Now gracing the pages of Kickstarter, Wrath of the Abyss is an indie dungeon crawler and platformer with a little rogue-like sprinkled on top. You control a pair of adventurers. You spelunk. You fight bosses. You collect loot. You die horribly, and repeatedly. We chatted with creator Adam Smith about the game, his inspiration, and game design in general.
Rogue-likes are quickly becoming a rather crowded genre. What are you doing to make sure Wrath of the Abyss stands apart from the pack?
There are several distinctive features in my game. First, the overhead camera angle and 2.5D engine offer impressive views of deep lava trenches and high walls. This visual effect makes lava pits seem precarious and threatening, although they are ordinarily rather cliche. This camera perspective also allows for unique gameplay. Since the camera is directly overhead, it is easy to see the paths available to the player, allowing for elaborate mazes and complicated terrain. Further, the different types of terrain allow different level of interactivity. For example, the knight can jump across lava but is restricted by walls. The enchantress can teleport through walls or across lava, and the necromancer can become immaterial and move through walls but never over lava.
Gameplay wise, the player handles a pair of explorers, designed to follow each other around. This means that one can easily swap characters in order to respond to new situations or puzzles. For example, the knight uses a basic sword but the necromancer summon krakens and other creatures. The follower AI allows them to follow the player and fight opponents without being explicitly commanded, allowing the player to focus their attention on one of the playable characters at a time. The ability to swap players makes it possible to quickly adapt one’s fighting strategy, or draw enemy aggression away from a weakened character.
I have adopted a very simple combat system, which makes gameplay easy to understand. Instead of using a complex formula to derive damage based on attack and defense values, damage taken is simply attack minus defense. Additionally, there are only two kinds of damage: magical and physical. Each is reduced by a separate defense value. Three of the playable characters always deal physical damage (Knight, Huntress, Knave) while the other deals magical damage (Enchantress, Alchemist, Necromancer). The player selects one character from each group, guaranteeing that the player has the ability to deal both types of damage.
Additionally, no EXP is gathered from defeating monsters. The player character instead levels by opening chests, buying from merchants, and completing certain quests. This makes it impossible to engage in gameplay tactics of farming or grinding. This also gives me, as the game designer, more control over the relative power of the player character compared to the enemies. Currently, the difficulty level is planned to begin moderately high, ease up after 10-20 minutes of gameplay, and then gradually increase the longer the player plays. However, lower difficulty levels will have reduced initial difficulty.
Finally, the room generation code will be imported externally by the game file, making it easy for modders to change terrain generation algorithms as they see fit. Several types of biomes are planned (Lava Dungeon, Abyssal Ruins, Stagnant Swamp, Ice Cave, Snowy Mountains) each with their own unique terrain features. For example, the snowy mountains will have forests full of pine trees, while the Lava Dungeon will have cavernous passages.
What rogue-likes did you draw inspiration from? Similarly, what are some of your favourite rogue-likes?
I actually haven’t played very many rogue likes. This game is largely inspired by the original NES Zelda, which had a similar real-time combat system. The variety of abilities and monster types was inspiring to me, as were the layout of the various dungeons. This game was also inspired by negative aspects of other games such as Destiny or Elder Scrolls Online, which encouraged farming. In the case of ESO, the game also featured a combat system that encouraged repetitive gameplay despite a variety of abilities. My game seeks to avoid these flaws by cutting out the whole EXP/Leveling mechanics entirely and force the player to level up by gathering items (a system used by the NES Zelda). As for the repetitive gameplay, I have found that my game already avoids this by making sure that terrain factors heavily into combat outcome, and that abilities are highly unique and balanced in terms of power, adaptability, and reliability.
By power, I am referring to the ability of the skill to change the player’s situation from dangerous to safe. For example, the knight’s sword attack deals more damage over time than any other weapon or character in the game, and can clear crowds of enemies quickly.
The adaptability of a skill refers to the variety of circumstances under which it is most useful. Some skills will not be useful under some circumstances, even if they are very powerful and reliable. For example, the Alchemists’s invisibility allows him to escape enemies but does not allow him to walk through walls. Thus his skill is rather situational.
Reliability refers to the likelihood that a skill will have the intended effect if used. For example, the huntress’ arrows may miss their target or be intercepted by a wall.
Aspects of this game were additionally inspired by Pac-Man, Skyrim, and Borderlands, to name a few.
How has the game evolved from its initial conception? Has it gone through any drastic iterations that reads might find interesting to know about?
This game began as an experiment on squares moving at different speeds in response to keyboard input. I noticed that the squares moving at different speeds created the illusion of depth, and have used that as a basis to design the game. Originally planned as an RPG similar in style to NES Zelda or Undertale, I began working on a rogue-like version of the game when it became clear that I would not have the budget to develop an RPG. The RPG version of the game, called “Escape from the Abyss”, is partly constructed and already has several major plot lines planned. If this game is successful, there is a high chance that I will release Escape from the Abyss as a sequel. The RPG will have a similar combat and follower system to Wrath of the Abyss, but will focus on other gameplay elements such as branching quest lines, puzzles, and world exploration.
What drew you to Kickstarter?
I learned about kickstarter from an article in a magazine about the potato salad guy. I was highly inspired by the success of “Risk of Rain” and “Undertale”, both of which were successfully funded indie campaigns based around games built in Gamemaker, which is the engine I’ve used for Wrath of the Abyss.
You listed a few loose stretch goals on the Kickstarter page, but is there anything else you hope to add to the game if funding exceeds expectations?
If my campaign is successful, I will be able to upgrade my version of game maker and release the game on multiple platforms, which could include linux, console, and mobile releases.Mobile and console versions will require some adaptation, to account for the replacement of the mouse with either controller input or a touchpad.
Another planned, funding dependent possibility is online coop multiplayer, which would allow multiple players to explore the abyss as a team. Although I haven’t looked into this very much as a possibility, I have considered several possible implementation strategies. I will probably alter several aspects of gameplay to encourage player cooperation.
Additional stretch goals include expansion packs for the game, which will add to the story aspect of the game. Although Roguelikes are not usually noted for their story content, the game’s story will unfold as the player descends into dungeons, defeats bosses, and converses with NPC characters which pop up on various floors. The first expansion will add 2-4 playable characters to the game and deal with the backstory of Lutis, the archamge who created the world of the abyss.
While the official backstory for Wrath of the Abyss can be found on the kickstarter, there are several story concepts which are not revealed. First, a race of abominations known as kraken (they are similar to Marvel’s Shuma Gorath) lie slumbering at the bottom of the world of the Abyss. Lutis the archmage sealed away the Abyss in order to protect the universe from the kraken. However, they overpowered him and have gained control of his mind, forcing him to open a portal to the outside world in hopes of eventually escaping.
Additionally, there is a group known as Kraken Priests who are intent upon restoring the kraken, who currently exist in a weakened state. Both the kraken and the kraken priests are intent upon annihilating all reality, forever. The kraken priests will be revealed at some point in the story, but I’m not sure where yet. They will have more relevance in Escape from the Abyss, where they are one of the three major factions.
What hurdles did you face having the player control two characters? Rogue-likes are commonly solitary affairs.
Controlling two players at once was a bit tough to achieve in a realistic framerate. Besides the graphical engine itself, it was probably the toughest thing to program. The follower’s AI has to switch between a fast algorithm and a reliable A* algorithm to find the shortest path to the player. There were numerous challenges in switching between the two algorithms, detecting moving obstructions such as enemies, and interpreting the raw result returned by the A* algorithm. Without going into excess detail, I finally smoothed out the code and made the algorithm run in real time. An additional challenge was making the follower AI behave in such a way that it performs only helpful actions. Leaving the player to fight enemies (and thus lose health) and other possible actions are not added in, meaning that the follower is always nearby when needed. However, the follower does know how to fight monsters when they are nearby or in range.
Why did you decide to go with a top down perspective rather than a side-scrolling one, especially for a game with platforming?
I used the top down perspective for several reasons. First, it makes it much easier to animate the walls and lava pits. If the camera were tilted at a 45* angle, the tops of the walls and there surfaces would have to be foreshortened. If the camera were set at a traditional platformer angle, the 3d effect of top-down lava would be completely lost, and the gameplay would have to be simplified. I would also not be possible to explore the grid of subrooms of each dungeon without the topdown perspective.
The top down perspective also allows the player to see the mazes and floor accurately. This means the player can plan routes of escape or attack with an accurate perspective on nearby obstacles. The top down perspective also allows a an unusual style of platforming, since characters with a jump ability must select a safe landing spot on the floor below. Although the top down perspective is typically avoided because it does not allow the user to see the characters’ faces, it allows several interesting gameplay ideas that are uncommon. I’ve solved the issue of not seeing faces by showing the profiles of the player characters and monsters in the HUD.
What got you into games design?
I took a game design class in high school, which focused on game maker 7. Now I use game maker 8 which is much more powerful and much more useable for serious development. I began developing this game soon after beginning university, and decided to make a rogue-like version of the game during the winter (December 2015)
What’s next after Wrath of the Abyss?
After Wrath of the Abyss is Escape from the Abyss, as I mentioned earlier. I’ll tell you a bit more about Escape from the Abyss, since it was the initial project and relates to the backstory of the game.
In Escape from the Abyss, the player wakes up at the end of a long catwalk over lava, only to discover themselves lost inside the terrifying world of the Abyss. The player has the option of teaming up with a wizard named Trajan, an enchantress, or the Kraken Priests. Trajan is a powerful wizard who seeks immortality through magic. Unike the kraken priests, who are essentially corpses animated by intelligent magical energy and cannot enjoy life (feel pleasure, taste, smell etc) Trajan seeks a more enjoyable form of immortality previous mastered by Archmage Lutis. Trajan’s plans and the Kraken Priests intertwine, as the two groups fight over magical artifacts necessary to achieve their plans. If the player chooses to side with the enchantress, the player will have more control over their destiny, possibly thwarting both groups.
The kraken priests goal in Escape from the Abyss centers around a slumbering Kraken named Zaryep, who sleeps beneath the abyssal waters after being defeated by Lutis. The kraken priests wish to power the kraken through dark magical energy, thus causing him to awaken and devour space-time itself.
I’m considering a possible third game, probably called Call of the Abyss or Call of the Kraken. This will probably be built in a different engine such as unity and may feature RTS gameplay. That’s a long way off though.
Give us your best pre-sales amble on why people should get hyped about the games!
Sales pitch? Here goes:
Is lava awesome? Are you terrified of Kraken? Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be immortal? If you answered yes to any of those questions, Wrath of the Abyss is the game for you. Wrath of the Abyss offers stunningly engaging visuals and unique, real-time combat in a randomly generated maze of dungeons. Prepare to attempt the expedition of the epoch as you choose a partner and delve beyond the limits of light and sanity. Getting to the bottom will be a true test of your wits, reflexes, and ability to summon Kraken. Good luck.
Head on over to the Wrath of the Abyss Kickstarter to check out the project.