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.

The most dark, horror, and gothic indie Metroidvania

Castlevania and Metroid created their own genre, which is getting a second youth with indie games: metroidvania. These games have in common a 2D aesthetic, a huge map to explore with interconnected elements, many secrets and hidden areas to discover using different abilities, backtracking, and in general a huge focus on exploration. Usually, metroidvania games have a wide bestiary, with many standard enemies, and gigantic bosses to defeat. RPG elements are also quite common, including statistics, levels, and dozens of different equipment.

Surely, both the founding fathers of the genre have their amount of horror elements. Metroid features grotesque aliens and an overall lonely and oppressive atmosphere. Castlevania is also not second in this, with one of the most inspiring dark fantasy/gothic settings, and with a bestiary full of the most disturbing creatures (and you can check them here: Most dark, scary and creepy bosses from Castlevania saga). However, with the new flow of indie metroidvania, the genre got even more refreshed with novel dark, horror, or mature atmospheres.

In the following article, I will describe some of the darkest or horror metroidvania games. I will include only proper metroidvania, with a 2D art-style, a huge interconnected world, and multiple abilities or RPG features needed to explore.

I will focus on metroidvania with dark, horror, or in general a mature atmosphere. It could be for the oppressive or depressing environment, for the brutal combat and the violent gameplay, or for the disturbing elements: whichever is the cause, these games are more mature-oriented than the average metroidvania. Moreover, for each of them, I will analyse the world-building, the bestiary and the bosses, and why the atmosphere is considered dark or horror. The article will be constantly updated, so new fitting games will be included once released.

Vigil: the Longest Night

Details: Vigil was a surprise last year, and one of the best examples of metroidvania directly infused with horror elements. Vigil is a great homage to the legendary Bloodborne, sharing with it the dark themes and the oppressive atmosphere. Vigil is a pure metroidvania with strong RPG elements, including a deep level system, skills, and different playstyles. From fast daggers to the complexity of the bow, the player has the power of shaping the gameplay. The exploration is a focal point, with a giant interconnected world full of secrets to discover, including alternative bosses, hidden eldritch realms, and dozens of different armors and equipment. This is where the game gets even more interesting, because every item not only is very original and interesting to use, but also well characterised in terms of lore.

World: From dense and deadly woods, to haunted mines and a ship graveyard inhabited by deep-sea eldritch terrors, the world of Vigil is a huge and twisted net touching common dark fantasy tropes. Secrets are everywhere, and backtracking is crucial to find the most hidden places and battles, and secondary characters have different quests to fulfill. Moreover, the same world will be visited under three different “conditions” (avoiding spoilers) and many areas will change according to this, with new enemies, items, and bosses. And to conclude, how to forget about the secret eldritch realms accessible only while playing special ocarina on an altar in the depths of a crypt?

Dark/Horror: The horror in Vigil is a very strong element. Secondary characters will face horrible consequences, death and disease are everywhere, and grotesque experiments on innocent people are only the tip of the iceberg. Moreover, secondary quests could end up really traumatically, and not every character should be trusted. Church and religion are also a twisted trope present in Vigil, painting an ever more dark but believable fantasy world.

Bestiary: The grotesque enemies are pure nightmare-inducing, and masterfully portrayed with a gorgeous art style. Every area has several new enemies, with very interesting designs and behaviors. For example, the ship graveyard is full of complex deep-sea creatures, including a sort of snail-woman and an aggressive mass of tentacles. The bosses have also a nightmarish and original design. I challenge you to meet the Broodmother and her spawn without being heavily disturbed (and you can know more about her in my article: Monster of the Week: The Brood Mother and her progeny (Vigil)).

Knifeboy

Details: An unexpected surprise for a crazy metroidvania based on indie comics, set in an insane sci-fi world full of charm and personality. The art-style is very detailed and interesting, especially the enemies’ design and some locations. It could be raw sometimes, but it is full of passion and able to paint a unique world full of colors and details. The combat side is not incredibly deep, with very standard combos and easy but really interesting boss fights. Platform sections are quite challenging, but never tiring, thanks to really well-planned checkpoints. Of course, as a one-man game, there are some bugs that can be a bit bothering. However, the experience is so original and interesting, that I kept playing regarding the bugs. The world, the dozens of characters, the crazy bosses, and the many secrets are too interesting to stop playing. 

World: The game is based on a quite big open world, with a lot of secrets and places to explore. A day/night cycle allows different layers of exploration, with some places opening only at a specific time, and different monsters or collectibles only available at night, for example. Each new area is a completely novel and bizarre environment, from a DJ club, to a sort of pseudo-gothic asylum, and an arena managed by a group of pig-butchers on stilts. The game is a crazy tornado of surprises and pulp references, with secondary quests allowing to access a UFO or to see the true face of Santa Claus. Also, the game is a proper metroidvania, since new upgrades will allow the player to explore new areas.

Dark/Horror: Knifeboy cannot be defined as a horror game under any category, but it surely meets the requirement to be in this article for the high level of violence and the grotesque and twisted characters/enemies. Knifeboy is like an indie comic book targeted to a mature audience, a game that is not afraid to show enemies cut in half and some nudity here and there.

Bestiary: This game knows how to create original enemies and bosses. If common enemies like a sort of colorful humanoid bat that looks like a Mexican painting under LSD are already interesting, including sort of pig-like creatures walking on stilts, the bosses have an especially great design. They are difficult to describe using words, just imagine the most gigantic, colorful, complex, and bizarre abomination, and probably you will not be even close to what you will face in Knifeboy.

Blasphemous

Details: Blasphemous is probably one of the most well-known games in this article, a huge metroidvania with strong horror elements inspired by Catholicism. The game is challenging and full of surprises, with an amazing world to explore and many tough fights. Blasphemous has also incredible pixel art, able to convey the brutality of the fighting system in every red pixel. If you are looking for a challenging, brutal, and horror metroidvania, Blasphemous should be your first choice.

World: Custodia is a dark and cruel world shaped by the Miracle, a sort of unknown force that molds the bodies of true believers in horrible ways. The world is beautifully interconnected, using really original and haunted places. From the cold peaks in which is hiding a monastery of nuns that self-burn their bodies, to the rooftop of a gothic cathedral inhabited by twisted angelic beings: Blasphemous knows how to create a complex world using religious references. The secondary characters are an integrated part of this world, insane being touched by the Miracle, forced for example to be constantly whipped by an invisible force, or to be forever imprisoned half-fused in an olive tree.

Dark/Horror: Blasphemous is probably the most horror and brutal metroidvania that is out. Every detail is pure horror and nightmare-inducing, especially how religion is twisted in favor of horror. Moreover, the fighting is brutal, with gory executions when enemies are at low health.

Bestiary: Every single enemy is a grotesque combination of religion, Spanish folklore (the developers are from there), and pure horror. Seriously, every single enemy, from the most common soldier to the most gigantic boss, could be on the cover of a metal album. The religious elements combine with the creatures in very original ways, including a boss inspired by the “Pietà” of Michelangelo, or others with Church architectures inserted in their design (more info here: Catholic Art and Architecture in the twisted world of Blasphemous: how religious iconography can build nightmares). Plus, the bosses are simply great, especially the giant skeleton of a cardinal lifted by giant hands, and the disturbing Exposito, which can only be described as a sort of gigantic baby Jesus that will literally rip the main character in half (which also have an analysis here: Monster of the Week: Exposito, Scion of Abjuration (Blasphemous)).

Demoniaca Everlasting Night

Details: Heavily inspired by Castlevania Symphony of the Night, Demoniaca is a metroidvania combining horror elements, light adult contents (brief sex and nudity), and a combat system typical of fighting games based on combos. The RPG elements are many and well-integrated, including many different items and random drops. However, since here on Dark RPGs you can already find a complete review of Demoniaca, I will just leave here the link for more details: Demoniaca Everlasting Night Review: a dark and mature beat ’em up metroidvania.

World: As mainly inspired by Castlevania, Demoniaca is entirely set in a gigantic castle. There are of course different sections, for example the library or a hall full of mirrors. The exploration is rewarded not only for secrets but also for hidden merchants and moves. A great feature is the special mini-bosses marked on the map, but almost impossible to defeat without coming back much later at a higher level. Some characters are quite original and brilliant, such as Boxman, a mysterious man teaching powerful techniques hiding his face inside a box.

Dark/Horror: Demoniaca is a violent game, especially in the pixel art cutscenes and for some brutal elements in the background. The game has also mild adult content, including brief sexual scenes that appear like random illusions, or nudity, especially involving secondary bosses, or for example, a character seating on a throne while surrounded by half-naked slaves.

Bestiary: Part of the bestiary is not very original and inspired. For example, there are too many variants of skeletons, and some creatures are really too similar to iconic enemies from Doom. However, there are some interesting surprises, especially in the library section and in the second half of the game, with creepy murderous nurse dolls wielding massive syringes or hack-saws. Another brilliant example is a gruesome spiked-skeleton with inserted body-parts that is able to inflict the negative status “thorne,” transforming the main character into a sort of Hellraiser-ish version of herself.

Dark Light

Details: The game is still in Early Access, but is clearly showing its potential. The strongest point of Dark Light is its sci-fi horror atmosphere, a sort of 2D Dead Space, which is something not very common for a metroidvania. Dark Light has also major influences from Dark Souls, especially the level up system, based on converting fragments collecting during exploration in credits. But of course, if death arrives before the conversion, the fragments will be forever lost. The gameplay is very classic, but involving several pieces of equipment, including a firearm, a melee weapon, grenades, and a drone. New items are randomly dropped while exploring, or directly as loot from defeated enemies.

World: Earth is now a rotten wasteland, a harsh landscape roamed by deadly creatures. The atmosphere is always oppressive, and the exploration extremely cautious. Even if the world is still under construction, there are already several paths and secret areas to uncover, usually using keys collected in other zones. The backgrounds are gorgeous and haunting, able to paint a horror sci-fi world, with a gigantic robotic hand emerging from the ground, or a titanic cybernetic skull, just to mention some examples.

Dark/Horror: The atmosphere is dense and oppressive, the combat is brutal, and dying is a common occurrence. Enemies will ambush from dark places, and, several times, a double-tap will be necessary to check if an enemy is truly dead. The silence is a constant threat to your psychological health while exploring the wasteland, the equivalent of exploring the silent ship in Dead Space.

Bestiary: In Dark Light, you can expect a series of quite classic but always interesting examples of horror sci-fi creatures. Invisible mutants, deadly parasites, grotesque zombies with huge chainsaws, or chaos warriors in full armor and with a Gatling gun: if you can name a creature-trope from horror-scifi, it is probably in the game.

Salt and Sanctuary

Details: One of the first examples of recent dark metroidvania, Salt and Sanctuary tried to be the first 2D Souls-like. And the experiment succeeded with really good results. The combat is stamina-based, tough and challenging, while the RPG elements are deep and satisfying. The dark world of Salt and Sanctuary is open to any gameplay, with hundreds of weapons, items, and enchantments to collect. The game is also highly-replayable, including a NG+, multiple endings, and branch-based secondary quests with more than one outcome.

World: The world is entirely contained in a huge island collecting castaways from many shipwrecks. The island is a mysterious and ethereal place, a sort of limbo or border between life and death. Salt is the main element comprising the creatures living on the island, a sort of “soul,” but also the main currency to level up in the game. Moreover, the island is a very variegated environment, with cursed forests, colossal pyramids, hidden lakes, and amoral alchemic labs. The world is a twisted maze of areas very well connected, especially vertically. There are also many hidden elements, including bosses, locations, and even obscure guilds to join.

Dark/Horror: The game has a lonely, dark and oppressive atmosphere, a constant tale of silent areas and suffering. In this sort of limbo, there is no space for anything funny or light-hearted, but only for speechless sufferance and existential doubts. The backgrounds, especially of the bosses, retrieved through the bestiary or item descriptions in proper Souls-like formula, will also add drama and horror to the already heavy atmosphere.

Bestiary: From the half of the game, every monster will be incredibly original, dark, and disturbing. From murderous dolls to living cages waiting to imprison the player to be their new son, every new enemy is an unexpected and challenging surprise. The bosses are especially disturbing, imbued with madness or extreme loneliness. A terrifying example is the skinless, a giant alchemic abomination without skin, or a metal “tree” made of tortured bodies that need to be destroyed to defeat the boss. But my favourite example is probably the Queen of Smiles, a deranged and grinning maniac with a psychotic background, which loves blades and decorating her room with corpses.

Minoria

Details: Minoria is the spiritual sequel of Momodora, with a different art-style and the same developers behind it. As the famous Momodra before, Minoria is a proper metroidvania, just on a slightly smaller scale. The game features interesting RPG elements, including levels, and different pieces of equipment to create the best strategy for every situation. The art-style is gorgeous, and it is perfectly fitting for telling a fairytale. But be aware, behind the fable-like facade, Minoria hides a more dark core, touching important topics from religion to coexisting with nature. Minoria is also full of secrets, including a hidden boss after a set of deadly challenges, NG+, and multiple endings. But what I really liked is that, if the player is able to defeat a boss without receiving damage, a secret item will be unlocked, and this is different for every boss.

World: Minoria is almost completely set in dark and labyrinthine corridors, from the majestic beauty of a cathedral to the inner depths of a torture dungeon. A forest can also be accessed later on, creating a more complex world, but still embraced in a decadent and sad-inducing atmosphere. There are also hidden chambers with a lot of interesting details and furniture scattered around. Plus, the player can retrieve diary pages that will unveil even more the dark lore of Minoria.

Dark/Horror: Even if the fairytale art-style could make you think otherwise, psychologically speaking, Minoria is probably the darkest game on this list. Gray morality is at the core of the experience, including delicate topics such as being brainwashed by religion. Several elements will make you feel unexpectedly uneasy, including bosses begging for their life, or random prisoners asking to be killed to ease their sufferance. Gore is also present in the background, including corpses and walls drenched in blood. The atmosphere is so interesting that I also wrote a complete article about it, here is the link if you want to read more about: The gray machinery of the Inquisition behind the cute facade of Minoria [Review and Analysis].

Bestiary: The number of creatures is not as wide as other titles, and the regular enemies far too common, but bosses and sub-bosses have interesting designs, with complex and inspired battles. The main enemies are usually witches or ancient nature forces. The witches tend to have different shapes, for example a gigantic and sexy succubus. Force of nature can also become particularly interesting, such as a giant slug-plant woman.

Grime

Details: Grime is an unconventional metroidvania with a gorgeous graphic, tough and challenging combat with elements from Souls-like, and a quite unique setting and protagonist. The main character is in fact a silent humanoid black-hole, born from a complex cataclysmic phenomenon. The creature will finish purposeless on a mysterious rock world, where heavy creatures will satisfy its craving for “mass.” Grime has everything a RPG can desire: multiple weapons associated with different scaling skills, stats to upgrade with enough experience, and unique abilities to unlock by hunting and devouring specific prey.

World: The world is a joy for the eyes, a surreal land that looks like a desert alien world from a Dalí painting. Light elements, gigantic statues, and primitive art and paintings are all part of this living world inhabited by cryptic creatures and ruled by mysterious principles. The inhabitants of this surreal land are tribal rock creatures, often obsessed with the perfect proportions, since they have abnormally big heads, or with chosen ones able to “carve” the rock. Every encounter is cryptic and hermetic, part of a world that is as difficult to understand as fascinating to discover. 

Dark/Horror: Grime is not a horror game by definition, nor it is violent or scary. However, the game is entirely enriched in an uneasy and unpleasant atmosphere related to the fact that the protagonist is basically an embodied law of destruction. Because being a humanoid black hole is not just aesthetic in Grime. Devouring every enemy is a base skill in the game to evolve and become stronger, by completely absorbing the mass of the enemies inside the black hole. The inhabitants will be fascinated and terrified by your presence, some will even worship and offer sacrifices, while the black hole will explore the planet and purposelessly devouring everything. Some scenes before the boss fights are also highlighting this uneasy feeling of “am I the bad guy?” as it was beautifully executed before in Nier. For example, the Whispering Mothers are two fleshy being made of a plant, sort of dancing flowers with a mouth in between. They are somehow teaching art to the stone creatures and, when the protagonist will approach, one of the rock people will run to the Mothers asking for help, in a twisted and reversed heart-breaking scene.

Bestiary: The world is full of dangerous and feral foes, almost all of them made of solid rock or tentacle-like plants. In this hostile world, any enemy should be underestimated. Some rock people use primitive weapons of stone and bones, while other beings are ferocious and aggressive masses of teeth and claws. Other creatures are like incomplete or broken statues, almost static beings that fly around attacking like drills, or will stealthily throw spears while hidden as normal art pieces. The bosses are gigantic and complex beings, where chaotic organic life meets the lifeless stone. An example of this is Amalgam, a grotesque creature with multiple arms and eyes, firstly hidden inside the gigantic head of a statue like a sort of alien hermit crab.

Wacky characters, insane machines and hypnotic mushrooms in “Let It Die”: how to build a lobby in an explosion of style [Mechanic]

Let It Die is a free-to-play game developed by Suda51’s team, so of course is 100% pure insanity. The main aim of the player is to climb a dystopian tower, fighting monsters, invaders, collecting new items and experience, while advancing each floor toward the top. The combat is souls-like inspired, with a stamina bar dictating the possible moves, light and heavy attacks combined with dodging, and easy ways to die if the enemies are underestimated. If this looks quite standard, everything else is totally over-the-top.

The tower was mysteriously built after a cataclysm on a small island close to Tokyo. Since that time, the tower has continued to grow, attracting different kinds of people. Powerful lords started to live and take control of the tower, building a sick new system where even the dead bodies are brought back to life to fight for them. Meanwhile, adventurers started to climb the tower, hoping to claim the mysterious treasure hidden on the top. The ground floor of the tower is a small shopping mall connected to the metro station, with a fountain in the middle, bathrooms, and elevators. But it is exactly this place that became the base camp of all these crazy operations, attracting the most insane and illegal merchants to open a shop there. And it is exactly the ground floor that works as the hub or lobby of Let It Die.

The lobby of the tower is the equivalent of a small town, with a lot of services and bizarre characters to interact with. Even if many places have standard services, like to buy items or to level up the player, the shopkeepers and the setting are anyway insanely original and plainly weird. Because nothing is as it should be on this floor. The bathrooms are brainwashing prisons, freezers are where clones are stored, and the metro station works as vehicles to invade other players. And these are only the standard things.

Let’s have a look at the most whacky places and services available in the lobby.

Fighter Freezer

Each death in Let it Die is permanent, there is no other way to say it. However, with enough gold, dead bodies can be collected and reanimated. On the other hand, new clones can be produced to rescue the dead body of the previous character, who will be wandering like a bloodthirsty revenant on the floor where it died. Because the lords of the tower are controlling death, and facing your previously dead characters is not a surprise The freezer is where the available characters are stocked, hanging like dead meat on chains. New characters can also be recruited here, or they can be organised for different tasks, for example, to defend the base from other players’ raids. Alternatively, unused characters can also be sent to scavenge and hunt on other player’s floors. They will become invaders, challenging enemies for the other players to face, and they will come back with scavenged materials as a reward after enough time passed.

Metro Front

Let It Die also involves a multiplayer attack-defend the base mode, freely playable by everybody. But of course, also this mode is totally insane. To access the Raid mode, the player needs to talk to a weird-looking robot, similar to a train operator mascot, with a creepy smile on the face and electric blue eyes. The small robot is totally insane, and will direct the player, with the voice full of crazy enthusiasm, to the different raid modes and the power-up for the base: “Thank you for riding with us today.” Then, the attack mode is very straightforward: jump inside the metro and it will bring you directly to the enemy base. The other players will leave their characters heavily armored to defend the base or, if you are lucky enough, it will be defenseless. With enough time available and with the defensors killed, the other players’ resources can be looted from their base.

Prison Bathroom

There is a random and bizarre consequence of the train raids. Sometimes, when another player’s character is defeated, its body will stay on the ground. These characters can be kidnapped and brought back to the base. They will end up imprisoned in the bathrooms, now reconverted in jails. The kidnapped character will be trapped there, wrapped in plastic, and with a visor on their face, totally isolated from reality and in constant sufferance. The characters are indeed undergoing a brainwashing procedure, which has a fixed time to be executed. After the time has passed, the kidnapped fighter will be totally brainwashed and ready to join the player’s team. However, the other player will not stay quiet when one of his characters is kidnapped, and will have the chance to attack the base where is imprisoned in order to free him.

Shop “Choku-Funsha”

The regular shop of Let It Die is probably the less inspired section of the lobby. Here, the player can buy weapons and armors, but also access the R&D section to develop and unlock new equipment using the correct materials. The owner of the shop is a legendary merchant, with the head protected inside a glass, and surrounded in the background by weapons drenched in blood, including chainsaws. The fact that the shopkeeper is definitively too similar to an infamous German dictator doesn’t anyway help in giving more identity to this shop.

Vending Machine “Hernia”

A regular vending machine but with a creepy twist and design. The machine will sell different items that will change periodically, which can be acquired by using different kinds of currency. One of the main forms of payment is called Bloodnium, and it is linked to blood. But the interesting detail is the execution of this payment. Small spiked cylinders will appear like a medieval trap, and the character’s hand will be voluntarily wounded by this instrument of torment in order to extract the payment: blood. The fact that the shop is called “Hernia” is also causing additional uneasy feelings.

Mushroom Club

The Mushroom Club is probably one of the most bizarre shops ever seen in a game, owned by an insane woman. She is dressed only in a bikini, covered with tattoos, with mushroom-like hair and tribal fangs covering half of her face. The legends say that she was a backpack traveler that went insane after trying weird fungi, and now is managing her tribal shop inside the tower. When not working, she will perform a lap dance on a giant umbrella, but her role is far more bizarre. Like a post-apocalyptic shaman, the woman will provide a psychedelic mushroom soup to her customers, which will give very unexpected results. In fact, after trying the different soups, the player will receive adhesives to wear like tattoos on the different characters. Some adhesives, or decals, are only temporary and will disappear with the death of the character, while the premium ones can be recovered even from dead bodies. The scene when the character drinks the psychedelic soup is particularly weird, and the decals will appear from a rainbow of colors sparkling from the empty dish.

Quests: the Voyeur Visor

Secondary quests were generally selected by talking to a cute girl in the arcade room, another section of the lobby that can be accessed from the fountain (check the associated section). However, after an update, quests can now be selected in a more bizarre and peculiar way from the main hub. A visor supported by the statues of two kids now works as shortcut to access the quest menu. The kids look like characters from an old Japanese manga, or from some school propaganda, jumping very happily while working as support for the visor. By accessing the visor, the player can select different quests to complete, from “collect x items” to “kill x enemies,” or sometimes more variegated challenges like complete specific floors without wearing any armor. Interestingly, the visor also works as a sort of voyeur machine. In fact, after finishing to select quests, the player can see the face of the girl in the arcade room. The girl seems unaware of the player’s presence, and she looks like busy watching something and will often comment “No, no , not there” or “He hide what and where!?”

Mingo Head

Experience hardly collected during the explorations inside the tower needs to be used inside the lobby to level up the characters, deciding which attribute to power up, from strength to agility. And of course, to use the experience, the player has to interact with a creepy creature that looks like a living brain combined with a motorbike in a sort of cyberpunk jellyfish. The grotesque creature will directly inject tubes with jacks inside the character’s back, and, in a painfully-looking scene, highlighted by disgusting sounds, the experience can be used to power up the characters.

The Arcade Room

A lobby inside the lobby, the arcade room is a meta-game festival, and another stylish insanity added to the game. As if Let It Die was just an arcade game that the player is actually trying to beat, the Arcade Room works as a place for hints, advice, and to better understand the lore. The different characters will tell you how to get better in the game, like if the player was really asking help from other players. Moreover, a radio can be selected to change the music, while a mysterious machine provides information for the lore of the game in the form of old and distorted VHS movies.

Interview with Glasses Cat Games, the creators of Devil Slayer Raksasi, a souls-like inspired by Chinese legends

Devil Slayer Raksasi was really a surprise: a top-down action RPG with a souls-like battle system and roguelike elements, together with an innovative dark-fantasy atmosphere with strong references to Chinese folklore. The game has an addictive and challenging gameplay, with strategic boss battles against really interesting creatures, a lot of items and weapons to equip, and a set of 7 main characters with different skills and powers.

The game is still in Early Access on STEAM, but in one year received many updates, from new modes and gameplay-elements, to additional playable characters, bosses, and sub-chapters. The game is yet a complete and challenging experience, with different routes and optional bosses, secret sets to acquire, and the possibility to train and level-up the main characters. The heroines are all quite different, from a half-fox woman using a giant cannon, to a fast demon using knives: the replayability is very high and completionists will need dozens of hours to see everything

Raksasi’s most unique feature is the amazing mix of a novel dark-fantasy universe inspired by Chinese legends, myths, and ancient folklore. Settings, secondary characters, and especially enemies are all very interesting for design and lore. As a great addition, a recent update also improved the bestiary, and now not only it is possible to read the lore of more than 100 creatures, but also to enjoy the gorgeous and detailed portraits of each monster.

Today, together with Glasses Cat Games, the team of three developers behind Raksasi, we will look at the development of the game, the future updates, the lore behind secondary characters, and how the Chinese culture influenced the game. We will also know the favorite bosses of the developers, so if you are curious to know more, check the following interview.

Q1: First of all, thank you for the opportunity. Raksasi is an interesting take on both souls-like and rogue-like RPGs. How the idea behind this project was born?

A1: Devil Slayer Raksasi is inspired by the Souls-like games a lot while we are all big fans of this genre. The early prototype is just a simple top-down action game demo with a souls-like style combat system. Since we are worried if the core mechanism is too simple and a pure souls-like game made by a small team will lack enough game contents, we consider incorporating Roguelike elements to increase the lifespan.

Q2: From the art-style to the gameplay, Raksasi is an interesting production. Which other games influenced your work while developing Raksasi?

A2: We try our best to make our own unique game by standing on the shoulders of giants, and you may find some familiar designs and systems in Raksasi from these great titles: Souls, The Binding of Isaac, Dead Cells, Darkwood, Blade & Sword.

Q3: The art-style is really well characterised and unique, especially the portraits of the main characters and the bosses. Why did you decide to use this particular aesthetic for Raksasi?

A3: The reason is very simple, there is no other choice! because we are a very small team, the only artist in our 3-man development team chooses his own style to create all the artworks. Our artist’s early style was influenced by the Japanese anime he watched in his childhood, but he always had his own unique pursuit and did not follow the trend blindly. Therefore, the final art effect is very likely to be quite different from the current popular and most popular styles and colors and is also more recognizable.

Xilvaron, one of the 6 heroines of the game.

Q4: From the setting to the design of the enemies, the influence of Chinese culture are evident in Raksasi. How Chinese traditions and legends influenced the world of Raksasi?

A4: It’s cool to create a game with the Chinese culture we are familiar with. We did look at a lot of historical and mythological materials, and take many elements and characters from them to build the world. We hope these designs can cause the most common popular culture aesthetic and emotional resonance among Chinese and foreigners are interested in Chinese culture.

One of the disturbing monsters of Raksasi, together with the lore from the Bestiary.

Q5: The main heroines got particularly popular, both for their gorgeous design and for their peculiar weapons. How was the creative process behind the creation of each new main character?

A5: While designing our character artwork, the artist’s first goal is to meet the functional needs in the basic scheme, “it should work well as the plan”, such as the native weapons, race, and so on. After that, these characters will be given different personalities. According to these personalities, the artist will select the appropriate color scheme, decorative style, facial features, etc…Then, Bingo, who is responsible for the stories, will refine the character’s background information based on enough existing visual elements as well as the artist’s markup. Basically, all the characters are formed after everyone collides with each other’s ideas.

Q6: A pale kid, a creepy blind woman, and a giant masked-man: the merchants and the secondary characters of Raksasi are really mysterious. Could you tell us something more about the backgrounds of some of these characters?

A6: The pale kid’s name is Jubilant Altar. He looks like a little child in a wine jar, but actually, he is not a human. The ancient Chinese believed that all things have spirits. An artifact will give birth to wisdom over the years and become a human-like creature with supernatural powers, that is, the “devil” in the title name of this game. Jubilant Altar is a “devil” turned by a wine jar. He’s the warehouse manager, and his biggest preference is to collect all kinds of treasures and organize them every day. And the idea comes from a Chinese movie, The Miracle Fighters.
The creepy blind woman’s name is Raven. You may think her look reminds of Frankenstein a lot, and yep, it’s very similar. Her body is just a puppet created by the ancient gods, but she has a real human soul inside the body. As long as there is energy, she can live forever.  Through countless years, she has accumulated a wealth of knowledge.
The merchant, Baldwyn, is a fat guy with a mask, who is a member of a large and mysterious organization that operates many wilderness stores, selling secret treasures to adventurers. Many people think they are not just a purely commercial organization.

Q7: Between so many dangerous enemies to face, which are your favourite bosses and why?

A7: Haha, we love all of them. For example, the five immortals are all mysterious, powerful, and highly individual:
The rat boss, Gray Immortal, has countless henchmen, hiding in the forest, brewing some kind of conspiracy. The snake boss, Willow Immortal, has a white Snake and a green Snake as partners, and they are from a familiar story to the Chinese called Madam White Snake. The weasel boss, Yellow Immortal, who is an old man addicted to drug research often picks medicines in the deep mountains. The hedgehog boss, White Immortal, is obsessed with fighting and always looking for powerful opponents. The fox boss, Fox Immortal, who is the noble and beautiful king of the foxes can confuse people’s minds.
The ideas are from some folklores of Northeastern China influenced by Shamanism a lot.

Q8: The game is still in Early Access (EA) but got many conspicuous updates in the last year. Do you have some surprises or clues of what will be the next contents available before the final release? Maybe some clues about new bosses?

A8: We will continue to announce our upcoming new content in our steam community. We are always trying to add richer and more interesting content to our game. Soon, the game will have a new update, which adds new map Sea Caverns, and new bosses, as well as a very fun challenge mode.

The Gray Immortal is the first of 5 deadly bosses called the Immortals.

Q9: Which were the elements that changed more during the EA period?

A9: In the EA phase, we’ve added a lot of new content, such as new difficulty modes, a wooden tablet system, and a Soul charms system. In the process, a lot of new bosses, maps, characters, weapons, and props have also been added. The difficulty system is one of the more important mechanisms, the easy difficulty can be adapted to more users, and the new high difficult mode called Demonic can provide a more interesting challenge for these game masters.

Q10: Of course, I imagine that finishing Raksasi is your priority right now, but I am curious, are you already thinking of your next project? Maybe a sequel of Raksasi?

A10: Yes, we have some ideas about the next title, and we are doing some preparation work now. But there are a lot of things that are not determined and take longer to explore. So it’s too early to determine what the next game will be like.

Final Remarks:

I would like to thank Glasses Cat Games for their quick responses and the interesting answers. It is really fascinating to know more on how the Chinese traditions influenced this interesting dark fantasy world, and I cannot wait to face the new creatures in the future update of the Sea Caverns. Even if it still in EA, Raksasi already got >1200 reviews with an overall “Very Positive” grade on STEAM, so if you want to check it, the game is available HERE. Also keep an eye on Dark RPGs for a future article about the Chinese-influenced bestiary of Raksasi.

Monster of the Week: The Brood Mother and her progeny (Vigil)

Origin: Vigil the Longest Night

Appearance: The boss is a giant and grotesque abomination, showing female humanoid traits combined with insect morphology. The abdomen especially resembles the one of a giant larva, or of the queen of a hive. Atrophic wings are falling on her back, like vestigial elements clearly unable to lift such a massive figure. The arms are extremely long and dangerous, used as a weapon, especially for the claws at the end. The long neck and the face are the only elements still keeping a sparkle of her female appearance, especially the pale face that resembles a marble mask. However, when her mouth is wide open, the creature shows inevitably her grotesque nature. Her body is curved under extreme sufferance, an amorphous and unfunctional mass acquired through wild experimentations, with scars and stitches covering her body as proof. But the Brood Mother would not be described as a mother without having a progeny, and definitively this is the most grotesque detail about this creature.

Background: The deformed and grotesque creature was not always in this way. The Brood Mother was once just a normal girl, following religious duties, and in love with her boyfriend. Sadly one day, she was betrayed and became the guinea pig of an insane doctor. Her body was subject to twisted experiments, while she slowly lost both her mind and her humanity. Now the pain of those wild experiments is a clear mark on her body, as the twisted path of stitches crossing her body.

The main weapons of the gigantic boss are of course her arms, incredibly long and dangerous, able to easily crush even the most worthy opponent. Her strength is so abnormal and human, that even the ceiling of the cave will collapse under her devastating punches. But as previously specified, the progeny of the Brood Mother is her most dangerous and twisted detail. Small and grotesque infants will be expelled from her body as rounded eggs that, if not promptly destroyed, will hatch in her swarming progeny. The small creatures have deformed bodies fused together like an amorphous mass of sufferance, a sort of sick combination between a fetus and a larva. The void expression on their faces and the infant-like appearance almost create a deep feeling of guilty uneasiness inside the player, who will be forced to slay the apparently harmless creatures. An interesting detail is that, even after slaying the boss, her infants will continue to grow and evolve, from larvae to fly-like monstrosities.

By coming back to the cave later in the cave, the main character will face these new and disturbing abominations, able to spit poison and to self destroy after charging the player. Definitively this time the sense of guilty will disappear. One terrible and macabre detail hinted behind the tragic story of the Brood Mother, especially since the poor woman was in love and having a boyfriend, and the mutated Brood Mother is constantly giving birth, is that probably the woman was pregnant when the experiments started.

Why fighting when you can ally with Cosmic Evil Gods in Hellpoint? [Evil Quests]

Hellpoint is an interesting meeting point between the mechanics of Dark Souls and the oppressive horror sci-fi atmosphere of games like Dead Space or Doom. The game is set on a gigantic space station orbiting around a black hole. Everyone is dead, or worst, and the station is invaded by hordes of monsters. A cosmic occult ritual went wrong, and 3 abyssal gods invaded the station with their hordes and followers.

Interestingly, each god has its philosophy, and it is somehow associated with a specific level of torment: Uthos is the tormentor of the mind, Ozy of the flesh and the body, while Nemundis is associated with a more spiritual and subtle pain. The station is now a battlefield between cosmic powers, a chessboard where each god is moving its twisted pawns. Each god is trying to control the station and this is also reflected in the gameplay. When a god is killed, the equilibrium of power will be shifted and the followers of the other gods will replace the dead’s ones in the station, even altering the previously visited areas and possibly increasing the difficulty. Plan well which god to kill last because then its followers will be everywhere.

Interestingly, killing the gods is not the only option and it is possible to befriend each god, becoming its herald or champion. Well, sooner or later there is no way to avoid becoming a god-slayer, but the possibility to do quests for these colossal and evil entities is really rewarding. Before the inner chamber of each boss, sometimes hidden in a very secluded area, there is always a monolith, which allows access to the mysterious Underworld. This parallel universe stores different items and creatures than the original world, a land full of bright colors and mystic winds. Entering the boss room while in the Underworld will not trigger the usual fight, but it will instead allow the player to talk directly with the Cosmic Gods. Each god will have a similar quest, based on collecting trophies from the bodies of the champions of the rival god. Of course, the gods will offer a very satisfying reward after the quest is completed, specifically unique weapons for magicians, each associated with a different element. But let’s check the quest-line and the dialogue with each evil god.

Uthos, the Ashen Born

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This giant demon, where classic hellish design joins with cybernetic elements (quite in Doom style), is more friendly than it looks like. Seated on a throne in a sort of meditative pose, the God of Agony looks quite peaceful. It defines itself as the eternal renewal of agony, a creature pursuing sufferance as purification for every creature. In its cosmic vision, suffering is the pressure to live, a sort of positive energy giving life a meaning. Somehow, this demonic abomination is respectful of the gift of life, at least in its own way. Uthos and its followers see agony as an evolutionary mechanism, an instrument to transcend and to grow (from the description of the Daemon Fragment). The god searches weakness in every living being, using sufferance to discover them. Fire is the mark of Uthos, integrated into its body and connected to all its followers. Fire is purifying agony, an instrument to pursue its cosmic plan. Its followers are all associated with fire, especially the Lava Daemons, tall humanoid demons wielding a scythe used to create walls of flames. Uthos sees in the twisted and distorted followers of Ozyormy a waste of the gift of life, dumb and parasitic creatures that don’t deserve to be alive. For this reason, Uthos will ask, in exchange for becoming its Executor, the fragments from the bodies of 10 Consumers, obese creatures with mouths in their bellies, and champions of Ozyormy.

Ozyormy Goija, the Master of Puppets

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The god of raw flesh, twisted meat, and grotesque transformations has one of the most absurd but metal names ever [Ozy(Ozzy)+Ormy(Orm)+Goija(Gojira)+one of the best Metallica albums]. The creature looks like a twisted Hindu deity, not only in the appearance but also in its movements, like in a perpetual dancing. Ozy lives in a bloody room at the bottom of a hole, which can be peacefully accessed from the Underworld. Ozy sees its followers as a Happy Family and will offer the player to join it. Everything about this deity is related to twisting flesh and body, to discover physical ways to wrench bodies. It will offer the player to teach torsion to break a man, something that is probably called the Weak Dance. Both during dialogue and fight, Ozy is always like performing a twisted and unpredictable dance, which can be a direct application of the Weak Dance, a perpetual and unnatural dance that works also as a fighting technique to break bodies. Sadly, the player will not truly learn this technique even if joining Ozy’s family. Ozy holds strings, pulls lie, and twists truth, probably using torture and modeling flesh as tools to shape the world to its image. The god is a chaotic energy, an insane and disturbed cosmic entity with bizarre and unclear aims. The Master of Puppets has many different followers, generally called Thespians, wrenched and grotesque creatures serving their master. Melee Thespians are thin and fleshy swordmen, fast and agile. Consumers are giant obese creatures with long and flexible arms, with a mouth in their bellies. Hostesses are incredibly tall female-humanoid figures wearing a mask, with well-shaped bodies and a long blade. To conclude, the Vicious Hands are exactly what you expect: giant walking hands that attack like a swarm. Ozy hates Nemundis and its followers, calling them dull minded beings. To join the family and receive the reward, the player must kill 10 Archons, powerful magical beings living in the Underworld. After completing the quest, Ozy will promote the player to puppet-master, who should teach the puppets who runs the show.

Undisturbed Defas Nemundis

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Apparently a peaceful and meditative being, Nemundis shares with the other gods connections to Asian religions, in this case the pose connected to Buddhism. Regardless of its appearance, Nemundis is not all sugar and friendship, since it is even addressed as the abyss that stares back. Nemundis is the god of the cold and infinite terror, of the empty and aseptic void, the ruler of the silent darkness. The god also defines itself and its followers as both medium of creation and its ultimate destroyer, a sort of Alpha and Omega in the sci-fi occult world. Even while fighting, Nemundis will keep the meditative posture, but a sort of angry soul made of radioactive energy will emerge from its body to smash and grapple the enemies. Nemundis is also officially the god of the Underworld, the parallel dimension that can be accessed through monoliths. This lonely and empty wasteland is the birthplace of energetic creatures called Archons, being made of entropic energies that sometimes can also roam in the material world. Common Archons are like humanoid figures full of tentacles, which float around in a state of mindless agony. The Archon Knights are instead more powerful and sentient beings that can use multiple powers. Nemundis hates Uthos and its followers, beings that feast on agony, creatures that value more the physical torments more than the existence of mind. To become the Prophet of Nemundis, the player needs to kill 10 Lava Daemons associated with Uthos.