Earlier this week, you might have seen the hilarious Kickstarter commercial for Strafe (below). If not, you really ought to take a look, especially if you played video games in the 1990s.
But what about the game it is publicizing? While the commercial lampoons over-the-top '90s video game ads, it must also raise $185,000 to fund development costs, which is no laughing matter. Strafe is being made by a team with no previous experience of launching significant scale games. Its lead developer's previous work is music videos and, yes, commercials.
I spoke to developers Thom Glunt (design) and Stephen Raney (programmer) who make up Pixel Titans, the team heading up the project. It's clear that this is a group of people who care deeply about shooting games and have a clear idea about what they want to achieve.
Although the commercial was big on laughs, Glunt and Raney are pretty serious when it comes to talking about shooters.
He believes that there is a demand for low-res, high impact shooting games, like those that dominated PC gaming in the 1990s. "We are seeing a generational shift of nostalgia from side-scrolling pixel art to primitive 3D. We aimed for that 20-year-old aesthetic because I absolutely loved Quake and I loved Doom and I wanted more of it. But I have played them so much. How can I play these games without playing the same levels and becoming a speed runner?"
"This is a game a lot of people have wanted for a long time without even knowing it," says Raney.
So what will Strafe bring to shooting games that we can't find by going back and playing those old classics? Pixel Titans say the game's main design pillars are "speed, secrets and gibs" [gore].
There are significant differences from the ancient and venerable games that inspire this homage. Its rooms will be procedurally generated (up to a point) and, like the recent spate of indie platformers that hark back to a simpler time, it will not be an easy game to win. The world will also be persistent, so all that gore and all those bullet casings stick around, offering breadcrumbs for players to follow inside the murder-mazes.
Although Strafe is a single-player game (the team is looking at co-op) it is inspired by multiplayer insofar as players are encouraged to jump in and fire away in a few rooms, even for short play periods. So, while Doom and Wolfenstein are the obvious callbacks, the game is also inspired by the likes of Spelunky.
"It's not procedural like Minecraft," says Glunt. "We author rooms which we test for fun and then we create node-based connection code that deforms and changes certain rooms as they connect.
"I really like a loop of you jumping in and shooting enemies in the face. The levels get super messy, you feel an ownership of those levels because of that. You upgrade the character and really cool things happen to the weapon but then you can lose it all and start again. You can hop in and enjoy it for 15 minutes or three hours."
This is a game in which fast movement is key. Glunt makes it clear that there won't be much in the way of cover that allows for health-regeneration. "Offense as defense is something that has been lost but it seems like it is coming back with games like Titanfall and Call of Duty copying that," he said. "We are getting to the point where mobility as a mode of safety is coming back. Gears of War had such an impact that for years we saw cover being inserted into every shooter and people pinned down and regenerating health and it became almost like you were hiding from the enemy and picking them off instead of just blazing around and creating a mess."
Obviously, one of the major changes in the FPS genre, since the 1990s, is looks. The team, led by lead artist Thibault Calabrese, plans to embrace simplicity and turn it into a benefit. "There's a lot of love gone into the art in this game," says Glunt. "When they are done right, those unfiltered low resolution textures on low poly models make such a gorgeous aesthetic.
"Games have gotten to a point where the shift is going from pursuing photo-realism to unique and interesting aesthetics. It allows us to be more free and express ourselves artistically and get ourselves more into the game."
Strafe is about a year from completion, assuming it hits that Kickstarter target. The commercial makes a mockery of '90s-style game ads, and while the game itself is more of a tribute than a "comedy game" there will be humor inserted into the secrets embedded in the game (one of which is shown on the Kickstarter page.) And the mere presence of a new game that takes its lead from something so iconic has its own touch of humor.
"The marketing is treating it very '90s," adds Glunt. "We are showing off the brutality and the funny aspects of it, but in-game it takes itself very seriously. The points at which you will chuckle or smirk will be the secrets.
"We're making the game we want to play. We have thrown all our spare time into Strafe. I think everyone will see the dedication we have put into it."