January 22, 2013 1:30 AM | Staff
Dustforce, the side-scrolling sweep-em-up from indie studio Hitbox, was something a bit special. Not only was it visually striking, but it also packed fast-paced, precision-based action into every moment of play.
I've been wondering for a while now how Hitbox would follow upon this indie gem, and this month, the answer was revealed. Spire is set to be a procedurally generated first-person puzzler, in which players scale a towering structure that is different every time you tackle it.
But the teasing blog post provides just as many questions as it does answers. The team says the game will feature "curated level generation" by which the intensity will rise or fall in a bid to keep a sense of emotional equilibrium.
In fact, there will be "intentional level flow instead of randomized environments" -- sort of like procedural generation, but with set elements in place to make sure it doesn't go completely off the wall. There are no premade rooms or scripted events, as with Cargo Commander, but Hitbox says that levels will be "generated with intention."
The studio's designer Woodley Nye was unwilling to share with me exactly how this is going to work -- "We've solved a lot of the preliminary, technical stuff necessary to do what we're aiming for, and we have a solid concept for how the system works," he offered -- but he was happy to open up about another key point from the blog post: the Quake-inspired scare-factor and movement.
"We like how in Quake and Hexen 2, the enemies feel really frightening the first time you encounter them," he says. The aim is that each new enemy should feel frightening as a result of being unfamiliar. "Non-standard creatures" are on the cards.
"Also, those games get quite varied and fun gameplay, from pretty simple enemy behaviors," he continues. "We want to combine this with an aesthetic of our own to create enemies that are mysterious and unpredictable."
In particular, the team has been influenced by the cosmic horror style of the angels from Japanese anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion when it comes to the creatures that you'll meet.
As for the Quake-like controls, Spire is all about being able to pull off slick moves, and feel cool throughout. But how is the team planning to create a control scheme that is both accessible to this generation of players, while also catering for the hardcore?
"We're not that concerned with the casual versus hardcore issue," Nye answers. "We feel that a gamer's skill can scale indefinitely if they're not coddled by the game, and want to continue making games that force the player to improve rather than placating players who are bad."
He adds, "That said, the offline mode will be much more exploratory in tone and may feel like a safer place to play Spire for some people. Also, the mechanics probably won't be as 'obscure' as strafe jumping or wavedashing or what have you - we're aiming for something a bit more intuitive that still retains depth."
My initial impressions from the game's screenshots gave off more than a little of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, and Nye says that the game is "definitely inspired by non-photorealistic games in general" -- although as he points out, the game actually has a lot more in common with the studio's previous stylings.
"The cartoon-ish look comes from the texture style more than a shader, so it's really more like Dustforce style in 3D," he says. "The visuals aren't done, either, so it will probably look different by release."
It's going to be at least another year before Spire sees a release, although Hitbox promises that various blog posts throughout the year will delve into the ins and outs of the title, including how that curated level generation will work.