Right up there with fish and chips, spaghetti and meatballs, and jam on toast, few things go together quite as well as anime-infused action and giant hulking mechs. It’s a wonder, then, that we don’t see this enticing combination present in games more often – let alone from creatives based in the West. Felix Schade, however, is one such solo developer tapping into this promising genre mixture, hoping to let players wreak havoc amongst hordes of enemies using a wide range of stylish, melee-based attacks in the upcoming Morbid Metal.
Casting players as a shape-shifting mech capable of changing forms to better suit specific combat situations, gameplay footage released thus far demonstrates Morbid Metal’s incredibly fast-paced encounters. With such a high emphasis on flair, style, and combos, you’d think that this had always been the case; not so, apparently. “At first, the combat system was way slower, relying mostly on what you could call ‘spells’ that could be combined,” Schade explains. “Over the three years [of development], trying to find a core gameplay loop I was confident could have potential in the market, the combat has evolved more towards hack-and-slash, amping up the action incrementally.” He settled on hack-and-slash because the genre “offers a huge power fantasy, letting players feel immensely strong while whirling around enemies and annihilating them with awesome moves”.
With action placed firmly at the forefront of the game’s design, Schade doesn’t hide the fact that story in Morbid Metal takes a back seat. That said, from overgrown ruins of humankind to desolate dry wastelands, there will be plenty of diverse biomes for the unnamed mech protagonist to fight through. Discovering how the Earth reached this point is a mystery that players will have to piece together themselves. With towering, arena-sized robots (often able to manoeuvre as quickly as you) constantly catching you in their sights, though, it’s not hard to imagine what went wrong.
Working mostly alone and independently on a game of this scale hasn’t come without its challenges. Luckily, Schade had enough foresight to recognise the weight of this ambition, and so embedded some core design philosophies deep into the structure of Morbid Metal to make the experience more manageable to develop. For example: bringing in certain roguelike aspects in addition to the hack-and-slash method of approach to action. “Essentially, levels are handcrafted in order to maintain a good level of visual and gameplay quality,” he reveals, “but broken up into several subsectors that are procedurally stitched together and toggled on and off to keep things fresh each time you play.”
Pulling off combos and rapid attacks as one type of mech would be thrilling enough, but Schade didn’t want to limit himself there. Instead, players will be able to shape-shift between different mechs on the fly in the midst of battle, providing the means to create some seriously unique action set pieces. “The shape-shifting mechanics let players rapidly switch characters with a press of a button, allowing for a unique twist on the classic hack-and-slash gameplay,” says Schade. “This lets [players] very fluidly perform extremely powerful multicharacter combos.”
Every mech comes with its own designated special skill players can deploy, adding in another layer of complexity to combat. You see, as well as high-octane action and cool visuals, Morbid Metal is all about offering up options – with the game’s core shape-shifting mechanic ensuring there’s no one right way to approach an enemy encounter.
“Each playable character is supposed to feel very different from one another,” says Schade. “All of them fulfil a different role in the player’s roster, with distinct active and passive abilities, attack combos, and a devastating special skill. The special skill system is inspired by the classic hack-and-slash scoring, and relies on combos and killing enemies.” Schade hopes that by tying these two systems together, it will directly impact gameplay, and reward those who play well by generating a satisfying loop of stylish manoeuvres on screen.
While the key concept and themes behind it have been set in place, Morbid Metal is still in its very early stages. Schade himself has his hand in almost all development disciplines, from art style to combat design to how traversal will work, but he’s been wise enough to reach out for the odd helping hand. “I certainly have my strengths and weaknesses,” he chuckles. “Therefore, I decided to outsource a few key aspects to build the highest quality product I can.”
Just like any well-oiled machine, he’s aware that how smoothly Morbid Metal looks and feels to play will make or break its success. The style is there in spades, so now the chase is on to polish up the substance as much as possible.