Back in September 2013, Suppressive Fire Games launched the Kickstarter campaign for its 2D metroidvania Blood Alloy. It hinged around being a hyper-agile cyborg soldier called Nia Rhys, who uses a combination of blades, guns, and jetpack to rip robots to bits.
The idea and video footage must have caught peoples’ imagination, as in the first week the game attracted about $12k, but then it flatlined. Grand Theft Auto V came out, and another Kickstarter for a little game called Hyper Light Drifter seemed to dwarf Blood Alloy, with it ending short of the crowdfunding goal.
But lead designer Frank Washburn tells Siliconera that he’s now glad that the Kickstarter failed last year: “we had enough success and enthusiasm that we felt that we were actually onto something, but it failing forced us to really examine all of its faults, and take it back to the drawing board.”
Upon re-examining Blood Alloy, Suppressive Fire Games was able to cut off the fat, and design what it reckons is an entirely superior game to their original pitch. The art was redone and the combat was tweaked and polished. The result is Blood Alloy: Reborn.
Reborn is a smaller iteration of the much more expansive Blood Alloy. Washburn calls it a “combo-multiplier-based score-chaser, similar in scope to Luftrausers or Geometry Wars.” The plan is to bring Reborn to consoles in the first quarter of 2015, and also launch it on Steam Early Access as the limited version of Blood Alloy.
The hope is that Reborn will bring in enough revenue stream that the team can continue working on Blood Alloy while using Reborn as a base marker. Siliconera spoke further with Washburn to find out more about Blood Alloy, as well as the soon-to-be-released Blood Alloy: Reborn.
Firstly, could you explain your own background in working on games. And have you brought anything from those experiences to Blood Alloy?
Frank Washburn, designer: I spent just under five years at Harmonix Music Systems, working on the Rock Band franchise (starting with Rock Band 2), and the Dance Central franchises. About four years of that was spent as Quality Assurance, the last year as design on an unannounced project.
As music/dance games are so… uh, niche in terms of what kind of gameplay they exhibit, Harmonix was mostly a gateway for me to experience the full development of a video game and to get my hands dirty with scripting and playtesting new gameplay experiences. So in terms of actual raw gameplay inspiration, haha, no, not really.
However, the one thing that I really did appreciate is that Harmonix took playtesting very, very seriously. Every time a new game mechanic would go in, they would schedule a barrage of playtests – someone (either someone in the company from a different team, or a friend or family member) would play the slice of the game while a QA tester, engineer, artist, and designer would sit in another room watching them on camera. That real-time feedback is absolutely priceless and often-times, because we’d have someone from every discipline sitting there in the video room, game mechanics could get cleaned or refined literally as quickly as the player formulated their thoughts into sentences.
“Umm, I think this part is too slow, and that part is too confusing.”
Coder: “Gimme a minute” *Tap tap tap on the keyboard* “Here push this to them, try this”
“Oh, I like this a lot better!”
The game industry has become pretty sink-or-swim in the past five years, but you’d be surprised how frequently to this DAY that some game designers think “Oh what do THEY know, they’re PLAYING it wrong.”
In my opinion, the biggest sin you can commit as a developer is to shortcut your playtesting process, and it’s telling that two of the most successful AAA studios in America—Naughty Dog and Valve—are also two who have absolutely insane playtesting processes.
You describe Blood Alloy as a metroidvania, but there are so many of those, so what out of its designs makes it different?
Central to Blood Alloy is the BLAST mechanic – BLade Assisted Surface Traversal – in which you jam your sword into a surface and flare your jetpack-thrusters to boost yourself along. This ability is used both for movement – by jamming your sword into a ceiling you can traverse over hazardous pits, for example – and for offensive/evasive tactics in gunplay.
The BLAST mechanic opens up the levels for the opportunity to play with some breakneck-speed platforming challenges – as well letting the players execute some pretty insane attack patterns.
Now I’m eager to get into the combat of Blood Alloy. What abilities, moves, and weapons are available to players and how much room for experimentation is there?
For the “minimum viable product” slice that’s releasing next year (Blood Alloy: Reborn), we’re going to start the player off with all of the major abilities unlocked. You’ll be able to dodge, double-jump, and BLAST across floors, up walls, and across ceilings right off the bat.
You also by default have two weapons at all times – your sword and a gun.
We’re currently developing a module system in which you can heavily customize your playstyle. As you play, level up, and complete missions, you’ll unlock Modules that can change both your weaponry and your base stats. For example, your pistol by default is a pretty average weapon with a decent rate of fire, but you might choose to equip a module that gives it a slower rate of fire, but significantly stuns any enemy it hits – or a module that makes your pistol fire a three-round burst, but has a longer cooldown between bursts.
You’ll also be able to equip Armor modules that change your base stats according to various Benefits/Penalities. For example, “25% more stamina, but 25% less max health” or “Double your stamina recharge rate, but 50% max health”.
How does the stamina system affect the action? What does it demand of the player?
The energy system regulates your BLAST, the use of your sword, and your dodges, preventing you from relying on any single one of them too much. Your sword is massively powerful, but each swing consumes a big chunk of energy; luckily, kills with the sword will cause your energy to replenish faster.
The best players will be able to keep tabs on the energy meter with the corner of their eye and be able to seamlessly juggle every tier of gameplay – BLASTing, gunplay, swordplay, and balls-to-the-wall acrobatics – to keep pushing the stamina to the limit without ever actually depleting it.
How have you approached designing bosses? Are you going for dynamic fights, or are they pattern-based battles perhaps?
We’ll have at least one “boss” type enemy in Blood Alloy: Reborn, and without spoiling too much, I’ll say that the boss itself will exhibit Mega-man boss-style patterns of attacks – but that just taking down each boss will be a bit of a puzzle.
And BLASTing? So, jamming your sword into a surface and flaring your jets to propel yourself along? Cool evasive move right? It’ll also be an offensive move for the bigger bosses – use your sword and your jetpack to tear off armor plating from them to reveal weak points.
Every boss is intended to be a mechanical test of your abilities, especially those recently gained, and your ability to juggle your movement and attacks.
You mention that the narrative has different branches. How will we be able to explore these and what affects the ending we get?
Haha, this is some scoping that’s left over from our bold Kickstarter. It’s absolutely something we want to explore, but we’ll see how much operational revenue we get from sales of Blood Alloy: Reborn.
But to answer your question – in an ideal game development world, we’re going to present unto the player a couple of choices on how they want to finish the game and conclude the story. Each path will comprise a completely unique segment of gameplay and objectives – I know gamers are stung after the “choose one of three colors” endings to the Mass Effect series, so if we have multiple endings at all, we’ll ensure that each ending entails completing some unique objects in a unique environment.
What has your aim been when designing the game’s world—both structurally and aesthetically?
We’ve been doing a ton of research and scouring of reference material to try to nail a science-fiction, cyberpunk aesthetic. The city in which the story takes place houses both humans and artificial intelligence societies, so we’ve been playing around with defining and exploring how a society like that would function. It’s an uneasy peace between the humans and the AIs, but there’s absolutely some cross-pollination of cultures that’s occurring, and I’m really looking forward to having that come through in our levels and the world.
For example, most AIs “live” their existences digitally, in the networks. However, some are absolutely fascinated by the arts – music, painting, and acting – so you’ll have AI “communes” in which AIs can download themselves into a physical shell and literally practice brush-painting, calligraphy, or the violin, often with human tutelage.
I’ve seen that you’ve been questioned about the possibility of multiplayer, either competitively or cooperatively. Do you see that even being possible in Blood Alloy? If so, how would you design it if you had the means to make it happen?
Any elements of multiplayer would be created more within the scope of Blood Alloy: Reborn – arena-based combat. Cooperative play would entail two or more players facing off an endless swarm of enemies, whereas competitive play would be simple deathmatch-style gameplay in the same vein as Towerfall.
Many PC gamers have recognized the influence that the old Crack Dot Com game Abuse has had on Blood Alloy – and playing Abuse‘s LAN deathmatch with my brothers on the Mac was one of my fondest memories growing up.
What platforms will Blood Alloy definitely be coming to? Any other platforms that you’re working or would like to bring it to?
Xbox One, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 4, and Wii U. And obviously on PC, Mac, and Linux. We also have a Steam Greenlight page and would love a vote or two!