I have a penchant for survival crafting buildy kind of games. You know the sort. I enjoy them whether they're popular titles like Minecraft or Terraria or lesser-known games like From the Depths and Craft the World. Erich Schaefer told me during his interview about an interesting project being worked on by one of his old friends from the Diablo days. David Brevik (now of Graybeard Games) was making a neat little title called It Lurks Below. I was keen on checking it out and, perhaps more importantly, speaking to the man behind it.
Normally I would spend the opening of a piece talking a bit about the person and their history. In lieu of that, I'll simply list some of the more notable games that Mr. Brevik was a core part of putting together: Diablo, Diablo II, Hellgate: London, Dungeons & Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited, and Marvel Heroes. This is a man who knows his stuff when it comes to great combat and loot tables jam-packed with goodies.
David Brevik is a difficult man to pin down. I'll spare you the details, but we had ended up missing quite a few opportunities to talk with one another. I got the sense that Mr. Brevik might be a bit of a workaholic—our interview finally kicked off (a few hours later than expected, of course) because he had gotten so absorbed in his work. Fortunately, my time speaking with him proved to be more than worth the wait.
It Lurks Below is very much in the vein of stuff like Terraria. The surface comparisons are certainly there, but getting into the meat of the game reveals quite a few differences. It's grittier, more challenging in many respects, and crafted by the careful hand of a man who was integral to one of the greatest Action RPGs of all time.
However, It Lurks Below might owe a bit more to Starbound than anything else. "I was in the Early Access [for Starbound] and I was really enjoying it, but I kind of enjoyed it less and less as time went on," Mr. Brevik began. "I thought that the patches that they did and the content that they were creating and the direction they were going with it wasn't jiving with the way that I would have liked to see it and I was disappointed by the final product. But I put plenty of hours - I think that I got my money's worth and I would still recommend it to people because I think it's a super-interesting game."
He spoke of similar issues with other titles in the genre like Minecraft. "I always wanted more out of those games. Wouldn't it be great to mix this with Diablo-style loot? Where it's got lots of stats and you level up and there's random items that drop and things like that? But it has the same kind of sensibilities."
Mr. Brevik then had to approach another sort of challenge. He formed Graybeard Games a few years back mainly because he was tired of the responsibilities of running a company with employees. "I want to make the games. I want to be involved. I wanted away from just dealing with money and finance all the time and wearing suits and the whole thing. I want to get back into actually making video games and being a part of something creative."
I asked if he thought It Lurks Below could find success in a market where Terraria is king. "It's more of a traditional-styled RPG than those other games," he said. "If that's something that somebody's looking for, that's really where I fit in, I think. In a different spot than those other games. Those games were massively successful and if I had just a portion of their success I'd consider this to be a big hit."
This is a fine attitude for an indie developer, but the limitations of one man can certainly scale down more ambitious game designs. Most of Mr. Brevik's work in the last two decades was focused on "large-scale titles"—he needed to start to think smaller.
As an example, It Lurks Below applies a subtle 2.5 D effect. I had asked if this was a coding trick or if I was playing through a 3D world. The answer was a bit surprising but entirely understandable. He had wanted to make a 3D game and indeed began doing so, but Mr. Brevik ultimately decided on cutting things back to a 2D perspective to make for an easier development.
The switch to a different perspective might have warranted a complete restart of development. Instead, David Brevik went with a much simpler solution: turn the game world on its side. "I think I'm happy with it in a lot of ways. [It] differentiates itself from these other games like Starbound and Terraria where you can see that world really [does] have this kind of 3D [blockiness] to it. It also gives it kind of a different style. It looks visibly different from these other games because of that blockiness."
It Lurks Below is packed with tiny touches that are reminiscent of Mr. Brevik's past work. The wands in the game are less like Harry Potter-style devices and more like magical shotguns. "When I went to 2D, I just kind of made guns from the side," he said. "But I want this to be fantasy so I'm gonna call them wands. And that was the entire thought behind it! [laughs]"
Part of the magic behind the game is David Brevik's willingness to make rapid—sometimes drastic—changes. I had highlighted a particular issue that I faced in my time with the game. I'm no stranger to survival games, but It Lurks Below suffered from a particularly brutal food shortage. Myself (and several other players, in my research) often found ourselves stuck in a loop of dying to hunger, respawning, and dying again. One day later, David pushed an update that attempted to alleviate the issue.
"I like to have a game always playable. I like to [add things] at a pace where it keeps things interesting all the time as well as [keeping] the bugs down and [keeping] the sensibility of the game high." —David Brevik, Graybeard GamesOne thing that may be on the minds of It Lurks Below players is when exactly the game will exit Early Access and release its full version. "I keep thinking it'll be soon, but every time I think it's gonna be soon there's just a giant list of other things to do. [laughs] I honestly don't know." He indicated that the earliest we can expect to see a more complete version of the game is sometime next year.
And what about after that? Post-release content is the norm with this style of game, but David Brevik is far from a normal game developer. His friend and industry peer Erich Schaefer had stated that he was quite comfortable with releasing a finished product and calling it done once it was as free of as many bugs as possible. For Mr. Brevik, the idea of post-launch content comes down to a simple qualifier: can It Lurks Below sell?
One critical feature is intrinsically tied to its financial success. "My plan is that if it sells well enough that I would like to put multiplayer in. That's probably the biggest thing." Another neat feature that's possible for post-launch content is the idea of hirelings, a mechanic that's well-familiar to players of Diablo II and the games that followed it. Beyond that, he didn't go into any specifics other than indicating that he had a wealth of ideas that he would love to implement—just as soon as he can get around to doing them. First, he has to finish the game.
The more immediate future has some potential for great upcoming features. Classes with ranged weapons like bows or javelins are certainly under consideration. The currently-locked Paladin class is getting very close to release, although recent patch notes indicate that there's a bit more work to do.
Perhaps one of the most surprising things about David Brevik and his work with It Lurks Below is just how little I knew about it beforehand. You'd think that one of the key Diablo guys making a solo project would be big news, but that doesn't seem to be the case.
I asked Mr. Brevik to consider what other developers he knows that could do with a bit of love and he gave me perhaps the most David Brevik answer yet: three games that are very much like his. He highlighted the "cool-looking game" MegaSphere, the "super ambitious" Noita, and procedurally-generated roguelike Moonquest. I can see why each of these titles appeals to him, and you should give them a look as well if you enjoy this style of game.
As for It Lurks Below, you can get your hands on David Brevik's solo project right now on Steam. You should consider picking it up if you enjoy classical RPGs or crafty-buildy games like Terraria. If you like both, you'd be nuts not to buy it.
What do you think of David Brevik's design philosphy? Do you think It Lurks Below can do well in the modern gaming market? Let us know in the comments below!