Way back in 2013, one of the first Kickstarter projects I decided to back was based on a Kotaku blurb mentioning the games Metroidvania roots. A short time later, my donation was made and the wait began for Chasm, what the developers claimed would be a “retro styled game”.
Their initial campaign promised a 2014 release, which seemed plausible considering it was “only” a retro style game that couldn’t be that difficult to make. That initial release window came and went, and I’ve continued to look in on the game and keep up with the backer updates they’ve sent out, but even 3+ years since backing the game, the core remains the same, and excellent controlling game that I’m still looking forward to playing once it is released.
Their latest booth at PAX Prime was their largest yet, with several demo stations (running on PS4 which is now part of their launch platforms) and a new build that they have stated is playable from beginning to end. This was a huge milestone for them, and I was definitely impressed by how their booth had grown since the previous year.
I had the chance to chat with James from Bitkid (formerly Discord Games) about the game and what makes Chasm stand out from all the other games in this genre that have been released in the interim years. He went on to say
“I’d say the one big difference vs. other Metroidvanias is that it features procedural generation. So every time you start up a new game you’re going to have a different experience than the last time.”
This is indeed one of the big selling points of the game, replayability that doesn’t exactly rehash the same exact dungeon each time you play. The way they are going to implement this is quite cool as well, with A to B being a set path, but all of the inbetween stuff is what will be different. James goes on to elaborate
“If you know the very first power up you need to get in the game (the Ledge Grab) you know every time you start a new game you are going to have to get that power up, but the path to get from where you start to where that power up is located procedurally assembled from all of these hand designed rooms we’ve made.”
When I hear “procedurally generated” the most recent game that comes to mind is No Man’s Sky, a game which uses a bunch of pre-generated assets and uses randomization to put everything together into what is best described as a mishmash of items. In some cases, this works just fine, but in the instances where it doesn’t it’s REALLY striking and pulls you right out of the game. The goal of the developers on Chasm from the beginning was “...that you would not be able to tell the game was procedurally generated if you didn’t know.” I can confirm that in the demo I played, none of the rooms I travelled through seem to exhibit any of the “jank” that I found in NMS, and the fact that the rooms are hand designed is even more appealing.
One thing we definitely agree on is that the controls HAVE to be important when making this kind of game, as it will live or die by how it plays. I’m happy to say the game doesn’t disappoint on this front, James definitely agreed stating:
"...the controls, you want them to feel nice and tight like when you pick that up you feel right at home and you know what you’re doing.”
In addition to the controls, it was interesting to hear about some of the other aspects that James felt were important to this type of game. One of the more interesting tidbits was what he said about the graphics:
“You’ve gotta have the look, and I think that’s important, we use a very low resolution in Chasm (384x216) which is absolutely tiny compared to modern games and we 5x scale it up so that’s five times bigger displayed on your TV and that’s what also gives [Chasm] it’s look. It’s got those nice big chunky pixels that almost remind you of Super Nintendo. That was the first step, was that we did not want to mix resolutions, we didn’t want to use high resolution assets with low. We didn’t want to use real time lighting, all that kind of stuff that makes things feel modern. So visually we wanted to stay as close to retro stuff as we could.”
It’s interesting since I've seen plenty other titles that use a retro aesthetic (even a few other games I saw at PAX) like modern lighting and mixed textures and they look amazing too, but I understand and appreciate his desire to keep the graphics pure.
Another thing about the game that reminds me of the classics is the difficulty, which James also feels is central to the experience in Chasm:
“...we want to have a nice challenge and not to feel like it’s just holding your hand through it the whole time. We want you to die and have to persevere and feel like you accomplished something.”
He really seems to want the player to get better by playing the game multiple times, and improve their skill, which is why they will also include unlockable difficulty modes that allow a progression path for you even after you’ve “beaten” the game. The last thing he wanted to highlight was what he referred to as discoverability:
“One of the things we don’t really care too much about modern games is that is always feels like you are funnelled down a single path, everything is laid out right in front of you and you never really have to think. We want to...kind of hint to the player what they need to do and show them how to do things, but we want them to feel like they are figuring things out on their own and not just popping up little messages saying “You need to do this, you need to do that.”
It wasn’t until he mentioned this that I remembered everything was visually presented in the demo. I knew exactly what he was talking about as the demo presents an unreachable section early on that clearly shows the player that they will have to come back to that section later and they should move on.
With a lot of Kickstarters being scrutinized lately (Mighty No. 9, Star Citizen) I’ve never been one to hold these projects to the promised release dates in their pitch. It pretty much stands to reason that these are always optimal goals and things can (and always do) change during the development. Even something like Bloodstained (which I also backed) recently announced their game has been “delayed” into 2018. I actually don’t look at these really as delays, since I’m under no specific assumption that I’ll ever ACTUALLY see the product someday. Luckily, I’ve only really had this happen with a single project, which was a physical rather than digital product so it will be interesting to see if the continued scrutiny on such projects will lead to more or less risks being taken. While talking about this with James, I found out he has actually been working on the game for 4 years now, including a year before the campaign even launched. I also mentioned how impressed with the playable demo I was, and the fact that I backed the campaign not really expecting the game at any specific time. James had some interesting insight on that demo:
“I’d even say what we had in that prototype that we put on Kickstarter was pretty much all scrapped in the end anyway. It’s like we still had all those concepts, but when we really started making the engine and all of our tools, like all the data formats that we were gonna use for the final game and all that, we pretty much ended up redoing everything. You can pretty much say we were rebuilding the game from ground zero from 2013 up until now. And now we have a game that’s playable from beginning to end and we’ve got this full experience finally.”
As much as people have an expectation, I’ve never looked at crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter as anything other than a way to donate to developers with cool ideas. In the end, I’ll continue pining for whenever they finally “release” the game to play it in full, and from what I’ve seen during its’ evolution Chasm will be well worth the wait
If you are interested in listening to the entire interview with James, you can listen below.