It’s no secret that we’re partial to dark fantasy worlds with plenty of hack ‘n’ slash action, so it should come as no surprise that when David Pierce got in contact to tell us about his game Hazewalker – which fits into that previous description – we just had to fling some questions at him.
The game’s title refers to the ability of Hazewalker’s main character. He is able to resist the effects of an ancient curse known as the Haze. His people have been trapped inside the Veil, and so it’s up to him to head deep into the Haze in order to reach safety for himself and his fellow survivors.
Pierce’s biggest inspiration for Hazewalker is Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – if you look at the screenshots that’s probably quite obvious. It’s a sidescrolling action game that, oddly, mixes 3D characters with 2D backgrounds, so of course we asked Pierce about that unusual choice of art direction.
We also dived right into the guts of the game’s combat system to discuss how the various light RPG elements and abilities (including magical weapon runes and enchantments) that complement your play style as you progress through the darkness, fighting through nightmarish creatures and abhorrent abominations.
Pierce also spoke about the unique features that the Wii U version of Hazewalker will have, which includes using the second screen as a guidebook while you play through the game. We also got some details on the game’s upcoming Kickstarter campaign and the demo that will be released alongside it.
Dark fantasy is a broad topic, so could you describe what kinds of creatures, environments, and characters we can expect to find in Hazewalker?
David Pierce, Producer: When we talk about “dark fantasy”, we’re using that as a way to describe the overall tone and feel of the game. When we design creatures, we’re trying to draw on the stuff of nightmares, the things we dreamed up playing tabletop Dungeons & Dragons. Oozes that have a multitude of human-like mouths, using their screams as a sonic attack… giant ravens with two heads… things like that.
Because of the Haze, the environments in the game have been twisted from their original purpose into something strange and otherworldly. You can see hints of what kind of people that the Gariti were from the grand statues that they left behind; these monuments take on a more somber tone now that hardly anyone is left to see them.
Our characters are living in, essentially, a post-apocalypse, having lost their homelands and most of their loved ones, so there’s a lot to deal with there. Just because everyone is united under the banner of restoring Garitia doesn’t mean that they all have the same end goals in mind.
You mention that your biggest inspiration is Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, so what are you taking from that game for Hazewalker and why?
The big take-away from Symphony of the Night was the “platformer-as-RPG” nature of it, which is something I loved and wanted to do more with. We’re also looking at the things that Symphony of the Night didn’t execute so well on and finding ways to make them awesome; how shields and blocking works comes to mind here. We want to really deliver on tight, focused weapon and shield combat.
Symphony of the Night isn’t our only source of inspiration: tabletop Dungeons & Dragons, Dark Souls, Morrowind… hell, there’s probably even a little Animal Crossing in there somewhere. As Hazewalker has started to come together, even at this really early stage, it’s starting to speak its own language.
As much as I enjoy being compared to other great games, it’s not “Symphony of the Night 2.0” or “side-scrolling Dark Souls” as some have already commented. It’s Hazewalker, a thing of its own. Also, you’ll be able to wear cloaks and customize them. Because cloaks are awesome and everyone should wear one.
What feel are you hoping to achieve with Hazewalker’s combat system – perhaps slow and powerful, or fast and agile?
I think the words I’d like it to embody are “deliberate” and “powerful”. Definitely not sluggish or slow, but not twitchy either. There will be a lot of kinetic speed, especially when using the teleport ability, but every hit should feel like it counts, and when you get hit, it matters.
Every hit in the game has force, so enemies will be trying to use the environment to their advantage to knock you into traps and other obstacles (thankfully, you can do the same to them). Your choice of sword, shield, armor, and other gear will have an impact on your speed, recovery time, damage taken, and other factors, so preparation before combat is just as critical as the combat itself.
Could you explain how the weapon augments work in further detail and any other ways players are able to customize their play style?
The way weapons and equipment will be upgraded is still being explored and designed. I can say this: these upgrade and augmentation systems won’t be kept separate from each other. The runes you inscribe on your blade will have an effect on the enchantments it has, or you could place an enchantment on a potion you brewed to modify its effects. The systems will mingle and interact, and discovering what surprising effects emerge will be really interesting, a sort of “mad scientist” feeling.
The player will have access to a skill system that will improve and (in some cases) fundamentally change the way their powers work, depending on how they want to play. Like with teleporting (one of our core mechanics we’ve shown in video a few times now), perhaps instead of being able to teleport very quickly, you want your teleport to end in a devastating shockwave.
Why did you decide to have 2D art with 3D characters – what does this bring to the game?
When we set out to develop Hazewalker, I wanted it to be filled with the things I wanted to see more of in games. For me, I love the expressiveness of painting and traditional illustration, so I knew that’s how I wanted to approach the environments. I wanted the experience to be like playing through living concept art.
Going 3D on the characters allows us to create a wide variety of creatures and animations, which is really important for this kind of game. We’re using shaders to blend the characters with the environment, so really, you shouldn’t feel like “Oh, that’s obviously 3D”. The characters should feel just as painterly as everything else.
Will the Wii U version of Hazewalker vary from the other versions at all, and if so then how?
The Wii U version (which we are SUPER excited about) is all about quality-of-life improvements. If the TV is the “window” into our world, the second screen is your “guidebook”. It’s your map, your journal, your companion.
We’re aiming for feature and content parity across all the platforms we intend to support, but we still want our Wii U players to feel like “Wow, I couldn’t imagine playing this game (or even this kind of game) any other way.” It’s something we’re still designing and exploring, but the idea is that the second screen should compliment the core gameplay and not override it.
We’re playing with ideas like having companion characters communicate directly to you through the gamepad, or having our developer commentary on the gamepad’s screen or emit from its speaker, almost like you had one of the devs sitting right there on the couch with you, saying “Hey, I remember designing that part! It was really fun to make because…”. Things like that, enabling ways to connect with players more closely.
Why have you decided to use Kickstarter to fund Hazewalker and what will the money to towards? Further, what can backers get in return for their monetary support?
For us, like a lot of new studios, Kickstarter is one of the best ways to bring creative things like this to life. We could just keep pouring our personal savings into development, like we have been for the last year and a half, but even if we did that, it would still be a shadow of the game we really want to make. A successful Kickstarter campaign will allow us to make the game according to the vision we’ve had all along.
The vast majority of the money from Kickstarter will go to producing tons and tons of content; art, sound, animation, music. We also need to obtain console dev kits, software licenses, and professional sound packages. We’re not using the funds to pay for our light bills or our pizza. (OK, maybe some of our pizza. And coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.)
You mention a demo will be released for Hazewalker alongside the Kickstarter campaign. How much of the game will this show off, and perhaps more importantly, what does it not contain?
The Kickstarter demo is a very early alpha prototype, and will showcase a narrow vertical slice of the game. It will be about 5 to 10 minutes of gameplay, with a beginning and an end. It’s set in an environment called Sharp’s Point, an ancient Gariti military stronghold built into the side of a mountain. The player must navigate their way upwards to the Watchtower in order to light a signal fire at the top.
The player will have access to the core combat and platforming mechanics, Hazewalking (a fast, short-range teleport), and a torch to light the way. There are a couple of different types of enemies that will stand in your way; fallen soldiers and knights that have been warped by the Haze’s influence.
We’ve got a long way to go, but I hope that the demo gives players and our backers a taste of what we can do and the kind of experience we’re trying to create. I hope they enjoy it!