A while back, I looked at an early build for an upcoming FPS called DUSK and instantly fell in love. It had everything a guy like me could ever want from a throwback shooter in this day and age. Nice, chunky polygonal enemies, intricate level design, and a shotgun-wielding scarecrow as an enemy type. Over the past week, I managed to get in contact with David Szymanski, the developer of DUSK to pick his brain about what's already there and what to expect in DUSK's future.
TechRaptor: What made you want to make an FPS?
David: I've just always loved the genre, and I've wanted to make an FPS like DUSK since I was about 14. The computers I had access to during my teenage years were all quite underpowered for the time, so while others were playing games like Doom 3, Half-life 2, etc, I was playing Half-life 1 and Doom 1. Or whatever free shareware I could find online (and reasonably download with a dialup connection). So even though I'm technically too old to have grown up with those games... well, I did! And fell in love with them. You could say DUSK development started way back then. Or at least, I still have decade-old notes for an FPS called DUSK in a folder somewhere.
TechRaptor: What's the story behind DUSK's supernatural swampland aesthetic?
David: I grew up (and still live) in rural Pennsylvania, so that setting is in my blood/brain. At one point I was considering setting DUSK in the Ukraine, since episode 2 takes heavy inspiration from STALKER's abandoned factories. But I'd be driving around or going on walks and notice all these places that I thought would make cool levels. So finally I just said "screw it, it's set in rural PA with farms and stuff, but it has STALKER-y factories, and also Quake-y underground Lovecraft insanity, because DUSK that's why." Basically the entire story is an excuse to have all the settings I like in one game.
TechRaptor: Along a similar vein, Duke Nukem was inspired by the likes of They Live and Army of Darkness, and Doom was inspired by Dungeons and Dragons and Aliens. What other non-video game media would you say inspired DUSK?
David: The two that come to mind are The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), and Stalker (the Tarkovsky movie, not the game... although the game too). The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is just one of the dirtiest, most disgusting-looking films ever made. There's this wonderful sense of rotting heat to everything that I want to try and at least somewhat capture in Dusk's abandoned farmhouses. Similarly, Stalker is a film of drenched decay. Everything is old, molding, cracked, rusted, flooded... it's one of the most beautiful visions of abandonment I've ever seen. I wouldn't hope to be able to measure up to that in Dusk, but once again I'm trying to capture some of that feeling.
TechRaptor: DUSK has some very interesting levels, how would you describe your level design philosophy?
David: In one sentence, "what would Romero do?" Although there's a little more to it than that. Very early on I knew that level design was probably the biggest thing DUSK had to nail, and since I have a lot of respect for Romero's levels in Doom and Quake, I spent a lot of time researching what he had to say on the subject. I actually find it really amazing how well Knee Deep in the Dead works, not just on a mechanical level but an aesthetic one as well. At almost any given part, looking in any given direction, you've got good use of negative space and interesting geometry. And this is from a time when designing levels in a 3d setting was basically a brand new idea. To say nothing of how well each level flows and their fantastic use of environmental geometry as a tool for varying gameplay.
DUSK is taking a lot of those principles/ideas and trying to give them a bit of a unique twist. More realistic locations like farms, sawmills, etc have fairly realistic architecture, while later levels veer more toward Doom/Quake-style abstraction. There's also an emphasis on non-linearity in a lot of parts, more like the early levels of Duke Nukem 3D or Shadow Warrior, with multiple paths and different ways of doing things along those paths. For instance in one level you can use the yellow key to open a door, stack boxes to get in a nearby window, or if you're clever you can even use rocket jumping to bypass the problem entirely. Naturally not every obstacle will have several different solutions. Sometimes to get through the red key door, you just have to find the red key. But there will be plenty of opportunities for clever players to find alternate (even game-breaking!) paths.
TechRaptor: The DUSK demo had a lot of hidden secrets in it (the cigar instantly comes to mind), any hints as to what sort of goodies players will be able to find in the full game?
David: Well it wouldn't be much of a retro FPS without secrets! Of course, there will be plenty of traditional secrets in each level. Find the secret wall, press the secret button, that sort of thing. There's also a (growing) handful of secret mechanics that I think people will enjoy. For instance... magical things happen if you drink 4 beers!
TechRaptor: Along those lines, the FPS games of old used to feature quite a few friendly (and less than friendly) jabs at other shooters and pop culture figures. Do you have any plans for those sorts of cameos in DUSK?
David: Probably not to the extent of Duke Nukem 3D or the like, but possibly. I'd probably be against pop culture references though. I'd rather DUSK be a relic of the 90s than a relic of 2016.
TechRaptor: How many episodes do you expect DUSK to be?
David: We're shooting for 3 episodes with around 10 levels each.
TechRaptor: Recently, you've posted a picture of a Wendigo enemy on Twitter. Can you tell us a little bit about him?
David: Well he's still in development, so there's not much to say yet. Likely he's going to be a fast melee-focused enemy with a very low flinch chance, and I'm toying with making him invisible until he takes damage. So you'll just hear him running around and breathing heavily (similar to STALKER's Bloodsuckers), but won't actually be able to see him until you score a hit.
TechRaptor: Outside of the previously revealed monsters and the aforementioned Wendigo, what, if any, other enemies will players be able to fight in DUSK?
David: There will be a few new ones each episode. Some will show up everywhere, some will only be in their episode (like the scarecrows). Nothing definite I can really talk about yet, but the plan is that as the game progresses, you'll start encountering some decidedly weird and unsettling foes.
TechRaptor: Do you plan to have any additional content after the launch of DUSK? If so, what?
David: Nothing set in stone, but it's something I definitely want to do. I don't want to make any promises I can't keep, but I definitely have a lot of ideas for possible post-release updates/DLC. That said, first priority is putting out a good game, and that's what I'm concentrating on right now.
TechRaptor: Finally, any additional details you'd like to share about the game?
David: You can flush stuff down the toilets! I'm confident the target audience will appreciate that.
TechRaptor: Thank you for your time.