I’m Steve, Level designer and for a lack of a term that doesn’t sound stupid, gameplay engineer at Infinity Knives. With the development cycle currently focused on refining the engine and other boring code stuff I’ve got the time to write an entry in our new dev blog to touch on some things we’ve yet to address in regards to EDN and the direction we’re taking the project as well as ramble about stuff you don’t care about. If there’s interest, I’ll probably write a few more of these blogs in the coming weeks. At some point we realized that the majority of our fans don’t even know what EDN is beyond a first person shooter made by some idiots from 4chan and I’d like to elaborate on what makes us more than Katawa Shoujo with guns (Buki Shoujo already does that quite well, check it out!) and how we plan on delivering a unique experience. From the original school notebook we’ve used as a design document written roughly two decades ago (you can read it here) it’s quite clear that the kid who wrote it simply wanted to make his very own doom clone, just like you, me and every other twenty-something guy on the planet had done when they were 13 years old. Creating a project of this scope that holds its own and avoids solely capitalizing on the nostalgia of manchildren like ourselves is quite a challenge in itself that our team have been
lazily diligently chipping away at for over two years now on a whopping $200 budget. Staying true to the book entitled Evil Death Nightmare we are retaining aspects of the first person shooters of yesteryear that have since been lost in the now mostly stagnant genre of first person shooters. These vintage features range from the relentlessly cruel +1 armor shard monster traps that drew the player to them like a mosquito to a bug zapper, knowing all too well of the negative risk-reward payout of triggering the trap to the even more subtle features, such as how every game released around 2004 was eager to make use of the Havok physics engine and gave the player the ability to navigate the environment by stacking crates in half-life 2 or feel like a bull in a china shop in FEAR and lay ruin to every inch of a research facility stapling enemy corpses to the wall while modern games have all but completely abandoned this very easy to implement effect for the negligible performance boost and network synchronization issues it could create on poorly optimized game engines.
As the level designer, I’d also like to talk on how we use level design make EDN stand out from the norm. It’s really hard to find a recent game with the traps, arenas and interconnecting paths that defined the projects of studios like id Software. There’s a lot to be learned today from the level design and philosophy in Doom and Quake. In fact there’s a lot that should have been learned from Doom and Quake yet for one reason or another were simply ignored in the titles that mimicked them when the FPS was still in an infantile state. The reason Doom is a cult classic over two decades later and the majority of its fans don’t do more than blink when an equally innovative title like Marathon is mentioned is because John Romero and Sandy Peterson’s innovations weren’t analyzed and observed closely enough by the same games trying to copy and expand the formula beyond “you run at the speed of a Ferrari in first person and there’s lots of gore and bad guys”. The way elements like branching paths functioned in doom lead to the player needing to take note of his surroundings and use them to his advantage, they often forced the player to make quick decisions and skillfully retreat around the level fighting enemies from all sides, cleverly fooling them into fighting amongst themselves and making sure not to corner himself or mismanage the scattered and potentially booby trapped power ups. Less linear level design also serves to help the player suspend his disbelief and identify with the world rather than seeing it as a set piece to a linear story and is a valuable immersion tool even in games that don’t demand that the player be immersed. Interestingly enough, I feel that the doom modding community today shows how the industry should have went about the “doom clones” that spanned from 1993 to 1997. The intricacy of the architectural brilliance found in some custom doom content results in some of the most thought out unique video game scenarios imaginable. A great example that I had a lot of fun with recently is Monster Hunter LTD part 1 and part 2 made by a guy who calls himself Didy.
This overhead map of Monster Hunter really demonstrates the architectural chaos that a good Level Designer can create and shows how basic core concepts like branching yet still closely connected paths in “horseshoe” shaped levels that John Romero’s maps are so well known for can be taken to the extreme to create very memorable experiences. There’s a great series of interviews with Romero where he explains thousands of incredibly subtle game changing tweaks he made that even the most observant players wouldn’t have noticed and yet these severely shaped what Doom is. We hope to distinguish EDN by carefully studying what made these classic first person shooters so damn good so that we can expand upon these features and philosophies and innovate new features without infringing upon what made these games so great in the way that many games produced after the mid 90’s have failed to achieve.
While it is incredibly reassuring to us to see that similar projects like Serious Sam 3, Wrack, STRAFE, TOXIKK, Shadow Warrior, Hard Reset and RetroBlazer met with widespread praise and commercial success, unfortunately while half of these titles turn out great, it seems like other the half of these projects lose sight of what elements made the FPS genre before Half-Life good. Instead ending up as the FPS equivalent of an indie shovelware platformer made in flash with “retro” art styles that look worse than games did 25 years ago. There are countless of examples of incredibly good design choices going in to decade plus aged shooters in the past but never really catching on as mainstream features in the 20 years following their release, even in games that market themselves with buzzwords like throwback or classic. We’re experimenting with a lot of these all but abandoned gameplay elements to make EDNs single player really stand out, such as the Q3CPMA-style movement physics we’ve implemented, which in layman’s terms means taking Quakes ability to go fast by strafe jumping and combining it with Counter-Strikes ability to go fast by bunny hopping and combining them to go really really fucking fast. The levels are designed to reflect these features as well, while they will appear fairly normal to the casual observer, someone versed in how the movement mechanics function will see it as more of a race course to exploit to their advantage at breakneck speeds, Think Mirrors Edge with rocket jumping and demons. Now we certainly can’t isolate a massive portion of our playerbase with complex mechanics in an otherwise simple by design game, which is why many of these types of mechanics won’t be mandatory to understand to progress, instead they will give the player a significant advantage in the singleplayer and allow him to play at a higher difficulty level with the highest difficulty outright demanding the player have an understanding of these skillsets to complete them. I believe this is the kind of function the difficulty setting should serve in video games. It’s quite disheartening to see modern games take the opposite approach and focus on appealing to the average to terrible skilled player and isolating the adept player with a bland and unrewarding experience solely so poor players can feel good about completing the game on the hardest difficulty. Video games like EDN just aren’t meant for people who don’t know how to play video games, we’re not sorry for that.