Here at GamersPack we’re always on the lookout for interesting games that we believe deserves a bit of time under the spotlight. Some new indie title that’s in the works, or even an Early Access game that looks really promising. Today, we have one such indie title – Hellpoint. A Sci fi RPG inspired by the Souls series with horror elements and some pretty interesting and unique core mechanics, Hellpoint caught my eye as something with potential to be great.
Developer Cradle Games is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to fund Hellpoint, but you can already get some initial impressions by downloading a demo (which is pretty lengthy and robust, as far as demos go) and experiencing the game yourself. The demo is pretty light on the system requirements, but it should be enough to pique your interest and maybe help kickstart it. Beyond the demo and campaign, I also had the opportunity to talk to the game’s technical director, Marc-André Jutras, and gain some insight into Hellpoint.
GamersPack: First of all, before we get into Hellpoint, I’d like to learn more about the team. You definitely have some high-profile work listed on your page: several Assassin’s Creed and Spider-man titles, but nothing really similar to Hellpoint. How did you end up doing this project?
Cradle Games: We are all fans of Dark Souls, so when we got the opportunity to make a game of our own design, it was just the logical step. If you think about it, Assassin’s Creed and Prince of Persia are also third person Action-RPGs with more emphasis on navigation over combat. We had a ton of experience doing game like those. Going towards something closer to Dark Souls was a no-brainer. We come from the time where a game wouldn’t take you by the hand with endless tutorials. We also wanted to go back to that. Then we started searching… Is there a sc ifi Souls-like? We didn’t really find any. How about a Souls-like with split-screen? A Souls-like with real co-op where you can play the whole game with a friend from start to finish? We figured there was quite an empty space for the game we wanted to make. In short, we are making the game we actually want to play.
GP: It’s pretty clear you have the “Action” background, but what about the “RPG” part? How do you plan on delivering the narrative to the player?
CG: We have to deliver the RPG with our constraints. Being new and small, we don’t have the budget for long complex cinematic. To be honest, even if we had the resources, we would put it in the gameplay and not in cinematics. The narrative in Hellpoint is done “by systems”. In other words, it’s the world that shows the story: NPC dialog, item descriptions, interactions you perform, and most importantly what choices you make. One NPC can tell you white, and another tell you black, since they both have a different point of view. Perhaps the truth is in the middle? We want the player to finish the game, and only have a chunk of the overall story and try to figure it out by themselves. Or replay the game [and] end up with another piece of the puzzle. We don’t want to have a screen saying “This happened this way, so you have to do this because of this.” We will also have multiple endings, but unlike other games, there is no “good ending”. Each ending requires you to sacrifice something to protect something else. What you decide to sacrifice is up to you.
GP: In relation to the game’s narrative – you also talk about how the game’s levels are hand-crafted but still varying. I would like to ask two questions about this. First one, obviously, is how major are the changes we’re talking about? Second, if the game world changes each time you die, how are you going to ensure that both a “good” player that dies little and a “bad” player that dies a lot will have a “chunk of the story” as you put it?
CG: We make a system we think is pretty unique, and also based on our constraints and wish to make good gameplay. There’s place for totally procedural games, like Diablo. It’s fine for those because you don’t really have to know where you are, only that you came from A and are going to B. In a game like Dark Souls, the landmarks are really important to spatially place yourself in the world because there is so many different way to go. On the other hand, once you’ve learn the placement of the enemies in Dark Souls, you’re left with no real surprises anymore. That feeling [of] the unexpected is no longer there. We decided to go in a different way; rooms are always at the same place, so you can’t really get lost once you’ve learned where they are. However, the content inside those room change. You came in that room and enemy was on the left? Now it’s on the right. Or there are two enemies, or none. Every room in that system has a “seed” that define its content. When you start a new game, all the room seeds are randomized. This allows us to control the gameplay in those rooms. It’s a set of different pre-made setup for each room, and you get to see one that was hand-made to be fun.
When you die in the game, your mind is transferred to a near parallel universe. Since you haven’t explored that universe, all the enemies are back alive. Which is also why they don’t come back alive when you interact with a breach (our bonfire). Because it’s a near parallel universe, it is also slightly different. We take a dozen room off the hundred we have, and randomize them. When you die, there’s only some slight changes. The more you die, the more the station changes.
It’s something we really loved seeing in people playing the demo. “Hey! That wasn’t there before!” They have to let go of the expectation that the world is static, and they have to adapt to how it changes around them.
GP: So the game world changes as you play?
CG: The station is truly in orbit, in real time, around the singularity – the black hole. If you close the game, and come back later, the station continued its orbit while you were absent. The top left of the HUD displays the position of the black hole, and the silver needle [shows] where the part of the station you’re in is facing. As the station orbits, events occur on the station. The player has to figure out when and where those events happen. NPCs dialog can give some clues. The effect the black hole has can vary greatly. Some enemies get harder, some easier. They can drop more or less loot. Some mini-boss can spawn and patrol around for a short time. If you want their loot, you’ll have to figure out when they spawn. Some boss fight can change drastically if the black hole is nearby. Some walls appear or disappear when the black hole shines on them. Some breaches can get unstable, allowing you to enter a “negative” version of the world for a short time, giving you access to items, places or NPCs you wouldn’t be able to otherwise.
Part of the station are damaged and exposed to the void. You can navigate them if you find a pressurized suit. However, if the station is passing through the black hole’s accretion disk, the sea of radioactive plasma would kill you. You have to be careful not only where you step, but when. But then, you can also use that at your advantage, by bringing enemies in dangerous spot. We want the world to truly feel dynamic, and not just reactive to the actions of the player.