'Chasm' IndieCade East Interview: We Talk To The Developers About Their Old-School Metroidvania Title
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who love “Metroidvania” games- 2D sidescrolling platformers that feature you collecting new weapons and powerups to explore a massive, interconnected world- and those who have no taste. I’m mostly kidding, of course, but classics like Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night as well as terrific modern titles like Bionic Commando Rearmed and Guacamelee! show that there are few things (in this world) as good as a well-designed Metroidvania title. Enter Chasm, the latest competitor for the crown.
Funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign nearly two years ago, it's almost ready for release. Developers James Petruzzi (Director) and Tim Dodd (Programmer) of Discord Games were at IndieCast East in NYC this weekend demoing a new section of Chasm, the Catacombs. The game has been demoed before but this is the first time this section was shown off.
I had spent the previous night playing the Alpha build of Chasm well into the night, and found it to be all the right kinds of frustrating. It was only frustrating because I overstepped my bounds, trying to travel deeper and combat stronger enemies than I was prepared for, and often payed for the price by having to return to a save point (campfire), losing all my progress along the way. I started our chat asking why they decided to go with a save system in the first place, in an era when roguelikes and endlesss checkpoints are common, and the answer was simple.
"Super Metroid had the capsule, Symphony of the Night had the coffin," said Petruzzi, "So we're trying to stick with that. It also comes with the challenge as well. With a lot of the modern games if you die it's just like 'Oh no worries! You're exactly where you were! Just keep on playing!'
"While it's convenient we found that it really takes away from that tension of trying to keep everything you've got till that next save point. When you break it down that's really what the game is about, making it from one save room to another, that's your progress."
“In an older build if you died the whole world was the same and nothing reset, but we found that people were being cheap. They’d go in a room and get a piece of treasure and just kill themselves and spawn back in a more convenient place. So we started down the path of deciding whether to take gold or experience to punish them but once we went there we decided to just stay with the old school setup of the game.”
The story is decidedly old school as well. Throughout the game you’ll come across journal entries that detail a epic story, and the beautifully painted murals you’ll notice in the background of certain rooms relate to old myths and tales.
“We’re definitely trying to approach it as a classic adventure game,” said Petruzzi. “ I wanted it to feel like a hero’s journey. We were originally going for a more roguelike style where you’re just thrown in, but the farther we got with the game the more we realized how much more we could do with this. We’re trying to work a lot of lore into the world, and it will all be optional. You can play through the game and not know anything about the story or take the time to study the background art, talk to everyone. But we don’t want there to be roadblocks where you have to talk to people or you can’t progress through the game.”
The game seeks to reward the curious gamer, however.
“For the longest time we were debating how to do [secret areas], whether breakable walls or what, but we have decided what there will be in the final game,” Petruzzi says, cryptically. “There will be a ton of secrets. That’s one of our goals, to have players constantly on their toes, checking everything.”
They’ll have a lot of toys to do it with. There are all manners of armor and weapons that you can equip that will boost your stats or provide different attacks, including some magic weapons that are decidedly familiar. For instance, there’s the axe that shoots out in an arc, the molotov that drops fire in a line on the ground, perhaps as some holy water might. But are they all taken from Castlevania?
“We have some more that are a little bit different," said Petruzzi. It’s all about time and experimentation. We went with the classics first and then figured that if they work we’ll add more.”
It’s a near constant refrain- this is meant to be a true classic action adventure game, and that carries over to the controls. It is perfectly workable with a keyboard, but playing Chasm at IndieCade with the PS4’s Dualshock 4 in hand showed that the controller is the way to go.
“We have to support the keyboard but it’s definitely a gamepad game,” confirmed Petruzzi. “We’re supporting generic USB controllers and figure you’ll be able to play it with a Super Nintendo controller, as far as the maximum amount of buttons. We actually have some people in our early access who have [SNES controllers] with USB adapters that have worked well.”
Right now Chasm is only available via an alpha provided to the backers of their Kickstarter, but it’s all shut down to new gamers. They took down pre-orders at the end of the year to focus on content.
Working with the backers was a strange collaboration for them.
“We’ve never done that before,” says Petruzzi.” It’s been a big learning experience to have people just come in and tear up your game, saying ‘This is all garbage and this is too hard and this sucks and this is too slow!’ We were just like ‘Whoa, you guys just don’t get it.’”
“Finally we were decided that if everyone was telling us that this is shit then it probably is. We’ve just been playing for so long we can’t tell what sucks and what doesn’t. So we worked with them from September all the way through January. We saw some major problems with the game and decided that if we fix it now and make sure these guys are happy then we can say book closed, and work on the rest of the game. When we get the beta we’ll get it back open and take final feedback but we’re really happy where it is now. The last update we put out- all the feedback is like ‘It’s awesome!’ There are no more complaints.”
"What really pushed us in the end was the fact that all of these Kickstarter backers are obsessed with these games. They’re the perfect people to be asking about this because they’ve played them a million times and they know exactly what’s fun and what to expect. So it was tough but we had to decide to trust them as well as ourselves. I think it’s definitely paid off big time."
Chasm is looking for a release this summer on PS4 and Steam for PC, Mac, Linux, and SteamOS.