Jeremy Wheatley (aka The TyraX) – Party Hunt and Dave James, Keith Beauvais & Selene Fleming (The Little TyraX) – Happy Endings.
Yoan: Yeah, it’s so good to help them reach new audiences. Now video games are starting to be a new entry point to a lot of different genres and entertainment. Earlier we were on the back seat and the music and movie industries were saying ‘no, we don’t care about video games’ and now it’s our time in the limelight. The biggest movies and series are based on video games these days. And the music industry really wants to be involved.
XTgamer: In terms of collectibles players will be able to collect tapes, stickers and spray paints. Can you collect everything in one single run or do you need to complete the game multiple times to collect everything?
Yoan: You have to explore a lot, but you can collect everything in one run.
XTgamer: In a mini-game we were able to give our hideout a makeover with spray paint. Will there be additional opportunities to customize your hideout, e.g. adding another arcade machine from a certain character from Road 96 who’s referenced in Road 96: Mile 0?
Yoan: There’s only one arcade game in the hideout. We tried to add more freedom with the inclusion of the painting on the wall. Even once you’ve finished the game, you can re-do the drawing if you want to. It’s a more creative mini-game, so we wanted to make it replayable. Also you can replay each Ride.
XTgamer: What have been the biggest challenges in the development of the game?
Yoan: It was hard to tweak the Rides. It required a lot of adjustment, it’s very fine-tuned and it’s very difficult since it’s so fast-paced. We’re still not at the point where we would like to be. Our dream is it would be as fluent as Sayonara Wild Hearts, but it’s very hard to get there. We’re still happy with how the Rides turned out to be.
It was also difficult to blend the narrative side with the mini-games. We wanted those moments to be meaningful and as you progress you will discover that this blending is working better and better.
XTgamer: Will there be any downloadable content (DLC) for Road 96: Mile 0?
Yoan: There’s no DLC planned but an interactive book that will bridge the gap between Mile 0 and Road 96 will be included with the game. You’ll discover what happened to characters like Zoe, Alex, Stan & Mitch and Jarold between Mile 0 and your encounters with them in Road 96. The book is like a very big story DLC for fans.
XTgamer: How many people have been working on Road 96: Mile 0? Is the development team smaller compared to Road 96 due to the shorter playtime?
Yoan: It’s bigger. The team has grown to 25 and we had less time with the development. We try to make a more polished experience in terms of animations, art and story.
XTgamer: Are there any fundamental differences between each version of Road 96: Mile 0 on the different platforms the game launches on?
Yoan: No, except for graphic optimization and online leaderboards which are only available on PC because on consoles it’s complex to include online features.
XTgamer: Thank you for your time and good luck for the release of Road 96: Mile 0 on April 4th, 2023.
The publisher provided us with PC preview code and the images above.