“Indieviews” is a series of weekly interviews with independent developers that serve to highlight upcoming standout projects that have immense potential. Join us each Wednesday as we delve into a specific indie game to get behind its design philosophy and the unique vision of its creator(s).
A quick Google search of the word Wrack will bring up the following definition:
Any of a number of coarse brown seaweeds of the genera Fucus, Ascophyllum, and Pelvetia, class Phaeophyceae, that grow on the shoreline…
Fortunately, we’re happy to report that this particular variety of Wrack, which manifests itself as a cel-shaded old-school shooter, is a lot more fun to play with.
However, despite already being released in its early form, there’s not all that much buzz circling around the title, which we find a little troublesome. Surely such a refreshing and addictive bundle of concentrated fun needs more attention, we thought, especially since it’s now undergoing the daunting task of surviving the Steam Greenlight process.
Hence, we hit up the game’s creator, Brad Carney, to see what makes him tick and why Wrack is such a standout indie project. The following are his words:
Q: Firstly, can you briefly summarize what Wrack is to those of our readers who are unfamiliar with the project?
A: I’d love to! It’s basically a cel-shaded, arcade-style indie FPS. I know that’s a lot of adjectives, but it’s really quite a unique game. In addition to your classic shooter elements (fast-paced, lots of monsters, abstract, focus on fun), we’ve also got lots of arcade-style elements like boss fights, kill combos, lives and checkpoints, characters and cutscenes… you name it!
Really it’s a larger-than-life sort of game: It’s very colorful and exaggerated, you run fast and take on tons of monsters at once, and the characters are over-the-top. It’s a game that knows it’s a game, and wants you to have a lot of fun playing it. It’s not an interactive documentary on how things really are in the universe.
Q: When did you begin work on Wrack, and what ultimately inspired you to start it?
A: I cut my teeth making the Doom source port “Skulltag”, which took the original Doom/Doom II to the next level by adding client/server multiplayer, capture the flag, bots, new weapons and monsters, and all sorts of other fun stuff. It was a very ambitious project that I had a blast working on. Eventually, it came time to move on and I was pretty dead set on taking things to the next level – making an entirely new game.
When it came time to do that, there was a major shortage of fun, fast-paced shooters. There were a few, like Serious Sam and Painkiller, but that was pretty much it. Most others were going the route of health regeneration, knee-high walls and photorealism – things that absolutely bored me to tears. Since there weren’t any games coming out that interested me, I did the only reasonable thing to do in that situation – make one!
Q: Which old-school shooters would you say had the most influence on Wrack? Are there any major risks or deviations you took with the formula?
A: I think a lot of people focus on the shooter influences since Wrack is a shooter and all, but really there’s a lot more influencing this than just shooters like Doom, Duke Nukem 3D, Serious Sam, and Painkiller. Because of things like the elaborate boss fights, a lives and checkpoint system, and having tons of different environments each with their own gameplay wrinkle, it’s really more like a 3D Castlevania or Contra. It’s a pretty unique fusion of a lot of different games and genres, and it all goes together beautifully.
Q: From what we’ve played, the levels in Wrack are very well-designed. Is there any specific way you approach level design? How do you handle pacing and difficulty?
A: A lot of it is just experience and instinct. The more you do this and have various people try things out, the more you get a feel for the sorts of things that need to be done. What’s great about getting out of the house and showing the game to people and having them bang around on it is that you get such a rich feedback experience. If somebody writes up a review online, there’s a lot that they’re going to leave out – especially if they feel any sense of shame. Watching in person though, you see every pitfall they run into – every part where they get lost, every part where they run into a legion of monsters with the sword out… you name it! You get a much better sense of what’s working and what’s not pretty much immediately.
Plus, I think you get a much more representative sample of the type of people who are going to be playing it. Online, you tend to hear a lot from the “vocal minority”, who tend to be a lot more hardcore than your average person. Sadly, if you listen to them too much and always make your game “HARDER! MUCH HARDER!”, I suspect that you’ll have difficulty making something that most people can enjoy.
Q: Boss fights look to be very prominent in Wrack. How do you go about designing them? (Oh, and we totally noticed the reference to Makron!)
A: That shows how much I know! I probably should keep my mouth shut, but it’s been a super long time since I’ve played Quake II so I don’t really remember Makron. I don’t really know what exactly made my subconscious churn out “Mechron”, but if I was to guess I’d say it largely comes from Borderlands 2’s “mechromancer” class which cleverly swaps the “nec” and “mech” sounds. When you combine that with my longtime love of the name “Necron”, you get “Mechron”.
But anyway, to actually answer your question, the bosses are very much based on Mega Man and Contra-style boss fights (See? Told you this game has other influences!). At first, you’re supposed to be a bit overwhelmed and they should be a bit of a struggle. However, each attack they do is trying to get you to do something – jump over it, duck under it, stand in a certain spot, etc. It’s something that, if we do a good job, players should be able to figure out after a few tries. Once they do, they’re pretty much able to take that thing down without a problem. It encourages actual learning and adapting, versus just improving reflexes (which isn’t always possible – you can hit a wall). Going from getting beaten down by a boss to figuring it out to dominating it is an extremely satisfying feeling.
Q: Word on the street is that Wrack is soon going to incorporate a story, which excites us. How do you plan to integrate it? Will there be cutscenes? Will there be NPCs you can talk to?
A: I’m pretty excited about it too! As of writing this, none of the art is completely done (just finished getting the rest of the characters designed – the rest will come fast!) so I’m right there with everyone in anticipation of how it will all turn out. The same guy who designed the characters, Jack Love, is going to be doing all of the cutscene art so I know it’ll turn out awesome.
Every couple of levels or so will start out with a cutscene made up of storyboards – similar to what’s done in Max Payne or Mega Man X6. We’ve started the process of finding voice actors for all of the characters (along with the narrator) so I’m pretty excited about that… as well as nervous that reputable people are actually going to read this stuff out loud!
On top of that, there will be some small in-level cutscenes – generally at the beginning of the level. For the most part, we want to stay out of your hair and let you play the game. There are a couple instances though where they’re a bit more frequent. For instance, each episode has an optional rescue mission which, in addition to being a lot of fun, has some bonus cutscenes of both types.
Q: This might be strange to ask of an action-oriented old-school shooter, but are you looking at including any form of character development or thematic depth?
A: Ah, but we’re not so confined to one genre, now are we? J There’s actually quite a wide variety of characters in this game (with more to come in Wrack 2 if we make it that far!) that I hope people fall in love with. A ton of thought has gone into the four protagonists (only three appear in this game) – they each have wildly different personalities with their own strengths and weaknesses. Kain is virtuous and a strong leader, but is so driven that he misses out on some of the finer things in life. Fabian is highly gifted and skilled, but is narcissistic and lazy. Starlyn is philosophical and knowledgeable, but lacks assertiveness and lacks practical skills.
Ultimately, I hope people enjoy seeing them all in action, want to see more of them, and even have a favorite! J It’d be fun to have something like an e-comic, but we’ll see if anyone wants that sort of thing.
Q: We have to say, the cel-shaded art style for Wrack is pretty gorgeous. What made you pick it over a more traditional look?
A: I’ve never been a big fan of going for a realistic look in games. I feel like it’s a fundamentally flawed approach, and like those people are fighting a losing battle. People look at things that are real pretty much every second of every day, so if you try to simulate that and it doesn’t look exactly 100% correct (and by the way, good luck with that)… it’s just not going to look right. You’re going to be able to tell, and it’s not going to be plesant.
It’s not just that way with video games – it happens with movies, too. When one of the recent Terminator movies came out (I know they were horrible, but bear with me!), one of the designers was talking about how instead of doing a lot of the robots with CGI, they used actual robots to shoot a lot of the movie. They knew that if they used CGI, it would look like CGI and audiences would be able to tell the difference. Of course, I don’t think anybody saw that movie, so who knows if they were correct or not! J
It’s just not a problem you run into with non-photorealistic games like Wrack. Even if you look at something like traditional painted art, most artists don’t go for a photorealistic look – they try to do something more… interesting. There was a period where artists did try to make photorealistic art, but it never really stuck. That seems to be more of photography’s area. To put a nice bow on the analogy, I think games are to art as movies are to photography: games and art are created by people (and therefore shouldn’t strive for photorealism – it won’t be right), and movies and photographs are recorded (and therefore will naturally be photorealistic – it’ll be perfectly right!).
Q: WrackEd, the game’map editor, looks like a versatile tool for allowing players to build their own levels. Are there any standout community-made maps you’ve seen so far?
A: Definitely! We’re already featuring a couple of them through our in-game “Featured Maps” system, which allows people to download and play the maps through Wrack itself – it’s pretty sweet! Some people are also working on some pretty sweet projects which are more elaborate, which is great to see.
The community is really starting to grow and come together, which is nice to see. Now there are lots of people sharing editing tips on our forums, and have even started a wiki! It’s very nice seeing things start to blossom.
Q: If Wrack becomes successful enough, do you think it may see a port on the Xbox Live Arcade or Playstation Network so all us console scrubs can play it?
A: Xbox controller support has pretty much been built in from day one. Does that answer your question? :)
Q: When do you estimate Wrack will be complete? Also, how has the development cycle been treating you so far? Were there any notable highs or lows?
A: We’re shooting for getting it finished this year sometime, with a pretty lengthy DLC campaign to come in 2014 or so. I wish we could just bang out all three episodes at the same time, but this is already a ridiculously ambitious game for an indie developer. If we attempted that, either the quality would be compromised, we’d run out of money, the development time would take forever, or some combination of the three.
Really that’s been the greatest challenge – being an indie. I absolutely love working on this (thanks to having some great people to make it along with), but without having a studio for us to all work in full-time, development has taken an absolute eternity. Many people on the team have other obligations like school, jobs, and other projects so you don’t get their undivided attention on a daily basis. Plus, when you can’t work with someone in-person on something like a texture or animation and be like, “Tweak this! More like this! <acts something out>”, and instead have to type it up and write it up in an email which they might not even read that same day… a process which should take seconds or minutes now takes days or weeks. It sucks, but we can’t trade money for quicker development time right now – we have none!
Q: Are you by any chance looking for volunteers to help you make Wrack at the moment?
A: We’re actually getting fairly close to completion, so (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) I think we’re actually good on help. Of course, that being said, I’m always looking to make Wrack as awesome as it possibly can be, so if you think you can do better in an area (models, animations, level design, etc.), hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org! We do pay!
Q: Are there any other details you’d like to share with our readers before we depart?
A: Just to be totally clear: The game is out right now, and we hope you check us out! I don’t know how much longer we’ll keep this deal going for, but if you pre-order it now you save 33% and get it for only $9.99 (we’ll probably do away with the discount once we reach the beta phase, which will be pretty soon). In addition to getting access to updates and fantastic community content (in the form of new maps and mods), you can also let us know what you think and help mold the game – let us know what sucks and what doesn’t. But don’t skip out on it because we’re still working on it – that may never stop! We’re pretty committed to tweaking to get things just right – maybe even after the game is done! Hell, Blizzard was still patching Diablo II 10 years after the game came out!
At the very least, give us a vote on Steam Greenlight (https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=95521749)! Every vote helps, and the faster we get greenlit, the faster we get out of video game Purgatory! J Other than that, follow us on Twitter (@WrackGame) and hit us up on Facebook (facebook.com/WrackGame).
There’s something to be said for revisiting a genre’s roots and tightening up a simple-yet-effective formula, and so far, Wrack seems to be doing just that. If the colorful and adrenaline-coated action looks like your cup of tea, the game is available on both Desura and through the game’s website.
As mentioned above, be sure to give the game a vote on its Steam Greenlight page, and be sure to look out for future previews and an eventual review of the game here at OnlySP.
If you have any questions about next week’s Indieview project, Wake Up Call, be sure to let us know in the comments section below and we’ll consider sending them as part of our Indieview question list!
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