Punk developer and former industry underdog Studio ZA/UM continues to expand and hire new talent to follow up on PC Gamer’s 2019 Game of the Year (opens in a new tab) and last year’s Top 100 winner (opens in a new tab), Disco Elysee. The details of these job openings may well shed light on the studio’s next planned project.
Several months ago, ZA/UM brought in new writing talent, and the latest vacancies, spotted by user An_Italian_Meal on Reddit (opens in a new tab)are for a Conceptual Environment Artist, a Lead Environment Artist, and a Sales and Monetization Specialist.
Arguably the catchiest thing here is both the mention of “sci-fi” in the art posts and the environment concept artist post includes “new worlds”, “space” and the startling statement that every new recruit should “understand that there are more things in heaven and on earth than is dreamed of in philosophy.”
The instinctive conclusion might be that ZA/UM is going in an entirely different direction in their next game than Disco Elysium’s alternate mid-20th century historical setting, but I don’t think that’s that clear cut. Creative Reddit user TheFrankofTurducken points out that ZA/UM is very invested in the world of Elysium – the core team has been building it off and on for about 20 years now.
Additionally, the good Frank points to the figurative potential of the language: “Sci-fi, unearthly stuff seems to imply that they want someone who’s imaginative/creative in environment creation – not necessarily just game will be interstellar in nature.” They continue: “I take it more as a…design philosophy, if that makes sense?”
It’s a sentiment I can certainly support, and it also lines up with ZA/UM’s tantalizing public statements about their future plans. In a big GameSpot Video 2020 (opens in a 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 as far as future work from the studio goes: ” I would love to do what Baldur’s Gate 2 did for Baldur’s Gate 1.” Kurvitz goes on to outline more intense, pitched scenarios where Disco Elysium’s tabletop skill system could be used, and had previously mentioned the ways he wanted to expand the game’s think tank.
Additionally, the fantastic coffee table book bundled with iam8bit’s limited-edition physical release of Disco Elysium contains further teases from Kurvitz about the studio’s next steps: “So far, we’ve only managed to get you show only a small, insignificant corner. [Elysium]: the Martinaise district in Revachol Ouest, on Insulinde. I can’t begin to tell you what an introduction this is.”
He later continued, “Thanks to your interest in our idea, we’ll see more. Jamrock, I hope. And then to other isolas.”
Taken together, I’m still inclined to believe that the ZA/UM follow-up remains a direct sequel (or something close) to Disco Elysium. The position on the concept of environment additionally requires knowledge of “architecture or urbanism”, and this certainly fits with a game taking place in Jamrock, the largest urban district adjacent to the Martinaise. I interpret this appeal to a “science fiction” philosophy as referring to fantastical alternative technologies of setting and dreamlike, supernatural metaphysics.
A more concrete conclusion you can draw from these posts is that ZA/UM’s next game will use Unreal Engine 5, as opposed to the Unity engine used to create Disco Elysium. The Environment Manager position specifically mentions candidates with Unreal experience. This could potentially make some interesting stylistic or mechanical changes in a sequel to Disco Elysium. I can’t immediately think of games that accomplish an Infinity Engine-style fixed camera angle with pre-rendered backgrounds using the Unreal Engine, and while the middleware has proven to be incredibly flexible over For years, it has always been defined by real-time 3D environments.
I wonder if ZA/UM will attempt to translate Disco Elysium’s unique art style into a full 3D isometric presentation like those in Divinity: Original Sin 2 or Owlcat’s Pathfinder games. The developer may even be considering a shift in perspective that could be facilitated by fully 3D environments—its CRPG ancestors, Troika and Obsidian, achieved phenomenal results when they switched to first-person with Vampire: The Masquerade —Bloodlines and Fallout: New Vegas respectively.
One final detail worth mentioning is the sales position’s responsibility to “maximize and diversify revenue streams for full game content, add-ons, and live services.” That last one definitely triggers a fight or flight response in me, but I don’t think that means ZA/UM is working on its own destiny or anything. The studio could very well have several projects in the hopper, or it could seek experience in live services to help facilitate expansion and DLC content for more traditional RPGs.
Anyway, the creators of Disco Elysium are working on Something big enough next to them natty fashion line (opens in a new tab)and I can’t wait to see it.