There are new games coming out every day so the struggle to be original is getting harder. We can change our heroes and the setting, but that just change adds a new aesthetic to the mechanics we already know. But, just like cooking, you can mix the same ingredients in different ways to get something new. Like, what would happen if you added a card game to a bullet hell and you controlled time like Superhot? Well, this would lead you to the unexpected and strategic gameplay that Caden Parker, aka Torcado, included in his game Heck Deck. It’s a cute yet surprisingly challenging experience that involves collecting cards that enemies fire at you and stopping to freeze time and plan your next move. We sat down with Torcado and asked him to deal us in on Heck Deck.
Heck Deck is a hectic RNG game that combines several different genres and mechanics. It’s a bullet-hell game where time freezes as long as you aren’t moving. Luckily, you can collect cards and play them while you’re thinking about what to do next. This game "started out as a game jam game for Ludum Dare," Torcado said. "The theme was to combine two incompatible genres and I just thought of bullet-hell and card game."
Torcado spent two days working on his game jam entry that would serve as the basis for Heck Deck. Following that, he dedicated his time to working on it for over three and a half years. What made this mismatch of genres so surprising is the fact that Torcado admitted, "I haven’t played any bullet hell or card games even up till now."
Making It Special
In addition to the card game and bullet-hell aspects of Heck Deck, a key feature is the time freeze mechanic which is very reminiscent of Superhot. Though this combination of different features definitely makes the game stand out, Torcado gives his own answer on its unique selling point.
"As far as specific mechanics that are unique to this game, it’s that your health acts as a currency in a way," Torcado said. "You need to get hit to pick up cards, making it so that getting hit serves more as a choice you make rather than a punishment you receive."
This mechanic makes for an interesting balance between risk and preservation. During gameplay, enemies will appear from offscreen and fire cards in various patterns. Though the card may have different images on them, they all act as bullets and will hurt you on contact. However, this allows you to collect whatever card hits you and use its power for yourself. Since you only have three hearts to start, you really need to save them for the most potent cards.
Heck Deck is arranged in classic bullet-hell style where you start near the bottom of the screen and enemies descend from above. Even in the first level, things ramp up quickly with enemies shooting cards all over in an attempt to hit you. You start off with a decent hand but quickly need to selectively run into cards depicting projectiles so you can fire back. This means you really need to manage your health not just in terms of staying alive but also in collecting ammo. Thankfully, cards that depict hearts can be collected without injury and enemies will drop hearts when killed.
Still, even though you can freeze time by stopping, there's always a ticking clock. Certain cards have cooldowns when you use them, and dropped hearts will disappear after a few seconds. On top of that, enemies are constantly approaching and you'll want to keep as few as possible on the screen to avoid getting overwhelmed. Dispatching them is another challenge since many of your projectiles have designated trajectories and enemies will start moving as soon as the projectile does. All in all, every part of this game requires thoughts that feed into each other like gears in a machine.
Changes Then And Now
Three and a half years is a long time to be working on anything. When it comes to games, they’re almost guaranteed to go through significant changes during updates. Since Torcado was working on Heck Deck solo with some outside musical help, he had full control over the project.
"More or less, the completed version is just an extension of the game jam version," Torcado said. The extension includes more enemies and cards to play with as well as a shop where you can buy new cards and a plus-sign health power-up called "pips" which provide some relief but aren't a permanent solution.
From the very start, Torcado had a clear idea of what Heck Deck was going to be. It has no core element but several elements that make up the core. There's the conflict of the bullet hell, the RNG of the cards, and the mechanic of freezing time that all mix together to provide a chaotic yet strategic challenge.
"If you take the cards out of the game then you’re just left with a bullet-hell and vice versa," Torcado said. "There’s very little you could remove without breaking what Heck Deck is.”
Since its release, Heck Deck has been gaining a lot of attention and rising in popularity on itch.io. From PC to iOS, this game has both casual and professional appeal, yet there’s room to explore more.
"Adding new levels and content would be the obvious choice," Torcado said. "I do have ideas for adding sections to the shop such as upgrading cards or a slot machine to gamble for bonuses."
In terms of design, Torcado shared his process. "I try to make my games as pure as possible in terms of concept," he said. "I don’t just throw in a bunch of things like outfits and upgrades for no reason. I like distilling the game down to the core elements and still making it fun."
Heck Deck presents a difficult challenge that will take even the most experienced player to master. Even though it’s presented in such a clear way, Torcado hinted "that there might be more to Heck Deck than what you might see on the surface."
All of Torcado’s games, including his game jam entries, can be found on his itch.io page. And, if you decide to play with his deck of cards, you’ll have a heck of a time.