With Ori and the Blind Forest and Axiom Verge, 2015 has been a great year for Metroidvania games — sidescrolling action-adventure titles that gate parts of the world behind equipment requirements, demanding exploration in one place to gain access to another. But these games aren't a unique proposition in an age of democratized video game development and small indie teams. Nostalgia for games like Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night has ensured that we'll be getting them forever, in some form or another.
So what makes Chasm, which was successfully funded on Kickstarter back in 2013, special?
Chasm's 16-bit era animation is particularly charming and slick in a field where every release wants to one-up everything else. But Chasm's procedural generation, and the way that developer Discord Games is giving the community tools to use that aspect, is what might give the game legs. Each playthrough takes place on a map made of human-designed rooms and spaces, like your normal run-of-the-mill action-adventure. But as I learned as I played a short bit of the game in Sony's booth at this year's E3, those rooms' placement is then shuffled, and the connecting hallways and passages between them are procedurally generated using an algorithm built by Discord.
Procedural generation is a great way to keep a game like Chasm fresh — just look at the continued appeal of 2012's Spelunky. But Discord is taking this a step further. The algorithm that generates the levels does so using a randomly generated number by default. But players can instead enter a number into the level generator, and every player who uses that number will get the exact same layout.
Now, this isn't unique, exactly. Last Fall's The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth features a similar system. But this is the first time I've seen the idea in place for this kind of game, and it opens a lot of opportunities for a competitive, community driven movement to develop around Chasm. Game director James Petruzzi told me they expect to include community sharing features so players can compete on specific layouts, in addition to a more rogue-like arcade mode that cuts out the save spots that are (scarcely) dotted throughout the game by default.
More interestingly, at least to me, is that this procedurally generated community competition can also happen within the larger, more genre-typical expanse of Chasm. Petruzzi told me he expects the game's main mode to take 10 hours or so to complete on the first playthrough, which will obviously be affected by the RNG (random number generator) gods.
Chasm is currently slated for release this summer.