It’s all about control. Not the Remedy game. The most important element in ScourgeBringer is making sure you, the player, are in full control. It’s a part of the project that its developers have focused on with some intensity, and from early flirtations with the platformer both pre- and post-Early Access, it’s clear that things are paying off. Your character runs when you tell them to, jumps when you press the button, attacks and dashes as soon as your thumb depresses: it works phenomenally well already, and it’s not even done.
But what is ScourgeBringer? Why, it’s a rogue-lite combat-platformer with a focus on always attacking, always moving, and not really defending. In short, it’s a game that demands a tightness of control, and it’s a game that provides just that. How? “A lot of playtesting, and a lot of prototyping,” explain Thomas Altenburger and Florian Hurtaut, the game’s designers and, respectively, coder and pixel artist. “We prototype and test a lot of things. We spent a year figuring out the ‘game feel’. The core discipline we have is to work on very small chunks at a time, and in an iterative way.
“For instance, we break everything down into atomic-level designs, like asking how it is to just jump around. We then design prototypes to test the jumping system, over and over until it feels satisfying. We do that for every system, and at some point we zoom out and start assembling the smaller parts, checking if they still work together, eventually discarding some of them or adapting them. And so on until we zoomed out enough that it feels like a game.”
It’s that focus on working and reworking elements until they get it just right that helps ScourgeBringer stand out in an increasingly crowded field. Roguelikes and rogue-lites aren’t exactly slim pickings these days – and that’s something that did play into the devs’ minds. “We were wondering about that when starting the project,” they explain, “and it was quite clear to us we were not going to stand out on innovation, so we had to push the quality level to the max. That’s why we spent an entire year just tweaking the game feel. We had to get things right and compensate with a rock-solid feel.”
While admissions throughout there are no illusions ScourgeBringer is a revolutionary game, Altenburger and Hurtaut maintain throughout our chat that they want to make something of high quality – “a sort of quintessential experience of the genre.” Early reactions are proving the approach is working, with plenty of positive user reviews following the game’s Early Access release (and a massive early thumbs-up from this writer).
With ScourgeBringer changing form many times early on – from a pulp sci-fi romp through a platforming iteration starring a space luchador – there is always the risk things could be confused. But again, it’s about control: Flying Oak settled on the game’s final design after about a month of pre-production and has kept control over that vision since. Building a custom engine and tools on top of MonoGame and FMOD was “the most comfortable and efficient” way to do things from there, and… really, it just shows. ScourgeBringer looks like it was made by a team comfortable in what it was doing, by one focused on making something as well-honed as it could possibly be within its sub-genre limits. It’s not reinventing the wheel, it’s just trying to make it as perfectly round as it can.
Part of the process involves learning from the past, and Flying Oak has a lot to take away from past project NeuroVoider – a well-received twin-stick shooter/RPG released in 2016.
“We learned a lot from NeuroVoider,” the devs tell us, “starting with what didn’t work and shouldn’t be reproduced.” Trying to make everything procedurally generated was the first big tick (or cross) on that particular list – again, it’s about maintaining control. If boss fights are randomly generated, as they were in the last game, they’re never going to be that good, or that interesting. “Boss fights kind of all looked the same, because there are human limits as to what you can actually put into an algorithm,” they explain.
“So we toned down a lot our usage of procedural generation,” they continue. “We are still using some, but it [has] become more like a tool within our tools to generate ideas; in the end, we’re handcrafting everything now. There’s only the [layout of the rooms] that is generated, otherwise, all rooms are handcrafted – and we made the bosses to be unique and memorable.”
Beyond bosses and levels, there’s the simple fact that using all procedural generation limits the shared experience from player to player – and when it’s a game so reliant on skill and ability to get through challenges, that is important, whether it’s through sharing strategies, or just for your classic git gud boasting points. Keeping control over what players play matters as much as the level of control players have over it.
With ScourgeBringer currently available on Early Access and the team operating an open development process via its Discord, this is actually a situation where players can be involved before the game is finished and – perhaps – influence its development in some way. Even so, what we have right now is well-honed, well-made, and already a hell of a lot of fun. It was back in Gamescom in August 2019, it still is now in April 2020, and it likely will be later in the year, whenever ScourgeBringer gets its final release.
Genre: Rogue-lite platformer | Format: PC / Switch | Developer: Flying Oak Games, E-Studio | Publisher: Dear Villagers, Yooreka Studio | Release: Out now (Early Access)