During the creation of Apotheon, a side-scrolling combat adventure game with an ancient Greek aesthetic, developer Alien Trap Games took an unusual path. What started out as a space shooter-platformer with a comic book style eventually evolved into something wildly different.
Alien Trap's latest project started as a successor to its last game, Capsized. Initially, the game was designed as a space shooter with a comic book look. According to Lee Vermeulen, co-designer and programmer on Apotheon, artist Jesse McGibney started experimenting with Greek mythology-inspired visuals for some of the game's bosses and weapons.
"It was essentially Greeks in space," Vermeulen told Polygon at PAX Prime. "Like, Zeus with a laser gun."
It's an interesting idea, and one that Alien Trap may revisit someday, he said. But Apotheon eventually grew into its own beast.
"We slowly dropped all the sci-fi elements. It used to have a comic book look and that took a lot of production time to make everything look that detailed. We wanted to make something more quickly, so we could stay a two man team. That's when we started experimenting with a minimalistic pottery look."
Vermeulen said the game's ancient Greek pottery aesthetic, which gives the game a unique look and pleasing texture, also lends itself well to the level design. "The pottery is really pattern-based, and it all fits into a grid really well," he said.
In terms of gameplay, Alien Trap originally designed the game as a "more of a sandbox RPG," Vermeulen said. Now the focus is more on narrative and combat, with some "light role-playing game elements."
Structurally, Apotheon is laid out on an open-world 2D map, similar in style to games like Metroid or Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest. In the game's PAX Prime demo, we were given a few missions, like freeing a group of prisoners from a slave ship, saving a blacksmith from harm and protecting the city's harvest from pillagers.
There's a strong emphasis on combat encounters, with a wide variety of melee (daggers, pikes, swords and axes) and projectile weapons (javelins and bow and arrow). Many of those weapons can be recovered from fallen foes, but some will be tucked away in armories and behind locked doors. Each deadly option has its strengths and weaknesses; a pike has better reach than an axe, but the latter's slow, overhead swing deals much greater damage.
Players can outfit their warrior with pieces of armor and shields, and collectible ingredients can be crafted into health potions or oil bombs. Those crafted explosives unlocked a new area in the demo we played, but it's not clear yet how much gated access to new areas plays into Apotheon's level designs.
Apotheon is expected to be released on PC through Steam in the next six months or so, Vermeulen said. After that, Alien Trap is going to pick one next-gen console — "Whatever's easiest for me," according to Vermeulen — for a later port.