In space no one can hear you die: Interview with Cradle Games, the creators of Hellpoint, challenging Souls-like with horror sci-fi atmosphere

Action RPGs are definitively a prolific genre these days, challenging games often inspired by Fromsoftware’s works for their mechanics. Due to their challenging gameplay, death is always ready behind a corner, and players will learn to advance cautiously. For this reason, “Souls-like” mechanics combine very well with horror or dark atmospheres. However, while many titles use dark fantasy worlds and characters to enhance the stressful environment, very few games try to build a completely different world. Now thanks to Hellpoint, action RPGs have a representative for horror sci-fi settings.

Hellpoint is an action-RPG set on a mysterious orbital station where something catastrophic happened. Between cosmic horrors, claustrophobic corridors, madness, lack of oxygen, and a gigantic black hole constantly imposing its presence outside the station, Hellpoint’s atmosphere couldn’t be more horror. The oppressive feeling while walking around the station exactly triggers all the right notes of a proper horror sci-fi product. Also in terms of gameplay, Hellpoint is a great addition to the genre, including nice variations such as firearms, insane weapons including the hand of an eldritch god, cosmic magic, and alternative dimensions where the main bosses offer dialogues instead of a brutal fight (you can read more here if interested about: Why fighting when you can ally with Cosmic Evil Gods in Hellpoint? [Evil Quests]). And the surprises are not over, because one year from the official release, Cradle Games studio, the Canadian team behind Hellpoint’s development, announced a new DLC called Blue Sun.

While waiting to step back into the claustrophobic tunnels of Idis Novo station, I had the possibility of interviewing Cradle Games to know more about Hellpoint and its development. Cradle Games’ designer, Mathieu Boudreau, was kind enough to answer my questions. Also known as “Gropwel,” Mathieu is a veteran in game development and worked before with Activision and Ubisoft before co-starting Cradle Games.

If you want to know more about the development of Hellpoint, how its atmosphere and system were born, and the future of the series, you should read the following interview with Mathieu and Cradle Games.

Q1: Thank you for the possibility of interacting with you. Hellpoint is an interesting new take on souls-like games, how did the project start, and how Cradle Games was born?

A1: Of course! The project took off in the Fall of 2015 when we founded Cradle Games with a couple of fellow game devs with which I’ve been working for over a decade at Ubisoft and Activision. It all started in my house basement where I concocted this strange dark sci fi universe and we were just obsessed with the new trend of hardcore games. I took all the ideas I’ve been carrying on from childhood from Doom 1993 and Super Metroid and it was on.

Q2: The oppressive sci-fi atmosphere is clearly one of the strong points of Hellpoint. Which movies or games did you use as a reference to create this horror environment?

A2: The main inspiration for the game world came from my love of old Swedish death metal like In Flames and Meshuggah who often incorporated elements of cosmic horror put on top of face melting riffs. Game wise it was 1993’s Doom and Super Metroid that I wanted to explore again, with that unrestrained old-school level design jam packed with secrets and the feeling of no hand holding, the strong feeling of isolation deep within an alien world.

When you are alone in a space station, finding a cult of demonic creature is never a good sign.

Q3: Souls-like games are definitely one of the most famous genres now, with amazing games both from big and small studios. While developing Hellpoint, which were your “to do” and “to don’t” things to create your personal view of Souls-like games?

A3: While we adore the Dark Souls series, it’s really Bloodborne that left the deepest trauma on our gamer mantra. To me the main character is really the game world, and it’s got its own story, logic and attitude so very early on we forgot about the soul series to build and expand our own thing. It’s a really fun process! But from the beginning we made it a point of honor to invent more new ideas and mechanics than we borrowed from existing game, so yes Hellpoint has a stamina bar and “bonfire” kind of checkpoints, but beyond that it is its own thing with the jump mechanic, the real time station orbit, the way we handle multiplayer, etc.

Q4: From the huge hand of a dead god to a scythe made from the bones of an interstellar whale: Hellpoint’s weapons are a true blast of innovative and well-integrated designs. Could you name some of the favourite weapons of your team?

A4: Oh, thank you so much! We’ve put a lot of love in the weapon design and really pushed it as far as was humanely possible for us. My personal favorite is Nemundis Occulus, I find it really bad ass to defeat a boss and then fight using his eyeball. I think the team is really into the new weapons that we’ve produced for the Blue Sun DLC. They are very YOLO.

Q5: Hellpoint is rich in weapons and monsters, but I am curious, were there some creatures or weapons that for some reason were cut out from the final release?

A5: Probably we should have cut more, hahaha! That was a lot of content to produce for our small 11 people team. But yes, there was some cut content but I’m glad to say we’re putting it all back in with the Blue Sun DLC.

Q6: A very unexpected feature of Hellpoint is that the Cosmic Gods are not only enemies to be defeated but, with the right choices, they can become allies and even provide quests. Why did you decide to implement this feature in the game?

A6: Well I think it’s an interesting aspect of the “Lovecraftian” cosmic horror genre that these giant entities are too massive to really give a damn whether we live or die. So it’s an achievement for the player to be able to interact with them in either ways. It also fitted with the concept of the “Underworld” which is an inversion of everything you find in the real world.

Sometimes you can talk with Cosmic Evil Gods, and sometimes you cannot.

Q7: Hellpoint is full of novel and interesting mechanics. One of the most interesting is how the orientation of the ship around a black hole basically defines “hours,” and specific events or places can only be accessed at a specific time. How did this concept evolve during the development of the game?

A7: Something that we always like to do when we make game is try to make it feel like the game world is ever evolving whether you’re in it or not. It’s not like the show Truman where the world revolves around you, rather the opposite. It makes the world feel more concrete, alive and unpredictable. But for Hellpoint, the black hole orbit system was a huge challenge! We had to plan many different game states and mods for environments that were already immense, we had to design a dynamic skybox that spins and twists realistically, we had to make correct maths for the spin of the Irid Novo station so that the black hole always looks glorious in the sky, we had to create many different sets of stat balancing and loot drop tables for every bosses and enemies… a bit insane but it paid off by making the game feel so unique and alive.

View of the black hole in the outer space from inside the space station.

Q8: Surely Hellpoint can be defined as a challenging game, especially some sections (personally still having nightmares about the zero-gravity sections outside the ship). How did you balance the difficulty? Were there some areas that were majorly revised due to being too difficult?

A8: To be honest for us it was rather the opposite that happened. Prior to Dark Souls the whole industry was in a “casual gaming” and “accessibility first” trend so we were very thankful to From Software for making hardcore games popular again. We cranked up the difficulty to make a very skill-based game but we also wanted players to be able to personalize their experience, allowing them to skip to late game environments if they find the right secrets, or letting them craft items that would allow them to lower the stats of the enemies. The character stats and upgrades are basically not capped at all. But the enemies are still savage and can be buffed if the black hole is in the sky. The game can be played in coop uninterrupted from beginning to the end, etc.

Q9: Recently, for the first anniversary, the DLC Blue Sun was announced for Hellpoint. Could you tell us something more of what deadly and lurking things a player should expect in the new DLC?

A9: I think we really outdid ourselves with this DLC! I can’t really say much but I really hope players will see how much we evolved as a team since last year. One thing I wanted to do is making sure the added content doesn’t feel tacked on and expendable, I wanted to make content that makes the whole game more exciting and motivates another playthrough, and make sure that we make it interconnected with the base game so it doesn’t feel tacked on.

Q10: Now that the DLC is coming out, I imagine this will be your main focus for some time, but I am curious, do you already have plans for a future game or a sequel of Hellpoint? Could you tell us something just to satisfy our curiosity?

A10: We’re on fire. We got tons of projects and ideas, we’re expanding, we can finally not worry about money so much and focus on crafting our art and working with our fan base. We got new IP’s in the work as well that is sure to make folks fall off their chair. I don’t think anybody can possibly expect what’s next for us. We want to concretize as many ideas as possible while we’re not too old. It’ll take time but it’ll be worth it.

Final Remarks:

I would like to thank Cradle Games for the nice opportunity, especially Mathieu for the very interesting answers. I look forward to diving again into the oppressive universe of Hellpoint with the new DLC Blue Sun, mentally preparing to slash new grotesque monsters using the eyeball of a cosmic god. While waiting for the new DLC, if you still didn’t try Hellpoint, it is available on STEAM and all the major consoles.

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