If you've read my biweekly series First Person Saturday, you know I love FPS games. They're my bread and butter, my favorite genre. Yet out of every upcoming FPS game, there's only one that can really excite me. No, it's not Doom, nor is it Shadow Warrior 2. Rather, it's a more humble kickstarted title by the name of STRAFE, an FPS that boasts it is on the cutting edge of innovation ... for 1996.
After playing through the game's "Speed Run Zone V2" I managed to contact Thom Glunt, director of STRAFE, to ask more about the upcoming project.
TechRaptor: For those who don't know, what is STRAFE?
Thom: STRAFE® is the most violent and hyper realistic game of 1996. With unprecedented realism STRAFE® is the last game you’ll ever have to buy. Every time you start the game STRAFE® will surprise you with new levels to paint red.
TechRaptor: Obviously the game takes a lot of inspiration from classic FPS titles like Quake. However, does the game take any cues from non-FPS games?
Thom: The idea for STRAFE® was birthed during our annual play through all of id’s early FPS’s. We love those games for how they feel, they are great but they are almost 20 years old and there’s no longer any surprises. We miss the magic of jumping into a level and being scared or surprised! This is where Spelunky came in, another game I would boot up any time I had a meeting or phone call.
I find procedural content and rogue-likes bring in some of the multiplayer elements I love to a single player game. You don’t need to worry about an internet connection or playing opponents who are way over your skill level but you get the surprises and emergent gameplay that standard single player games don’t have after the first playthrough. Spelunky held my attention for hundreds of hours and it’s one of the few games I’ve platinumed.
TechRaptor: So far you've shown off a spaceship and alien planet. What other environments will players explore in STRAFE?
Thom: STRAFE®’s environments and enemies tell a story. The game is presented in a seamless format where they player drops into a bad situation with the goal of getting home alive. At the end of each level we have stats that you can check out but we aren’t pulling you out of the level and taking you to a new place, it’s a natural evolution between areas. We’re keeping the next two zones a secret for now as to not ruin the story.
TechRaptor: It was a rather odd choice to have players choose one weapon at the start of STRAFE rather than allow them to carry all three. What was the reasoning behind this?
Thom: I have a few answers for this. We love those older games but we want to bring something new to the table, we didn’t want to just ape what they have made. Creating something too similar would be weird when you can just go play the original. Also we like the idea of the player owning their gun and it being their trusted friend. To be clear the player will fire somewhere between 5-10 guns during the course of the game, not just one.
Initially, the weapon idea was more of a Binding of Isaac approach. In that game you only have one weapon (your tears) and then you upgrade them to become wildly crazy weapons. We liked that idea applied to an FPS but thought it would be more interesting if the player could pick a weapon that fit their play style, close, mid or long range and then evolve from there with Gradius style add ons.
As we built and tested this mechanic early on we felt that this idea sounded cool on paper but didn’t feel good for the FPS we wanted to make. It felt like a mess. So instead we still have the player choose their gun in the beginning but as they play they pick up small upgrades that affect their firing power, speed, reload time, clip size. But the real magic comes with the larger evolutions to their weapon. Upgrade machines will randomly spawn in the levels, these machines evolve the gun to have drastically different firing modes updating the guns appearance and changing the play style. Each gun has 4 primary fire variations and 4 secondary variations that can mix and match using these machines but they will only have one firing mode for each at a time. We’re going to be releasing a video of these upgrades soon, we’re currently wrapping up the work on them now.
Lastly we have our “guns as power-ups” system. The player will find 7 different guns throughout the levels that they can pick up and use. These guns aren’t reloadable so they are used and disposed of. For example, the player can pick up a rocket launcher use it’s ammo and then it becomes a melee weapon the player uses like a baseball bat. It hits the enemy with such force it gibs the part of the body it comes in contact with and sticks inside of them. These weapons keep the action fast and violent like a John Woo film.
Conceptually though the decision fits our premise more. In DOOM and QUAKE you were a badass soldier that was prepared for the action. In STRAFE® you’re a scrapper, a normal guy with minimal combat training, you only grab a gun because it’s protocol without any idea of what's to come.
TechRaptor: One new mechanic not seen in other FPS titles is the damaging acid that spews from vents and some enemies. Why did you choose to include this, and why make it such a prominent hazard?
Thom: The acid was a byproduct of our Uber-Gore Tech©. We wanted the player to feel an ownership of the levels and see the impact their actions have. Nothing is more frustrating than blowing enemies to bits and creating a bloody mess to have it all fade away erasing the fruits of your labor. With Blood, guts and shells that don’t fade away we had the idea of the acid enemies leaving a hazard much like the Xenomorphs in Alien. We implemented it and found that it changed the dynamic of how we cleared rooms. A skilled player will dispose of the acid enemies first so that the other (blood filled) enemies will wash it away. It makes you think of who you’re killing and how.
TechRaptor: What is the story behind that amazing commercial? What was your inspiration?
Thom: STRAFE® from the beginning has been a love letter to the shooters of the mid nineties so I wanted every part of our advertising to express that. When we decided to go to Kickstarter I decided that we wouldn’t take the traditional approach with our video. We needed something special to stand out. I watched hours of old video game commercials to study before writing the spot with my writing partner Jake Bofferding and we found the voice of STRAFE® in that spot.
We’re actually in pre production for the next video! We’re trying to lock product placement to pay for it since we aren’t going to use Kickstarter funds for production. This is a difficult process but we’re really excited about the next video and I’m spending my spare time on it, fingers crossed that we can make it happen.
TechRaptor: The game has a very distinct graphical style. Why did you choose low-poly?
Thom: For me there was always a disconnect when games would come out with classic FPS gameplay and modern graphics. We loved the aesthetic of the older games and enjoy the slightly abstract nature of them. It also helped that art assets take less time to make and our team is small, but to be clear even if we were a team of 100 STRAFE® would still look the same. There’s something special about those crunchy pixels and sharp edges. Using this aesthetic now makes the game timeless.
TechRaptor: Classic FPS games were full of secrets. What sort of secrets can we expect to see in STRAFE?
Thom: Secrets are incredibly important to us, the 3 pillars of STRAFE®’s design are SPEED, GORE and SECRETS. We are crafting many secrets ourselves but we are also collaborating with other awesome teams to create secrets that are outside of the scope of what we could make with the team size and time we have.
We’re hoping our secrets will legitimately surprise the player and fill them with joy.
TechRaptor: Do you think any other modern shooters get that retro feel?
Thom: In the AAA market we’re seeing a shift in FPS design from slower cover based shooters to more fast paced “offense as defense” shooters. I feel like we’re starting to get the shooters that would have existed in the early 2000’s if Half Life didn’t come out and change everything. I’m all for this change as an option, but I hope that every game doesn’t start to shift this direction or it will lose its luster. I love shooters of all different speeds and design philosophies but it’s cool to see player speed and mobility become an important focus again.
TechRaptor: Level design played a big part in classic FPS games. Do you think by randomly generating the levels, you could hurt the level design?
Thom: John Romero has set a high bar with his level design in DOOM 1,2 and the first Quake. It’s important for us to have levels that feel natural and are fun to play in. I personally don’t like the square rooms locked to a grid approach, it feels to mechanical and soulless. So for STRAFE® I build the rooms with a multiplayer like approach. Each room has a variety of entrances utilizing multiple node points for connection. In some cases doors can connect and change level geometry and walls can connect making the bridge between 2 rooms feel seamless. You can read about it here. The generation feels great at the moment but we do have trade-offs. We won’t have the levels that are one big maze filled with backtracking and connections but I prefer not to have those anyway. Our style of levels will keep the player moving forward while still enjoying the elements of exploration. We also don’t have colored key cards atm but have been entertaining the idea for a zone of the game. It all depends on how fun they are and we don’t want to slow the game down.
TechRaptor: Finally, how will STRAFE stand out from other roguelike/lite shooters like Paranautical Activity or Ziggurat?
Thom: We enjoyed most of the Roguelike FPS games on the market but none of them scratched the exact itch we had. We wanted a game with really great core mechanics in procedural levels. We’re out to create a “playground of death” with a bunch of tools to help create crazy moments of spectacle. STRAFE® has strafe jumping, rocket jumping, a seamless world that is not based on a grid of rooms, our enemies have diverse AI and all of our elements tell a story. STRAFE® is rich with secrets and has GALLONS AND GALLONS OF BLOOD that never goes away as well as a unique approach to weapons and barrels. We’re also very proud of our low poly aesthetic with crunchy low resolution textures. We’re motivated by love for the genre and we’re creating the game we want to play.
I hope you’re looking forward to the game and if you’d like to follow development you can follow us on Twitter and Facebook @STRAFEgame.
TechRaptor: Thank you for your time.