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title art for Mythforce; three villains loom over four heroes, with the Mythforce title beneath them Image: Beamdog/Aspyr Media

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MythForce, the ’80s cartoon video game, comes to Steam and eyes a console launch

Demo available now for Steam Next Fest 2023

Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

After a year synthesizing the awesome, 12-frames-per-second, primary color, cel-shaded glory days of Thundercats, Masters of the Universe, Silverhawks, and the like into a video game, Trent Oster, Beamdog’s chief executive, admits he’s thought about how much fun it would be, making the studio’s action-RPG MythForce into a real cartoon at some point.

But that will have to wait. The roguelite adventure, which burst into early access on the Epic Games Store in April 2022 (with a kick-ass theme song, to boot) is now available with a demo spotlighted in the Steam Next Fest, with full versions planned for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, PC, and Xbox later this fall.

Still, Oster grins at the idea that MythForce, the homage to syndicated, latchkey-children afternoon cartoons, might actually get made into one. “We’ve seen people who are literally pitching us on, hey, this needs to be a real thing; it needs to happen,” Oster told Polygon.

“We’ve had discussions with companies out there about MythForce becoming a full fledged cartoon,” Oster said. “It’s something I would love to see happen, because I think there’s a lot of fun here.”

MythForce, the first original work from Beamdog (to now known mainly as a port shop for RPGs) launched with an out-there premise that the studio wasn’t really sure would work. Happily, they discovered dressing a first-person, procedurally generated dungeon crawler as an ’80s cartoon works really well as far as streaming and watchability. MythForce not only developed a cult following worth a console launch, it also has a merch shop.

The newest release of the game, available today, will lean more into character and player progression, Oster says (and therefore place MythForce squarely in the “roguelite” category, rather than “roguelike”). “A lot of the feedback was, ‘Hey, we love the game, but we really wish there was more progress, or ways to develop your character, and in some cases, personalize your character, and make them more the style that you want to play,” he said.

That means tuning the “outer loop” of MythForce’s gameplay to include a “constellation system,” which allows players to place perks they’ve earned into a tree that caters to their playing style for each of the four characters: Rico (the Rogue), Victoria (the Knight), Maggie (the Mage), and Hawkins (the Hunter). Players earn a gem through their continued gameplay, that gem grants a perk somewhere within the constellation for that particular character. “Based on where you place the gems, and what kind of gems you place, you can increase your attack damage, you can increase your energy, you can increase your mobility,” Oster explained.

Oster himself mains as Rico. “My Rico is all attack speed, and power, and hit, and then the instant I’ve blown everything, I need to run and hide in a corner,” Oster laughed. “I really optimize around the recharge speed on my ultimate ability, Rico’s backslash. To me, it’s a gift from God.”

Gameplay first-person view of Mythforce, the character Maggie is casting an attack spell that has exploded on its target in a colorful blast
Maggie the Mage, one of four playable characters in MythForce, unloads a powerful spell on some baddies.
Image: Beamdog/Aspyr Media

Players may respec their characters’ constellations at any time. “The goal is that you really have that agency to figure out the kind of character you want to play,” Oster said. “And if you screw up you can just roll it back and try something different.”

The constellation system, and the hub world (“The Citadel”) that further supports player customization with things like weapon upgrades and emotes (with other customizables coming later) are the newest features for now. MythForce still only has one “chapter,” Bastion of the Beast Lord — a procedurally generated level for players to run, whether single- or multiplayer. A roadmap sketched out last year called for two more chapters (Crypt of the Necromancer and Cauldron of Bats) by this spring; Beamdog pushed back those, and other ambitions, because, “early on, we radically underestimated the cost of content creation,” Oster said.

“Unreal [Engine 5] is expensive to make art; to make level art, especially,” Oster said, meaning the time cost of such assets. “When you’re building a lot of level art, and you’re literally hammering on it to look like a 1980s cartoon, we totally underestimated what that would cost. It’s hard to make those environments interesting, and in the volume that we can entertain players with.”

Thus, MythForce won’t have much of an in-game narrative for the time being. “There was a point in the project where we’re like, look, we have 40 pounds of ideas to fit into a 10-pound bag,” he said. “So what ideas live, and what ideas wait?” One of the ideas that couldn’t wait much longer, however, was gamepad support, absolutely essential to any kind of console launch, which came in with an update last fall.

“Let’s just say the projected budget and the actual budget have deviated fairly substantially,” Oster said. He’s one of the co-founders of BioWare, and as such he has to think in bottom-line terms no matter how cool or creative something seems at first. “Aspyr has been amazingly supportive,” Oster said of Beamdog’s parent company. “They get it, and they get what we’re trying to do here. They’re really excited by the potential of it, and I think [...] they understand the potential of the product.”

MythForce is available now on Steam as a playable demo that is “essentially the same version that we have on Epic Games,” Oster said, “now that we’ve patched it up. This is probably the closest thing to what the 1.0 version will be later this year.”

A console launch on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X will follow in the fall. The 1.0 release will feature the two additional chapters. Two more unlockable difficulty modes (beyond the easy-normal-hard of the current version) will also be included, as well as drop-in/drop-out online cooperative play.

The character selection screen of MythForce; the arrow is pointing to Rico the Rogue and a menu highlights his special abilities and talents.
MythForce currently has four playable heroes. A fifth is planned, but it and several other features have taken a back seat to polishing the base game in early access.

But it’s clear that the really-a-cartoon possibility tantalizes Oster and his colleagues at Beamdog. This spring, the fourth episode of streaming series I Woke Up A Vampire (Amazon Prime, but only in Canada) featured MythForce as the game its characters were playing in an episode set at a gaming tournament. “They just loved the look of the game,” Oster said. Beamdog, based in Edmonton, sent them builds of the game and promotional materials, which were used to complete the scene and make MythForce seem even more like a pop culture phenomenon, not just a video game.

“One of the downsides of creating something that’s new is you have no idea if it’s just your own internal craziness that’s saying, ‘This is great,’ or if your internal crazy maps over to enough other people that it actually is a viable product.” Oster said. “So this was some validation. It’s like, ‘Yeah, we’re chasing something potentially successful here.’”

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